Shortly after leaving the Staples Center—the site of the 55th-annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2013—in her hometown of Los Angeles, Sirah had some celebrating to do. She scored Best Dance Recording in tandem with dubstep titan Skrillex for his song “Bangarang.” Yet once the ceremony was over, the group she attended the show with wanted to call it a night. Unwilling to have her quest to celebrate deterred, Sirah wandered around Hollywood and interacted with strangers who already seemed to know that she had a big victory. “There was parties everywhere,” she says. “I just walked around with a bag of Twizzlers, partying with strangers.”
Earning one of those golden trophies was a huge accomplishment for Sirah, and that turn of fortune made for an especially sharp contrast with the emcee and singer’s station in life on her trek up. Born and bred in New York (specifically, Long Island and Queens), her youth included periods marked by poverty, homelessness and alcoholism.
As a kid, Sirah’s music diet was heavy on folk (Joni Mitchell comes up in interviews frequently) and hip-hop (Big Pun, Eminem, The Notorious B.I.G.). Her career path would go on to follow the latter genre, with her time in battle-rapping beginning at the tender age of 12. “I think everyone in New York has freestyle rapped at some point in their life, so that’s kind of what happened,” she says. “I would go to parties and freestyle. It didn’t even occur to me that that would be something that I would do in real life.”
Sometime in her teens, Sirah made it out to Los Angeles. At that point, she was “a bad kid” with predilections for graffiti and underground hip-hop. In her new territory, her ties to graffiti would lead her toward hip-hop open mics in South Central and the world of Project Blowed, a term that refers to both a renowned hip-hop workshop and an associated collective of rappers whose ranks include Aceyalone, Busdriver, Abstract Rude and Dumbfoundead. She spent around five years as part of that scene, taking criticism and hazing from its characters but also seriously refining her skills as an emcee.
Fast-forward to an indeterminate period: Sirah was hustling hard on tour, “sleeping on people’s floors and couches” in order to get her music career off the ground, when she received a MySpace message from Sonny Moore (aka Skrillex) while she was in Romania. Moore was interested in working with her, and the pair started a friendship that led to multiple collaborations—the most fruitful of which was “Bangarang.” Nowadays, Sirah is signed to an arm of major label Warner Music Group with her Atlantic Records deal, and she has another crucial collaborator in producer Mighty Mike.
The heavily produced, electronic-hued, bubblegum feel of Sirah’s new EP, Inhale, indicates her ambitions to become a player in massive, hook-dependent, would-be radio hits. To a less-prominent degree, her bravado and smooth tone of her flow still demonstrate her roots in underground hip-hop.
She still has a considerable distance to go before her own name is cemented. Because of this, it’s for the best that when she talks about her Grammy win, she views it as a symbol of possibility instead of validation for her career so far. “[The win] was more about the fact that somebody like me, living the life that I’ve lived, has a Grammy sitting in their living room,” Sirah says. “That’s the thing that really boggles my mind. I was just a broken kid from a broken home from a broken town.”
w/Icona Pop, K.Flay
536 W. 100 South
Friday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.
$18 in advance, $20 day of show