Lady Ace Boogie has been a fixture in Michigan's hip-hop scene for years now, but for the longtime musician, 2020 has been a year of significant change. In addition to the unprecedented novel coronavirus pandemic that impacted the world, Lady Ace Boogie — also known as Linda Tellis-Aguilar — began to come to terms with the fact that her relationship with creating music wasn't lining up with her goals. She took some time to evaluate "what's working and what's not working" and out of it came her latest musical project: "That's All for Now." Soon afterward, she held a farewell concert in Grand Rapids.
However, Tellis-Aguilar was clear: "I am not retired." In fact, she said she's sick of hearing people repeat that rumor. But, it is true that she's taking a step back to promote current work, like "That's All for Now," and focus on promoting other Michigan artists by giving them help and resources she didn't have access to when she started out. Between The Lines reached out to Tellis-Aguilar via phone to learn more about the decision to take a step back from live performances and new music projects, the ways in which she's helping new artists, how the song "Free" resonates with her pansexual identity, and why exploring the rock genre might be on the table.
Could you tell me about "That's all for now"? It's filled with artist collaborations. Why did you collaborate with them and what inspired this album?
I think that my past projects have always been planned projects. I've always thought of the name and then kind of went from there and tried to keep it in a theme, but with this project, I started writing and production right around the time that the pandemic hit — and it wasn't really planned unless it was me going into the studio recording songs. It got to the point where I was like, "You know what? I'm going to make this a project" (laughs). Some of the collaborations like on my song "Eyes Wide Open," the artists who were featured in that, we were actually just in the studio playing the beat and collaborating in the studio with that, and then we all just kind of started nodding our heads. And the crazy thing is that all of us felt the exact same way about the track and the content and everything. The other features, specifically Steven Malcolm and Lola Blanco, we recorded the song first and I just felt like I just heard them on both of those songs. Not only that, they've both been really great artists and grinding. They've been doing their thing, and I've been proud to have both of them on the project.
You come off very authentic in the song "Free." Why did that feel like the right time to release the video and the song?
On "Free," even when I went to the studio to record that song, it was mad aggressive. And I didn't plan that; I usually hold back a little bit. I don't want to be overly aggressive on a track, but for that song, I had to let loose. I just had to with the content that I wrote, the beat and everything about it. It just felt like it was time, because we're in a time right now where we're not so free. Being a part of the LGBTQIA community, being African American, just being a woman, there's just so many things that limit us. And as a people right now with the quarantine, and it just felt like the right song to push and to get out. And then even with Steven Malcolm being a Christian hip-hop artist and me being a part of the LGBTQIA community, you don't really see that. I think that in itself shows unity and it's important to push unity right now.
Within "Free" the message rejects limiting societal expectation—
Yeah, because I've lived a lot of my life thinking the opposite of that. I consider myself very emotionally intelligent on purpose. I also care about what people think of me, I do. But until I became super self-aware and super OK with who I am, I would allow that to change me in ways that I didn't recognize, so now I just think that it's really important — because I know I'm a good person and I know I strive to be a good person, a kind person, a loving person — I don't need to be fit into these social constructs. I know the difference between right and wrong and I'm also very open to change, but not to a point where I allow someone to change me where I can't recognize myself. And I almost got to that point at one point in my life.
What was it that prompted the shift in your life to inspired you to be more forthcoming about how you felt or identify?
For the longest time, growing up, I didn't even know what pansexual was — I identify as pansexual. Quite frankly, I would rather not identify as anything (laughs), because I don't like to be labeled. But I understand the importance of labels, and I also understand the restrictions of labels. For me, growing up and not being very feminine — I played concrete football, I played basketball. I spent 10 years of my youth in Dayton, Ohio. And in Dayton, there is a culture, within the LGBTQIA community, that you're either a stud or a femme. There was never anything outside of that, and so I was generally put in the stud box, and with that came these restrictions: "You can't dress a certain way. You can't talk a certain way. You can't like a certain person." I always knew that I had this love for all people, and it didn't have anything to do with their sexuality, but I didn't know what that meant. I guess you could really thank social media for [my self-acceptance] — because, really, seeing all of these beautiful people all over the world who aren't afraid to say, "This is who I am," it gives people like me the opportunity to say, "That's who I am, and I'm OK with that."
I noticed within the "Free" music video, you also had graffiti that included Black Lives Matter messaging. Did that movement inspire this song as well?
Absolutely. We shot the video in August and that was right around the time that a lot of the riots and stuff were going on. One of the reasons that I included some of the artwork that is in the video from Downtown Grand Rapids, a month or so before we shot, there was some protests and some vandalism. And the artist community came together and they were able to paint murals and put up art all over the city, so I wanted to feature that artwork because of the message and because of the times that we're in and because of the feeling of the song. And the studio version of the song, at the end, it really speaks on that. I didn't want people outside of the African American race to feel excluded, and I know that sounds crazy because it is what it is. I wanted to open it up to everybody, and I think that the reason why I had the person who did the Black Lives Matter [sign] with the spray paint, he was a white guy, and I thought that was important. I was trying to think, "Where am I going to fit him into this video?" Oftentimes, in the past, when I've put a call out for people to come and be a part of my video, I typically have a lot of white fans that come out (laughs), and I appreciate and love my white fans, but I thought it was really important to have some diversity in this video. It worked out perfectly.
In "You're Worth It," the messaging is really positive, and while the entire album has messages that are strong, this song definitely highlights a message of unification. Was that your intention when you sat down to write this album, or did that message just organically come through?
Organically! So, my first album, "Feel Good Music," I wanted it to be filled with music. I knew that was what I wanted. With "Don't Box Me In," I knew I wanted to switch up my sound and do things that I hadn't done. It's interesting you brought up "You're Worth It," because I have not listened to it since I recorded it. (Laughs) It is my least favorite song on the album. I have not really listened to the album that much since it's been released and that song in particular because I always skip it. I don't like it, and that's unfortunate (laughs).
Why don't you like it?
It almost didn't make the album, but the message was so freakin' important that that's why it did make it. I think, sonically, there are some opportunities that I might have done differently. A reason why I put "You're Worth It" on the album is because I played it for a boxer out of Flint, Michigan, and he was like, "Yo! I'm going to listen to that song every single time I go into the gym now, because it made me feel like I was worth it, and anything I wanted to do, I could do it." That right there sold me.
What drives that positivity in you as an artist?
Quite frankly, "Feel Good Music" was my first solo project. Before that, my music used to be nothing like that. I was talking about the things that matched my lifestyle at the time, and when I was coming up, I was involved in gangs, drugs — you name it. There was nothing really positive about my life and I rapped about that. What made me change that was one day, I was shooting a music video in Datyon, Ohio, to a song called "Hustler." I think now I have 35 nieces and nephews, but at the time I had maybe 25. I love every single one of them, and I wanted them in the video. At the time, they were from the age range of maybe 6 to 11, and they were in my music video and they were reciting my lyrics and they were not great at all. I saw that and I thought, "Yo, I want better for them." I don't know if they knew what they were saying or not — I didn't ask — but that truly motivated me to just change the content of my music. So, when I released "Feel Good Music," I was getting opportunities to go into schools to talk with the kids and play my music for them, and it hasn't stopped. I still get invited to this day to go to high schools, elementary and middle schools, assemblies, and it doesn't limit me to performing in a venue. I can perform anywhere with my content. I think that's important for me: to connect with all different types of crowds and demographics. Now my nieces and nephews can recite things like, "You're worth it. You're magic. I'm worth it, and I'm beautiful."
You've mentioned that "That's All for Now" will be your last album for the foreseeable future and you've even had a farewell concert. What was your thought process as you were creating this album? Did you want to leave listeners on a specific note?
No, actually. The album content has nothing to do with the title (laughs). The title came later, because I didn't decide that this was going to be my last full body of work until, honestly, my dad passed Aug. 2, and I want to say maybe a week after that. That was like, two or three weeks before the album dropped, so I didn't decide it was going to be "That's All for Now" until much later than the music was recorded. And it's because, honestly, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to — even though it's been a negative impact on my financial and mental health — slow down and realize what's working and what's not working and giving me the opportunity to say, "OK, what do I truly want to do?" I have released projects in the past for so much money and spent so much time and not given it the proper push that it deserves online, pushing it to the masses. So, deciding to make this my last full body project isn't to say that I'm not going to be recording music, I'm just not going to be spending thousands of dollars and spending a year creating a project that doesn't get pushed to the masses.
Now that time has passed since your final show, will you remove yourself entirely from performing?
I miss it. I am a performing artist. I would rather be on the stage than in the studio, actually. I've been able to get all of the opportunities that I've been able to get — I've opened up for Lizzo, I've opened up for Nas, I've opened up for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and I got paid to do that. I had fans show up and fill the arena and it's been great. That's because of my good work ethic and that's because I put on a hell of a show. All of my opportunities have been because of my performance, so it has been hard to step back from the stage, but I think that now that I'm realigning my priorities and now that I'm getting my message out to more people, hopefully, I can begin to get opportunities outside of Michigan. And so, for me, if I'm able to work with an artist and truly have something come out of getting on the stage and not just being paid for it, then yes, I would like to step back on the stage.
I've read that you're interested in doing something called Lady Ace Boogie Presents, which is helping other artists. Could you explain what that is?
So, what I want to do is help other artists gain some of the opportunities that I've been able to gain through my connections and through my resources and through my passions to help them get the help that I didn't get. So, basically, be the solution to the problem that I see. That's one part. The other part of Lady Ace Boogie Presents is I have a series called Lady Ace Boogie Presents: A Dope Ass Lineup! And, ultimately, it serves to connect musicians from multiple genres, different parts of the city and the region, to create a synergy and expose them to each others' fanbases. Specifically, you'll have rock 'n' roll shows, hip-hop shows and folk shows, and you never see that come together. All of the shows that I curate and put together have several different genres that come together in one space. It has to make sense sonically, but it always does. They always sell out — I've never not had a sold out Dope Ass Lineup! and that's because we have the right artists and I put in the work to make it happen. So, I'm going to be focusing on that series as well.
It definitely seems like more people in the music industry are collaborating across genres in a way that was unexpected before. It's great to see that happening locally.
Even for me as an artist, a lot of the stages that I've hit — outside of opening for mainstream artists, I always align myself with different genres. I don't think I've been a part of a lineup that's been all hip-hop. Because I have my sound, I perform with a drummer and a DJ, and we're able to bring that sound out to where it will appeal to just about any crowd.
Would you ever consider pushing artists in genres like metal or rock that you haven't explored before? And would you consider making a metal song?
Oh, 100%. I never thought about representing artists outside of hip-hop and it's just one of those things boxing myself in probably. But that's a cool idea, because I have a lot of rock bands, a lot of heavy metal bands, a lot of country, funk — you name it. I'm pretty connected with a lot of different artists. So, yeah, I would love to do that. I actually just collaborated with a rock band by the name of Lokella, we just did a live studio video recording of my song "Stand Alone," but it's in collaboration with them. We turned it into a Linkin Park-meets-Jay-Z style that's really, really dope. We talked about doing something further with that, but me tapping into the rock side. Again, I would be head-over-heels if I could join a rock band. That would be dope.
Is there anything you want fans to know as you take this next step in your musical career?
Just that I didn't retire (laughs). I'm so sick of hearing and seeing that. I'm trying to change the narrative, and no, I am not retired. I'm just aligning my priorities and being efficient and effective. I need to do things smarter that will let me take things to the next level.