From the beginning of her music career, Dorchester-based rapper Red Shaydez has struggled to understand and embrace her “aura,” the innate way her personality and energy affects those around her.
This process of self-discovery began with their first album, Magnetic Aura, released in 2016. Feel the Aura, Shaydez’s second album, due out this weekend, is in many ways a follow-up to her first album, but it’s also a gauge of just how much the MC has evolved since the first dived into the Boston rap scene.
For Shaydez, it feels like she’s just coming into her own.
“People kept telling me that other people are attracted to me, they listen to me when I talk, and I guess I wasn’t aware of that at the time because I was really shy as a person,” she told One Interview with the reporter. “I think I’ve been hiding my light for a long time, but I’ve grown so much on this project … I’m feeling like, ‘Hey, I’m here’ for the second part, ‘Feel the Aura’ this time. I arrived.’ I feel like I have my mojo now.”
The upcoming album, which has been in the works for over a year, has been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shaydez originally had plans for a film to act as the project’s visual companion, but that was scrapped when the virus began crippling the city in late March.
Instead, surviving pre-COVID footage documenting the album taking shape in the studio became a focal point of the rollout process.
The phone-recorded video clips – dubbed “The Aura Sessions” – show Shaydez and her collaborators writing rhymes and jotting down verses in a studio room bathed in red light.
The collaborative, personal nature of this recording process was intended to create a literal manifestation of Shaydez’s aura, allowing her and her fellow Boston MCs to “work the song together in the same room under red lights, so we can both feel the aura and invent the song.” and it’s organic.”
The final product’s heavily populated tracklist shows just how much Shaydez and the Boston music community have embraced each other over the past several years.
On “Elevation (Bigger Purpose)” Shaydez develops a back-and-forth relationship with veteran rapper Bakari JB, the two matching bar for bar with tightly interwoven puns. In the role of a hardened “Beantown bully,” Shaydez impresses with a busy but nimble flow: “Rose grew out of the concrete/out of a little little river of money my palm deep/if it’s itchy, stay way down streets/so no one me.” kills, build more to achieve more, take the city with you.”
For We Got It On, Shaydez enlists the help of CakeSwagg and OFDer Brandie Blaze to showcase Boston’s vast pool of female talent. Roxbury wordsmith Oompa and singer Eva Davenport are also part of the project, which marks a departure from Shaydez’s largely solo previous work.
While that sense of community permeates the album, including skits where friends and family leave their heartfelt voicemails, Shaydez is still adamant about finding a way for herself and doing things her own way.
In “The Recipe,” she scoffs at those of her peers who “buy” social media followers or gamble on streaming services to gain influence.
“My whole brand is about showing that you can literally build something from the ground up and make a difference in the world and in your city without having to fake any numbers and stuff,” she explained.
“Actually, I was proud that I don’t have the most listeners in the city or in the world, but I have more influence than some people who have more followers than me. I’m happy with that,” she said. “A lot of people make music for different reasons; mine was to touch people’s lives in whatever way.”
Red Shaydez posed in front of a billboard at the Seaport promoting her new album, out this weekend.
For evidence of Shaydez’s local influence, look no further than the crowds that turn out for her live performances, such as last year’s Boston Answering set at the Strand Theater. She values the physical over the virtual, and that vibe is evident on the bonus track “Pop Out,” in which Shaydez challenges critics who doubt fans will show up for her. “Bet they won’t,” she replies.
While the songs on “Feel the Aura” were all written months ago, two feel particularly relevant to the turbulent times we’re living through. The first “Steppin’ Out” is about battling psychological demons and mustering up the courage to leave the house after weeks of self-isolation.
“‘Steppin’ Out’ was written half a year ago and that’s when I was feeling really dark. There was a time six months ago when I wouldn’t leave the house… I just kept falling deeper and deeper into a hole and then one day, it was a sunny Saturday, I was lying on the couch and I finally got out of that dark cloud, under who i was I decided, ‘I’m going outside.’”
Now that neighborhoods are reopening and Bostonians are cautiously venturing out of quarantine, the track resonates.
“It’s so timely, it fits,” Shaydez noted.
On the album’s finale, “Buy All the Land Up,” a sample from the film’s “Black Panther” soundtrack provides the backdrop as a militant Shaydez calls on the black community to engage politically, demand change, and reclaim rights and property that has existed for so long promised them.
“We’re going to buy up the whole country, tear down all the walls, beat Congress,” she declares, while pleading for activism and healthy skepticism: “Don’t think the job will get done because they tell us.”
The relevant lyrics reflect the ongoing nationwide protests and calls for wide-ranging social reforms following several high-profile police shootings, but as Shaydez noted, the issue represents a time-wasting struggle rather than a moment of clairvoyance.
“As a true black woman, that never ends for me,” she said of the fight for social justice. “So, contrary to what some people think, these problems didn’t start in May, they didn’t start with George Floyd. We have felt this way since the beginning of time.”
“Feel the Aura” is filled with calls to action, motivational anecdotes and little pieces of advice designed to have a transformative effect on the listener. Shaydez said these messages are at the heart of her mission as an artist.
“I truly feel that my calling here on earth is to uplift people, motivate them and help them find their niche. That’s why I have aspirations to be a life coach or a coach in general. I just want to help people, and that’s where I get most of my self-actualization.”
Last month, Red Shaydez’s picture graced a billboard at the seaport in an ad teasing the release of her album, which will follow a virtual event taking place this Saturday night. Seeing her face above the city, Shaydez said she felt overwhelmed.
“I think that’s when it finally hit me. My life started flashing before my eyes in terms of my musical journey and how far I’ve come…I’m definitely proud and happy and excited.”
“Feel the Aura” will be available on streaming sites on July 27th. A virtual album release party will be held on Saturday, July 26 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and will be live streamed on Red Shaydez’s social media accounts.