Tiana Hux: Portrait of an artist

When Tiana Hux walks in the room, you know it. Described by Offbeat Magazine as a “force of nature,” vocal powerhouse Tiana Hux performs authentically and outrageously to connect with and inspire her mass of varying audiences. Hux doesn’t believe in the fourth wall; instead, she aims to break the barrier that separates the audience from the stage. With influences like the Beastie Boys and MTV, Hux views the world through an artistic lens, even going on to say in a 2020 interview that “everything is art.” Tiana Hux wholeheartedly recognizes the value of collaboration between performer and crowd, opening up spaces for different ideas, beliefs and interpretations to flood viewers’ expansive minds. Hux actively works to engage audiences through a number of different avenues: she is now the lead singer of co-ed rock band “Malevitus” and she performs theatrically utilizing rap and dance as “MC Sweet Tea,” wielding costumes and design to weave her artistic web. 

Tiana Hux was exposed to the world of music from a very young age. She spent her early life and career in Austin, Texas, otherwise known as the “live music capital of the world.” However, although she was exposed to music from a young age, her affinity for music did not really develop until she attended the University of Texas at Austin to earn a degree in Performance Art. Hux talks of her college experience as a prelude to her life as a musician, a time when she played with the limitless tools of music, teaching herself how to rap and play the drums on her own. As a result of her creative experimentation, Hux gradually cultivated a deep passion for the musical arts; furthermore, she would ultimately go on to graduate with a degree in Performing Arts. Yet, she didn’t want to simply sit in an art gallery all day, passively dealing with others’ works; rather, she wanted to showcase stories of different perspectives through direct interaction and engagement with audiences.

Tiana Hux performing at One Eyed Jacks in New Orleans pre-Katrina

This journey led her to New Orleans in 1999, where she used the musically-electrifying space to develop a creative role of her own as an interactive rap MC for burlesque shows. Hux described Austin as similar to New Orleans in that both cities are a hodge-podge of different people, but pointed out that Austin is an especially segregated city where the Sub-Rock is overwhelmingly white, unlike New Orleans where everything and everyone is more blended. Hux saw Austin as more of a man’s world, expressing that the guy with the guitar is always “king;” but in New Orleans, “it’s the horn player, the brassy big-mouthed lady, or the piano player” who’s the star. She speaks of her first time in New Orleans as an experimental journey where she felt heard, warmly welcomed, and immersed in a community of experimenters. Hux boasts her creativity in numerous ways challenging the spaces around her: often being accompanied on stage by live aerialists and graphics she made herself. She eventually wrote and released an Album called “Story” in 2005, just three weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the shore of New Orleans. Hux, hit hard by the hurricane, was forced to evacuate before her New Orleans career could fully take off. Hux’s journey moved her to Los Angeles, then back to Austin, and finally to the Crescent City permanently in 2016. Five months after releasing a new album with “Malevitus,” Coronavirus seized the world and imposed a quarantine that halted the band’s touring and its progression in the world of music. Hux’s opposition to playing virtual concerts during the coronavirus crisis aligns with the true performance artist in her. Virtual shows, where she can’t see, interact or deeply connect with listeners, don’t hold value to her. However, she looks forward to when outdoor shows and festivals will be permissible. 

Hux has expressed that both of her homes, New Orleans and Austin, with their respective cultures, are visible motifs in her music. Though she felt the “rock subculture” of Austin fit more with her music style, she often felt confined by their traditional expectations of what performance and artistic expression can be. Ultimately, New Orleans captured her heart with its blend of diverse musicians and freedom to be more experimental. “In New Orleans,” Hux said, “creativity is currency,” of which she clearly has an abundance. Just as Hux herself is an eccentric, both “unconventional” and “uncanny,” (Sounding Like a No-No, p. 8), so is the city which parties and mourns in the same fashion: with an accompanying band. She heavily appreciates how fellow New Orleans musicians welcomed her with open arms, even with her idiosyncratic white rapper persona. 

Tiana Hux’s background as both a rocker with “Malevitus” and a rapper as “MC Sweet Tea” is most clearly seen in her 2005 solo album, “Story.” Her overall sound is what Royster would define as authentically eccentric because it is “changing, unclear, and unintelligible” (p. 30) all of the time. For example, her unconventional choice to pair rap lyrics with electronic beats in songs such as “Get a Job, “Elektra’s Venue,” and  “Properfukt” brings an element of energy and extravagance that matches her vibrant personality. At the same time, in songs like “TXass Rock,” Hux uses sounds typical in a hard rock song, such as a simple bass line, loud power chords on the electric guitar, and typical drum beats utilizing high hats. The dissonance heard in “Story” is not only proof that Tiana Hux is not afraid to challenge and confuse her listeners; it is also proof that she fits perfectly as what Francesca Royster would deem an eccentric artist. As Royster elaborates, “eccentricity in this study implies purposeful oddness, and a simultaneous hijacking of our gaze and eardrums, jamming the system” (p. 15). Hux chooses to make her music bizarre and whimsical with an intended purpose- to make art that stands out to others and forces people to stop and think. For example, she often combines with her rap lyrical instruments that are rarely heard in rap songs, like when Hux plays an acoustic guitar halfway through “Get a Job” and continues to rap over it. Royster goes on to explain, “By ‘eccentric,’ I mean not only out of the ordinary or unconventional performances but also those that are ambiguous, uncanny, or difficult to read.” (p. 8). When asked whether or not she has direct messages or takeaways from her songs, Hux suggests she wants her viewers to be the one to interpret the meaning, setting the stage for audiences to feel a particular mood, rather than tell her audiences directly what to feel. This eccentric ambiguity is consistent throughout all of her music and lyrics. Hux ends her album with a song called “NOLA Woman” that is clearly connected to her own personal history of moving to Los Angeles to “become a movie star” before ultimately finding her voice in New Orleans. Hux engages with what Francesca Royster calls the idea of eccentricity as she “produces a state of vulnerability” (p. 28) when she opens up about her own life story over the sounds of a traditional swaying New Orleans jazz upright bass.

Tiana Hux belts it out
credit: Jonathan Tobin

Tiana Hux is an artist who simultaneously uses her musical roots and schooling to make money, reach large audiences, and record art in order to cement its place in history. Even though Hux was not brought up playing music in her household, she knew she wa5nted to be out front, leading her to where she is today: exuberantly dancing, singing, and rapping in ways that force the audience out of their seats, turning dull venues into electric filled rooms. Her stage presence helps to define the ultimate eccentric, one who uses their quirks to make a statement and to break the invisible roadblock between performers and the public. The low and raspy sounds of her natural voice help to continue to allure audiences of all different types almost a decade after her career initially started, begging and daring audiences to sway with the music as they conjure the mood Hux set out to recreate.

This piece is part of the on-going series “The Social and Political Commentary of Music Reviews,” which is part of an Alternative Journalism course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Christine Capetola.

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