“When I first started rapping, I was terrible – terrible,” emphasizes 23-year-old Amala Nixon.
I’m standing in the middle of the parking lot of the New Carrollton Metro in Prince George’s County with the D.C.-based rapper, who was raised in Lanham, Maryland and is known mononymously by her first name. It’s cold but I am sporting long johns – I’m too old to be unnecessarily manipulated by weather any longer.
The reason we are at the Metro is because I requested we do the interview and take a few pictures at a place meaningful to her. Apparently, the picture portion hasn’t been communicated to her as she is confused by the camera hanging around my neck. If that is in fact true, it means that her natural look is photoshoot ready. She arrives in a dark brown bodysuit, and draped off her shoulders is a lighter brown winter coat – along with a Louis Vuitton bag to match her white/brown Louis Vuitton sneakers, of course.
“When I was younger, I used to have my headphones [on and] I’d find myself singing on the Metro,” Amala says. “Or I’d find myself rapping. I’d just block everyone out and tune in to my music.”
Such a statement gives me pause. Not all, but some of us find someone singing or rapping on the Metro deeply irritating. When I see a person rapping to headphones loudly as I wait for the train to arrive, I actively avoid whatever subway car they go to. The last thing our mind jumps to is that person’s relationship to that sound or artist, or even the significance of the moment in time the words are coming out of their mouths. Adulthood can make you forget why you do shit in the first place.
“That’s how I take that as a lesson now: to block out all of the fluff and negativity, and really just focus on your music, your craft, you and your goal that you want to get to.”
Amala is a relatively new rapper. She’s really only been rapping for three or four years. Her friends had a studio in their place in Greensboro near North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where Amala went to school. But apparently, they were too afraid to record.
“I was the first one to record in their studio, and it stuck. It f–king stuck.”
It was so sticky, she fled to California to pursue a rap career. She dropped out of school in 2017 to move west. She lived with an uncle who, according to her, she didn’t know from “a can of paint.” He had one room open, a sunroom, and that’s where she stayed.
“The sunroom was hot as f–k,” she says. “Every day I’d wake up, go to work at Panera, then take a $90 Uber to L.A.”
In the city at night, she’d network and record music videos.
Back from her pilgrimage to the West Coast, she currently has three singles: “Mojo” (produced by Lezter), “Tik Tok” and “On Demand.” For someone with such a brief catalog, her following is impressive. She has close to 40,000 Instagram followers and has opened for Atlanta-based rappers Foogiano and Mulatto. Her video for “Tik Tok” went live on October 9 and has over 99,000 plays on YouTube. The song consists of sharply plucked strings with bass underneath to cushion.
She’s got some clever lines in this track, showing her skills as a writer. My favorite line is: “Fumble with the keys like I’m Nat King Cole.” Or for the grammar nerds: “You ain’t a baby, you an infant / Do your commas have an indent?”
The video was directed by Chastity Corset, and filmed largely at a junkyard in Fort Washington, Maryland and on the tennis and basketball courts of Suitland High School in District Heights, Maryland. The video makes perfect use of the region’s backyards, mainly because these are locations I haven’t seen used before – and I can be a bit anal about these things because I often feel like this region isn’t filmed the way it should be.
There’s some draw-dropping views around the DMV; it just depends on who’s holding the camera. Amala, accompanied by two other women, is dancing on cars and holding fake babies on the tennis court. She even functions as a human dial on a clock. The video, shot in a time crunch, Amala says, was also conceived and executed during quarantine. The song was made because during the pandemic, there’d been such an uptick in TikTok use, though she instantly dismissed the idea of doing just a dance on video, considering it banal.
“I want to be different. I’m really edgy when it comes to my personality. I like to be unapologetic. When you see my visuals, I don’t want it to be basic, like, ‘This is typical.’ I want to be the opposite of that.”
They filmed this in August.
“It was baking,” she says.
You can tell, too.
Her most recent single, “On Demand,” was described as a “simple song that turned into a simple hit.” She was in the car with her manager, Ghost (Jovan Wallace), and they were vibing, Amala says. The hook came to her organically, and just stuck.
“I already had the verses done and waiting, but I couldn’t find a dope hook,” she says.
This “simple hit” currently has over 500,000 streams on Spotify and has received airtime love from local radio stations WPGC 95.5 and WKYS 93.9. Produced by Shyheem Kelly, its beat sounds like a dark lullaby filled with singing bells. It breaks for the most pleasing lyrical sequence on the track: “I’m constantly turning these heads / And counting these deads / To make sure our bag right / They see that our lip ruby red / The bag is Hermès / Got you niggas wanna act right.”
As Amala and I are wrapping up, coincidentally as it is getting colder, I ask about where she’d gone to high school.
“I was on scholarship at Bullis, which is this dope independent school.”
Bullis School is a private, college preparatory school in Potomac, Maryland that goes from kindergarten to twelfth grade.
“I was on scholarship there for track, and then I got kicked out,” she admits, chuckling.
She was sent to an “alternative school” before being admitted back into Bullis and graduating alongside her fellow classmates. For perspective, presently Bullis has a tuition of $48,170 for senior year.
“When I was able to graduate from that school, I was like, ‘You know what? I wouldn’t trade that experience for nothing. For real.’”
I ask who her first “white crush” was at the prep school.
“Oh God!” she retorts.
Then, without skipping a beat, she proceeds to tell me about the older brother of one of her classmates who was “this lacrosse ice hockey guy [with] flowy hair.”
“I’m like, ‘You know what? I could get with this,'” she recalls with pure joy.
Her two best friends are women she met there from Prince George’s County, who she still keeps in touch with to this day. I quickly see how the Metro was kind of like Heathrow Airport to her, a connector to the world as she knew it. It took her to Branch Avenue and would often help get her to Bullis’ hilly campus on Falls Road.
She dreams for more, though.
“I want to be iconic,” she says. “I don’t want to be a rapper. I don’t want to be an artist. I want to be an entertainer, artist, rapper, entrepreneur, businesswoman.”
She’s got a growing fan base domestically and internationally, and an EP coming out soon: “Amala Uncut.”
I look at her manager Ghost, who’s been face-masked up off to the side, braving the temperature like we are, and ask him why he is working with her.
“If you really hear how deep she goes, it’s not about just the outside,” he says. “It’s actually about what’s on the inside of her, and that’s what had me fall in love with her. This is what she does. Anybody who meets her in person or even sees her in person, that’s the first thing that’s going to hit you. You’re going to fall in love with who she is, not what she can do.”
“Mojo,” “Tik Tok” and “On Demand” are all available now on streaming platforms worldwide. Learn more about Amala and her upcoming EP, “Amala Uncut,” at https://artist.link/askaboutamala. Keep up with her on social media @askaboutamala on Twitter and Instagram.
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