Oakland Rapper Siri on How Her Hometown Fosters Her Creativity

Siri, born Jhsiri Emerson Massey, is a shape-shifter. Peel through her Instagram and catch her modeling a short pink pixie cut in one set, then long black and blue braids in the next. Her style aesthetic bounces back and forth between chic, thrifted ensembles, anime-inspired street savvy, and punk-rock femme fatale or something in between. In her line of work, she doesn’t believe in staple looks — unless you count gold fronts, a septum ring, pastels and cat ears as such.

Her music is the same: 2016’s G.L.O.E. (Give Love Over Everything) and Gawdbawdy EPs were released within months of each other, yet exist on completely separate planes. G.L.O.E. is widely experimental from who its producers are, to the spectrum of blended psychedelic hip-hop, R&B and soul it rests upon. Gawdbawdy, on the other hand, remains more grounded in tone and scope, but Siri’s whimsical rapping and singing ties it all together. That old school sound might not be coincidence either — Siri’s father, Tajai Massey, is a member of Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief, the Bay Area’s defining rap groups of the mid-nineties. Siri’s identity as a rapper and singer isn’t defined by her musical heritage, but growing up surrounded by artists naturally made music her language.

Despite the otherworldly aura her appearance and music give her, Siri is very much down-to-earth. When I met up with her at a small Oakland cafe, Siri seemed reserved and warned me that she’s not much of a talker— music is her main avenue of expression. Still, we bonded over being introverts and tacos, which opened up a conversation about art, the city of Oakland, and going with the flow.

You’re both a rapper and singer, as well as a model. You also host events with the Le Vanguard Collective, yet you’re still in college. How do you balance everything that you do here in Oakland with your studies?

Siri: It definitely feels like it’s stressful at times, but it’s worth it. I’ve never been one to believe that you have to choose only one thing that you love. If you want to do something, you’re going to do it and that’s how I feel about anything. School is hard but it’s chill because I’m achieving both my dreams simultaneously at my own speed. I like kids and I want to teach kindergarten through sixth grade. A lot of kids are really talented but don’t get that extra push because they think that being an artist is weird or they are stuck with the idea that you won’t get paid; Like, ‘why would you do something if you make no money from it?’

What influenced you to start making music?

My dad is a part of Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief so I’ve been around music for a really long time. My mom makes music too and builds furniture. I used to take a lot of art classes as a kid and have always been around art. I feel like that’s why it’s so important to me and it influences me so much.

How do you feel about the burgeoning Oakland art and music community?

I definitely feel like most recently there’s been more people coming out of here and now there’s a renaissance of some kind. I feel like Oakland has always been a hub for style and music— or just the Bay Area in general has been a mecca for that— but more recently it’s been a surge of everybody doing something out here.

Oakland rapper Siri for Rehab Online Magazine
Photos by Colin Hoefle

When did you realize you wanted to be a rapper/singer?

Honestly, when I was a kid I didn’t want to make music at all. I was more into fashion and now I’m a little bit the opposite. At first I wanted to be a fashion designer, but then me and my friend started this group called Mac and Siri — it was supposed to be like Mac and Cheese. It started off as just something that was supposed to be fun because we were bored during our sophomore year of high school. After awhile we started to take it more seriously, and now I’m here.

And then you started to pop off! You’ve been featured on the Fader a few times already, was that weird to see?

It’s interesting and it’s kind of weird. I just don’t think I’m that cool *laughs*. It’s weird when you don’t fit in with a certain type of people for so long, and then all of a sudden everybody thinks that you’re dope. That’s something I’ve had to get used to since I’ve always felt like an odd person, and getting use to people wanting to talk to you. I mean, I’m a talkative person but it’s only if you know me. It’s definitely crazy because I was never really accepted by a lot of people, and now I’m on Fader. Also, it’s not like I went into making music for people to listen to, it was more so, ‘I like how this sounds’.

Would you consider yourself an introvert?

I think I’m an introverted extrovert, but it varies depending on how I’m feeling. I’m a Gemini so it’s like, if I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it, but if I’m not, it’s looking rough — that switch can go off real quick. I’m more talkative now and more confident with myself because I know who I am and what I want to do. But even two or three years ago I was more introverted.

It’s interesting because for a person who appears to be quiet and reserved, your aesthetic is anything but that. Where do you get your fashion sense from and how did you develop this unique part of your identity?

I used to thrift a lot when I was younger, around the time that I was in middle school. I was probably the first one in my class to ever start. I think style is hella fluid and you can change your whole day with your outfit. My grandma used to tell me that you wouldn’t tell if a piece of clothing is designer or not by how the person wore it. I feel like style is a tight way of identifying yourself and showing people what’s on your mind. I know I dress kind of crazy sometimes but I go with how I’m feeling that day or whatever I’m comfortable with. The thing with my shows is that I’m always known for these extravagant outfits when I’m performing. When I’m doing my art I’m a different persona, and I like to dress up because it makes me feel more like a performance artist where it’s more trippy. It makes the art, from my music to my appearance, more cohesive.

One key difference between your G.L.O.E. EP and Gawdbawdy EP was that you worked with a number of different producers for G.L.O.E., but only one producer for Gawdbawdy (Wax Roof). Can you tell me how all that went down?

Honestly, G.L.O.E .was just made up of songs I made over the years. I needed a project since I had only been putting out singles, so I came up with G.L.O.E .—  “Give Love Over Everything”. Most of the producers on the project, with the exception of maybe one or two, were my really close friends. We were just vibing with each other creatively, pretty much labbing with the homies, and helping each other get our art out while having fun. I feel like G.L.O.E. and Gawdbawdy are two separate vibes.

Gawdbawdy sounds more like a testament to somebody.

When I made Gawdbawdy I was really in the feels. There was a lot going and there were a lot of drastic changes in the last year and a half or so. Honestly, I just want all my projects to sound different. For the next one, I want to work with more producers. I linked up with Wax Roof when I was working on Dayvid Michael’s project. I was adding some vocals and Wax Roof was producing and mixing. We really vibed with each other, and ever since then we’ve been working together, playing shows and putting out music. I have a hard time talking about my feelings, so I put it in my music instead. That’s probably why it sounds like it’s always directed toward somebody. It’s weird, people won’t listen to you when you talk, but when you sing, it’s all good. Maybe I should just sing all my problems instead and then we can work it out and I can get my life together.

Siri for Rehab Online Magazine

You’ve grown up in the Bay Area rap scene, being that your dad is in Hieroglyphics, and now you’re making your own music. You’ve witnessed this scene evolve in one way or another — What are your thoughts on how it was before and what its become now?

I feel like it’s still male-dominated but there’s so many females going hard right now. There’s still some boundaries that need to be broken even though we’re pretty progressive. As a woman, there’s still some of the same struggles. People are still accepting of us but we have to go twice as hard in this industry and that’s just how it’s always going to be. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with that. I like how it’s more diverse now as far as musicality. Back in the day you were either rapping about the streets or you were doing what my dad was doing — backpack rap type of stuff. Oakland gets labeled as this bad place and everywhere you go is bad — that shit isn’t new. There’s also so much beauty in the Town that a lot of people don’t really take the time to take in, because they’re so focused on painting this one perception.

What other plans do you have coming up for the year?

I’m headlining a show on July 26 at Piano Fight, which should be dope and I’m also working on a band. I want to start doing live production on-stage and I’m starting to get into that more. I’m also working on my new project, which should be done around August. Just trying to do my own thing, trying to travel more often too.

Connect with Siri: Instagram | Twitter | SoundCloud

Purchase tickets to see Siri perform at Piano Fight on July 26 here. See you there.

All Photos by Colin Hoefle

Nina Tabios

Certified writer/hooligan, self-proclaimed sandwich aficionado and proud introvert. Based in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and New York City. Follow her on the 'Gram at @_ninachop.