One-woman phenomenon Divinity has always mixed up genres, even combining techno and hip-hop in her early band days. Now she gets her inspiration from the power of rock and rap. The video for her single ‘Get Here’ showcases her many talents and won ‘Best Music Video 2012’ at The California International Shorts Festival, and an Official Selection at Moondance Film Festival.
She’s worked in many different genres, and has strong opinions on where she wants hip-hop to be heading.
A lot of times the first thing you want to use for hip hop is jazz, but some of my favourite bands were really rocked-out bands and I wanted my music to have that same effect, like Rage Against The Machine. I also felt, when I was younger, I felt like in traditional hip hop music, although hip hop started off as a movement of young people who were rebelling against the broader society, once hip hop started to become really popular and they started to make a lot of money… you can’t rebel against the people who are paying you so it started to become watered down and the message wasn’t a message any more, it was just all about partying.
As a woman it was disheartening because most of the music was really disrespectful of women so I really just couldn’t be a part of that and I felt like there was, in rock music, I could really express the whole of myself and like embody the two of these. There was still a message in rock music to me and combining rock and hip hop it just seemed like I could have more of a platform to express the whole of myself and not just the “hey let’s party, let’s party.
She’s determined to stay true to herself in the songs. Her track Bite My Style is a roaring slice of rock that plays on people copying someone’s look, and celebrates individuality.
The lyrics are, I ain’t trying to be something I ain’t, I can’t. And I’m not going to try to please you in what you think I should be and how you think I should be.
It’s difficult being a woman who has her own ideas about how she wants to be portrayed, how she sees herself. So if women are to be influenced to come out and say, Hey, this is who I am, it’s a challenge and I’m just trying to slip everything on its head. Guys think it’s sexy too.
We were dying to know how she finds it playing huge arenas with Beyoncé and then more intimate venues with her own band. She says that while she has an amazing time in huge venues, she enjoys the intimacy of smaller gigs where anything can happen.
The roles are very different. When I’m playing with Beyoncé I am just a bass player, so all I have to do is stand there and play bass. She has video systems, there are no amps on stage so it’s very different. It’s more of a controlled environment. When I’m playing my set I am the front person and the bass player. So that changes everything tremendously. And it’s more free, it’s more freeform. Anything can happen. And it’s not so controlled. I get to perform more, I get to talk to the audience more, I get to interact and talk to people. And I get to express more of myself.
Here’s a little taste of her playing with Beyoncé.
Divinity makes jaws drop when she raps and plays bass at the same time. It’s a very special thing.
I think it takes people a second to realise that’s what’s happening. But when I play Rebel, for instance, I think that’s when people really get it, they’re like “Oh wow! She’s doing something really different”. Yeah I think that’s when people really get a sense of what’s happening. People are used to seeing a woman maybe play guitar, they’re definitely not used to seeing this rapping with a bass. It’s a lot for people to take in. So it’s, get over the shock factor when we start playing. OK let me digest this because nobody has a reference, you can’t reference it to anything, you can’t say Oh this is like this, oh yeah this is definitely like this. No you can’t do that. Something’s totally new, Oh wow, Ok, this is cool.
Warwick Divinity Roxx Signature Bass
Based on the Streamer LX with extra features
Divinity has been inspired by many people and not just musicians.
The first person who comes to mind actually is not a musician but a poet. Her name is June Jordan. I used to study with her at UC Berkeley and she was one of my professors. She was a poet from Harlem New York and she became a professor at UC Berkeley and she used to always say, if you only had two minutes to say something to the world, what would you say? I think about that all the time and this is my two minutes!
Alice Walker is a huge inspiration, Victor Wooten of course has been an incredible inspiration, not just as a bass player but as a human being. He’s probably one of the coolest guys walking the planet.
Divinity started off singing in the school chorus and also playing the clarinet, She was a really talented classical musician with “first chair” in her school orchestra. But she lost heart when her instrument was vandalised, and changed quite a lot. She was listening to lots of hip hop and very good at sport too.
I think that’s when my rebellious side just came out, because I went from being super shy to just being super rebellious.
Divinity started a rap group with some friends and they would rehearse every day after school, picking up some techno influences from local producers.
We never did traditional hip hop. We started doing techno hip hop like this really weird dancey funky synth hip hop music. We were doing it round Atlanta, playing at raves, just being crazy and freestyling all over the place and performing.
But she wanted to be more than just a rapper and a friend opened the door for a change of direction.
So you know that was really incredible, and then I went to UK Berkeley because I had to go to college, and that’s where I discovered bass. I was hanging out with these guys and one guy played bass and we were making music. We went in the studio one time, I remember this and they were making music and I was like, I want to make music. I don’t just want to be the rapper, I want to make beats and play something. So I told Paris, Dude I want to play an instrument. I think I’m going to go get a guitar and he said, you should get a bass. And I was like, Why? And he was like, because you are such a bass player. You just have that bass player thing about you.
So she went and bought a bass and put her classical music training to good use.
So I sat there and taught myself to read and taught myself where the notes were and started playing scales. I mean, I knew the process because I had done it when I was little. So I would play scales and I would play these little things that they had in the books, and then I would listed to my favourite songs that had all these cool basslines, - Meshell Ndegeocello, Fugees, Di Angelo. It was like all this soul. Outkast, all my favourite groups, I would just listen to their basslines. It was pretty amazing to play them so I would just sit at home and play them.
Her first bass was a red sparkly Washburn.
I think I carved my initials into the back of it. When I went and got it, it was between a Fender and a Washburn, right? But the Fender didn’t look cool. The Washburn was cool and it looked sparkly, rave, you know? But then after I’d been playing for a year I realised that Fender was, you know, the bass that everybody was supposed to get. So I traded it in for a Fender. And then I ended up losing that, and buying that Fender Jazz Bass.
Fender Jazz Bass
An alternative to the P-Bass, offering a thinner neck and more middy tones. Great for other genres as well as Jazz.
Divinity then got a five string Ibanez and started playing second bass, holding the groove down and learning on the job in a band called Like Diamond, improvising and backing poets spitting their rhymes.
I had two personalities. I was a bass player to some people and I was a rapper to other people. Somebody would see me playing bass and be like, Oh, I didn’t know she played bass, I thought she was a rapper, and somebody would see me rapping and go, I didn’t know she rapped, I just thought she played bass. We were doing well. But I needed to somehow combine the two sides of me into one. I wanted to make something that was funky and spit a rap over it. And I wrote this song called The D I V I N I T Y – Divinity. And I taught myself to do this, I wrote this rhyme and I would go with the bass on it and I would plug in the microphone and stand in front of it, and stand there all day rapping, teaching myself to rap. It took a few days, until I got it and I was like Oh man! I got it!
Oh yeah absolutely there was a eureka moment. And there was this place called The Apache Café where they had open mics, so as soon as I could do it, the first thing I did was go to the club to see if I could do it live, in front of people. I wanted to see if it was cool or not.
And people were digging it, like Oh wow, that’s really different. And then every time I wrote a song that’s what I would do. I would write the song, teach it to myself and then go to Apache Café.
But then she had an accident, rupturing her Achilles tendon, which put her out of action for a whole summer.
I was really devastated. But during that time I just played bass. I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t play in the bar I was depressed so all I could do was sit there and play bass.
It’s the drum machine for any hip hop produced at all
Her father took her to the local music store to buy her a drum machine and cheer her up.
I was on my crutches, hopping through the music store. And, MPC 2000. And I was like, that’s it, that’s the drum machine that I have to have, I’m going to make beats.
It’s the drum machine for any hip hop produced at all, you always have to have an MPC. So I got an MPC and I got this Roland keyboard, the FP-7 or something like that. And I taught myself how to use these two pieces of equipment. And I was living with my mom because I ruptured my Achilles and I couldn’t take care of myself. Driving her crazy with the beat machine.
She started studying jazz but swiftly got a role playing with Victor Wooten on tour, and then got a place in Beyoncé’s band. That led to being Musical Director and her new K-Pop experience too.