The move from hip-hop journalist to hip-hop artist certainly seems like a big step. For T-Love, the former URB editor whose debut full-length album, Long Way Back, was released earlier this month, there's still some separation between those two lives.
"I don't consider myself an artist," T-Love admitted while handling promotional duties for Long Way Back in France. "If I do consider myself an artist, it's not all of me. Most of what I do has always been on a publicist, marketing or some type of independent thing, working within the industry, working with and for other artists. That's how I feel, just because I've done it for so long. Being an artist, as in like a rapper/singer, I'm not sure. Sometimes I don't feel that."
But throughout Long Way Back, it's clear that T-Love has serious rapping skills. Flowing over an impressive array of jazzy beats from Jay Dee, the Herbaliser and others, T-Love shows that she has reason to rhyme. On the cautionary relationship tale "Who Smoked Sunshine?" and the racial reality check "When You're Older (Ode to the Pickininny)," for example, she displays the type of storytelling abilities befitting, well, a journalist.
"I am a storyteller by nature," she said. "I think it's the journalism. From the time that I first became an artist, I've always been a story person. The songs that I liked the most were always stories. I loved Slick Rick. When I was into hip-hop, I was reading [Charles] Dickens, [James] Baldwin, Maya Angelou. I've always been a huge reader, so to keep my ear, I always liked stories."
T-Love's stories aren't of the shoot-'em-up/bling-bling variety, however. When gangsta rap emerged as a mainstream force in the late 1980s and early 1990s, T-Love remained a loyal hip-hop fan, but she also occupied her mind with jazz, literature and rappers who chose to reflect something closer to reality than shooting up entire city blocks of people and getting away with it.
"The problem sometimes I had with stories was that they were fake," she said. "That's why I didn't get into the gangster rap stuff. A lot of these gangster rap guys — they can say what they want to say, but I know what they do on a day to day. They're not out there shooting people. They're getting drunk and sleeping until 2 o'clock in the afternoon and they want to play it
off like they're rough riding. I got mad at that, that whole fake thing."
From the onset of her music business dealings, T-Love has used her diehard love for hip-hop to build a career as a journalist and independent-label owner as well as a rapper. In addition to her position at URB, T-Love promoted songs at radio, handled artist publicity and marketing and also released Jurassic 5's debut EP on her own Pickininny Records. Her passion for hip-hop culture helped keep her love for rhyming alive as she navigated a variety of jobs in the industry.
Her dedication to the genre is also why T-Love made Long Way Back such a personal affair. The album cover, featuring family photos dating back scores of years, gives T-Love a sense of pride because she can show who she is by showing where she came from.
T-Love's personal, professional and musical journey has taken her from her native Los Angeles to London, back to L.A. and now to France, where she's spending time with her friends and boyfriend.
Although she plans to return to the United States within a month or two, T-Love would like to settle in Europe eventually and appreciates the artistic freedom she is afforded in France.
"It's easier to bypass all the red tape, corporate America," she said. "Especially because the music industry is suffering right now, it's easier to just come here [to Europe] and people are like, 'Hey, you want to do a record?' Records come out way better when there's not pressure."