Lex Rush has been an unmistakable presence in the New York hip-hop scene for just over two years. Often the sole female in some of the city’s most intense freestyle competitions, the Queens-born MC’s instantly recognizable flow and dynamic wordplay, both delivered from day one with the sleek confidence of a wrecking ball, has seen her emerge victorious in numerous rap battle circles. This month saw the release of her recorded debut, the Unbridled Enthusiasm EP. With a release show this Sunday at Trash Bar, we spoke to Rush about transitioning from freestyling and battle championships to the studio.
You started rapping as a teenager in the early 2000s, when the only teenage voices, such as Lil’ Bow Wow and Lil Romeo, were catering specifically to much younger listeners. What inspired you?
I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I listened to Bow Wow and Romeo back in the day, but basically, I’d always been a music fan. My dad was super into classic rock; I’d always appreciated all types of music. But in middle school, spending time with friends who’d listen to Hot 97, and going to school dances where everyone was playing Ruff Ryders, Roc-A-Fella, Ludacris, Nelly — that got me into it. In terms of starting to rap, I went to a Jewish sleep-away camp upstate and got some of them into it. It was when I got to high school that I started to take rapping seriously.
What caused the change in high school?
It was just so much fun, and I started to read about places you could do it live. I started going to End of the Weak open-mic showcases [at Manhattan’s Pyramid Club] when I was 16. I got to do more in college at the University of Maryland, because there was a hangout collective who would meet every week and just freestyle for three hours. People would play different beats, beatbox, and battle sometimes. There was no shutting me up from there.
How much did growing up in Queens shape your style and sound?
In the end, I love New York hip-hop more than anything, so it’s not just Queens, but New York in general. My favorites are Jay-Z, Nas, Talib Kweli, Kool G Rap, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Tribe — I just can’t help but incorporate that into my sound a little bit.
So, given the strong connection you have to New York’s hip-hop lineage, and Maryland’s own strong musical identity, what was the reaction when you started performing at college?
I was super-lucky. Maryland was a great place to be — so many different people with different interests. Being a part of the underground collective there helped me hold myself more and meet people who were into hip-hop, producers. I wasn’t really shaped much by the Baltimore or D.C. sound, [but] being a part of it helped me grow even more.
Being a woman in the most male-dominated niche of the most male-dominated genre of music, did you have reservations about competing in events where you were the only female?
You know, I never felt any sort of reservations. That’s just how my mind works. It can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, because when you do somewhat well, people are surprised and they’re more receptive to you, I think. In terms of a disadvantage, maybe people are skeptical at first. It works both ways, but in the end I choose not to think about it and just enjoy it.
How was it putting together a project after so many years of freestyling?
I wish I’d done it sooner. Half the tracks are pretty new. The other half are a couple of years old, but in the end I wanted to do it for myself. Just put out a cohesive project that was mixed and mastered and sounded professional to say I did it. The amount of time I was putting into it, I thought, “I’ll send it here” and “Do a show there.” It’s been really fun, and people have been super-nice with their feedback. I just wish I’d done it sooner.
Lex Rush performs December 28 at the Trash Bar at 8:30 and 10:30 pm. Ages 21-plus.