Hip-Hop

Luna Luna Is 'A Hoodrat With an Anime Exterior'

Denver native singer, songwriter and rapper Luna Luna.
Denver native singer, songwriter and rapper Luna Luna. Vincent J. Walker
Denver native Luna Luna, born Sebastian Kole Luna Salazar Gonzales Paradis, has music in their blood. The singer and rapper, who uses they/them pronouns, was raised by musicians, growing up in concert venues and recording studios.

"My dad was a gospel rapper. He was in a number of different gospel groups, and he was pretty popular on his own. My mom was also in a band while I was growing up, called Reverb and the Verse. One of the fondest memories I have growing up in her house is waking up to feeling the bass of the music that she was producing in the floorboards," Luna says. "So I spent a lot of time in a concert space, and seeing music performed live. Nothing else in my life made more sense than to become a musician, and to succeed doing it." This week, there are three opportunities to see Luna perform live, with back-to-back appearances in Denver on October 26, 27 and 28.

Luna identifies as Two-Spirit, an umbrella term used in many Indigenous cultures to describe someone with both a masculine and feminine spirit. Their Chicana mother and Mexican-American immigrant father are both descended from Native peoples. "The majority of me is Native Mexican, specifically Aztec," Luna says.
"On my mom's side, there's a bunch of different tribes, and we don't really know because they've been separated from it for so long through assimilation and all that. I'm definitely proud of that aspect of me."

While Luna did not start using the specific term Two-Spirit until they were a teenager, Luna has always embraced their gender nonconforming identity. "I've never not been the way that I am. Since I was a kid, I was very expressive and unapologetic about who I was and what I liked. I definitely ran into a lot of struggles with my dad and my mom's mom, because she was really religious, and my dad came from a traditional Mexican household, with the 'machismo' and all that," Luna explains. Though some family members' religious beliefs made a young Luna question the validity of their identity, Luna found support in their mother. "I grew up with a gay mom, which was a super-interesting experience that I'm insanely grateful for. It was amazing to have a different perspective, and a 'nontraditional' way of being raised," Luna says.

Luna had their first experience recording music as a child, adding vocals to one of their father's songs: "It was called 'Sonshine.' I'm like, 'Look at the sunshine, Daddy!' and it's a little clip used throughout the whole song. That's the first time I ever recorded anything. I have vivid memories of me with the headphones on, in front of a microphone in the recording booth," Luna says. "I will never forget that." And with a musical background, Luna's parents were able to use their own experiences with music to guide Luna.

"It's amazing to be surrounded by creative people who know what they're doing, especially my own parents, who will give me nonbiased critique. That's definitely brought an entirely different element to me creating music, because they always have something to say, which I'm grateful for," says Luna.
Luna was raised by musicians and attended a magnet high school for the arts as a vocal major.
Zxire
Luna, now 21, also received a more formal music education while attending high school at Denver School of the Arts. Luna credits DSA with helping to hone the technical aspects of their vocals, but clarifies that the school was not without its problems. "I got most of my musicianship knowledge from going to school there. I am very grateful for my experience there, but it was also very difficult, because being a person of color at that school was really hard. The teachers that I had actually ended up getting fired my senior year for being racist, sexist and transphobic. It was a whole thing," Luna recalls.

After graduating from DSA in 2019, Luna was accepted into prestigious music programs at California Institute of the Arts and Berklee College of Music. However, the pricey tuition made it impossible for Luna to attend, so they ended up at L.A. City College, but didn't stay. "I ended up dropping out during COVID, because everything was online," Luna explains. "We were doing ensembles online. It did not work. So I dropped out, and just continued to make my own music."

Luna's sound is a sunny blend of R&B vocals, pop aesthetics and rapid-fire rap bars. "In very simple terms, I always say I make pop rap R&B. It's poppy, but I rap, and there's a lot of R&B influence. In terms of my brand, I always describe myself as 'a hoodrat with an anime exterior,'" Luna emphasizes. "I'm a big fan of duality in general: Masculinity and femininity, playfulness and hardness, being really cute but also being able to be tough. I like bringing opposites together to create something new and exciting."

Whether listening to contemporary pop darlings or hard-hitting classic MCs, Luna is drawn to the same two elements: adept storytelling and fierce individuality. Though Luna's music now is clearly influenced by hip-hop, they weren't particularly interested in rap until they were exposed to some of the genre's great storytellers.

"For a long time, I actually was like, 'I don't know if I really want to rap. I don't know if I like rap music,' and I think part of that came from a little bit of disdain towards my dad," Luna admits. But on a school trip their sophomore year of high school, a friend insisted Luna check out J. Cole. "I went with a bunch of other people from my school and also some reservation students from Arizona, and one of them loved hip-hop. So I listened to J. Cole for the first time, and I was blown away," Luna recalls. "Because again, I fell in love with storytelling, and someone like J. Cole is an amazing storyteller, very skilled with the pen, and knows exactly what to say to create a lasting impact. From there, I explored hip-hop music a lot more."

Luna began delving into the discography of two '90s rap icons, Tupac and Biggie Smalls, which eventually led them to Lauryn Hill and other women who revolutionized rap. "Lauryn Hill was someone who really stuck with me. After that, I gravitated a lot more towards female rappers and women in general. Nicki Minaj came out, and I was like, 'This is ridiculous,'" Luna remembers. Part of what fascinated them about Minaj was her ability to emulate any style of music, without ever losing her signature sound. "Being able to do pop records, straight-up hip-hop records, dancehall and reggaeton music, and being able to do all this well, and still stand out as a feature, was something that was unheard of for me," Luna says.
Luna draws inspiration from celebrated vocalists and masterful storytellers.
Vincent J. Walker
Even after falling in love with rap, Luna still listens to renowned female vocalists like Jazmine Sullivan, Brandy, Whitney Houston, Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey to improve their own vocal abilities and ear for music. But by far Luna's biggest inspiration today is Doja Cat, who has skyrocketed to fame in the last few years with a similar fusion of pop, hip-hop and R&B. "I think it's very, very apparent in my music and what I do that I'm very inspired by her," Luna says. "Being able to be an amazing performer, a decent singer, and a skilled rapper, that trifecta, is something I want to be able to do."

"Kitty," Luna's only single currently available on streaming platforms, is a fun tribute to the pop-rap princess, filled with the same cheeky innuendos, bubbly bars, and vocal layering techniques that have made Doja Cat's music so irresistible.

As a gender nonconforming musician, Luna feels like they have a point of view that has yet to permeate mainstream music, and says that makes it more difficult for them to be taken seriously within the industry. "The perspective I write from is definitely something I think is not heard a lot, or at all, especially in the genres that I dabble in. I've come across a few artists here and there, and definitely a lot of artists who need to be seen and heard, but nobody has broken that barrier yet. It's few and far between to see someone like that succeed and be taken seriously in music," they say.

"The biggest thing for me is knowing that I'm going to have to combat people and consistently prove myself, and my worth and my skill as an artist. I feel like when people look at me, there's going to be all these preconceived notions of who I am and what I want to do, rather than people just looking at my music."

In their experiences in Denver's music scene, Luna has found that being acknowledged as an artist often comes at the price of being singled out. "I definitely have run into this tokenism type of thing already," they say. "I'll compete or perform anywhere, and this specifically has happened in Denver; they'll talk about me or announce me, and they always feel the need to mention: 'Luna is out here living their best life and showing you that you can be who you are!' Like, okay? But I'm also really talented! I don't want what I look like or who I am to consistently overshadow the art that I make.

"I am an artist above everything else. I'm queer, I'm of color, whatever. But at the end of the day I make good music that's worth listening to, and I bring something new to the industry," Luna continues.
"Of course, I want people to listen to my music and hear experiences that are unique to queer people, or unique to people of color.  But I don't want to have to consistently be forced to perform at only gay events, or Pride, or things like that. My goal as an artist is to be able to reach the masses, and I don't want to be stuck."
Luna will be performing at three events hosted by the creative hub Undefined Timeline.
@kaiyenphotography
On Luna's upcoming debut EP, which will be released sometime next year, Luna aimed to work with artists who share those aspects of their identity. "The cool thing about this project actually is everyone involved is a person of color, and three-fourths of those people are also queer," they hint.

In the meantime, there are three chances this week to catch a sneak preview of Luna's new music: Wednesday, October 26, at The 778; Thursday, October 27, at Fifteen LTD; and Friday, October 28, at Undefined Timeline's listening party.

"It's two performances, and the third is a listening party," says Luna of their busy week. "The first one is a competition hosted by this organization called Undefined. They partnered with Wolf Wednesdays, an open mic competition here in Denver. The second night is going to be interesting. It'll be like a game. They compared it to Wild N' Out. I don't know what it's going to look like, but the winner of that wins a trip to New York City. And these are all fan votes, so the audiences will choose the winners."

For more information and details on Luna Luna's upcoming performances, visit their Instagram. Tickets can be purchased in advance on Undefined Timeline's website.
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Cleo Mirza is a real-life Daria Morgendorfer who worships at the altar of Missy Elliot. She left the East Coast to live vicariously through Colorado's drag performers, and only returns for the pizza. Cleo has been a contributing writer for Westword since 2019, covering music, arts, and cannabis. She loves white wine, medical marijuana, and her possessed chihuahua, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza

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