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What would it sound like if Rick James, Janelle Monae, Prince all teamed up to make a hip-hop album? It’s a question that no one has asked, and yet Toronto rapper and poet Exmiranda has offered up the answer with her soulful funk-hop record, Funk Break.

While this album may be her debut, it’s been a long time coming. After releasing a handful of singles, finding fame on TikTok—she’s racked up over two million likes—and working on community events to spotlight women in hip-hop, Funk Break is the culmination of years of perseverence and artistic growth. And as she climbs higher, she makes a point of uplifting other indie artists along the way.

For Exmiranda, being real is key to her music and who she is. She hopes listeners “actually feel like the music represents them being their authentic self, because basically, I’m trying to be as authentic to myself as as an artist as possible.” If you couldn’t already tell from her genuine joy that radiates through each TikTok and track, it’s apparent when she discusses trying to share that part of herself with her audience.

We connected with Exmiranda to talk about the themes in Funk Break, navigating online trolls, and hearing her music on Gossip Girl.

I guess first things first, let’s just get right into it. How does it feel to finally have your full album out?
Yeah, I was excited! So, so excited. For me, it’s been a long time coming, just because I’m doing a lot of single releases and stuff like that. But over the pandemic, I kind of really grew my following. And that kind of gives you the confidence to just put out my debut album. 

Yeah, it’s awesome. I was listening to it earlier and it’s so interesting. Obviously, it’s a hip-hop record, but it is very much equal parts funk and soul. I can hear some Prince, I can hear a little Marvin [Gaye]. Tell me a bit about who and what inspired the album and how it all came together.
Definitely. So just like you were saying, Prince and Marvin; I’m such a huge fan of funk. I’m obsessed with artists like Janelle Monae, Nina Simone, Kool & The Gang, Rick James, basically all those really groovy artists. And that’s something that I really love. Over the pandemic, I started doing many clips of me performing called ‘funk breaks,’ and a couple of them went viral on TikTok.

Yeah, that kind of fueled me actually, deciding to name my album that, just because it kind of fits with my whole interest as an artist. And then also, it kind of connects to the audience that I’ve started growing as well, and just my love for that type of sound.

Yeah, no, definitely. That’s great. I guess when people listen to it, because again, I know a huge chunk of your listeners and followers know you from TikTok, what do you hope they take away from it?
I really want them to be able to get inspiration from it. So my whole goal as an artist… I really love encouraging, optimising and advocating for people to express themselves fully and authentically. So I’m hoping the listener gets a piece of that when they’re going through the song, like they actually feel like the music represents them being their authentic self, because basically, I’m trying to be as authentic to myself as as an artist as possible. So that’s what I’m hoping comes through.

“That was something that was so monumental to me as an independent artist, just having that opportunity for my song to be [in] the premiere episode of Gossip Girl.”

That actually segues right into my next question, because speaking of authenticity, I really want to talk about “Fresh Fro” because if we’re talking about authentic songs, that one definitely is one for Black women and it’s been featured in so many places now. So I guess tell me a bit about what that song means to you. 
“Fresh Fro” is a song that means so much to me. I wrote that song with the deliberate intention to make whoever listens to it, and also for myself, to be able to embrace Black features. So the whole purpose of that song was to celebrate and parade, and, in some cases, amplify the beauty within Black features, specifically skin and hair. And just being able to speak on behalf of the listener and kind of flip the narrative of Black features—a lot of times, being considered not the beauty standard [I wanted] to kind of shift that whole narrative in the song. Basically all Black features [are] valuable and looking at it as a real commodity versus typically what usually happens with the media, where a lot of times beauty standards are geared towards Eurocentric features, pretty much. So that was the whole premise of it.

I definitely took that away from listening to it. I think we’re definitely seeing a lot more songs like that in the recent years, especially, you know, with people like Lizzo just really bringing all that self-confidence and loving who they are and really making that so authentic for people.
Exactly.

I also wanted to talk about “Steam,” because I noticed that it showed up in the Gossip Girl reboot. What was your reaction to finding out that they decided to use [it]?
It was so exciting to me, that was one of the best moments for me over the pandemic. The fact that they actually reached out to me and wanted to use my song for the premiere episode, and it was so dope to me, because I love that show. And then on top of that too, it’s my first ever anything in a TV show that I really like and respect. So that was something that was so monumental to me as an independent artist, just having that opportunity for my song to be [in] the premiere episode of Gossip Girl. That was everything. 

Yeah, it’s so interesting, too, because I was thinking about this with this reboot. There’s so many Canadians involved in it, like you have Karena Evans directing some of the episodes. And then you’ve got the two leads in the show, Jordan Alexander and Whitney peak, and they’re both Canadian. And then you, and it’s like, you’re all Black women, this is amazing.
I know, it fit so perfectly! So even when they reached out to me, I was so thankful, just because so many of the artists who were selected to be on the premiere episode, and the different episodes of Gossip Girl [have] artists I look up to, and I really admire, and they’re also Black women who have a lot of empowering messages throughout. [There were] a lot of artists that are unconventional and have different styles and a variety of styles. So it was just such a great moment for me and such an honor to be on an episode with so many great talented artists that I look up to because it was so great for me.

Is there a specific artist in particular that you look up to that you were like, “Oh, my god, they’re also going to be featured alongside me?”
For the one I would say when it comes to specifically the more indie side, the artist that they used for the introductory song is Hope Tala.

Oh yeah!
Yeah, right! So I really liked her vibe and I had heard her music in the past with different playlists. But on top of that Doja Cat was also featured on the episode, and they also had other artists including Remi Wolf who was in one of the episodes, as well as other artists that I really love. There [were] so many specific artists, I don’t remember all of their names [laughs] but [they were] also on the soundtrack. So that was so dope.

Yeah, no, it’s so cool because they definitely did a mix of the really big names like Doja Cat and then obviously Frank Ocean in the trailer. But then I love that they’re showcasing these up-and-coming indie artists. It’s super, super cool. I also wanted to ask about TikTok, because obviously, you’re huge on there; you’re so popular. I saw one, it was not that long ago, but it was basically sort of talking about not letting the haters get to you. And  it showcased some not-so-nice comments that you received when you were starting out. But now, I mean, your album is out, you’re making it. So I guess what would you say to those people now, now that you’ve pursued music, and you’re succeeding, and you’re doing it all as an independent artist?
You know, one thing I would say is, even if I was I was speaking to myself back then, what I would kind of really focus a lot on [were] the different negative comments and hearing a lot of general criticism, and critique of my music and me as a person. One thing I would say now is those are all projected insecurities.

And something I really learned over the past couple of years, is whenever someone has something negative to say that’s beyond feedback on how you can improve, majority of the time it’s coming from a place of insecurity for that specific individual, basically just projecting their… maybe I would say inability, or maybe grappling with actually pursuing their own career, and their own desire, their own goals. And that’s something I had to really get into, kind of an understanding of that. If someone says something to me, it doesn’t reflect me as an artist. As a creative and a person that reflects on them as a person, you know, and that’s something that I really kind of came to terms with.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions and a lack of awareness, because there’s so many women in hip-hop from Toronto that nobody knows about. And that’s unfortunate, because there’s so much talent.”

I think there’s a lot to be said for all of that. Because I mean, every artist has to deal with critique and negative comments, but being able to actually not take it personally and still do what you want to do and make your art just says so much.
Yeah.

So I also know that when you’re not making music, you’re involved with so many different community projects, like you were part of the arts collective Ear Appeal and you’ve done some anti-racism work. What are some other things that you’re currently working on right now?
Yeah, really cool things happening. So I actually have gotten funded by FACTOR to do another Black women in hip-hop project that includes having a showcase. And then also in addition to that, I’m looking to have a Black women in hip-hop interview series. So it’s going to feature a bunch of local artists from Toronto, basically, Black women in hip-hop, sharing their experiences, their goals, aspirations, things they’ve learned. So [it’s] almost an opportunity for people to learn more about the Toronto scene and specifically about women in hip-hop from Toronto, just because there’s a lot of misconceptions and a lack of awareness, because there’s so many women in hip-hop from Toronto that nobody knows about. And that’s unfortunate, because there’s so much talent.

“I’m really a believer in the fact that there’s enough for everyone to be able to create and be themselves and shine.”

That’s so crazy that you mentioned that because I remembered when you did that Myseum event and thinking, ‘This is so cool.’
Yeah, and I really want to get that out there. There’s so many talented artists that need to be seen and heard. And I’m hoping that as I continue to grow as an artist and get opportunities to connect with different talented, hip-hop artists, and also get to expand the opportunities I get, that I can also create space for other artists to be able to have similar platforms and be able to share their creativity.

Do you find it’s difficult trying to balance that work with making your music as well, because even though they are interconnected, I feel like it’s a lot to do. You’re very busy!
You know, it does get tough at times. But for me, personally, I look at it as a part of my overall goal. And I know a lot of artists typically do more like community connecting work [with] community building, cultural connection-type work, when they feel like they’re done with your music. And it’s kind of putting everything down, like, ‘OK, let me build people up.’ But I’m really keen on doing that alongside as you’re growing, I think that’s really [how you] develop those authentic ties. And it creates opportunities for more artists to be able to collaborate, work together, and shine together as well.

So I really [try] as much as I can, even though it is kind of time-consuming at moments. But it’s something that I’m really striving to do to ensure that I can create spaces for other artists, because I’m really a believer in the fact that there’s enough for everyone to be able to create and be themselves and shine. And on top of that, I really believe that there isn’t any limitation to what you can accomplish if you’re determined. And you keep your your eyeballs on the goal. And so that’s kind of how I’m able to balance everything.

Check out Funk Break below: