While many consider Kierra Luv’s viral remix of “Money” by Cardi B to be the beginning of her career, she was working on her craft for nearly her entire life. Raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in her grandparents’ cramped home with “about nine other people,” Kierra was exposed to domestic violence and substance abuse at a young age. The hardships at home led Kierra to start writing poems to sort through the trauma she was experiencing every day.
Toying with the words and phrases she had written, Kierra eventually reworked a few of her poems into rudimentary raps. It became an obsession, and the budding artist soon found the words she was writing had serious promise, leading her to audition for The Rap Game. Though she did not end up making it on the show, she began to notice that the freestyles and songs she wrote were starting to pick up serious numbers online.
“You Lied to Me,” Kierra’s self-released first single and the “Money” remix exploded nearly simultaneously. Receiving co-signs from Cardi B herself, Tabius Tate, and outlets like WorldStarHipHop, “Money” lead the teen rapper to a label bidding war. After choosing the independent label 10K Projects, which was already home to other rap talents like Trippie Redd and iann dior, she began preparing for her first proper releases.
A year after her signing, Kierra Luv’s Take It or Leave It serves as her decisive debut. Featuring a few previously released hits like “Can’t Stand It” (feat. Tory Lanez), the mixtape acts as her resume – showcasing her range as an artist and telling the stories about what she has been through. Released just a week after her high school graduation, Take It or Leave It serves as an authentic document of teendom.
Lady Gunn got to talk with the rising hip hop star about her journey as an artist so far, her support of Black Lives Matter, and her love for reggaeton.
What was the first moment when you realized that you had something special? That you could make your music into a serious career?
I started realizing that I could have a music career when a lot of people started listening and paying attention. I felt that I always had a lot to say, but I didn’t always have a lot of people taking notice… but with music, everybody would pay attention. That first moment, however, was basically when I made my first single “You Lied to Me,” and it got a million views. That really showed me that music was going to be very serious for me.
You’ve noted that your rapping really started as poetry to try to work through problems at home… do you still write poetry?
Sometimes I still do write poetry because I find it easier if I write a poem and then turn it into a song. I can use that rhyme scheme to really make great lyrics. I’ll always write lyrics and poems down.
Although you are fully American don’t speak Spanish yourself, part of your family has Puerto Rican heritage. Do you find any inspiration from Latin genres in your music?
Oh, yeah. All the time. Latin and even trap Latin musicians like Bad Bunny, Ozuna, and Messiah, all of those guys. I love their music. It just makes me so happy to listen to. It’s a genre that I want to go into. Even though I don’t speak Spanish there’s still multiple ways I could try to get involved with that scene.
So, you’d be down to try out reggaeton or collaborate with some of those artists?
Yeah, for sure. I’d love to do it.
Speaking of collaborations, you’ve worked with a lot of talented producers on this mixtape. You also often note that you are picky when it comes to the beats you choose. What do you look for in a beat?
The first thing I look for is definitely just something that feels different, like something I haven’t heard before. I can tell when someone comes to me with things that I know they either made for other people or gave to other people first. I’m really not interested in anything like that. Really, it’s about both of us making a new lane with the sound because, you know, the distinctiveness of the sound is what really makes the song work.
Did any of the beats from Take It or Leave It immediately feel special for you from the first listen? Any favorites?
Yeah, a lot of the beats. Definitely “Don’t I” is a stand-out because that one just hit super hard right away. It was also just a good approach. The way I approached the rap was hella good for that beat. I felt the same way about “Work It Out.” Sometimes I get help with hooks, but those beats I didn’t need help on at all, it was completely natural. It was all me.
You’re known as a great freestyle rapper, and to be great at that you have to make a lot of snap choices and go with your gut. Is that also how you created the songs from Take It Or Leave It? Or did you have a more careful approach when writing these tracks?
I used to be a lot more careful, but now, I feel like when I am too careful, I just end up being hard on myself. Now I just feel like I’m gonna say what I’m gonna say. The way I make music starts by mumbling through it at first and then I add in words later. I believe that the words are always there, you just have to find different ways to approach it and different ways to get your message across.
Would you say right now that your approach is less about perfection right away and more about following your instincts?
Yeah, for sure, but in the end, I really do take my time with writing my lyrics and all that.
Though you have quite a few songs already out, do you see this mixtape as your true debut as an artist?
Yeah, definitely. I haven’t had any projects released yet. I haven’t ever put out more than three songs out at a time. This is my first real body of work. It’s like planting the seeds for what’s to come in my career.
You’ve been vocal about your support for Black Lives Matter, but at the same you’ve had some major exciting milestones with your graduation and your mixtape. It has to be a really difficult mix of emotions for you… How has your activism affected this moment in your life?
Even though it feels like everything is crashing down, I feel like there is something bigger coming. There’s always going to be that light at the end of that tunnel, and I know that for a fact because now we are at the point that no one wants to keep repeating the same things. That’s what we are really showing with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s pathetic that we have been going through years and years of this. This is just that breaking point where we are not going to keep tolerating it, and it shows too that people are willing to listen. It’s definitely time for a change. Time for big change in the world and in my own life with my mixtape coming out and graduation.
What can we expect next from you in 2020?
You can expect that I’ll be taking over! You’ll hear me everywhere, and you’ll see my face everywhere. Maybe some people aren’t going to expect it, but I know it’ll happen. It’s a takeover.
CONNECT WITH KIERRA LUV
photos / Jennifer Romero
story / Kristin Robinson