In Tasha the Amazon’s newest video, “Cry of the Warrior,” she wanders through Florida’s lush Everglades, surrounded by thick forest and wild animals. A gator floats through the swamp, almost undetectable. Lizards skitter into frame. A spider’s web comes into view, just as its next meal gets tangled inside of it. Tasha stands amongst ruins. Her previous video for the song “Let it Go” similarly frames the rapper in the decrepit remains of a graffiti-covered husk of a building. She tells me that these are the kinds of places that she’s drawn to. They’re the spaces she envisioned while writing the songs that would end up on her first mixtape, FiDiYootDem. For her, standing in those places represents a fearlessness “I’m not scared of things that I should reasonably be scared of. Like walking in dark alleys at four in the morning or going to play with gators. There were signs everywhere warning of gator attacks. I just don’t worry about that kind of stuff.”
Nor does she worry about stepping onstage in front of large crowds, what people outside her close group of friends will think of her, or about picking up and playing an instrument she’s never seen before. Tasha, born Natasha Schumann, has always been guided by a lack of fear. She’s completely unafraid to be challenged, a mindset that was cultivated early on. She was raised by her grandparents in Kitchener-Waterloo, and though there wasn’t a lot of money to go around, at age nine she was given the choice to pick only one pastime to pursue. So while the other kids were going camping or swimming the choice for Tasha was easy: “I picked piano. A lot of kids hated their lessons, but I would put in five hour days. I chose it.” Her early commitment to her piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory sealed her fate as a musician. Her classical training meant that she quickly took to the guitar and bass, which were important skills for a scrappy girl who loved to skateboard and listen to Goldfinger.
University brought Tasha to Toronto, where she was able to satisfy her growing need to learn music production. Though her early years were informed by punk, hip-hop was always a part of the equation: “growing up as a mixed person, there wasn’t any specific time when I discovered rap, it’s always been around. So [on my own] I would write choruses, and rap sixteen bars in between.” It was during that time that she formed Candy Coated Killahz as producer and MC with schoolmate Icon the Anomali. Moving to Toronto was also the catalyst for her meeting DJ Danthrax, who would join the Candy Coated Killahz fold in 2011 and eventually become Tasha’s production partner in Bass and Bakery: “[Danthrax and I] both had an instrumental background, but he's two years older than me, so he had been working on it for a bit longer. So when we met I was like ‘teach me everything you know!!’”
From that point on she would learn anything she could from peers like Danthrax, often sitting in on studio sessions with other producers who were working at the level she was aiming for: “as a producer I was going down any avenue I could to produce music and build chops. I wanted to do projects where I could prove to myself and other producers that I knew what worked. So [with CCK] I was like, can I make urban rap music that has like one foot in the underground and radio potential?” That approach led to Candy Coated Killahz coining their own style, “ghettotronic.”
Though the group found success with their two records, Tasha’s interests turned toward her solo material to develop her own abilities. In the fall of 2012, she enlisted the help of Erikson Herman to manage her career and release her music via the Truth Music Group, Erikson’s Toronto-based label. Tasha saw Erikson as someone with the same drive and passion as her own: “I had like, binders full of vision plans and shit like that. Just pushing, pushing really hard but it got to the point where, I really wanted to succeed but I really just wanted to focus on making cool-ass music and throwing cool parties. I think that was the exact time I met Erikson, and he was mentally where I was, but like, on crack. Just the most intense hustler in this industry.” She adds that Erikson’s own drive is what continually motivates her to push on and do better.
It becomes clear talking to Tasha that much of her confidence and fearlessness are rooted in the fact that she has a solid group of people in her life that she can trust. The importance her crew plays in her life factors hugely on her debut mixtape FiDiYootDem which dropped late 2013.
Her language on FiDiYootDem is playful, steering clear of tired rap signifiers and opting instead for idiosyncrasy: “instead of saying ‘scallywags’ you could say ‘my crew, my people’ but that’s been done so much to death that it’s devoid of meaning almost. So with ‘scallywags /leaning with that alley swag’ it paints a different picture.” That’s not to say her party songs can’t throw-down, or that her own unique lingo affects her subject matter — Tasha’s lyrics aim to be as inclusive and “we-centric” as possible, focusing less on herself and more on her audience, an approach she carries over to her live shows: “I always say that with my shows, I’m more like the conductor of the party. So I might be on stage, but I’m expecting you to go as hard as I’m going to go.”
It took little time for FiDiYootDem’s nine tracks of playful pandemonium to grab the attention of critics and fans alike. Tasha describes the record as Bass & Bakery’s calling card, but it’s also her meditation on the energy and attitude that has brought her this far. She raps “who’d these kids look up to if I was serving 20 to life now?” on “Cry of the Warrior,” a sentiment she echoes as our conversation turns to Muay Thai. She alludes to having a bit of a coloured past, saying “I think I got to the age of 19 and realized that if I kept getting into trouble, I’d actually have a record and not just some slap on the wrist, juvenile detention kind of stuff. It’d be much harder to be employed, taken seriously, or you know, be let out of the country and tour.” She took the sport up to avoid getting into more trouble, something that would risk keeping her from her passion.
That kind of dedication to her music is something she recognizes as being key to her success. It’s a dedication heard in her music as well, making her career a sort of proof-of-concept. She knows that she could be doing something different-- she could not have been a musician, she could have taken a less challenging path. But Tasha the Amazon seeks out the spaces and paths that are challenging and off-limits to her, because the alternative is just too hard to fathom: “I think there was a time when I was maybe afraid of doing this, but the thought of not playing music at all was absolutely terrifying. I couldn’t imagine a world in which I’m not making music. So that just scared the scare right out of me.”
Michael Rancic is only afraid of typos. He is on Twitter.