Daisha McBride, The Rap Girl, has channeled her performing abilities, affably clever personality and college-level industry studies into her own version of artistic and professional equilibrium in Music City. This is part of a series on Nashville hip-hop.
The moniker that Daisha McBride embraced right out of the gate, The Rap Girl, isn’t an inside-joke nickname or cute handle. It’s more like a sweeping claim to singularity, which she’s backed up by cultivating a distinct persona and promotional savvy alongside her chops, and by playing up her crossover compatibility in the process.
Growing up in Knoxville, a mid-sized East Tennessee city in the Smoky Mountain foothills, McBride was diligent about practicing classical violin, but also built a reputation for spitting bars in her high school cafeteria, listening to pop, rock and country besides. Even back then she was learning how to both turn heads in, and adapt to, her cultural environment.
McBride agreed to go to college to appease her parents, enrolling in the music industry program at Middle Tennessee State, and quickly recognized the value of studying revenue sources and deal-making: She says she got in the habit of listening to lectures on social media marketing strategy, “then going home and applying it to myself, just kind of trial and error, and seeing if it worked.” Her first tastes of virality came when she started posting clips of herself freestyling over popular tracks by rappers she admired, like Nicki Minaj, and sometimes country-pop stars like Sam Hunt. Her “Body Like a Back Road” verses signaled that she was attuned to mainstream Nashville’s hip-hop obsession.
McBride was eager to make connections, including inside the classroom, which is how she met her primary producers, Big Bruno and Sci-Fy. Taking advantage of her first real studio access in campus facilities, she worked on pairing her technical strengths as a rapper with accessible songcraft and, over time, showcasing a playfully irreverent and swaggering, but also subtly clean-cut and overachieving, personality. She reflects, “I think for a while it just took me a balance to be like, ‘OK, I want to rap super, super fast and use a bunch of different punch lines and double entendres, but then actually make the songs somewhat commercial, too.’ ”
After graduation, McBride dismissed the suggestion that she ought to move to Atlanta. In her way of thinking, it was smarter to hang onto the network she’d begun to build in middle Tennessee and make the most of standing out in a less saturated scene. She transitioned into post-college life with a position running the before- and after-school care program at an elementary school, but quit that job last year and persuaded D’Llisha Davis, a longtime booster of the Nashville hip-hop scene through the blog 2L’s on a Cloud and event promotion, to sign on as her manager. “Nashville artists, they wear so many hats already that somewhere always lacks, and a lot of time it’s the business side of things,” says Davis. “I think one of the main things that is very important about navigating Nashville is having that support. It’s the collective of people who are starting to come together and push artists in different ways, versus just the artists.”
With Davis on her team, McBride locked in the kind of limited publishing arrangement and administrative deal that, she’d concluded from her studies, were a good fit for her. What she writes is completely her prerogative, while the company Modern Works Publishing handles the tedious administrative and royalty-collecting duties and pitches songs from her artist catalog for other projects. Her song “Dolla$,”a coolly witty declaration of money-making drive, recently landed on the web-based TV drama Trinkets after first appearing on Wild, the self-released 2019 album that McBride made with her circle of close collaborators. “‘I can work with who I want pretty much,” she says. “I’m not limited. They don’t take a huge, huge cut of anything, which is a big thing for me. You know, I still have ownership of pretty much everything … I want to tell my story the way I want to tell it.”
McBride is as pragmatic in her mindset as she is clear in her musical aims. Observing how racial and class-based prejudice can remain attached to genre in Nashville — how in her words, “when people think of rappers, they [think of] this persona of us just being, you know, so hood and aggressive” — she disproves any preconceptions with her skilled presentation of artistic identity. (This isn’t strictly a local issue; in their phenomenal new podcast Louder Than a Riot, NPR Music’s Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden lay out how the criminal justice system exploits the profiling of rappers on an historic, national scale.) In live and recorded performances and across her social media platforms, McBride puts her combo of astute affability and nimble chops out front. She says, “If a pop artist here, if they go to my Instagram page, they’re like, ‘Oh, hold on. This is a good middle ground.’ ”
So far, her track record of either providing or securing guest features runs from Tennessee hip-hop peers like Mike Floss and Lul Lion to figures associated with Christian hip-hop, like Byron Juane and nobigdyl, pop and R&B-pop acts like danny G, Talia Stewart, Krysten Simone and Jade Million and country singers Grayson Rogers and Canaan Cox.