Guayaba: Experimental, Shape-shifting Hip-hop

Photo by UnaBlue

Savvy Northwest audiences have been tracking Guayaba since at least November 2016, when the provocative artist released her EP Black Trash/White House on BandCamp. Its genre-fucking mix of cumbia, EDM, R&B, acoustic folk and experimental rap in English and Spanish signaled the arrival of a rare and intriguing talent—part of a wave of envelope-pushing, femme-forward hip-hop that challenges Seattle’s music-scene status quo. Since then she’s maintained her profile with a vigilant social media presence that’s both outspoken and vulnerable, and with radically cathartic performances that take place at DIY venues and house shows—places where she can more directly connect with her audience—as often as Neumos and the Crocodile.

Watching her perform is watching a woman disappear into an idea, an image, a sound: Guayaba alone with a laptop and microphone, her voice sensual and hypnotic, assertive and energized, her backing beats churning and insistent. It’s a feedback loop that swallows artist and audience together.

Guayaba is currently working on her follow-up to Black Trash/White House. “I want it to be incomparable to my last project,” she says, “so this is that time where I realize that I need to get serious.”

Lately you’ve used social media to speak about fair treatment of women and people of color in the music community.
When I started talking about it I didn’t think that anyone was going to listen. I was hurt about it and I wanted to be able express that somewhere. I was kind of using social media as a diary, and then I realized how many other people it’s happening to, and I was like, this is a serious problem. And it’s happening to marginalized individuals—especially women of color. And then I went from being hurt to being angry. It’s one thing if it affects me, but if it’s affecting other people as well… So I just got louder about it and something actually started to happen and that was amazing, honestly. But I still have a lot of anxiety about it because in some places I may have gotten a reputation of being confrontational or hard to work with, when honestly I’m just like, Can you please pay me a little more money? [laughs]

Asking for fairness is not confrontational.
Exactly. And it scares me that I felt any kind of nervousness or anxiety about asking for fairness and I feel like that’s something that I’ve been conditioned to my entire life in so many different aspects. I’ve had conversations with DoNormaal, with Taylar Elizza Beth, and it’s nice to be able to rally with them and talk about the similar experiences we’ve had and [know] that we’re not over the top about our feelings.

How has that been received in the music community?
It has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m thankful for how welcoming people have been because I really do it for other women of color who want that visibility, especially here in Seattle.

I also feel like there are some people that are reluctant to that shift. There’s a little bit of pushback. There’s an overwhelming number of labels that are exclusively for Seattle rock or pop-punk and those attitudes are preserved across genres. I feel like the city is afraid to be a hip-hop city. Even when it’s representing marginalized voices, deep down a lot of Seattle is afraid of losing its progressive whiteness. [laughs]

I want people to be involved in the communities they’re coming into. I’ve been staying in Tacoma and something I’ve noticed is how incredibly segregated Seattle is. I have a lot of friends in the North End and I’m like, Have these people ever been to, like, White Center? A lot of them don’t know where to find this culture, and it’s just, like, come to the Beacon Hill Block Party! Just come listen to some of these artists. Seattle’s a bigger city than it seems because we focus on these particular parts of it, particular art that’s being made. I wish there was more for all of Seattle.

Read the rest of City Arts’ Best New Music 2018 issue.