I get a flash of deja vu as I walk through a maze of imported carpet, horseshoe table accents, and wall-to-wall mirrors trying to find Qveen Herby in a luxury tower in downtown Los Angeles It seems apropos that the Qveen has not one but two units in this landmark building. I think this on my mission to find her before the last of the west coast light.
“Back for Amy?” the doorman asks as I make my way to the front desk. In an earlier conversation, he laughs when describing the moment he learned one of the residents was a famous rapper with viral videos about Sugar Daddys, taking your vitamins, and indulging your best self with audiences to the hundreds of millions on the internet.
The world has not always known Qveen Herby as a dominatrix of self-care. In fact, Amy Noonan has been a music industry darling before. 2011’s Noonan was an entirely different outfit. It was one that consisted of her alongside current producer and husband Nick Noonan as Karmin, the pop wonderchild of LA Reid. They went viral in an age of the internet when there was no formula to do so, by releasing covers of chart-toppers. The Berklee School of Music alums version of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” was one of YouTube’s most viewed videos that year. In a stroke of luck and obvious musical talent, they signed to Epic Records before going on a life-changing roller coaster ride at music industryland.
Dress, Alina Anwar Couture. Earrings, Necklaces, Cuff and Ring, Dannijo. Shoes, Flor de Maria.
It was a vortex-like passage to fame that came with Rolling Stone covers, meeting Jay-Z while doing Rocawear campaigns, accompanied by a billion heads bopping along to sugar-sweet inspired love pop. They traveled the world, sat across tables, and took meetings with people such as Kanye West and Pharell Williams. It was a career fete you can imagine someone from Nebraska who grew up wanting to be a musician might revel in – ride the coattails to retirement even, but the duo found themselves questioning where they were going before quietly dissolving the band.
“I remember after we killed the killed Karmin, we needed like six months to just sleep. There was a lot of fear and it was a lot of like dense physical work.” Amy says of the aftermath, “I’m so grateful to have run into some of these heavyweights. LA Reid was great to us. He let us out of our contract. I learned so much. I don’t think I could be the businesswoman that I am today without that experience. So I still tell kids all the time. Hey, if they’re offering, if they’re gonna pay your rent for a year or two and like feed you and you know, send you on tours and introduce you to people, sign the deal.” Amy says of her experience during that time.
Coming out as Qveen Herby was a grandiose unabashed affair for the musician. “Karmin is dead, long live the Qveen,” was one tagline. By the time she has dropped her first EP in 2017, a track titled “Busta Rhymes”, she had been completely reinvented as a raven-haired bespectacled beauty that brought us deep into the trenches of her life with unapologetic rhymes and philosophies to life. Nick Noonan and esteemed hitmaker Pompano Puff, took the reigns to produce high-energy r&b singalongs, together they dominated editorial playlists and features. With the hundreds of millions of streams, views, and TikTok trending sounds, hours of videos shot in her loft freestyling and giving aura cleanses, Qveen Herby began building her Qveendom on her own terms.
Young, unafraid, Alexander Wang
Fresh in the game, but I’m no beginner (Fresh)
M’s to my name and the people say
I be hittin’ more scores than Hans Zimmer
Jenner lip filler, I dick it bigger
When they peak out, I be puttin’ up pillars
Pitchin’ no hitters, MJ on thrillers
Reptilian like my rhyme is Godzilla
-QVEEN HERBY “Mozart”, 2019
“It felt amazing to reinvent myself because I went back to the drawing board,” Noonan says on creating her moniker Qveen Herby, “I asked myself, how did I grow up? How did I get into this in the first place? Why do I love music? I was able to reconstruct my identity based on that. I had grown so much from the label experience and having traveled the world. Having a little bit of fame changes your whole perspective. So I was like, I was confident. I had some money for the first time. I wasn’t eating spaghetti and living in an apartment with four roommates. So I was able to ask myself, who am I? I can create this beautiful art. I’ve been in the studio now with people that make number one songs. And I, I was also getting really spiritual…”
It’s reflected in her flow, a rhythmic wave of high vibration music that encourages you to align to your truth and sound diaries of the artist doing the same. Her music will tell you that you are magic. You deserve it. It’s not going to always be easy but you can do it. Buy the bigger bag, better yet, let someone else buy it for you. Shame, regret, or remorse have no place in the Qveendom. In her soundtracks, we listen to her heal and she encourages us to do the same. Pick the good, or pick the great.
The transition all seemed so natural and effortless and in a way it was. This was music that Noonan has always wanted to make, the music that spoke to her soul.
Growing up in a sheltered household she was fed a watchful sonic diet of the Beatles and safe sprinkles of rock music but reveled in R&B classics. She was allowed to listen to clean versions of The Miseducation of Lauren Hill, TLC’s FanMail, and anything Brandy. They were all game-changers for her, “There is no more beautiful sounding voice than Brandy,” Noonan says of Brandy Norwood. “R&B music is what made me feel so connected to music in the first place. It’s what made me what to get out of Nebraska and find other people that wanted to make music.”
The arc in the story is when a boy the Qveen was dating in middle school gave her a burned copy of Dr. Dre’s, Chronic. Amy thought rap was the sexiest thing ever. She hid it from her parents listening to it as part fantasy part introduction to a world outside of the chaste, church girl she was supposed to be. Rap was a language she could understand, and she consumed lessons from Dre’s history of Compton thinking about how much deeper the world went.
Top and Skirt, Dyspnea. Crown, Beatrice Nikole. Shoes, Flor de Maria.
“I never, ever, ever, ever, ever thought I would be rapping or be accepted as a rapper. When you come from a place that’s like super religious, super Midwest, you never think that is gonna be a possibility for yourself. So I’m rapping along thinking, well, this is off-limits.”
In a way it was. The path from Karmin to Qveen Herby caused both familial and music industry riffs. Amy had straddled the safe side of that line when she occasionally rapped as Karmin, she was not threatening albeit cute. Qveen Herby was a personality that made it clear, her flow was God anointed, it swallowed her tongue and spit out medicinal lyrics about sexual reclamation, abundance, and self-care. Going back to the drawing board is a slow grind. She takes a minute to give gratitude to Nick and Pompano for being there from the beginning. “It’s been a wild, a wild journey,” she says, a path not everyone was ready to go down with her including members of her family.
Feelin’ like I lost my way again
Nothin’ really changed, doin’ really great
This California lovin’ state I’m in
You do not approve of what I choose to do
And now I taste the shame in everything
Thought I did it right now I’m in my prime
Are you sure there’s not a way you can
Be a part of this amazin’ journey that I’m on?
No, it’s not too far (ooh-ooh, ooh)
You wanted sugar, you got salt
– QVEEN HERBY “Black Sheep”, 2021
“Robin Robins, this brilliant GMA host said, ‘Make your mess, your message.’ I put out Black Sheep and people felt that. That gave me that validation. I might be able to contribute something of value to the planet using my trauma.”
Sequins Bodysuit, corset and Bottoms Pazadz. Jacket, Candice Cuoco. Turban, Julia Clancey.
Repurposing trauma is an advanced skill for any artist, things can get messy, but like a skilled archer Qveen Herby, has hit her target while avoiding any casualties. Industry baiting for beef or being pitted against other female musicians has been met with love and kindness not just from the artist but her fanbase.
“The female rap scene is very niche and very special and very important. And I think with the history, of beef in hip hop, you’re naturally gonna stumble upon, you know, people that wanna fight. My fan base is the really, really respectful and really kind, very, very high vibe. It’s a blessing. When you encounter somebody that wants to fight what happens is the fans will then attack as well. It’s so hurtful. Then to have my own fans respond with love. Like, okay, we’re good and neutralizing all of it. Then, the safe space, this idea of creating a space in my community, in my listeners and my Qveendom, as we like to call ourselves, it’s become my purpose.”
12 EPs and 2 studio albums later, Qveen “Always dropping” Herby has put out a body of music and carved out a platform on the internet that is a unique space. She is the definition of keeping your head down, drinking water, and minding your business but there were still plenty of lessons to learn.
“By the third EP, we had gained a lot of momentum and, I wasn’t policing my visuals as well as I could have. I had a lot to learn with regard to white supremacy and the slippery slope. I had gone through my whole life already as a white person with all these privileges that I wasn’t even really aware of. You have to really dig white supremacy out of yourself. I think that is so helpful. Especially for my white listeners. This is worthy, hard work. It is spiritual work. It absolutely is. It’s like looking at yourself. If you’re making music, making black-inspired music, you really have to be as deeply aware of this stuff as you can be. This work has to be done forever. It’s not just like reading one book and you get it. Being an anti-racist is daily.”
In an ever-changing music landscape that is ruled by algorithms and trends, Qveen is just here to live in her truth.
“At what point do we stop wanting more and more and more and just be grateful for what we have. And be fearless enough to chase the things that we really love, no matter how niche and weird they are. It’s not super mainstream to talk about this in your music, but I love it and I’m gonna keep doing it.”
CONNECT WITH THE QVEEN HERBY
Story / Koko Ntuen
Photos + Motion / Julia Pitch
Creative Direction / Phil Gomez
Styling / Branden Ruiz
Glam / Francie Tomalonis
Motion DP / Madison Lutz