Lily Fangz bounces on the balls of her feet, looking out on the crowd from the stage at Red Rocks. Her long hair flows past her shoulders. She raises the mic. It's time to go. Fangz, aka Lileana Krenza, is a rapper and hip-hop artist, and she's diving into reggae work. Her "merch" is made up of drawings rather than T-shirts. Her songs are like a breath of fresh air. Her lyrics challenge gender expectations and encourage personal spiritual consciousness.
Krenza has had a fascination with rhyme and spoken word since she was a kid listening to East Coast hip-hop. She started doing slam poetry, which she put to music as producer friends started giving her their beats. Her career really took off when she joined the Souls in Action booking agency -- a local Colorado group -- and when she was initiated into Welcome to the D.O.P.E. Game, a creative community.
The third weekend in June was a big one for Krenza. The first of her four shows was as an opener for the Nas and Flying Lotus show at Red Rocks. You may remember this show for reasons beyond the music. But five hours before a gunman opened fire on Schoolboy Q's vehicle as the Compton rapper left the venue, golden-hour light shone on one of the country's most famous stages as Krenza tore through a duet performance with Turner Jackson.
The set was a success -- the crowd was appreciative -- but the violence after the show tainted the experience. Three people were injured, including a friend of Krenza's. "I felt really discouraged and bad for the energy of the place," she says. "Obviously I had a blast at Red Rocks, and the energy of the night was great beforehand. But I don't want to be involved with ignorant hip-hop."
As news of the shooting circulated via social media and news outlets, overly simplistic analysis emerged, some of it blaming the genre of music for the act of violence. "It's easy to go into the loop of that conversation and magnify the violence out of the conversation," Krenza says. "But it's anger. It's something that can't be swept under the rug, because it is happening," she says. "I just think we have a responsibility as an audience." She doesn't think violence defines any kind of music, however.
In her song "Masters of Our Reality," she writes, "We make warfare the kingpin, removing heartbeats from rhythm/And now all we hear is feet storming in sync with the system." Life, she raps, is "a simple equation, of integrating a nation, when you add love and some patience, subtract bullshit and hatred/It's about forgiving and learning and returning a purpose that's certain, and helping each other/This life shouldn't be a burden."
The shooting outside Red Rocks ignited her words and gave her plenty to think about. Her performances over the next three nights were charged by those emotions, and they gave her a chance to refocus.
The next day, she went to the Sonic Bloom festival in South Park, where she saw her current favorite hip-hop artist, Zion I, and gave him one of her demos. Her spirits were lifted. She had an impromptu jam session on the festival grounds with some fellow musicians. "I love those intimate settings," she says. "Everyone feels involved." After the festival, it was back to Denver for the Westword Music Showcase.
Fangz performed on one of the City Hall stages and had the room packed. "Engaging with the crowd, regardless of the stage size, is what's important," she says. "Really staying grounded in Denver has showed me love, and the D.O.P.E. Game clique is what has shown me love. Being present in that moment is important."
The next day, she played at Lost Lake Lounge. Again, the stage was small but the energy high.
Krenza has big plans for the future. She's created a brand, called Planet Fangz, and wants to put together a band for "a more dynamic experience in the live performance, so I can be more versatile with gigs. I'm looking to get into more than just hip-hop shows."
Her birthday is this week; she'll turn 23. Although she has a lot to say, she'll spend her entire birthday week in silence at a Buddhist meditation retreat. "By spending my birthday in silence, I'm hoping to set some intentions on how I want to interact in the coming year," she says. "The next step is coming back and putting content on the airwaves. I will put more videos together, get Planet Fangz on its feet."
Krenza says she's not supposed to read or write at the meditation retreat. It will be a struggle. She always has words going through her head.
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