Sam Lao
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Sam Lao

Dallas, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013

Dallas, Texas, United States
Established on Jan, 2013
Solo Hip Hop Experimental

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"WATCH THE VIDEO FOR SAM LAO'S ANTI-CATCALLING ANTHEM, "PINEAPPLE""

Samantha Mattice-Lowery a.k.a. Sam Lao is a 27-year-old, Dallas, TX-based artist with a unique sound and visual identity. Her latest offering, "Pineapple," is a summery call-out anthem accompanied by a colorful video geared toward women. In it, she explores unlikely themes.

Sam tells us that "Pineapple" is about a domestic male fantasy -- "I'm referring to how you would tie up your hair when hanging around the house/relaxed. They wannabe close to me and see me in my most relaxed state."

Summer is officially cat-calling season, so "Pineapple" is a godsend, imploring women to rebuff male advances, resist the male gaze and be confident, to not "bow to the will of others just because they have taken notice of how amazing you are and want a piece of you." - Paper Magazine


"Sam Lao’s ‘Pineapple’ is the anti-catcalling anthem we’ve been waiting for"

While summer means warm weather and rosé, it also means an influx of unwarranted catcalling. It’s both uncomfortable and slightly comical when you think about the audacity of a man who yells at a woman on the streets and actually expects a response.

Just in time for summer, 27-year-old Dallas rapper Sam Lao dropped the brightly-hued video for “Pineapple,” an anti-catcalling anthem. Lao raps that while she does look great, this isn’t an invitation for thirsty men to get to know her better. Because honestly, if men aren’t going to stop harassing women on the streets and any other place you can think of, we might as well respond to the nonsense and tell them how stupid catcalling really is.

She told Paper that the song is about a domestic male fantasy. “I’m referring to how you would tie up your hair when hanging around the house/relaxed,” she said. “They wanna be close to me and see me in my most relaxed state.” And the song couldn’t be more timely, especially with the recent Twitter hashtag #NoWomanEver started by @ImJustCeej, which women all over the internet used to clap back with sarcastic responses to catcalling.

With empowering lyrics like, “But she never drops drawers for the howling of the dogs” and “Yeah, I got it. Yeah, I own it. It’s all mine so I can flaunt it,” Lao’s “Pineapple” is the perfect response to unwanted male attention. - Fusion


"Sam Lao's Quest To Rule The World Starts In North Texas"

Sam Lao is one of those people who seems to be great at everything she tries. She sings, draws, paints, sculpts, writes poetry and she raps. And in a city like Dallas, which is filled with talented artists and musicians, Lao stands out.

“Frankly, she kind of came out of nowhere,” says Pete Freedman. Freedman is a journalist and the founder of Central Track, a local entertainment blog aimed at people 18 to 35. “The first time anyone really knew about Sam was when she released the video for her single “Pilgrim,” which I believe came out before she even released her “West West Pantego” EP. It was an awesome introduction, because it was a very striking video of Sam and the entire Brain Gang crew sitting around a feast and Sam was starring directly at the camera rapping about her prowess as an emcee and she was proving it right off the bat.”

Soon, everyone in North Texas seemed to know Lao. She released a four-song EP and started performing at festivals.

“So it’s really my goal to like break through that ceiling and become the nationwide, worldwide artist that Dallas can claim,” says Lao.

That’s big talk for the young emcee, but her contemporaries believe it’s possible. Dallas rapper 88 Killa thinks Lao has the talent to be an artist who is bigger than hip-hop and bigger than most North Texas musicians.

“If anyone is going to break out of this city, it’s going to be her,” says 88 Killa. “Everyone in her inner circle believes that the only thing that can get into her way is herself. When she sneezes or blinks, people definitely pay attention.”

If anyone would know it would be 88 Killa, because he was the first person who challenged Lao to take up rapping. It started at a turbulent time in Lao’s life. She was a graphic design student and visual artist in her final semester at University of Texas – Arlington, but she couldn’t afford classes and had to drop out.

“I got super depressed and I wasn’t drawing anything, I wasn’t painting, I wasn’t sculpting and I was sort of just wallowing away,” say Lao.

It was at this time that 88 Killa reached out to Lao. He told her that he and Dallas producer Ish D were at the recording studio and that she should come over. 88 Killa had heard rumors about Lao’s rap skills, but he hadn’t heard her rap. He and Ish D were fussing with a beat that they couldn’t write rhymes to, so they told Sam to get in the booth.

“To be honest, we were really just joking and trying to put her on the spot,” says 88 Killa. “But then I was like, ‘hey, I’ve heard you talked with another producer about rapping and making beats and if you want to do this, then here I am. I’ll get behind you.’ So we gave her a beat and told her to come back in a few days with some raps and we’ll see what we got from there.”

The disheartened visual artist took them up on the offer and came back with some raps. To their surprise, they liked it. Lao and 88 Killa began work on “West Pantego.”

“I didn’t think it was going to do anything. I was just sort of gonna put it out just so I could be like, ‘Oh hey! I released a rap album that one time.’ And when I put it out people really took to it and here I am now,” Lao says.

After the success of “West Pantego” Lao began taking music much more seriously. She teamed up with a producer to work on beats for her first full-length album, but after disagreements with direction of the project, her producer took off. Lao’s followup stalled and she was down in the dumps once again. Luckily she found an engineer, producer and friend at studio Dojo45.

“I can tell you that she was pretty disappointed,” says Donny Domino. Domino is the “Sensei” and the co-founder of Dojo45. “That fallout was a hard hit. But even though she was disappointed, she was definitely eager to build something new. She was going to get to build something that she could say was hers and she got the opportunity to collaborate with new people that weren’t going to hold what they did for her over her head.”

Lao’s “SPCTRM” was constructed in the Dojo and for the first time, she was confident being called a rapper.

“I normally don’t like to be boxed in, like I don’t like titles. I am a rapper obviously. And at first, I didn’t like to say that and I think it’s because I knew people were judging me as a girl, saying I’m a rapper,’” says Lao.

Now she’s owning it. And rapping has actually led her back to visual art.

“I design my own covers. You know, I have complete control of my brand. All of that goes through me, like I did all the art direction. So, I still get to have that behind the scenes sort of artistic thing going on,” says Lao.

Her husband, Dallas artist Jeremy Biggers, films her music videos, but Lao conceives the lush and glamorous visuals.

“It’s a very hands-on process,” says Lao. “Like he knows that I am very particular about stuff, so stuff that happens I’m like, ‘okay. I want this, this and this in the video, so this needs to happen.’”

Lao’s determination to be in control and to succeed? That comes from her parents. Her dad works in fire prevention and her mom is a manager in the customer service industry. Lao looks up to them for their hard work and perseverance, but she’d like to chart a different path.

“I don’t want to be like that, that grueling just grind every day to come home to be exhausted. You know? So me living my dreams is a double whammy. I get to help them. I get to help me,” says Lao.

So, she’s just gonna keep on grinding everyday till everyone knows her name.

How does being here (in North Texas) affect the production of your art?

Being here in North Texas makes me work harder because people automatically think of the coasts. They think of New York and Los Angeles when they think of music and art. The opportunities for art are so much denser in those areas. Whereas here in North Texas, especially Dallas, it’s almost like a dirty little secret.

But the city’s art and music scene is finally starting to come out of that. But it’s made me work harder ’cause when you go to New York and L.A. and you’re like, ‘I’m an artist.’ They ask you where you’re from and when you say ‘Dallas.’ They say, ‘Whaaat?!?’ So you have to work a little bit harder for that respect and for that clout.

But it even happens here because Dallas has this habit of supporting artists from elsewhere before they support their own. The city “little brothers” their own people. So, everything that I do is to get me out of that little bubble of only being a “local artist.”

Have you quit your day job? And if not, how do you maintain balance your life?

I have not quit my day job. And actually working here, at Centre, gives me balance because our clientele actually are the same people that go to my shows. So it’s not unheard of for a customer to come in here and while I’m checking them out, they ask, ‘Are you Sam Lao?’ And I’m like, ‘Yea! I am.’ Then they’ll tell me that they love my project. It’s awesome because some of the people who come in here and recognize me don’t always look like the sort of people I imagine are coming to my shows. Working here just works in my favor. I told my boss that I want Centre to be part of my brand. When I start touring, but I’m not on tour, I want people to know that they can find me here.

When did you first call yourself rapper or musician?

I don’t remember exactly when I started to call myself a rapper, musician or whatever. I’ve always been an artist so I just sort of slipped that into the bubble of artistry. I normally don’t like to be boxed in. I don’t like titles. I am a rapper obviously. At first I didn’t like to say that, and I think it’s because I knew people were judging me as a girl who is saying that she’s a rapper. It was just easier to say, ‘I’m an artist and I make music.’ But eventually I was like, ‘No. I’m a rapper.’ I’ve been working my butt off to make music for people and I needed to own the crap out of that.

Are you creatively satisfied?

There’s this quote, I’m not sure exactly where I heard it, but goes like this – “Your taste level is higher than your skill level and that’s why sometimes you don’t like the stuff that you make.” So even though I am happy creatively, I am always striving for more.

I don’t know that I will ever be fully creatively satisfied because sometimes I just don’t have the skill to do what I am envisioning in my head. So it’s just a constant journey and I am on my way there. And the journey is satisfying. Being able to grow and see the progression is fun.

What have you given up/let go of to pursue your art?

I guess I would say that I have had to give up people in my life. There were people who were friends that I was working with that I eventually outgrew them. And those have been hard decisions to make. But it has been better for me, so yeah . . .

What makes you different or special? What sets you apart from others who are doing music?

I’m Sam Lao. That’s what makes me different and special. Hahahahaha! Really though, I just try to do what makes me happy. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of chasing trends, but if I don’t feel completely invested or it doesn’t feel like me I can’t do it. And I feel like that alone allows me to have genuine quality to my work. I make music that I want to listen to. I say things that I want to say. I don’t do anything that I think other people want from me. I have to want it myself. And I think having that outlook will keep separating me from other artists. - NPR Art&Seek


"How Sam Lao made an Album for the Women of Dallas"

I recently started a list of albums that “make everything okay.” It’s a short list; Late Nights, Anti, Ego Death, Beyoncé, among a few others. They don’t make everything okay because they are all critically acclaimed or explicitly socially meaningful or anything like that, but they make everything okay because they all help me feel like myself in the way only music can. During my first listen of Dallas-based rapper Sam Lao’s SPCTRM, I knew it had joined the ranks.

So let me tell you why SPCTRM makes everything okay.

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At her album release show, Sam Lao’s mentor and rapper 88 Killa took the stage to introduce her. “Sam went through so much to make this for us,” he told the audience. “So many people tried to say she wasn’t shit, but Sam is probably one of the best, not only female MCs, but best MCs in Dallas.”

It’s probably true. It’s probably true because with every play, SPCTRMfulfills a female perspective that women in the Dallas hip hop scene crave.

Lao says her husband calls her his “budding feminist.” That makes sense.SPCTRM is such a “budding feminist” body of work because it expresses the versatility of who Lao is and the complexity of her confidence and willingness to discover who she wants to be. The album resides in the idea that Sam Lao is not just one thing and that she will not always be the same thing.

“[It represents] all the feelings I have. With a song like ‘Bitch I’m Me,’ you get angry, angsty Sam—the ‘you are not going to tell me what to do’ Sam. With ‘Gold Link,’ you get sultry, sexy Sam. I wanted to show this is all me, it just depends on a mood or a situation.”

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The power in SPCTRM comes from many places, but what makes it so valuable is its versatility. “Bitch I’m Me,” “Be Cool,” and crowd favorites “If I” and “Gold Link” all represent explicitly different feelings, ideas, and versions of Lao.

While in its early stages, Lao lost most of the project and had to again start from scratch, but while it was a lot to overcome, she says it wasn’t the only obstacle.

“Obviously, the biggest thing that happened was me losing the tracks, but there was a lot of the other stuff that was more personal,” Lao says. “Writer’s block, doubting myself, wondering if I could follow up the success of [Lao’s debut album] West Pantego. I felt like I really had to deal with this perceived notion of outside pressure when really most of the pressure is in my head. I think that really held me back the longest.”

SPCTRM is a testament to her endurance; her fight to share herself with the world makes her work that much more powerful.

“I liked what I was making [in the early stages], but it felt like I was just doing it because that was the logical next step,” Lao says. “What I was making wasn’t bad, but having to go through adversity to do it made me really have to really get my shit together. I was just able to function better under pressure. I just had something to prove to myself and to everyone who had been waiting so long. Once I got past all that shit it got done, and dealing with all that shit—losing my tracks, the internal nonsense— it made me work harder to make a good project. And I think I succeeded in that.”

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“I don’t think I initially realized that these were feminist ideas; it wasn’t until it started coming together and I started to see that pattern happening. Once I noticed that, I started really feeding into it.
In the process of conquering the setbacks, Lao realized that she was making an album for women.

“Originally I just wanted to share different experiences and emotions, you know, just the spectrum of what someone’s personality and emotions are,” she says. “I don’t think I initially realized [that these were feminist ideas]; it wasn’t until it started coming together and I started to see that pattern happening. [Once I noticed that,] I started really feeding into it.”

“On a song like ‘Pineapple,’ I talk about dudes trying to holler at you and then getting mad when you don’t respond. It goes, ‘Oh you mad because you couldn’t get the digits / so the script you wanna flip it / you sayin’ I ain’t bad but you damn sure tryna kick it.’ I feel like that’s the epitome of how men treat you sometimes. Or ‘Gold Link,’ a song about being a woman and approaching a guy. I feel like that should be way more acceptable than it is. I feel like so many women can identify with that.”

Lao wants part of her narrative to be about being a woman and a feminist.

I remember a conversation I had with Lao last fall, before I even knew she was working on a new album, I cornered her after a show (sorry Sam, I was excited!) to talk to her about how good her music makes me feel and how it makes me feel really good to be a woman. She told me, “Yeah? That’s something I’ve really been trying to work on.”

The sentiment has not faded.

“I think [in writing music for women] you just have to think about your own experiences. So many of these experiences that I’m writing about are experiences that other women share,” Lao says. “It is also very important for us to share those experiences and speak to one another, because you never know who might have had a similar experience and how that might have resonated for them. I feel like that’s a really important thing to happen, and I’m trying to do better and be more vocal.”

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Lao is inspired by the women of all ages who are listening to her music and connecting because of it.

“One thing that has really inspired me to do that is I have a really young fan, her name is Marley,” Lao tells me. “She is in elementary school and she loves me. I was sort of thinking about how much she looks up to me and how excited she gets. My friend babysits her and sends me videos of her dancing to my songs. It means a lot to me, because Marley is also mixed, and I didn’t really have a lot of role models who looked like me when I was growing up. To suddenly be thrust into these shoes of someone looking up to me, I think that it’s really important and I’ve tried to embrace that.

“Not only for girls like Marley, but for women who are my own age. I feel like we are at this point—thanks really to the internet—to see women of our own age that we admire and learn about their experiences and share that. Just to build a community of women who know that we can do this shit together.”

I ask her if she does something that I do: search for the women and community around me in Dallas. I think a lot about all of the women around me and how many of us don’t know each other. At moments like a Sam Lao show, we come together, because when there is an opportunity to build that community, we take it.

“It’s hard to find spaces to be a woman in Dallas. Like, what do we do? Who do we talk to? How do we build these spaces? I’m still trying to figure it out myself.”
“It’s hard to find spaces to be a woman in Dallas,” she tells me. “Like, what do we do? Who do we talk to? How do we build these spaces? I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I know how I feel, and every once in a while you run into someone who feels the same, and it’s relieving to feel like, ‘Oh, you get it!’ I think that in SPCTRM it is pretty apparent that those feminist ideas are in my work, and I think it will help me figure out how I can build that safe space of sharing knowledge and ideas.”

What makes SPCTRM so meaningful is that Lao packs the complexity of her ideas, her experiences and what she wants to provide for other people, into the actual music. She’s not trying to be who or what someone else wants her to be. She’s interested in learning, growing, and sharing her hard work and soul through her music. SPCTRM is an album that Dallas needs, because it shows unabashed bravery in who she is, not a desire to fall in line with what anybody expects from her.

SPCTRM makes everything okay because, above all, the album is a wholehearted acceptance that being a woman, a creative, and a person will always mean you are a complex combination of experiences and ideas.

Plus, it’s a fucking jam. - Austere Magazine


"She's Confident, Versatile and Unapologetic. And Now Sam Lao Is Ready For The Next Step."

Six songs. Six. That's all it took.

On August 1, 2013, Sam Lao released a six-song EP called West Pantego just a few days following the release of her stunning, Jeremy Biggers-directed debut music video for that collection's lead single, a brash introductory statement of a song called “Pilgrims.” Almost no one had heard her name even a week previously. And how could they have? Before the release of that debut collection, the artist born Samantha Mattice-Lowery had never previously performed her music live.

What a difference two and a half years can make: Last week, Sam Lao released her follow-up to West Pantego, a confident and varied 10-song LP called SPCTRM, as one of the Dallas area's most revered and recognizable performers — and across the whole damn sonic board, too. She was the final addition to the late, great Brain Gang rap collective. She a regular collaborator of Sarah Jaffe's. She's even shared the stage with The Polyphonic Spree. At this point, she's as much a must-get for local music festival talent buyers as there is in Dallas.

And as SPCTRM — the release of which she's celebrating tonight with a performance at Deep Ellum venue RBC — more than capably shows, she's well-deserving of all this love, too.



From the opening splashes of the scorching album kickoff “Reminder (Bitch I'm Me)” to the vibe-y, Erykah Badu-honoring “Be Cool,” the Nas-sampling “If I” and beyond, SPCTRM establishes Sam Lao as artist who can't be boxed in. Want something a little grimy? Hit play on “Pineapple.” Need proof that Sam can rhyme as strongly as anyone else around these parts? Check out “Grenade.” Don't buy that this undeniable force can pen a pop song, too? “Higher” will downright shame your ass.

And, c'mon now, that's all before we even discuss the sultry “Gold Link” or the introspective “Dear Diary,” both of which stand as early 2016 regional song of the year candidates.

SPCTRM is clear statement release, the kind of subsequent confirmation of early praise that this town too rarely sees from the fresh-faced artists it so quickly and readily hypes; it shows off an artist fully formed. And, though it's more than a simple hip-hop album, it stands only equaled in the local progressive rap realm by A.Dd+'s classic 2011 When Pigs Fly, Blue the Misfit's 2014 Child In The Wild rallying cry and Bobby Sessions' breakthrough Law of Attraction from last year. Better yet, it does so as Sam's stage presence is coming into its own and rivaling the versatility she's shown in her recorded efforts since 2013.

It is a new Dallas classic, a total must-listen, and proof positive that she is ready for the next step up.

A few days ago, Sam Lao and I caught up over the phone to discuss how she got to this point, how SPCTRM came to be and how she envisions her career growing from here. Read our full conversation below.

First of all, I'd say congratulations are in order. This album is really great, Sam.
Thank you!

What can you tell me about when you started working on this, and just how long a process it’s been?
If we're being honest, SPCTRM came together within the last four to five months.

Was it just a creative burst?
Um, sort of a creative burst? I have another version that I was working on and lost everything and had to start over.

What happened?
I don't really want to get into too much particular things, because I don't want to slander anybody, but pretty much I had a disagreement with who I was working with at the time, and, um, they decided to take all their tracks that we had worked on.

Oh, wow. Were you able to recreate some of those, or was it totally from scratch?
A couple of them got recreated. Like, “Dear Diary” got recreated. The only one I was able to fully keep was “Bitch I'm Me.” That was the only one. I lost all the tracks, but I still had all my lyrics. So I used some of my lyrics. “Higher” I had. And, like I said, “Dear Diary” I had, “Bitch, I'm Me” I had, and I had pieces of some of the others that I reused and wanted for SRCTRM. But, yeah, when that happened, it was absolutely a creative burst because at that point I was like, “You're not going to destroy everything that I worked so hard on. It's coming out.”



Who are the producers? Who made these beats?
“Bitch I'm Me” was produced by Blue, The Misfit and Ish D. “Be Cool” was Blue. “Pineapple” was Devin Canady. “Gold Link” was Donny Domino. “If I” was Picnic. “Grenade” was also Blue. “Fools Gold” was Picnic. “Kaleidoscope” was Picnic. “Dear Diary” was Blue, and “Higher” was Picnic.

So this is an LP, which is a step up from West Pantego which came out coming up three years ago. And West Pantego definitely put you on the map locally. Pretty quickly, you were put into a pretty prominent position in the local music scene. Did that apply any pressure into the creative process for SPCTRM?
I absolutely felt a lot of pressure — because when I made West Pantego, I was doing a personal project. I did it for me. I wasn't expecting people to take to it like they did. And when it came time to start working on SPCTRM, suddenly I was hearing these outside expectations that people had of what type of music I should be making, what I should be doing, and who I should be. And it kind of became like a little clusterfuck — mentally, like, “What do I do? How do I approach this?” And toward the end, I had to throw all that out because it was messing with my process too much. I just didn't feel like I was being true to me. And was leading me to be contrived and just fake. That's not at all what I wanted to be. I was trying to be, like, “Forget that.”

And that's what “Bitch, I'm Me” is about.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Like, “Y'know, I don’t care what y'all's expectations are. I don't care what you thought this next project was going to be, or what I going to turn into. You’re getting what I give you, because you’re getting me.” Like, “I'm giving you me, and if you don't like that, that's too bad. But, know up front this is what it is.”

You hadn't performed before West Pantego, at least not that I’m aware of.
No, I hadn't.

So, surely you learned a lot between the two. How did that affect the process?Were you more comfortable with writing and in the studio, stuff like that? Were you writing with the thought of live performance?
Sometimes I do. Normally, I write based off emotion or mood. Like, “Bitch I'm Me” is obviously, like, clearly an angry, angsty, throw-it-all-out-the-window mood, whereas something like “Gold link” is way more, like, sensual. I felt like the mood I was going for on that is like as in-the-club, trying-to-hit-on-a-guy mood. So I think about performances in the back of my mind in that I want to have songs that are fun to perform, which I feel like “Pineapple” would be really fun to perform. “Bitch I'm Me” is obviously really fun to perform. So it's in there. But it’s not like a huge part of my process, considering performances.

I imagine you just felt more confident heading into the writing of this album.
I did feel more confident writing. I mean, that absolutely came through with all this time, like, writing and trying to get the other tracks. And then, having to start all over writing new tracks. There were stages where I was a little insecure about writing and I think that was because I was trying to do what people expected me to do, or what I had heard on the radio, or like what everybody was mainstream gravitating toward. And I realized I can't do stuff like that. Not that I can't, I can. I just don't like to. It doesn't feel good to me, it feels fake and contrived.



Right, it’s emulation rather than creation.
Exactly. So, I kind of had to, y'know, dig in. Just say what I felt like I had to say, or what the tracks were leading me to say.

One other thing between the two releases is you definitely started to collaborate with a lot of people — beyond the even the Brain Gang Crew. You did a lot of work with Sarah Jaffe, for instance. Did that influence the process at all?
Yeah. We're friends now, but I still really, really look up to her as an artist and just her professionalism, and her creativity and how she approaches things. Just having that sort of guideline of another strong female artist who is really doing her thing in this city on her own terms. Because one of the things that especially spoke to me was, like, obviously Sarah started out as this indie-folk like Denton artist, an acoustic artist. And now, she’s moving into this a little hip-hoppy with her stuff more like dancey. I especially noticed that at the show me, her and Blue did and there were people in the audience screaming for “Clementine” and she like, “No, honey. This isn't a 'Clementine' show.” And for her to be that unapologetic with her growth was really inspiring to me.

Did you even go so far as, were you bouncing songs off her?
There was a point there where I was not sure that what I was making was good anymore because I had it for so long. Like, I had been listening to it and working on it for so long, I just got numb to it. And there were times when I would send things to Sarah and be like, “Hey, is this good? Does this sound alright?” or I'd send it to Zhora or whatnot. And they were really great about their feedback and constructive criticism. It was absolutely helpful.

Is there a larger statement to SPCTRM? What do you think it says about Sam Lao?
I think it says something like, “You can't pin her down into one thing,” which I feel like it is absolutely something I wanted to portray. That's why the project is called SPCTRM because I wanted to show these different facets of me. So, you get the angry Sam, you get the sexy Sam, you get sad Sam, you get inspirational or introspective Sam. The reason I wanted to do that is, part of it was that I feel as a woman like we're expected to be one way. Like if you're not demure and sort of quiet and go along with the flow, you're a bitch. Those are the only two ways that women get to be portrayed, if they're not, like, overtly sexy. And, I feel like, outside of just being a woman, as a people, we have more than just one facet of who we are. Depending on what situation or who we are around, that's the part of us that shines. And that's not to say that anybody's two-faced or fake. It's like depending on where you are and what's going on, certain aspects of your personality are going to come out more.

Is that something you feel like you faced in Dallas, like in the music scene, where like expectations have been placed upon you?
Not so much the scene. I feel like individual people… Sometimes, when I talk to people after the show or even before a show, people who are not super familiar with me but come up with this perception of “Oh, she's a female rapper so she must be overtly sexy.” Which I don't think I am at all. Or they see me and they don't think of me as a rapper at all — y'know, I must just be a singer. Which, you know, I can be sexy. I do sing. But, I don't ever want to be known as one part.

I think that's what part of what makes this record and also your live shows compelling — that there's levels to it, that they're not just one-note.
Exactly! Exactly.

To that end, as far as the release show, what can people expect?
Blue's doing a DJ set. He's opening the night with a DJ set just to get people moving. 88 Killa is doing a small set before me, too. And I'm super thankful to him for doing that, because he was the person who gave me my very first show at one of his release shows a few years ago. So, for that whole thing to come full circle where now he's supporting me at mine, that's a really big deal for me. I hold that dear to my heart that he’s doing that.

And, obviously, that's one of the lines that stand out on “Pilgrims,” the very first song you released. That you “got the Killa cosign.”
Yeah, it was a big deal!



I don't know if I've ever heard about how you linked up with the Brain Gang crew, actually.
So, I met the Brain Gang guys through Jeremy [Biggers] because Jeremy was working with Unkommon Color with Brian Blue, whose brother Brandon Blue — Blue, The Misfit — was in Brain Gang. We were just going out in Denton, and Brandon moved back, and Jeremy got deeper working with them more, and then me and Jeremy got more serious in that relationship, so I started hanging out with them more. And we sort of all became friends there. And then when I had to leave school right before I graduated… I wasn't using all that time in school well, and I got like super depressed because I had already been in school almost seven years and I had to drop out. It was the worst thing ever. I had to work the whole time. I couldn't go to school full-time.

Where was that at?
UT-Arlington. So, having to drop out that final semester and literally seeing the finish line and being like, “Hey, you just can't make it,” that's a huge blow, and I wasn't using any of my other creative outlets during that time. And it was really depressing — y'know, a big downer. I started working on music and then Killa was just like “Hey, come to the studio with me” one day.

Like just to hang out?
Yeah, just to hang out and stuff. He introduced me to Ish and just sort of fell into me working on stuff.

And now, here we are.
Here we are!

Three years later.
Yeah.

Do you get nostalgic about that time that's passed at all? Have you thought about how far you’ve come in the last three years?
I do. I do. It's insane because I never saw this trajectory. It was never, in my mind, something that would happen. Like, I really didn't expect to release West Pantego. It's just one of those things like, “Hey, I released this cool little EP one time.”

When did you realize that things, that that lane, kind of opened up?
It was a couple months after I released it, right when I started that wave of performing all the time. And there was a week when I opened for Jessie Ware, I did a Red Bull show, and I did Index Fest. Like, four or five shows in a six-day time frame. I was like, “Oh, shit, it's lit!”

And that there might be something to it, like a career path?
Yeah. Yeah. And then, I was realizing how much I legitimately enjoyed it and loved the process of making music, performing it, and sharing it. And seeing that it resonated with other people. When you make something for yourself, or course you like it, you think it’s cool. But when someone else is like, “Oh, hey, that's cool!” You're like, “Ahh! I made that! You think it's cool, too!? That's so weird!”

Has that gotten old at all, or do you still have to appreciate that?
No, I still appreciate that. I still, like, really appreciate that. Like when I go to Beauty Bar and DJ Sober will drop a song of mine when I'm in the bar, it's like, “Holy shit! Someone's playing my song right now. This is my song you guys!” I get super amped. I get excited. I feel like, as an artist, you're supposed to get excited when random people come up to you in a Home Depot and say — and this happened to me a couple weeks ago — “You're such and such! Hey, will you take a picture? I saw you six months ago at some random show. You were great!” Like, shit, that's so tight.

Look at you. Taking Home Depot selfies.
Yeah, it’s pretty rad. Like, I'm picking out paint right now and you want a picture?

I imagine a lot of the thought with SPCTRM and things moving forward is a lot of “What's next?” I don't think you've done too much performing outside of town, have you? Is that the goal? How do you go about doing that?
I haven't and that is the goal. My plan is to start reaching out to venues and other artists and just see where I can get shows. I wanted to do a Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana tour to start. This year, my goal is absolutely to get Sam Lao outside of Texas and see how well I'm received.

Is that nerve-racking?
It is a little bit. But I'll be alright. There's not an option to not do it. So I'll be OK. - Central Track


"The Many Shades of Sam Lao’s SPCTRM"

Sam Lao is a vision of flowing hair as she stands outside Club Dada on a Friday night. The rapper-singer wears a baseball cap that trains her curly mane away from her face. She’s quick to smile, exposing gleaming teeth from behind her trademark coif. On stage, her set makes short work of her hat. It quickly becomes collateral damage to her bouncing, boisterous stage presence.

For this performance, her hat topped a khaki-colored dress-and-coat ensemble, and the juxtaposition of baseball cap and dress, traditionally masculine and feminine, is a fitting metaphor for the juxtaposition of Lao’s aesthetics. She’s both hard and soft. Both in-your-face and demure. She either rages through the mic with biting lyrics or purrs at her audience depending on what the song calls for.

This sort of versatility turned Lao into an accidental musician back in 2012. She ran out of money and was forced to leave college in her final semester studying graphic design. Depression followed, making her walk away from her creative outlets: painting, drawing, and sculpting. Lao’s friends and long-time collaborators from the now-defunct Brain Gang, 88 Killa and Ish D, invited her to the recording studio and gave her a beat to see what she could cook up. The experiment proved successful and would eventually lead to her first album, West Pantego, in 2013.

She fell into critical success after its release much like she fell into making music: very unexpectedly. Lao quickly became one of Dallas’ musical darlings, and was named “Best Music Act” in 2014 by D Magazine. She soon began collaborating with the likes of Sarah Jaffe, Zhora, and Picnictyme, all of whom she performed with recently. Lao’s follow-up album, SPCTRM, is out this month, roughly two and a half years after her debut. We talked with Lao ahead of her March 4 album release show at RBC.

Give me a rundown of how your new album came about.
I really wanted the project to show how diverse I could be, the spectrum of me as an artist. I don’t only do music. I paint, I do graphic design. I’ve never been the type to want to be boxed in to one thing.

That range is really evident. I’m just amazed that you sound as good singing as you do rapping. That’s rare, is it not?
Yeah, it is. I’m happy to be part of that club. As far as Dallas artists, I don’t know of anyone who does both.

Where did you get your vocal training?
I have not had any vocal training other than like three lessons a year ago. I took choir in the 6th grade and the 9th grade. I was always singing to myself or singing along to the radio. I never felt like I was strong enough to pursue a career in music, I just sort of fell into a career in music. It just happened to work in my favor that I could sing.

I’m fascinated how you fell into a career in music. You went from laying down some lyrics on a beat to a professional musician.
My first project was more of a personal project to help get me out of depression. When I released my first single, I didn’t even tell people it was me because I was already known as a painter, a graphic designer, I had ties with a small clothing company, and I didn’t want people to think of that when they thought of my music. I didn’t expect people to like it. Suddenly Central Track, the Dallas Observer, and D Magazine are covering my little 6-song EP, and I’m getting booked for shows. I just loved it and ran with it.

So that day the Brain Gang gave you a beat, was that all freestyle or had you been working on stuff?
I hadn’t been working on stuff. They gave it to me and there was no pressure. A week later I came back with material. I still have the lyrics, and I still really like them, I just haven’t gotten around to using them.

Speaking of lyrics, they’re quite poetic. How do you do it?
I write all of my own lyrics. I really enjoy the process of pen and paper. I used to do spoken word during high school, so the ability to pen down lyrics stems from that. Normally I find a beat first that really resonates with me, that puts me in a specific emotion or mindset, and I go from there. I know pretty immediately after I hear a beat whether or not it will work for me.

“I don’t only do music. I paint, I do graphic design. I’ve never been the type to want to be boxed in to one thing.”
On the album, you’re so versatile, you go from “bad bitch” to angelic. Where does that range come from?
I happen to be a Gemini, so I can go from being like, really hard and firm to being that sort of softer, more demure angelic person. Women especially deal with that sort of duality. I don’t believe that anybody is one way all the time. Everyone has different facets of themselves, and it all depends on the situation and who you’re around as to which version of you you’re going to be that day. To me each song on this album is a different version of Sam. It all goes back to the spectrum of Sam.

What is your baseline Sam?
I’m probably more of a bad bitch (laughs). When people first come across me, I can be a little hard or intimidating. I have the resting bitch face.

One of my bad bitch examples on the album is “Pineapple.” What does it refer to?
So a pineapple is a type of hairstyle. It’s a way of piling your hair on top of your head. At night when you lay down, you’d normally wrap a scarf around it and the curls spill out the top. The idea is you want to see me at home in my most relaxed state, you want to lay up in bed with me. It’s about curving a guy, turning him down. You know when you turn down a guy and suddenly you’re a bitch? It’s like, “You were just trying to hit on me, so what’s the deal here?”

You sound like a feminist.
Oh yeah, absolutely. My husband calls me his budding feminist. Rap music especially is very much the boys’ club. So me being a woman and getting in the ring with these guys, sometimes it’s really frustrating. When people hear the name Sam they think of a boy. I don’t really fault people who are coming to shows blind for thinking I’m a guy. I’ll come in with my DJ, and they immediately start speaking to him and are asking questions and trying to make decisions, and I’m like, “Um no, you need to be speaking to me right now, this is my set.” The people that I do fault are the people who know that it’s me and will still not speak directly to me because they think I’m not the decision maker.

Wow. So that actually happens here in Dallas? What’s it like being a female rapper in this city?
Absolutely, I’ve only worked here in Dallas (laughs). Despite the sexist undertones that sometimes occur, it’s still, for the most part, really great. The music scene in Dallas is really thriving right now. There are a lot of really incredible artists across the board and in the realm of hip hop, so I love being a part of that.

I can’t tell you how many people will come up to me after a show like, “Oh my gosh, I normally don’t like female rappers, but I love you.” It’s like, “Okay, I’ll take that. I’m not just a female rapper, I’m still a rapper.” Occasionally playing up the female rapper will work in my favor. At that point it comes to visuals. I always make sure my appearance is on point. Even if they don’t want to listen to a female rapper, they do want to see a girl jump around on stage.

So it’s been about two and a half years since your first album, what were you doing between then and now?
2014 got super busy because I was just performing all of the time. I had so many shows that year. After West Pantego came out, I recorded a handful more songs pretty quickly because I was getting booked 30 to 45-minute sets, and West Pantego was 20 minutes long. I didn’t start really working on a new project until 2015, and SPCTRM didn’t start coming together until the last 4 or 5 months when I linked up with Picnictyme and Blue, the Misfit to do tracks.

What’s the first single?
“Reminder (Bitch I’m Me)”

Tell me about the inspiration for that song. I could see it being a Dallas anthem, or maybe even bigger than Dallas.
I would love that. Despite how in-your-face it is, it’s the first song on the project because it’s a reminder that no matter what perceptions you have of me, I’m not trying to deal with what you think I’m supposed to be doing or what you think I should be. I think a lot of people can identify with that. There’s so much outside social pressure.

So last question, what are you most looking to in 2016?
Releasing this project. I was super excited and anxious and nervous at the same time. I’m doing a release party the following Friday, March 4 at RBC. Blue, the Misfit is doing a DJ set, 88 Killa is doing a set, and I’m headlining. It should be a very fun night. And ultimately I’d really like to tour this year. Most of my performances have been in Dallas, so I really want to do a Texas-Oklahoma-Louisiana tour and really just get out and see if other places also accept Sam Lao. I want to find fans as far out as possible. That’s the goal. - D Magazine


"Sam Lao Takes Control of Her Own Destiny"

Sam Lao remembers when she had the Dallas music scene in the palm of her hands in 2013. From the day she released her debut EP West Pantego, the rapper and singer rode a 15-month wave of critical acclaim. She opened for famed English singer Jessie Ware and played Homegrown Festival, multiple Red Bull Sound Select events, official showcases at South by Southwest and a litany of local shows. Sam Lao was everywhere.

But in spite of all the momentum, there was one question Lao couldn't quite shake: How would she follow it all up?

“It was always in the back of my mind to record new music,” Lao says. “It just became this daunting task that I kept putting off. I just wanted to ride out that wave until the wheels fell off and then figure out how I can start up again, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do.”

Looking back, it’s hard to blame Lao for settling into an unproductive frame of mind. She had new friends, including members of Dallas’ music elite such as Sarah Jaffe, Symbolyc One and Picnictyme. She also received lots of media attention, with features and praise from every publication in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

She was on the trajectory most artists dream of, but then came a nightmare scenario: When she finally decided to follow up her first project toward the end of 2014, Lao was hit by an ugly bout of writer’s block.

Lao hadn’t expected so many people to respond so well to her initial work and she struggled to cope with the pressure and big expectations that came with it. The longer she waited, the worse it got. Her newfound audience had waited so long for new material that she wouldn’t be able to slide by with another five-track EP. Slowly, Lao began to piece together a new project throughout 2015, but as it neared completion last fall she and her producer had a disagreement. "They didn’t feel like things were happening as fast as they wanted it to," Lao says. "And I really wasn’t willing to give total control to someone else."

As a result, the producer pulled all but one of the tracks from the project, leaving Lao once more at square one.

“I lost everything I had worked hard on, and for a minute there I thought, ‘Yo, is this just going to be the end of Sam Lao?’” she says, looking back on the period of limbo that enveloped her follow-up. “Was it just this one sort of flash-in-the-pan thing with West Pantego?”

Lao remembers contemplating whether to continue her music career. Music is only one of Lao's artistic outlets; she’s also a painter, designer and sculptor. But while she theoretically had other interests to pursue, making music and performing it live is the most satisfying to her. So she didn't walk away; she remade the album.

With only the lyrics she had written, she enlisted the help of local producers Blue, the Misfit; Devin Candy; Donny Domino; and Picnictyme. They offered up tracks for Lao to work with. Picnictyme also worked with her to develop new tracks.

“Sam is an artist to the core,” Picnictyme says. “Sam would’ve been alright regardless of what she pursued because she’s one of those rarities who isn’t going to abide by any standards, whether it be industry, art scene or anything. She’s not just an artist in the studio, she applies it to her life.”

Now that the album is finally ready, Lao says she "absolutely take[s] responsibility for how long it has taken" to put it out. But there could be a silver lining: While her career took off suddenly at first, the things she's gone through since gave her time to develop her skills as both a rapper and a singer.

“I’m almost really happy that the situation happened because hearing what I have now is so much better than what I had before,” Lao says. “I’m way more satisfied with the album as it is now.”

The new project, which comes out February 26, is titled SPCTRM as an ode to Lao’s broad-ranging personality. Angry Sam, sad Sam and sexy Sam will all be on display, coming together to form the full spectrum of Sam Lao. “A lot of the tracks reflect specific moods of mine,” Lao says. “I just really wanted to show those different sides and make music that other women can listen to and relate to. As a woman we’re told we can only be one way and if we’re not that way we’re a total bitch.”

The opening track of the album, “Reminder (Bitch, I’m Me),” confronts that very idea. It taps into the paralyzing pressure she faced to get back to work, her sudden rise to prominence and her doubt in her own abilities, before arriving at a self-affirming proclamation of, “Bitch, I’m me!” It’s a strong opening statement.

Soon after, Lao offers up her sultry side with the track “Gold Link,” which shows her at her most mature and polished, before switching gears and displaying her versatile rap skills on tracks such as “Fool’s Gold” and “Grenade.” The album works to show off the artist’s many facets and how she balances them.

As difficult as it was making the new album for Lao, her growing pains aren’t entirely over yet. A few months ago, she made the difficult decisions to walk away from signing a record deal and leave her management. She says she had concerns that she wasn’t the primary focus there and could get lost in the shuffle, but she says it's been "refreshing" to manage herself "because everyone should know how to manage themselves."

“Having all that happen really made me decide how badly I want it. And I want it very badly. I got my shit together and figured out a way to rebuild,” Lao says. “I’m not gonna lie, I want that tear again. I just want the tear to last longer and go farther than before.” - Dallas Observer


"A Year of Rebirth: The Top 10 Texas Music Albums Of 2013"

Sam Lao, West Pantego - A riveting six-song calling card from a female Dallas rapper fuses booming beats, rapid-fire rhymes and inspired nods to Santana and Coldplay into intoxicating declarations of independence. - KERA News


"DFW musician to watch for 2014: Sam Lao"

Last fall, Sam Lao found herself onstage at South Side Music Hall, opening for buzzy British singer-songwriter Jessie Ware.

Before a crowd of a few hundred, the Dallas-based rapper, outfitted in what looked like a football jersey, and with less than 10 live performances to her credit, carried herself like a seasoned pro.

That night was just the latest in a series of surreal happenings for Lao. - Fort Worth Star-Telegram


"Buzz Rankings: This Week, Sam Lao Got Louder Than Ever."

Helping the lanky emcee push past acts such as A.Dd+, Blue the Misfit, -topic, Lord Byron, Jay Clipp, Jaeson Green and AV the Great -- each of which is also appearing on tomorrow night's bill -- was a feature on DFW.com that declared her as the act to keep an eye on in 2014. Well, that and the fact that she'll return to the Granada later this month to open for Sarah Jaffe and Zhora. - Central Track


"Sam Lao - "West Pantego""

The Dallas-based femcee unleashed a debut project that I’m pretty darn smitten with and it doesn’t help that Sam is coming out of nowhere in my Chan-Lo universe with a bravado that fits well amongst her testosterone-filled peers. In actuality, West Pantego is more than just a tape with dope beats (courtesy of the Brain Gang family) and a girl who raps well. It’s like a musical tale from a hip-hop heroine who brings more than just a pretty face to an already talent-packed table. - Chan-Lo.com


"Video: Sam Lao - Pilgrims"

Out in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex there’s a hip-hop collective called Brain Gang (I wrote that thing there). For the sake of comparison, they’re kind of like Odd Future, but nix the childishness and odes to Satanism. Each member has their own distinctive style and the newest addition to the crew, Sam Lao adds the obvious—she’s a lady. Now, that we’ve got that inevitable statement out of the way let’s talk about the fact that she spits hot fire. “Pilgrims,” sees Lao rapping boastfully and comfortably over a distorted synths and loud snares that are just as confident as the rappers bars. The visuals for the song feature Lao at the head of the table and the rest of the Brain Gang crew feasting. - Mostly Junkfood


"Sam - Haze"

The Dallas based singer Sam Lao is back with another intriguing visual offering for her anti-drug song unwisely named « Haze ». Definitely the kind of song and video which take an all-new dimension, if you listen to it while you’re high. - Banana


"Sam Lao - "Pilgrims""

Directed by Jeremy Biggers, Sam Lao brings us a funky new video in the form of “Pilgrims.” Sam Lao spits murderous rhyme over murderous rhyme while enjoying a modern day thanks giving meal as the indian chief amongst pilgrims. The video concept fits perfectly with the song title and Sam Lao, if even for just over a minute, continues to command all of the attention throughout. - See more at: http://soletron.com/sam-lao-pilgrims-video/#sthash.YdA9CbQx.dpuf - Soletron


"The Local Playlist: 5 New Tracks from North Texas artists, including Sam Lao"

“I got that frizzy haired swag,” raps the up-and-coming Dallas MC Sam Lao on “F.H.S.” a musical introduction of sorts from her new EP West Pantego. She’s referring, of course, to her striking natural ‘do, but those beautiful locks quickly take a backseat to her inspired rhymes as she touts her strengths over a skillfully produced minimalist beat. Lao’s music becomes even more rewarding as you explore West Pantego further, from the stylish poetry and guitar lines in “Run!” to the intoxicating layered vocals of the current single “Haze.” Lao is one to watch. She’s also a new addition to the Index Festival lineup. index-fest.com - Dallas Morning News


"Sam Lao "Haze" Music Video Premiere"

Dallas based Sam Lao continues to build her own momentum after the recent release of her debut EP, West Pantego. For those who already have it on repeat, Haze has was certainly a standout track. Not quite the stoner love letter you may expect based on those warped beats and slowed tempo, "Haze" instead follows Lao's penchant to ditch the drugs and observe the stoners from a different perspective. - Dallas Observer: DC9 at Night


Discography

SPCTRM, 2016

West Pantego, 2013

Photos

Bio

Sam Lao is a rapper/singer in Dallas, Tx. Although an artist from birth - mainly drawing, painting and sculpting, she only began creating music in the last 5 years.

Despite being a rookie in the game, Sam Lao has already begun to cause a stir in the city of Dallas. Her debut EP, West Pantego, received rave reviews from both Dallas and national media and earned her multiple Dallas Observer Music Awards nominations including "Best New Act", "Best Rap/Hip-Hop Artist" and "Best Female Vocalist" and D Magazine's Artist of the Year 2014. In addition, Lao has performed at countless shows and festivals over the last few years including Index Fest, Homegrown Festival, 4 SXSW showcases, The Greenville St. Patty's Day Concert w/ Ludacris, multiple sold out shows and Hot97's Who's Next invite-only showcase. 

Her most recent project SPCTRM was released earlier this year to much anticipation and acclaim. She coordinated a sold out release show celebrating the project even going as far as building her own stage setup for the show further proving that Sam is a force to be reckoned with on all levels. The music video for her first single, "Pineapple" saw national attention with a feature from Paper Magazine and earned her nominations for "Best Music Video" and "Best Song" bringing her to a total of 5 nominations for the Dallas Observer Music Awards in 2016, the most of any artist in the city. (Her other nominations included Best Album for SPCTRM, Best Female Vocalist and Best Hip Hop Act.)


Whether it's listening to her music online, seeing her bewitching live performances or watching one of her captivating music videos, fans have been coming in masses to see what's next from Sam Lao. She is clearly showing that she has what it takes to hang with the boys in hip-hop. 

Band Members