At 21, Sha Shakusky sees herself as one of the city’s hip-hop young bloods, growing up and into the city’s scene.
She labels her music as sample-based instrumental with a hip-hop focus. But it wasn’t her sound, it was her, that took some adjustment for the local hip-hop community. Shakusly identifies as a transgendered woman of color in a defiantly gender-prescribed musical genre.
“I can’t speak for other scenes, but in hip-hop, it’s ugly and misogynist,” Shakusky says. “Dudes can’t keep referring to women as bitches. I put out a question on Facebook to other producers, asking how long we’re going to allow people to use ‘fag’ as a filler line before we stop them and say, ‘This is wrong.’”
With a tape released in Spain in March, a headlining gig at the Harrisonburg showcase, MacRock, and her first East Coast tour planned, Shakusky says she feels like the world is embracing her music. Saying she had no choice but to expand, she’s created press kits, solidified tour dates and accepted that everything’s going well, considering it’s been barely over a year since she began making music.
“But it seems like ultimately, a lot of people are intimidated by me,” she says of experiencing cisgendered men trying to control how vocal she can be. Part of that occurs when venues book her, only to undermine her credibility when they discover she identifies as femme.
Haters have accused her of trading on her queerness, saying she wouldn’t get attention were she not female, but also trashing her for not appearing more stereotypically glam or overtly feminine.
“I’m too butch for that. I’m very clear that’s not an expectation people should have of me, but some men definitely try to make me feel like I’m invalid, like I’m only successful because I’m a woman,” she explains. “I don’t think they’d understand intersectionality if their favorite rapper explained it to them.”
Because the established hip-hop scene here wasn’t especially welcoming, Shakusky’s goal is to lead by example for younger do-it-yourself artists, giving voice to people who feel voiceless.
“DJ Ohbliv’s soul and spirit is hip-hop in Richmond,” she says. “When I still had to be home when the street lights came on, Ohbliv was laying the groundwork for me. For the most part in Richmond, everyone’s on the same page. I’d just like to add empathy of different realities in that.”
Sha Shakusky will be touring in June with dates to be announced.