Rapping for the fame

Buzz builds for Detroit musician and Ferndale Pride performer

By Andrea Poteet

Hip-hop may no longer be a boys' club, but from Lil' Kim to Nicki Minaj, most female artists have relied on revealing fashion and man-eating lyrics for chart success.

Keyon La Don is ready to change that.

The 28-year-old Detroit rapper hopes to make the move from Internet sensation to radio mainstay with her forthcoming album, "Radio Ready."

"I would like to be the first openly gay female rapper," La Don says, her soft lilting voice an unexpected juxtaposition to her hardcore image. "I think it's something the world could really open up to."

But La Don, who will perform at Ferndale Pride at 3:30 p.m. June 17, didn't start off with the intention of blazing a trail for gay artists in rap. After looking up to two older brothers, rappers Famine and Black Chemical, as a girl, she started writing her own music in 2002 as a way to get dates.

"It wasn't until I came out of the closet that I started writing," she says. "I would try to meet women on chat lines because that's the only way I knew how to meet other lesbians. Instead of just talking about myself normally, I would write a rap about myself and that would actually get a lot of responses."

A flood of inbox messages spurred her on and she continued writing, eventually recording her raps for download on her website, http://www.datstud.com. Songs about her sexuality, like "Strap-on Magic," which she performed for her first live show in 2007, earned her Internet buzz and tour dates in LGBT venues throughout Detroit.

There, she said her music has been well received, though on the Internet she sometimes got hurtful comments about her sexuality.

"Most of the time, I just try to block out that negativity," she says.

She released two mix tapes, "Unclaimed Stud" in 2009 and "Unlikelihood" in 2006, featuring "Chat Line Love," an ode to her rap beginnings.

Her rise from chat room troll to Internet artist has had some unexpected consequences, she said, like when she gave out a phone number at one of her shows for fans to leave messages with feedback.

"A female left a message and she was saying she liked my music and she remembered me from a chat line and she actually rapped most of what it was about," La Don says of her pickup line. "I couldn't believe she remembered that."

And the recognition is all the more surreal when she remembers that she never actually planned on rapping as a career. Originally, she went to Davenport University with the hope of starting her own music-related business and is now attending Henry Ford Community College. Though it never got off the ground, she's keeping the idea hush-hush and in the hopper for the future and focusing on her own record company, Hitstree Entertainment, where she hopes to write for and produce other artists. Though she has performed outside of the area, she also said she would like to concentrate on performing in Detroit as a way to market herself and other artists.

"I would definitely like to perform in Detroit more too because I'm from here," she says. "I believe there's some talented people here, and all we need is a chance."

For the most part, La Don says she finds inspiration for her music through everyday events and relationships.

"Songs come to me sometimes," she says. "Usually I rhyme beats and listen to them for a while before lyrics come to me. It's not like I can just go, 'I'm gonna write a song,' and it happens. Something inside of me has to ignite. Sometimes it happens with experience; I'll go through something with friendships or family or relationships, and just writing about it helps me get over that person and move on."

And next, La Don is moving onto other genres, writing songs ranging from alternative rock to R&B and pop for "Radio" (the release date of which has yet to be determined), with one goal: getting mainstream radio play.

"It's eventually going to be songs that I feel should be played on the radio," she says. "Despite my sexuality, I would really like to release some songs and get them played and see what people are ready for."

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