This week, Brooklyn’s favorite tattooed hip-hop songstress Corina Corina releases her anticipated sophomore album The Free Way. The album features production from such current east coast indie-rap “it”-producers as Willie Green and Steel Tipped Dove, and guest appearances from the likes of billy woods and Elucid, She’ll be celebrating the release this Wednesday, March 19th, at The Trash Bar in Brooklyn at 8 p.m. We spoke to Corina about making a name for herself home and touring abroad in the testosterone-filled indie hip-hop world, as well as the maturity found on The Free Way and the story behind her eye-catching tattoos.
You’re originally from Berkley, California. What made you decide to jump coasts?
Music. I came to New York when I was still a teenager, 2000/2001, and just completely fell in love with it and thought “some day I’m going to live here.” I have a degree in music, and it was a school-related thing. I saw a bunch of Broadway musicals and I just connected with it so easily. And, also, so I wouldn’t have to drive. It sounds so strange and simple, but seeing there was somewhere I didn’t have to have the responsibility of having a car was awesome. I lived in L.A. for a few years and I’ve spent enough time in cars. I moved out here seven years ago. A lot of times, people think I’m from here because I’m so comfortable here.
How did you first touch down in the New York music scene?
My life was pretty different when I moved here. I had a 9-to-5, I was damn near married, I was totally shacked up. I was in a band my first four years here, a blues-funk band. We played all over the city but nothing really happened because everyone else had all these commitments and it was very clear that I was a lot hungrier than the rest of the band. As soon as we broke up, I went full throttle. ILLspokiNN was the first person I met in the scene about three years ago, as soon as I started connecting with those people I just went for it. I felt I had no time to waste. I met iLL, I met Jesse Abraham, I met Willie [Green] and then I just started going out all the time and meeting as many people as I could from there.
Your sound is a pretty distinct amalgamation of a lot of different styles. When did you realize you’d reached the sound you wanted?
What’s interesting about that is that I’ve really dabbled in just about every genre. I have a musical degree, I’m classically trained, blahblahblah. The band I was in was an accumulation of all four of our sounds and when I decided to go solo, I decided to do exactly what was in me. It always goes back to my R&B/soul/hip-hop influence. It’s what I grew up on. My 90s Mary J. Blige/SWV influence comes out a lot in my music. I moved 3000 miles away from my family and decided to do it exactly how it needs to happen. Willie and I have had hours and hours of conversations about what direction to take my music into, and everything thing we make sounds more and more like me.
That in mind, how different was working on The Free Way compared to your 2012 debut The Eargasm?
Well, some things are not different. Obviously I did it with Willie Green. But, this time around, I felt I knew more of what I was doing. I felt a lot more confident. The Eargasm was my first album, and there’s no replacing that experience of feeling unsure of how people are going to receive it and finding my way. With this one, I feel like I know what I’m doing. With the content, I feel I was very brave. It feels like more of an adult record. With The Free Way, I feel like I’m a grown-up.
Do you mean content-wise or the maturation of your sound?
Both. Content-wise, everyone whose listened to the album so far has commented on the album being pretty personal and heavy. The things I discuss are very adult things. But also, even vocally, I feel like I’ve grown as a vocalist from taking lessons and touring, it puts you into shape like no other.
Bringing your sound on tour, and you tour incredibly heavily, do you find people immediately get what you’re doing or does it take a bit for some cities to catch on?
I come from the hip-hop world and both tours I’ve done so far are with rappers. Toussaint Morrison and Jonny October, they both sing and I think they’re both multi-genre and we go well together, but primarily the shows we do together are rap shows because those are the connections I have. I don’t always know how I’m going to go over at a rap show. I think what’s important is that they like me as a person and then they’re support my music secondary. But then, there’s been a lot of shots in the dark and cold-calling where I don’t know who else is on the bill. I do really well in the midwest and, I’ve found the northwest was really supportive. It always surprises me how kind people are, and the less-large cities really appreciate it.
I think my experience is even more unique because I’m a woman and there aren’t a lot of us in the indie hip-hop touring circuit. I think people respect me a lot for that, which is always nice to hear.
Do you find that being a woman on that circuit comes with its own sets of challenges?
Absolutely, I mean, there’s advantages and disadvantages. One thing is because I’m almost always the only woman in “the room,” there’s always a part of me that feels I’m not 100% a part of “the boys’ club.” There’s also a certain level of respect that some people just don’t treat me with. I don’t even think people are always aware that they aren’t being respectful, I think it’s just social conditioning, but I could go on-and-on about that. And also, the stupid shit that guys say. I think my previous tour partners were a little taken aback by how much crazy shit dudes say to me. But, otherwise, I know the deal. But there’s advantages, a pretty girl can get away with a lot. Even if people don’t respect me immediately because I’m a woman, I think I come across like I know what I’m doing and pretty quickly people get that.
What made you decide to lead the new record with “I Can’t Resist?”
I don’t think [producer] Willie and I even had a conversation about it, we recorded the song and were like “that’s the lead single.” Even when we recorded the demo, we were like “that’s a banger.”
Your tattoos also stand-out, many of them are music related.
The theme of all my tattoos are things that are important to me, which is why there are so many music tattoos on me. I actually didn’t start getting tattoos until I was like 23-ish, so I was an adult. I don’t have any ugly teenager tattoos. The commitment of one used to scare me, but I was always going to love music. Whether or not I was going to be a singer, that would always be a thing. It’s always a part of me. After every break-up I try to do something dramatic and I ended a very, very long term relationship. I was either going to cutoff all my hair or get a sleeve. So, I got a sleeve. I didn’t realize how many conversations it would dictate, but I still love it after all. Even though I don’t put as much thought into [my tattoos] as I used to, they’re all things that are important to me. I have my sisters’ names on me, my spiritual beliefs, a lot of Buddhist tattoos on me. These are the things that I connect with.