What is Denver hip-hop? What does it sound like, and what does it stand for? There is a lot of discussion surrounding these questions, trying to pin labels on the Colorado hip-hop community. While definitive answers are in short supply, talent is not. As an introduction, here are nine hip-hop artists (appearing in alphabetical order) from the Denver area — some established, some up-and-coming, all of whom happen to be women — to whom you should lend your ears.
"Rap chicks do rap shit," says A'Dula — and she says it often. In fact, since her 2012 debut mixtape Propaganda, A'Dula quite willingly has said whatever the hell is on her mind, and if that happens to offend anybody, get out of her way. Lyrics will get spit, rhymes laid down: You might as well just enjoy it.
8. Aja Black of the ReMINDers
Colorado Springs duo the ReMINDers are an important force, and those who have never heard them should check them out immediately. Offering soulful roots blended with incisive and intelligent rhymes, the group carries a positive message both on stage and in the studio. The 2012 album Born Champions is a killer, but it's in the live arena, such as at the 2015 Artopia event, that they excel. Both Black and her vocal sparring partner Big Samir have charisma for days, and they flow together seamlessly.
Aurora's Dosha Harris, aka D'Girl, has been bubbling on the surface of the local rap scene for a few years now, always threatening to surge ahead. In 2011, Westword's Ru Johnson wrote, "The twenty-year-old, who's been rhyming since age thirteen, carries herself with the poise of a veteran and has a magnetic delivery that merges elements of lyrical flavor with the style of MCs like Drake and Nicki Minaj." That remains a pretty spot-on description.
6. Jurnee Manley
Although Jurnee is just sixteen and new to the scene in Denver, she is blazing past the competition — including a run on the most recent season of American Idol. The young singer has a smooth voice with a diva-level range. Still a student at Littleton High School, Jurnee has just completed a new mixtape and will be releasing it soon.
5. Kalyn Heffernan of Wheelchair Sports Camp
We almost decided to leave Heffernan off of this list, because we've written about her so much in recent years. But a list of female MCs in this region that doesn't include Kalyn just doesn't make sense. Heffernan is a force of nature, and she's gathered a group of musicians together who do her rhymes justice. No easy feat, because Heffernan has a gift for writing lyrics that are both witty and thought-provoking, razor-sharp yet somehow chill. Whether she's talking about sexuality, misogyny or anything else that catches her fancy, WSC makes for compelling listening.
Read on for four more of Denver's top female MCs.
4. Koo Qua
Twenty-eight-year-old Niquasia Waddles, also known as Koo Qua, began working in the music industry in 2009. Comparing her style of rap to that of the infamous Da Brat while writing uplifting lyrics aimed at youth, she has made a prestigious name for herself in Denver. Performing with well-known names like Lady Wu-Tang and Mane Rok and winning awards like 5280 Magazine's Urban Best Female Artist — Koo Qua beasts.
3. Lily Fangz of Welcome to the D.O.P.E. Game
Rapper, reggae singer, artist — Lileana Krenza seems like she can do it all. After learning to craft lyrics at slam-poetry meets, Lily Fangz has developed a distinctive hip-hop style that is just one part of her bigger artistic vision. Go see her live, and you'll find her merch table filled with her drawings rather than the standard T-shirts. She's performed with the likes of Redman & Method Man, Nas and Schoolboy Q. Check out tracks "Lay It Down" (below) and "Madvillan."
T-May is the designated First Lady of Weird Musik and has been nominated for regional independent music awards. "I feel like my listeners can gain consciousness from my music, an open mind. Most people are used to females rapping about sex or violence, but I'm aiming for self-worth and mind expansion," she says. Listeners compare T-May's pace to that of Twista, paired with the knowledge of Atmosphere. Her new album, T-May Da EP, is available on iTunes.
Qbala has a story to tell. If thinking deeply is something you respect in hip-hop rather than surface-level tunes, Kalhie Quinones is the female MC to listen to. "I aspire to light fires inside of fans. Look at me as a motivational speaker that influences you through my own struggles," she says. "If I can do that, maybe someone who is more capable than me can go out and create things our people need."