EFNIKS In These Streets: An Interview With Queer Black Rapper, Oompa Williams

In college, I knew Oompa Williams as that one cool-ass upperclasswoman who made our super-white and wealthy campus many times more livable. As recipients of the same Posse Scholarship (a leadership scholarship that sends groups of ten high school seniors to universities all around the country in “posses”), we were part of the same community but never had a close relationship. I saw her around campus, at Posse events, and then there were those open-mics she performed at and killed it in. Oompa was dynamic, friendly, and a voice that Bucknell really needed. She graduated in 2014 and that was only a small accomplishment among the successes she’s had as an artist in the past couple of years.

2016 was great for Oompa. She joined the Hipstory team, a media brand that focuses on music and film production while dedicating itself to looking back on the history of hip-hop and also looking into the future and progress of the genre. She earned the title of Woman of the World Slam Poetry Champion in this year’s competition. She put out her first solo hip-hop project, “November 3rd,” available on Spotify, iTunes, and Bandcamp. If you haven’t heard it, stop reading and go listen, jam out a little, then come back to this piece afterwards (actually, play it on repeat throughout your perusal of this article because that’ll just add to it).

2016 was great, but 2017 and beyond are about to be even bigger. I got a chance to catch up with Oompa as she’s on the verge of a big life transition and some dope experiences. Oompa recently quit her job as a middle school math teacher to pursue building her craft and creating art full-time. A multidimensional creative, Oomp writes and performs spoken word, sings and raps, and has even coached a team of young poets for Boston’s LTAB competition (they came in 5th in state, holla!). She talked about being nervous about the change, but excited for the prospect of being able to focus on creating. “People would tell me, it’s like you’re working two full time jobs,” she said of struggling to maintain a work-life balance when she was working as a teacher. “I’d get out of work at 2:30 and head over to Providence for an open mic, or to perform, or to go see a friend’s show.”

Oomp’s always been working for balance, though. Whether it’s been staying accountable to her community as a queer Black artist, or navigating and code-switching her way through four years at a predominately white institution- she’s gotten good at finding where she fits in and owning it. Of her experience at Bucknell, she said “Well it definitely made for some good material,” with a laugh. “I was and am grateful for the experience and position of privilege that it put me in, but I also felt really set up by it all. I felt guilty about not being with my mom as she was dying, just to be at an institution that’s also trying to kill me. I majored in survival studies.” As trying as the experience was, she noted that it was also good practice in navigating institutions that weren’t made for her, and it was also the first place she started sharing her writing publicly.

Oomp started her writing journey attending open mics in her hometown of Boston, becoming completely infatuated with the scene and starting to write her own spoken word, which she only showed to a few trusted friends at first. She credited a lot of that growth to support from teachers and fellow poets, as well as to their much-appreciated affirmation and feedback. After writing and performing in college and starting to dabble in music her senior year, she came home to Boston and was introduced to the slam scene- where poets perform and compete to get on a team—which she eventually became a part of herself. From that experience she started learning from different people, reading new poets, and trying new things on her own as an artist. This work brought her the ultimate payoff of the title of Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion in May 2017 where slayed with poems like “Black Dyke Girl from the Projects (To House).” The win was unexpected to her, but inevitable to her readers and listeners- “I was like what is happening?”

Oompa cites her experience as a queer Black woman in hip-hop as always pushing her to ask herself, “Am I being accountable to the communities I’m a part of?” She spoke about having been thinking a lot about her masculinity, and the toxic masculinity that lives ingrained in the culture of hip-hop as a genre.

“My queerness affords me the necessity of rapping with my masculinity in ways other than being oppressive- it’s about confronting those things in the music or before the music comes out or after the music is done. There are a lot of cis dudes and not a lot of queer women in hip-hop and it’s easy to do what you need to do to survive, like adopt certain mindsets. There’s a lot of degradation of women, a lot violence against trans women and queer bodies in general.”

Although queerness is a huge part of her life and heavily influences her art, however, she doesn’t feel like she has to talk about it or make music “announcing it” (no shade to y’all who do because announcement is so NECESSARY). “By virtue of being a queer Black woman in hip-hop,” she says, “everything I create is inherently queer. That song about Bucknell, or my mom- those are queer songs.” She says that’s the kind of representation she wants and likes to see- relatable experiences and moments like hearing a woman sing the pronouns “she” or “they” in a love song.

Her talent and realness were what brought her to Hipstory- the media brand that has been supporting and pushing her work for the past year. She talks about artists she knows through Hipstory like they’re family: “We’re a team, a collective you know? You can’t make it in music or art without a team- it’s so important.” Oompa had already known musicians Cliff Notez and Tim Hall, who were co-owners of Hipstory and working on building the brand. They caught an open mic where she was performing one night to check out her work, then brought her on the team the next day.

Through Hipstory she gained support for her musical project, “November 3rd,” which came out in early 2017. “November 3rd” is a collection of stories, emotions, and reflections on her journey and living this life in her own body. She said she’s been influenced by artists like Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, J Cole, Kendrick, and James Brown, and glimmers of each of them come up throughout the album.

In “Catch 22,” Oompa raps about attending a PWI: "Then there was college, I thought my whole life was gonna change but it just gave me double consciousness now I never sleep the same."

In “Nicky’s Song,” she talks about the loss of her mother and sister in an upbeat light: "I thought a song about would have to be one where I’m sitting there crying but instead I’m sitting up filling the spot."

“SayHERName” confronts being a queer Black woman in today’s sociopolitical climate and calls out the ways our country dehumanizes Black lives while still insisting that they matter: "But all our phrasing, race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience."

One of my favorites is the jam “Your Girl,” which contemplates the experience of dating and falling for a “straight” woman who already had a man getting them first out they closets and then out they blouse.

It’s about to be an exciting time for Oompa, and if you’re not into her yet it’s a good time to start. With her upcoming life change and the ability to dedicate her energy to her craft, she’s looking for a new sense of balance with an eye towards what she wants most: “I’m trying to build something in Boston that I think Boston wants and needs. I’m trying to be the Jay-Z of Boston, the Chance the Rapper of Boston.”

You can see Oompa on tour this summer with Hipstory’s Tim Hall, Forté, and Cliff Notez in several cities including New York City, D.C., Atlanta, and New Orleans. (Donate to their indiegogo to help fund if you’re so inclined!) She’ll also be on tour promoting her solo album this coming fall, and is open for bookings via email at oompoutloud@gmail.com. In the meantime find her on Spotify/iTunes/Bandcamp and enjoy.

 

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