First, let’s deal with the fact that I was the only girl until I was 16 on my mom’s side of the family out of all of my 48 first cousins. Then, I was the only girl in my home with three brothers. So, I was a little tomboyish with boy crushes and had no idea how to handle it all. It was a lifesaving moment at every turn because I was also the only Black girl in my catholic school classroom for 13 years.
There was a street that divided my home from racism and extreme violence and I had to learn to live through it all. Then on my side of the street, I had to adjust to gang violence, prostitution, drug selling and sometimes murder right in front of my porch. It was a time when Black girls weren’t taught self-esteem. We were taught to survive, but not to love ourselves in the way I know now. Whatever street I was standing on I had to learn to survive. I fought, I cried and built relationships with people that were good and bad for me. The whole time as I grew up I had a group of women in my life that gave advice and instruction and set boundaries and rules for me, but still I made some bad decisions when they weren’t looking because of my humanness.
Little girls need constant guidance and constant love. Young women need reminders that they are the most important thing on earth to us. They should always feel covered and protected and when that is not present in their lives in a consistent way, I feel those are the moments that they make bad decisions. The song “Little Girl” was just specifically about that in total. I know it’s a lot, but I can relate to this with my whole soul. I can relate to the tough times I had trying to prove that I could make decisions for myself. I was independent before I needed to be. I was stubborn and a little sheltered and in the same breath I was fighting for my life. At home I was safe, but outside I was not safe.
If I compared my childhood experiences and tried to tell you the most significant moment, I’d fail because they were all the most significant. I struggled with decisions that I needed to make for myself when no one else was around. I think the biggest problem for me as a little girl and a young woman was the fact that it was a generation of people who didn’t discuss all parts of life with their children. We were told to be quiet and listen, but no one really listened to our concerns. Discipline was tough and rigid and the favorite phrase was, “children should be seen and not heard!” That was the one I heard the most. It applied to all aspects of life, including boys, friendship, love, sex, forgiveness, anger, education, career choices and sometimes happiness.
We were taught a strict form of respect and it definitely hampered the details in a child to adult communication exchange. It made life harder. The song “Little Girl” is meant to tell them that we are here for them and listening to them. They need us to listen more and give guidance.
BlackDoctor.org: So many young Black girls are suffering silently with depression, various forms of abuse and assault, and lack of esteem. Do you see your music and work as mentorship or ministry?
Tarrey Torae: I truly hope that it will help somebody. A long time ago someone asked me what I wanted my music to do and I said this: “I make music to match life not trend! I hope that my music will remind you of a moment, inspire action, change, promote hope, make you fall deep in love with someone or just yourself!
I hope that my music sparks passion in you and motivates you to be better, to be more and to dig further inside yourself discerningly to find the bigger purpose. I hope on some days it will make you dance and forget all of your problems and on other days I hope it will help you resolve something in your life so that you can grow beautifully. In all of this… I only hope that it makes a positive difference!”
I feel that the depression increases extremely when you are surrounded by nothing but negative things and people. It will get worse until we fix the way we see ourselves and allow others to portray us. We have to start fighting for our lives and livelihood differently. We have to make it easy for this next generation to love themselves.
BlackDoctor.org: As a Black woman heavily invested in and connected to Hip Hop culture, how do you handle the complicated relationship between Black women and Hip Hop?
Tarrey Torae: It’s a work in progress. I do believe we have planted some seeds to both ignite a greater moment and a greater exchange in Hip Hop for women. However, I’ll be the first to admit that it is not perfect. I believe that our Hip Hop culture is the perfect temperature gauge for our community and society in whole. I think it shows us how we really feel about ourselves. It is a perfect way to understand how we look at each other and sometimes it is really just bad timing. When I say bad timing, I mean the match of the subject matter and the music creators in this chapter of music versus what we need. Sometimes the storyline may be true but is no good for our healing. Being honest about that is sometimes not easy, as you don’t want to hate on another’s art.
Musically, I believe Hip Hop has both honored and torn down women. I remember a time when all of the women that I knew began to pull away from Hip Hop, including me, because we didn’t feel respected. Dare I say that we were underrepresented in some cases and misrepresented in other cases. I handle the culture of Hip Hop with respect and an active example of how I want to be treated. I am surrounded by a lot of great Hip Hop icons and legends, and I take the time to have conversations with them so that we can nurture better energy and mutual respect. I handle myself with detailed care in an attempt to teach people how to treat me as a woman in this industry. It’s by the example I show. How I treat me is how I teach you to treat me, so we must be careful. It is not hard, because the music I choose to be surrounded by and that I absorb and sing to both on and off stage is very on purpose.
I choose to listen to what feeds my spirit good things. But there are times that I take in all of the new sound in Hip Hop so that I am not separated from the thermometer of the new kids on the block. I love most of it, but some of it I can live without. I remind myself that they have their own story, too, and music is supposed to be our therapy. We tell our stories in it so that we can heal. This is what they are doing, too. Old Hip Hop and new Hip Hop in my life are being held to the same standards. The question will always be, Does it feed me what I need at this time? Is it Good!?