Mocha Bands Is the Jill of All Trades
Shoutout to the female MCs currently contributing to the ever-evolving community of women in hip-hop. Through the lens of mainstream media, there are only a few household names and recognizable faces whose songs can be heard at any party or on any radio station, but beneath the surface, there exists a sub-community of underground up-and-coming artists who are hungry to break into the big leagues. These women, fueled by their desire to prove and make names for themselves amongst the greats and the legends, breathe competition into the culture of underground hip-hop. They challenge those around them to step their games up and deliver.
Rapper (and actress in shows such as The Get Down and Star) Mocha Bands, is all too familiar with this culture. Since the age of 11, Mocha Bands has been dominating stages (both in music and in theatre). Her confidence may come across as arrogance, but she has a reason to be. Her self-assured lyrics are backed by a deep understanding of rap technique – wordplay, alliteration, and triple entendres can be found all throughout her music. Mocha Bands is a hustler by nature, and she is on a mission to take the rap game by storm.
Alright, so I know who you are, but for all of our readers, tell us your name, where you’re from, and what you do.
My name is Mocha Bands. I’m from Southside Jamaica, Queens. I pretty much do it all – I rap, sing, act, dance, sketch… Any kind of art is right up my alley.
How did you get here? In terms of music, acting, or anything else. Feel free to speak to all of it.
I started making music when I was 11 years old. That’s when I started taking it seriously and doing things like performing at the Apollo Theater. I did it into my teen years, and one day, I had a performance at SOBs, and a man named Dan, who worked at my talent agency, saw me. He was like You should really get into acting, but I had never done any kind of acting at all prior to that. He told me to give it a shot, I did an audition, and I landed The Get Down. It’s just been free sailing from there.
So that’s acting. What about your music career? You said you’ve been rapping since you were 11. What made you want to pursue music professionally?
I’ve always had a super motivating team behind me that was like Mo, you can do this. Keep writing, and we’ll take you to the studio, and we’ll just keep putting it out. I’ve been doing that, and then my following started picking up, and then more and more people from my neighborhood and outside my neighborhood started listening to my music. Especially when I started putting it on all these different platforms. That’s when my music really started to spread and my name started ringing bells.
As you’ve been getting bigger, are there any challenges that you’ve faced?
People judging a book by its cover. They see me before they hear me. They’re like, Aw, you’re so cute. What do you do? Do you sing? And I’m like No. Wait until you hear what I have to say. I feel my biggest challenge was just being underestimated, but it was never really a challenge for me. If anything, it was fuel for me. It motivated me to keep going. I would say the same thing for any other aspiring artist. Take whatever anybody’s telling you that may have you doubting yourself because we all have different aspirations that seem so farfetched to others until you internalize it. Then it’s like I can do this. Internalize that doubt that others bring your way, and use it as fuel.
[Your EP] was diverse, sound-wise and content-wise. Bossy was a fun song, Alone was emotional, and then Get to The Money was very boastful. With all of the diversity in your sounds, how would you describe your sound? Can you describe your sound? Or is it something that you’re still experimenting with?
To talk about my project in itself, I would categorize it as hip-hop because my biggest thing, along with versatility, is wordplay, similes, metaphors, setting up alliteration and onomatopoeias. Showing lyrical skill and ability is my biggest thing. It doesn’t matter how dope the beat is if what you’re saying doesn’t match. That’s my thing. I try to push the idea of bars matter. Thinking about your lyrics matters. Wordplay matters. That’s what I grew up on. That’s what made me want to become a rapper. Having to run it back a little bit. Like What? I didn’t even catch that the first time. I gotta keep listening to it. That’s how I would categorize it.
Are there any specific artists that you would say have played an important role in the way that you’ve developed? Like This person inspires me or This person guides the way that I approach music.
Several artists. In terms of my female MCs, definitely Lauryn Hill. I grew up on a lot of Lauryn. It was the big idea of loving yourself and accepting yourself, and loving your Black hair and your Black skin and everything about you. That built my confidence. I was like I can do this because she looks like me! You know? In terms of lyrical ability, definitely a Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Fabolous. People along that line. I say those individuals in particular because they all came from where I came from. Maybe not the same borough, but from New York. To see somebody come from the same place you came from, and to hear them, it’s like, How the hell did you come up with this? How did you put these words together like this? That’s what I mean. If they can do it, I can do it.
It’s cool that you can rap and sing your own hooks. It’s nice to see artists who say I don’t need any features because I can feature myself. Were you a rapper who found out that she could sing? Or were you a singer who found out she could rap?
I never wanted to be a singer. If anything, I was super-duper timid about singing, and I didn’t want to sing in front of people at all. But then I would have these melodies, and I’d be like Oh this would sound so dope if it was sung… I guess I gotta do it. I guess I gotta work it out! That and a lot of patience and a lot of time. I wouldn’t say I was a rapper turned singer. If anything, I was a rapper that just so happened to rap with a melody.
Tell me about Queens. How has the borough, and Jamaica specifically, influenced your sound? And what is the support like? You said people from your neighborhood and people from outside are listening now, but what was that initial support like from the people around you?
I get a lot of love from Queens. A lot of love. Queens is so small that everybody knows everybody. Word got around. They tell their friends, and they’re like, Yo, you’re Mocha? My friend put me on. And then they say their friend’s name, and I’m like, Oh he lives right up the block. Everybody knows everybody. Being in Queens heavily influenced who I am as a person and as an artist. A lot of my lyrics, too. You’ll hear me talk about the things I used to see. You’ll hear me talk about a lot of different street names and the different things that I’ve seen out there and the different people that I’ve come to know since living out there. It’s heavily influenced my artistry.
You mentioned an upcoming mixtape in The Year of Mocha. What can you tell us about that? How soon can we expect it? What type of energy do you plan to bring?
For my next mixtape, I want it to be completely different from my first. I feel like the first was opening a door to let people know who I am and what I’m about. I feel like this next mixtape has to kick the door off the hinges, like, Now you know who I am. This is what I do. I don’t sound like the next person, and I’ll never sound like the next person because I don’t know how to be anybody else but me. I can’t give an exact date or timeframe as of yet because filming consumes a lot of time, and so does putting out new singles. We’re about to create a visual at the end of this month for one of the singles. I can’t give an exact time frame yet, but it’s gonna be dope.
Got you, got you. So let’s switch gears and talk about your television and Netflix show career. What is it like navigating spaces with all these big names? What is it like landing roles in all of these super popular shows?
It was super spooky to me at first. I was like There are so many people who have been in this industry for years and have so much more prior knowledge than I did. But over time, I got way more comfortable and realized that’s what separates a rapper from an artist. An artist can adjust to all different art forms, and I have a respect for all different art forms. When I divulge into it, I was just like This is a way for me to express myself and be somebody else for a moment. The same way in music, when I get on that stage, I don’t sound how I sound right now. It gives me the opportunity to be somebody else but still help and touch so many people. I don’t even realize how many people can relate to the characters that I portray for 30 minutes. Any way that I can inspire or help, I’m with it.
I feel that. So what’s been your favorite acting gig so far?
That’s a tough one. I enjoyed them all so much. I would have to say The Get Down. Maybe because it was all so new to me, but I made long-lasting friendships from being on that set. And just to see the creativity, from the background to the principal characters, and seeing the costumes and the music. The whole thing is about hip-hop itself, so that was right up my alley from the jump. To see where music has stemmed from – hip-hop and rap especially – and how they have changed so much over time was a great experience. I think that was my favorite.
Can you elaborate on the roles that you played in both of those shows?
In The Get Down, I played a Zulu queen, under Afrika Bambaataa. And for Star, I played a young female juvenile. Her name is Karen. She had a super hard exterior. She had gone through so much as a child – her mom had her young, and then her mom got caught up in drugs, so of course Karen entered this life of crime and stuff like that. But then, she befriends somebody who’s the polar opposite of her, and then she wants to change her life around. But then, it’s too little and too late because she passes.
Last question: what can we expect from you in the last quarter of the year? It could be within music or television or something else. I know you mentioned that you have a lot of planning and filming going on, but are there any other things that we can expect (that you can talk about)?
I just wrapped a movie. I’m in the midst of filming another feature film, but I can’t tell you until I can tell you. I’m in the midst of doing that. More visuals for these singles and pushing out more music. There’s going to be a lot more in 2019.