Qiayz, and The Musical Journey to Self Discovery
This story begins with third grade poetry. At the age of nine Chicago native, Qiayz (born Niquia Mays), knew there was something about her writing that set her apart from everyone else.
Q: What got you into rapping in the first place?
A: I started doing poetry- I wanna say, around nine years old. So that would make me in the 3rd grade? And nobody was in my creative writing class. It was just like, me and three other kids. And I would always win first place, so that really motivated me as a kid to continue going.
She moved to Arizona in middle school, and she recalls writing poems for her friend’s boyfriends. And eventually, these poems turned into raps at the lunch table.
“I just started free-styling one day, and they were like, ‘Oh you’re really good! You’re really good!’” she said. “But you know, you’re your own worst critic, so I was just like, ‘Whatever.’”
Inspiration struck when she began to rap along to a Bobby Valentino album one day, and recorded her lyrics over him. From there, her and her best friend would download beats online and practice rapping over them.
She took advantage of the MySpace boom and began to post her music online. One of her early songs even went viral, and managed to get 200 million plays in one week.
“I was 16 and the song was really vulgar, very vulgar,” she said. “I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I wanted to tell my mom that I rapped, but then when she asked to hear the songs that I was recording, she would’ve been like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
She kept her secret life as an artist as just that- a secret. That is, until her very first show a year after she had gone viral.
She remembers the feeling of speculation around her and her music because of the fact that she came from the west side. No one believed she could be real. She believed everyone thought she was a “Catfish,” a term for someone that pretends to be someone else online, (and wasn’t actually coined until 2010).
It was at her first show, she says, that she really became a household name in Phoenix.
Q: Can you describe your rap style?
A: In my own opinion, I don’t believe that I fit in a category, because not everyone has heard the music that I’m working on. You know, I work on anything from Jazz, to Blues, to house, to R&B, to rap, to hardcore rapping, rock, if it was ever presented in my way. So, I think the best way to describe me in my own opinion is just diverse.
In the era of Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, it’s common for Qiayz to be compared to them. And while others may be discouraged by being put in a box with these women, Qiayz embraces it, and even uses it to her advantage.
“It just lets me know that they put me on that same pedestal as the next best thing,” she says confidently.
Still though, she believes she has more diversity in her music because of the influences she has gained living in different parts of the country from the Midwest down to Puerto Rico.
Her influence also comes from her family dynamics- a melting pot that she calls her household. She recalls that her late grandfather played saxophone when she was younger, and without any sort of knowledge of this, she too began to play.
“I feel like there’s a connection to music throughout my blood. It’s meant for me to do this,” she stated.
Q: Was there ever a doubt in your mind that you didn’t want to do this?
A: All the time. I really wanted to do it when I saw myself becoming popular online, and just people showing up to my shows and showing love. It gets to the point sometimes where it overwhelms me, because people will treat me like I’m famous. But I’m like, “I’m here too. I have a 9 to 5 too.” So, that part would make me doubt myself a lot. A lot of times I would say I do doubt myself, but as far as doing music long term, I don’t feel like it’s a career path for me per se. I think it’s a hobby and if it becomes a career path, I’m going to go that route.
For Qiayz, music has been a way to express herself and her personality. It’s always been about her journey. She even refers to it as a love-hate relationship, that has pushed her to her creative limits.
“I have more than one talent, so I am always bouncing back and forth between them,” she said. “And I’m just trying to perfect each one.”
Q: What other ventures have you embarked on?
A: I went to a community college, and I was going to school for interior design and then I went to school for real estate, and I’m actually going to start going to school to be an engineer. I want to be an architect. So that’s really my big goal. That's what I want to do. I want to be able to build communities — to build in my community — any community. Any community that I can enhance with just my touch and my mind, then that’s what I want to do. That’s how you really take over.
She describes her music as the way to achieve greater notoriety, but the dream of architecture as the way to truly make an impact in the world.
Q: What kind of obstacles have you run into doing music?
A: Girl, anything that you can name, I probably went through it. All the way from dealing with the masculinity in the industry, all the way down to just jealousy, and even just the upmost love. As far as obstacles, I would say overcoming the fear of getting the recognition that I know I deserve. That’s one of my things that I feel like is my biggest personal obstacle. Knowing that I have the potential to go other places, and then not taking that step.
She strongly believes that women in the industry have been forced to push aside their desires career-wise, to make sure they are in line with those of the men that surround them. This in turn has changed her perspective and motivated her to keep meeting with new people and networking her way through to success.
She emphasizes the idea that being comfortable in a situation will never get her anywhere, so she constantly meets new people in order to get where she wants to go.
When she finally joined Hardbody Entertainment, it was a whole new dynamic for her.
“On the outside we like to call ourselves a label,” she says. “But really, we’re a family.”
She no longer has to deal with the uncertainty of someone else’s intentions. Whether they were really there to help her and her career, or take advantage of her as an inexperienced artist. Because of her label, Qiayz believes that she has found the people that will help bolster her success, in whatever it is she chooses to do with her career.
“I’m just here to get a bag, so it’s like, if you can’t help me with that, then I don’t need your help,” she stated.
Q: When you talk about the obstacles of men, do you mean they treat you as a sexual object?
A: Yeah. As a sexual object — it’s power trips, you know? You know how whenever a female artist in the industry becomes big there’s always like a group of guys around her, right? So I think people think that that’s the standard to become a somebody, but now you see women that are coming out without that. And I think that’s really changing the game too, because we were so used to Da Brat being with Jermaine Dupri and whoever else, and Missy Elliot being with Timbaland and Genuwine. It was always like a group of people around this female artist.
This dynamic, as Qiayz describes, was one of her biggest burdens at the beginning of her career. When she first stepped on the scene, she had people lining up to try to persuade her to work with them.
She recalls, “People wanted to take those positions. ‘We could be like this! We could be like, the Nicki and Young Money!’ And it’s like, that’s not what I wanted.”
This power dynamic became her biggest sacrifice, because she knew that the people approaching her had the connections she needed to get far, but she didn’t want to give up her individuality.
“That was another reason why I stopped doing music and went on hiatus for about three years,” she said. “Because I couldn’t get anywhere in my own city.”
In her eyes, the desire to do music did not mean giving up her name for the benefit of someone else’s pocket.
Q: Do you think if you were a man your career would be further along? Or do you believe there’s an equal struggle for both?
A: I believe there’s an equal struggle for both. As a woman, anywhere where you’re placed at the forefront, I just feel like you’re going to be more successful. People like to look at us, women are beautiful. So, I think that that would just drive someone to even just look at your profile picture — play a song because you look good. I think as far as the physical aspect goes, then women can win in that department. But as far as actually gaining loyal fans, and keeping people around…
As for her male counterpart, she believes the struggle is setting yourself apart from all the other rappers out there. In a sea of men, they’re constantly struggling to be the one and have that one thing that puts them at a different level than everyone else.
According to Qiayz, “For women, its like, you’ll get the recognition that you deserve, but are they listening to you?”
She notes that finding the balance between her physical appearance and the message she wants to send is a struggle for her. In the end, it’s more about who manages to keep pushing, and she believes that the hip hop and rap scene can be a big enough platform for everyone that works hard enough to get there.
Q: What kind of message do you want to send with your music? What is it that you want to say?
A: I’ve been working on that a lot and a lot of my music is empowering. Before, it was just random, however I felt. If I was going through a relationship then I would rap about that. If I was in a good relationship, I would rap about that. If I was loosing my job, and homeless, I would rap about that. My experience is to empower someone else’s experience.
The music that she works on, she says, is meant to help someone else relate to her because maybe they are going through the same situation as her. Her focus is to help others find their “Inner-G,” her play on the word,“Energy.”
She admits that even though she would love to write something for the club, she doesn’t want to stray from the consciousness that she wants her music to have.
Her main focus is to keep her music as empowering as possible to her listeners, but still being able to have fun.
In order to empower ones self, she says, “The highest power that you can reach is within yourself. Definitely taking a look in the mirror and realizing who you are, realizing your struggles, realizing your battles, your wounds, where you come from, and accepting that, and loving that about yourself.”
Her understanding of self empowerment comes from her own battles with herself in the past. Putting herself in the box of female rappers today made her realize that she was never going to be Trina or Lil’ Kim, so she had to come to terms with who she was and where she wanted to go.
It was during her three year hiatus in 2014, that she realized that the only way she was going to succeed was learning to be herself and accept herself, and not compare her art to anyone else’s. It took her almost four years to come to that decision, but it paid off for her in ways she couldn’t imagine.
“I had to find myself, and I realized that that was probably the most empowering thing that I have ever done in my life,” she stated.
Q: What brought you back in?
A: I was losing my apartment. I lost my job. I lost my car. I lost my mind. I lost my appetite, and turned vegan. Cut all my hair off. I did a lot within a week, and the next week I was like a completely different person. I didn’t know who I was, but I that I had plans. I so I started reading a lot of books, I taught myself how to meditate. I just started praying, and then praying turned into meditating, meditating turned into yoga. And I started getting inspired again, because I started loving myself again.
It was her journey into her mind and her self doubt that taught her to break through the own walls she had built for herself and slowly work her way back into music.
The inspiration she gained from reconnecting with herself along with reconnecting with her friends and her passion for music made way for the creation of her comeback album, Qeyism, Influenced by Erykah Badu’s 1997 album, Baduizm.
Skeptical to put it out at first, she released it in March of 2018, and much to her surprise, it received a positive reaction from her fans.
“The love that I received and how many people that actually related to my story, just made me feel empowered,” she said.
Stripping down her identity and really learning about herself really made her comeback to music that much more empowering to her.
As an artist that started her journey almost 12 years ago, Qiayz has learned a lot about herself, her music, and most of all, who she wants to be in the world. In the audio interview below, I ask her some more in-depth questions about how she believes she has changed throughout the lifespan of her career.