Written by Grayson Arnold, Ramal Rauf, and Julian Warren
Walking down the street, she may look like a woman checking all the boxes of societal convention, but Tiana Hux is her own brand of undeniable eccentricity. Hailing from Austin, Texas, Hux began her career in a location that prioritized white male artistry. Amid music industry requirements of high economic output and sticking as closely as possible to the status quo, she struggled to find an inclusive space to share her art with the world. But, by psychologically shifting her understanding of her identity and prioritizing the skill of making art she could be proud of at the end of the day, she found her way to New Orleans. In the welcoming city’s inclusive music culture, she has formed visceral connections to the ecstatic audiences she performs for, and revels in the ability to explore herself as an artist, journeying down the paths her heart takes her. A tireless mover and shaker, she has established herself here as a groundbreaking rapper ready to take on the complexity of topics such as womanhood, sex, and the historical tapestry of our lives.
Mentored by Linda Montano, a groundbreaking performance artist of the 70s and 80s, Hux learned how to create space for herself within the performance art community that had only just recently begun accepting and supporting female performers. While searching for her niche as an artist in her college years at UT Austin, she stumbled across a series of interactive theater performances, and was fascinated by the notion of making the audience an integral part of her art. This love of audience interaction is reflected in Hux’s performances today, taking place in small venues with deconstructed stages that allow attendees to get as close to her as possible. Hux’s performance of “Iconic” at the Carousel Lounge reflects her desire to connect with the audience, as the spectators dance and groove just a foot away from Hux and her band. Her emphatic cell phone use is contrary to the more restrictive principles she was taught while studying performance art, but is extremely emblematic of New Orleans’ artist culture that dares all creators to break the boxes of social convention they may be tempted to occupy.
By selecting the name MC Sweet Tea for her solo performer persona, she reminds the music industry and her spectators of her loud and proud Southern roots. And, when performing in her band, she makes sure to tie in her personal history once again: her band’s name, Malevitus, is the surname of her early Greek ancestors and Malevitus’s self-titled debut album uses an old photo of the Malevitus family for the cover. Her enchantment with her past and creative interweaving of it in the art she makes today is the sign of a truly reflective artist. Her talented gift for introspection and her ability to incorporate her history while still moving forward in her career is just one of the many reasons she has become a fixture of the New Orleans music scene.
Hux is also vehemently against using the tried-and-true models when it comes to her career. She does not seek to hide away within a cookie-cutter mold; she much prefers dismantling it and breaking out on her own. For her first show in New Orleans, she performed at Preservation Hall, a historic trademark of the French Quarter. Feeding off the exciting energy of the location, Tiana Hux performs with an explosion of colorful and bizarre animal costumes and matching animalistic noises. By layering her unorthodox style of rap onto beats with a strong rock influence, she forms a captivatingly unique anthem that screams eccentricity. Francesca Royster, the academic that coined this complex term in her book Sounding Like A No-No, points to true eccentric artists often affirming their quirkiness by taking genres of sound and meshing them in previously unheard-of pairings (Royster 2-3). A combination of rock and rap is quite unexpected, but Hux’s crafty ability to pair the two so that they complement one another affirms her admirable oddity as an artist. The campy tie-ins of modern dance and theatrical montages help cement the performance as an enigma. She clearly lives to perform, and is nothing if not authentic.
Hux often uses metaphors to describe how she moved from a more conventional Austin to a more accepting, and often more strange, New Orleans. At Preservation Hall, with her band dressed in unsettling animal costumes, Hux asks “Who dat, who dat? Is she ever coming back?” and answers her own question with, “So long to my bed, my home, and my child. Gone to the nighttime, gone to runnin’ wild.” These powerful, punchy lyrics point to her assertive choice in deciding to put down roots in New Orleans. When Hux speaks of the differences between the two cities she calls home, she often lingers on how welcoming and avant-garde New Orleans’s music culture has proven to be. In Austin, while there was a degree of inclusivity, segregation between both genres and people as well as the promotion of solo white male artists left much for her to desire. When she came to New Orleans, she discovered that “the currency here is creativity.” Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there’s a place for you in New Orleans.
The idiosyncrasy and brash nature of her act is further hammered home when we see her perform “Everybody Knows You Dance Like You Fuck” at Da Tasty Hotz live, a show that marked the beginning of her transformation into MC Sweet Tea. Hux embraces the sexual liberation and hedonism that characterizes the French Quarter, a common theme in her burlesque-inspired performances. Her fascination and history with burlesque and its performers shines through in the way the synchronized dancers’ scantily clad figures sway their hips and shimmy to the beat. The sinuous, fluid dance moves and lyrics are further enlivened by the staccato beat and assertive clapping in the song. A computer-generated siren also weaves through the rhythm of horns, flutes, and claps. Towards the end of the performance, an unnerving robotic effect slides its way under Hux’s voice, intertwining with her boastful expressions and the dancers’ snake-like two-step to form an atmosphere overflowing with confidence, swagger, and honesty.
In “Nola Woman,” released in February of this year, Hux explains that “the Big Easy is where I made my voice heard.” New Orleans allowed her to create her own style and persona, an opportunity she had been searching for her entire career. The song is a powerful, assertive piece, beginning with an acoustic riff reminiscent of a lazy summer day in the South, and ending with the sarcastic and brash lilts of her rap. She exclaims, “Sometimes you have to struggle, but not at the expense of my freestyle manual,” alluding to her past when she had to make a conscientious choice between industrialism and creativity. Because of this choice, she landed, for a short amount of time, in Los Angeles. While she fondly remembers her time there, filled with collaborations and learning from some truly brilliant artists, she laments the commercialism that the music industry there focused on. A succinct lyric late in the tune, “I want old-school glamor grammar, not the chance to sell banana holders,” bluntly confirms her rejection of the Los Angeles music scene’s obsession with money at the expense of authenticity. The song affirms that she is no LA woman, and that she fully embraces the overall culture of her adopted home of New Orleans, but especially its music culture which allows people to be exactly who they are; nothing more, nothing less.
In a sparsely populated area of the music industry, that of the white female rapper, Tiana Hux is a standout performer. Her braggadocious persona, sharp and provocative lyrics, and connection with her audience all come together to create a dynamic act that we are lucky to have in our midst.
This piece is part of the on-going series “Portrait of an Artist,” which is part of an Alternative Journalism course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Christine Capetola.
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