Twenty-four-year-old Christy Karefa-Johnson, who goes by the name DoNormaal, is carving out a special space in the male-dominated world of rap. She performs at Chop Suey Tuesday, Aug. 16.
In the male-dominated world of hip-hop, it’s not easy to be a woman. It’s even harder if you’re a woman of color who identifies as queer.
But that’s exactly the position Christy Karefa-Johnson — aka Seattle-based hip-hop artist DoNormaal — finds herself in.
“Being a woman rapper is hard,” explains Karefa-Johnson, 24, sitting in a booth at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard. “Most of the spaces are male spaces. It’s even harder when you are somebody who is doing well, because I think that it can be threatening.”
DoNormaal, Bad Luck, Grey Waves
9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug, 16, at Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St., Seattle; $8 (206-538-0556 or chopsuey.com).
And Karefa-Johnson, who plays Tuesday (Aug. 16) at Chop Suey, is doing well. She recently performed a coveted in-studio session at KEXP, her record “Jump Or Die” was described by The Seattle Weekly as “sonically and lyrically distinctive,” and she’s made the rounds of the important summer shows, including Capitol Hill Block Party and West Seattle Summer Fest.
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She also played Tuf Fest, a new, electronic-based showcase put on by the socially inclusive collective Tuf Seattle.
To succeed as a queer woman of color today takes strength, confidence and precise intention. Karefa-Johnson — who grew up in Southern California, lived for a stint in Sierra Leone and landed in Seattle three years ago — understands this.
“I feel like I’m an infiltrator,” she says, “going into spaces that were built without me in mind and bringing my original perspective because I think it could be helpful.”
The songs on “Jump Or Die” are intricate and meticulously produced, with droning vocals that exhibit an acute sense of self-assurance.
On the song “LessEyeWanoo,” the rapper spits, “I don’t ask unless I wanna. And I don’t talk unless I wanna. And I don’t laugh unless I wanna. So if you tell a joke I might not gas you ’less I wanna.”
In her live shows, Karefa-Johnson performs with such joy, ease and aplomb that it’s easy to forget how much work has gone into her layered style. Holding the mic, rapping with flair, she appears to be receiving messages no one else can hear, which she delivers over sounds the rest of us can.
This double sensibility has roots in her childhood — a time when Karefa-Johnson was obsessed with harmony and dissonance.
“Harmony can take you to a really dreamy place,” she says, “and to have dissonances partnering together — it’s like two different flavors to one line or lyric.”
Working with dissonance is often a risk, especially for a young performer. But Karefa-Johnson is not shy. Her album cover features a provocative image of her in the shower, confidently shampooing her hair.
“It felt like a good introduction to this idea that I’m trying to get across,” she says of the image, “which is risk taking. It’s the same process that I went through starting to write music. To let go of that fear and not be overly concerned with the gaze of other people.”
Feeling a sense of freedom around her audience is paramount, which is why Karefa-Johnson pushes to perform in spaces like Tuf Fest, where “everyone feels welcome but where the marginalized voices are upheld and prioritized,” she says.
“That includes queer people, brown and black people and disabled people — people who are often pushed to the sides.”
It does not appear she will be on the sidelines for long.