Dai Burger is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real digital hub is featuring 52 outstanding young women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
The entire music industry is a boys club, and perhaps the hip hop world even more so. The underground is another story, however: filled with vibrant diversity, indie rap is perhaps more consistently showcasing female talent. One of those rising stars is Dai Burger. Despite being named as one of Rolling Stone's artists to watch and covered by nearly every music blog (from Noisey to Pitchfork to MTV) while touring internationally and constantly being acclaimed as a paragon of street style, Dai still proudly wears her subterranean status as a badge of honor.
"Yeah we're underground, we have this title above us. It's under-heard too. I think it's dope though. I consider myself a part of it," said Dai to me excitedly over the phone. "Everyone's on top of their branding and promo. That's what it takes to be a good artist, whether underground or on top. The fact that we've all already perfected these skills being underground, I just wish people would take note of that."
"This stuff is not easy. Underground, mainstream, whatever. Just putting your voice out there for people to listen to: it's not easy. The fact that were out here doing this, making it work for us, well, where's our credit?"
As a New York City native, Dai's success and notoriety certainly didn't come overnight. "I was up in high school, a Queens girl on Jamaica avenue. Queens know everyone in Queens. Gettin' my Queens life ... I [was] like your TLC, Gwen Stefani, Fergie kind of girl. I just loved R&B and like fun pop. If it was rap, it was like Fergie rap. I wasn't listening to like Dr. Dre. Just keepin' it girl power and bubbly."
But Miss Burger didn't always intend on becoming a rapper, she told me. "I started as a back up dancer for Lil Mama. I did that for about a year and I loved it. It just showed me the ropes to everything. Just like being on the road and the drive it took to make everything like that possible. She's definitely an inspiration as a young woman and making it. Especially at the time."
Even back then, it wasn't her spitting or dancing skills that got her noticed at first. It was her hair and incredibly unique style -- which, much later, would land her a gig as a Patricia Field spokesperson. "I had my vintage sweater grandma phase. I've had my bandana round the neck, beehive hair moment cause I was in love with Amy Winehouse at the time. You know? Just finding influences on the way, but it's always just what's not the norm. It's just always had an out-the-box thing about it. My hair, always. My hair is always something else. I've toned it down a lot!"
"I always used to get approached, people asking if I did anything else, because I had this crazy mohawk. My look was just absurd. But I wasn't up to anything else, so I just started writing my own little rhymes and eventually it worked."
Since then Dai has certainly put in considerable time, with several mixtapes under her belt and a seemingly endless slew of features with and on other notable rappers' tracks. Dai's connections and colorful visibility quickly made her a well known staple on the scene and her verses on songs with underground icons like Junglep*ssy, Jonte Moaning and Cakes Da Killa were always standout. But her latest EP, which dropped in December, shows Dai's own voice truly breaking through -- there's not a single guest on the four track mix. "My goal is to always get my message across first," she said. "Everyone has a different message and a different goal, so I've just been focused on getting my message across. But I'm still always open. We just have to be kind of saying the same thing."
The self titled Dai Burger EP certainly shows off her versatility. As the beat moves from Baltimore club to more downtempo R&B, Dai easily manages to switch from soothing crooning to hard-hitting spitting. Dai may have gained notoriety for her more risque lyrics earlier in her career, but her latest works show a rather different side.
"I was [surprised when this EP dropped]! I've had it ready for a while. It was kind of just waiting waiting waiting, then boom! Ok, let's go!" reports Dai, who, for the first time working with managers, production teams, record labels, and marketing groups, is now figuring out how to stay in charge. "I have say in everything I do. If I do something, it would have to be because I want it. That's part of being a boss."
Dai Burger by Monte Christo
This is certainly no easy task, especially considering the double standards about women in hip hop. "I'm not a stick figure!" says Dai, drawing out the last syllable of the word -- "fig-yah" more than "figure" -- idiosyncratic Queens accent still in tact. "I have curves. I show them, I'm not afraid to show them. It's not that I've experienced sexism but once people see that they make conclusions for themselves. They say, maybe you should do this or maybe you should do that ... You can't tell me what to do. It's more about staying true to who I've been because if I would have listened to a lot of the things that I've heard to change or do regarding my femininity or my music or my raunchiness in general, I would not be here right now. If I let sexism in the past keep me down, I would not be here right now."
Indeed, part of what makes her music so striking is her insistence on openly discussing her sometimes-not-so-straight sexuality, something which traditional rap fans might find off-putting. "There are people who do want to hear what I have to say. I do talk about my p*ssy because I have one, but there's other topics to discuss too. I've released over 30 songs in my whole career and they're not all about my p*ssy. Maybe a good ten of them are, but so what?! That's my prerogative."
Nor is Dai Burger shy in talking about her enthusiasm for the new crop of openly gay rappers finally getting media attention: "Music is for everyone. Because people are queer, what? They're not supposed to be able to do music? They don't have a story to tell all their own? Of course they do! Everyone does. I'm just glad people are finally listening to other people's stories and not only to what we've been programmed to as the norm. It's a new norm! Queer is a new norm! It just is! They could put a cap on it, a band on it! It's here, and it's bold, and it's happening. No one's going to stop it."
With these strong statements, it's not hard to wonder how Dai feels about feminism. Given her openness about sexuality, is there a political message to be gleaned from her raps? "It's not that I think about it," she states emphatically. "It's just that I'm a girl. A real girl. What I talk about is relative. It comes across that way because of who I am. It's always just that way. It's just my first hand account of what I saw or heard or came into contact with."
With a remix project on the way, what else next for Dai? Is she happy to reign as a queen in the underground or is she looking to blow up even bigger?
"I won't say how big of a level I want to be," she concludes. "I'm going to take it as it comes. But I know I have the potential. I write all my material. I collect my sounds. That led me to this point and I know it can lead me to many more."
Featured image by Cyle Suez