Snow Tha Product never had a corporate vibe, despite spending years in a contract with Atlantic Records.
The California-based rapper, born Claudia Alexandra Feliciano, is an outspoken activist who cultivated her sound in the underground hip-hop scene before securing a label deal with Atlantic in 2012 — a relationship she severed in November this year to go independent again. Her creative team has long been a family affair: Her relatives shoot her music videos, manage her tours, serve as her security, collaborate with her on her clothing line and shoot her photographs.
All the while, she raps about immigration, bisexuality and anxiety with a pride guaranteed to draw tears from fans, with whom she communicates ceaselessly on social media, talking politics, her career, even her recent divorce and girlfriend. She makes herself accessible to her audience at concerts, knowing many in the crowd on a first-name basis and hanging out with them after shows.
On her current tour, she’s planning trips to the mountains to snowboard with fans between various Colorado gigs, including her show at the Ogden Theatre this Friday, December 7.
Were she playing small venues, having that kind of intimate relationship with an audience would make sense. But she’s not. And in Denver, the first city where she sold out a mid-sized venue (Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom) and realized she had jumped from playing 200-seat spots to wider acclaim, she has kept her concerts informal and even a little punk. When she played Grandoozy, Superfly’s Denver music festival, back in September, she showed up late, drank heavily with fans, refused to get off the stage and teased the festival-goers, saying that if they could afford a Grandoozy ticket, they'd probably never heard of her before the event.
Many in her crowd have identities that mirror her own: They’re young, often queer and Chicana, and largely hip-hop fans who are relieved to find a bilingual mainstream artist talking about their experiences. But she even moved Grandoozy’s largely white attendees, who screamed enthusiastically as she took aim at the rise of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant Republican party.
Feliciano, who has always been outspoken about issues regarding mental health, LGBTQ identity and immigration, is frustrated that in the current political climate, artists are incorporating an activist persona into their brand without doing the hard work of organizing or collaborating with social movements.
“I am one of the artists who was very outspoken about a lot of things and political shit and activism shit, and I've always been very outspoken — to my own detriment, to where there's people that are trying to capitalize now and trying to be the face of that,” she explains. “It's like, dude, don't use this stuff as a platform. You're supposed to use your platform for this stuff.”
Blunt honesty is everything for Feliciano. Her music has an unscripted urgency, and her art responds to the moment. Doing that requires her to be unrestrained, to be able to drop music on a whim. So being signed to Atlantic Records — a coveted deal that she initially embraced — never quite fit.
“When you're dealing with labels, there's so much red tape,” she says. “There's roll-out. There's releases. You've got to do it the right way. You've got to go through channels and do this and then do that. There are so many things that end up slowing down a process. An album ends up dropping a year and a half later, when maybe the way the music industry is going right now, that's not what it calls for.”
As for Atlantic, Feliciano says, “they're a great label and a great company, It's just that we're in different places. It's just like with a relationship. Sometimes you're both great people; you're just not meant for each other.”
A few weeks in, she says going independent has been a good move, both for professional and personal reasons.
“I literally wake up excited again and happy. To me, that's the biggest thing,” she says. “I'm a mom, and I have an eight-year-old who looks up to me. I'm supposed to tell him he can follow his dreams and he shouldn't try to fit into the box that normal America is supposed to be. I want him to be greater, and I can’t say that freely without doing that 100 percent honestly myself.”
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.