Been Woke: Snow Tha Product On Surviving A Male-Dominated Industry

"Stick to your guns and just rap."

Claudia Alexandra Feliciano, better known by her stage name Snow Tha Product, is a proud Chicana MC from the California area who's steadily carving her own path in the rap game today. Much like women who came before her—Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and even the late Queen of Tejano music, Selena—the bilingual rapper is breaking stereotypes that perpetuate women can't go toe to toe with their male counterparts in an industry that thrives on sexploitation, no less.

Being both Latina and female, Snow says she's well aware that her versatility and unadulterated talent can weigh her down in a business set up to compartmentalize women. "Stick to your guns and just rap as good as the boys," she says in a hoarse voice on the other end of the line.

Snow's new EP, Half Way There Part 1, boasts expertly crafted production and her signature ferocious storytelling, mixed with a tinge of R&B on varied verses and hooks. After establishing herself a "dope rapper" (or someone who can actually spit beyond the hackneyed big-booty vixen and drug chronicles with virtuosity ), she says: "Now is the time I can do whatever I want as far as just making good music."

Despite her love of and passion for the music, it's crystal clear her relationship with her fans is above it all. Her YouTube channel, Woke TV, has over 280k subscribers and has become her main platform for connecting with the masses. She likes to show off her wacky, yet charismatic personality via special Q&As and viral-worthy vlog episodes centered on her day to day routines. Not to mention, Snow's "ride or die" fans lend a careful ear to the music just as well as they tune into her life.

VIBE VIVA caught up with Snow to discuss her new EP, her loyal fanbase and what it means to be a Latina MC. —Melissa De Los Santos

A photo posted by @snowthaproduct on

VIBE VIVA: What set’s the new music we’re hearing on Halfway There Part 1 apart from your previous work?
I don't necessarily think anything sets it apart, I think it's a continuation of what I have been doing just, you know, obviously with time growing and just knowing more about music, and just being a little more free on doing what I want to do. I feel like for a while I've let me being the good rapper kind of control what music I make, I'm always trying to impress people, I'm trying to make sure my fans know I'm still rapping hard or whatever. I think on this one I just kind of let loose a little more and was just like alright, I think I've established myself enough as a good rapper, I think now I can do whatever I want as far as just making good music.

You bring a sense of versatility to the rap game. What was the writing process like this time around?
It was a lot easier. In the beginning it was a little hard because I was still thinking about it like, “I gotta rap good, yeah I gotta be a good MC,” but once I really got into it and I just got into my zone it's a lot of easier to write slow or down stuff. Obviously there's less words [Laughs] and yeah it was just dope. I mean honestly it was pretty seamless and I'm excited for the next part of the project to drop, because I think it's only gonna keep going from here.

Do you have an idea of when that might be?
I'm thinking probably towards the fall because I'm probably gonna start touring again in the fall and I know I wanna be performing a lot of the new material. I'm thinking around then, but to be honest with you, right now I don't know.

On “Nights” and “Alright” you tried something new. You added a sing song-y rhythm to your raps. Was that your way of showing the world you won’t be pigeonholed?

Yeah, I do feel like on a lot of hooks before, since I started, I have been doing singy stuff, like “Drunk Love” or “What You Like” or “Feeling Bad.” So I think it's just the same thing that I've been doing, but now I kind of did it a little more on the verses, before it was just on the hook. Now it's a little more on the verses.

You also have a Spanish-language song. Tell me a little bit about that and the inspiration behind it.
Well that song was actually produced by my boy Boomba, he’s my homie. He produced a lot of my beginning stuff, and we're both Mexican. We were just kind of sitting around, when I party or I just kick it with my friends we listen to a lot of more Caribbean stuff. Like we listen to a lot of El General, a lot of old Panamanian reggaeton or like Caribbean reggaeton. I was kind of like, "I don't know why I’ve never made one of those songs," but he randomly started playing some keys and made the beat and then I just went ahead and started recording.

Is the writing process for a song in Spanish different than the one in English?
Not too much, I think it’s pretty much the same thing, because I am bilingual. So I just pretty much turned my Spanish brain on.

I bet your family was happy.
Yeah my mom was ecstatic, she was like, “This is all you need to make, stop with the rap you need to make this!” I’m like, “Oh, my god mom.”

Do you feel a sense of responsibility in putting on for Latinos?
I do, I feel a sense of responsibility to put on for Latinos correctly, and that's what a lot of people don’t understand. I think if I was just out here trying to get Latino dollars or Latino support just by waving a [flag] then that's different, you know that's what a lot of people are doing, but I wanna represent in a respectable way and in a way that doesn't stereotype us even more. Which is why I’m so reluctant to be pigeonholed, because I wanna make sure they don't ever put us back into “just Chicano rap" or “just Latin hip-hop” you know? I want it to be that we are a real voice in regular hip-hop conversation. Like if I’m speaking English in my song you don't have to give me a Latin Grammy, I mean I’ll welcome it but you don't have to give me it just because I'm Latina if I’m speaking English.

I personally loved your remix to Alessia Cara's “I’m Here.” In your verse in that song, you said, “I ain’t black and I ain’t white so I ain’t got a lane and I don’t got a Nicki budget, I don’t got a Wayne.”

Being both a Latina and a woman, how has “not having a lane” affected you?
That's the reason I’ve been rapping for this long and I’m barely getting any recognition. It's a natural thing for people to be like, “This is new, I don't get it.” I think it’s happened since forever, when things are different they don't get it but the beautiful thing about that is you don't get it until you do and when you do, it could definitely be a positive that I'm Latina and that I'm a female and I'm the the first of my kind doing this.

Until then it’s going to be a very frustrating process to try and stick to my guns and keep doing what I always set out to do and that's been the hardest thing, not burn bridges but still being like, "Look I’m not going to do that stereotypical sh*t." I’m gonna try to open this lane, but I’m feeling positive that its getting close to being accepted and being looked at as a good artist.

Does it motivate you knowing there’s a possibility that you will be the one to pave a way?Yeah of course, that's what I set out to do and I really want to do just for my fans that use to promote me back in the day when I had like a thousand followers. I want them to have the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so” to all their homies that were like “nah, that’s wack!” I want that so bad, like that’s pretty much all I really do it for. For that first supporter to just be able to say “I told you so.”

I notice you maintain a direct line between you and your fans. Whether it’s through twitter, Instagram or YouTube, people definitely seem to love you as an individual apart from your music. What does your relationship with your fan base mean to you?
Honestly, that’s above the music, that’s more than the music, which is why I vlog. There’s people who don’t f*ck with my music and just f*ck with me as a person, and then there's people that f*ck with my music, that don't check out the blog. I think overall I just wanna connect with people and I just wanna feel like we’ve got a real connection. That I don't have to rap, you could just see me and give me the love because of who I am as a person, and overall I think that means a lot more than being an artist that just puts on the show.


A photo posted by @snowthaproduct on

Your fans are also very supportive of your Stay Woke movement. Talk to me about Stay Woke, what’s the story behind that?
Woke has been a brand that we’ve been representing since 2010. I’ve had a website since 2007 called "Wake Your Game Up." When I use to sell CD’s out in the street I use to go up to people and in order to make them feel like they were missing out I’d be like “quit sleeping on me, you need to wake your game up!” It always kind of changed from all that and the fans just really liked it.

We made it a clothing line, everybody really represented it and people got it tattooed on them. This has been really the main thing, Woke TV has been a really big part of my career. Now recently it’s become more popular for everybody to say it. So we’ve been doing the "Been Woke" thing to kind of separate ourselves, and many people know man we’ve BEEN woke. Don't come at me with “you don't know what woke is” nu uh, you need to check google and see who was representing this sh*t way before everybody wanted to hop on the bandwagon! But at this point I’m welcoming everyone to be woke, because that's what it’s suppose to be, it’s suppose to be enlightenment, it’s suppose to be awareness.

What advice do you give to other women who “don’t have a lane” and are trying to make a name for themselves?
I would say don't let anybody make you feel like being a woman is gonna make you make bad decisions, based on emotions. I know I’ve always heard “women are emotional” but so are men! Men are very emotional! To me, I feel like the biggest benefits that's ever happened in my career, because I do handle a lot of it myself, has been—don't raise my voice, don't get too emotional, talk to these dudes like "look you're gonna respect my business ends and I’m gonna respect yours" and that's it. I think that will go a long way, more than even rapping well, just being able to have the business sense to be able to talk to dudes and still be able to keep that respect without them having to hit on you in the studio. Stick to your guns and just rap just as good as the boys and that's it.

In an ideal world, if you’re setting up the blueprint, what does YOUR lane look like?
Oh man, pause that’s the thing I wouldn't even know… Just what I am [really] but with actual promotion behind me, you feel me? I've never had a big feature, I’ve never had radio, I’ve never had real promotion behind me, I’ve never had anything. Sometimes people like to ask, “What are you gonna change to make you pop?” It’s like well sh*t, the only thing I haven't tried, which is all this other sh*t because as far as me, I know I’ve built this from just being me. I’ll keep doing the singy-rappy sh*t, I’ll keep doing the Spanish sh*t, I’ll just keep doing me, but maybe just do little more business.

Last question. If you were stuck on an island and could only bring with you one album, one food, and one person to journey with, who and what would that be?
Aw man, that’s hard. One person? Aw man. Food is gonna be cheese fries. Does that count as two? Cheese-fries.

We’ll count it as one, haha.
Okay so cheese fries is one! Album is probably going to be Drake Thank Me Later, or any Drake album I don’t give a f*ck. [Laughs]

One person, probably my brother because he’ll probably get us off of the island. My brother will build a fire, he’ll f*cking—I don’t know what the f*ck he’ll do. Build a bridge? My brother's really good at everything he does, so he’ll get us off the island!

Download Snow's new EP, Half Way There Part 1 here.

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Pusha-T Pushes The Culture Forward Through Mentorship With New Discovery Platform

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VIBE: Can you give us a rundown on how you selected these artists?

Pusha-T: It was a vetting process between us and 1800. I would look for guys that were a strong lyricist, guys who're into melody. Just, you know, small followings, but I thought they were dope.

That’s interesting because in this era of music people focus on the people with the massive followings on social media.

You know, you got to think, if it’s too big then it’s not really special to see it in this process.

Very true. Your music has pretty much always stayed true to your sound and brand. So did you find it challenging to work with this pool of new artists that follow so many of the new trends in hip-hop?

Nah, I think that this is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business. Man, I’m performing in front of 18 to 45 [years old] every night, and it trips me out to see the people get hype over “Grinding” and the people that just know me since 2013. But you know, with that being said, I think I have my hand on the pulse, on what’s going on musically out here. I’ve learned how to enjoy it. I enjoy all types of rap. People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, “aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.” And really, I do. I enjoy it. I mean, how could you not? To be in it like this, how could I not find appreciation in everything that’s going on?

The way you answered my last question seems like you’re considering retirement or at least exploring what that looks like. But you’re right in the thick of it all, so that’s very interesting.

Yeah, man. I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop goes out of style. I think that stays around forever, and then I feel like you retire when you’re out of the mix of it and out of the culture and lifestyle of it. When you start not caring about hip-hop aesthetics and just being first and competing, then you supposed to be like, alright cool, I’m out. But until then, I still know what’s fresh to put on and so on and so forth.

One of the biggest differences between vets and new artists is the communities they live in and the things they witness as youth. Did you see some of those differences reflected in their music while working with them?

Yeah. As a veteran artist, I was speaking about what was going on outside at that very moment. I think the newer artists are more introspective. They’re more about themselves and trying to convey messages from their heart. They’re trying to sell you on them, whether they want to party [or] they’re heartbroken. It’s not so much looking out the project window and saying what’s going on. It’s like, I don’t even want to go outside. I’m in my room, and y'all don’t even know I’m writing and I’m going to show y’all one day. It’s all about that.

That seems kind of overwhelming or can come on too strong at times, no?

Nah. As a writer, you dial in on things… You know when somebody says something in a song like, “oh you meant that.” Or you were so intricate with the description of that, you had to get that off. So that’s a score as a writer, me listening to somebody like that. That’s a good thing.

What’s the greatest lesson that you have given this new generation?

I think the greatest lesson for me and the position I’m in right now is opening up these corporate opportunities. They do everything themselves. They’re shooting their own videos, recording themselves. They’re writing, producing, and recording themselves. They’re damn near engineering. One of the girls, [Nita Jonez], she was like, “Yeah, I just be knocking little stuff out while I’m at the crib.” I’m like, I don’t even do that. I don’t even know how to finesse all that. But they’re so self-sufficient. Only thing I could try to do is just package it for them the best way possible. They all got dreams of being huge. A lot of that has to do with the art and what they’re doing, but how it’s presented [as well]. And that’s what I try to show 'em and teach and help 'em with.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from them?

Man, there are just absolutely no rules. No rules at all. They’re such free spirits. They don’t even record how I do. I come in a with a new notepad, pen, and I write like that. I have to see it. It helps me memorize it. They come in and run straight to the mic and just be who they are. And they find themselves through it all. Not everybody; there were some other writers in there, like, Hass and Tyler. Tyler [is] so good at it. It comes out just that precise or damn near close. And then he’ll go and chop it up, make it right a little bit. But they just have that unorthodox attack in the studio. I’m more like, I want to sit down, chill… I don’t even like being in the studio that long. I probably write at home, then I’ll come here and figure out the rest. It’s a very formatted type of thing. And some of the spontaneity and some of the energy probably gets lost in my way because they come in and vibe immediately. Things that may just happen on the spur of the moment, they catch it. When I come in, it’s just all there. Either I’ve written it already or I’m writing it and that’s just what it is. I may lose an adlib. I may lose something that’s quirky in a song that just happens that probably won’t happen for me, but they’ll catch every time.

Do you think there’s a way to balance that incorporates both of those worlds – yours and theirs – to make that ideal way to create?

Well, I think it would have to come from practice. Certain people learn a certain way. Honestly, there’s no difference in what they do than what Jay-Z does. He just practices so much that way that his mind works and processes things really fast. And you know, he’s just really confident in not seeing anything and catching the vibe and going at it. Theirs is just unorthodox. It’s the same thing though. And then as they do it more and better, it’ll get more concise.

In any field, with mentorship there’s only so much you’re willing to take from your mentor before you’re ready to do it yourself. Who were your mentors, and what were some of the things you did and didn’t take from them?

From afar, it would have to be Teddy Riley. Him moving to the area, Virginia Beach, where I’m from – him alone was like wait a minute, music is a real thing. Oh man, there’s a Ferrari down my street. I can’t believe this. I’m seeing Jay-Z’s here. Michael Jackson’s in Virginia Beach for what? You know, shooting a video, all of these things that happened, let me know that this is a real thing and not just for the people on TV. Now in arm’s reach, you got Pharrell and Chad. You got my brother [Malice] who taught me how to write. He actually taught me that MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper when I thought he was. Pharrell literally taught me how to count bars. It’s just been so many lessons between those guys; they taught me everything. They taught me to look at a song, try to see it the whole way through and not just get up and write for the sake of writing. Pharrell always told me, “you may not have something to say today.” Like if I get stuck, “It’s fine. You’ll get to it. We’ll find it another day.” Never force it though.

There’s a huge divide in the genre as far as rookies vs. vets go. This project is so good because it’s paying it forward. Do you think that’s both a necessary and important part of the culture that needs to be restored?

Yes. Well, no. You know what? It’s not for everyone. It’s not for everybody to do. Some people are so stuck in their heyday that they can’t even see what’s going on outside. Everybody that I’ve ever liked in rap music, I probably have had a longer career than all of them. Like whoever I thought was the greatest in my time, I be like, bro, wait a minute they only have five years, five albums? What? When I really think about it, it’s because they all got stuck in their heyday. And that was a hell of a time. The greatest of all great raps, but you know, they couldn’t see any further than that. And when something new came up, they was like, “Yeah, but y’all don’t like us because we…” They just start getting washed and their jeans start fitting differently and they pick the wrong size. They just get stuck in that time period and before you know it, it’s skinny jean time and they got on fucking size 42s and they weigh a buck 50 and they look crazy. And it’s wrong because you get stuck because you don’t embrace and try to help and learn from what’s coming in next. And you should. This is music. You can never stop learning. You have to continuously learn with this forever. It’s just what it is until you just say I’m done. It’s not for everybody man. If you’re not trying to push hip-hop forward, then no, you’re going to be washed and you should be. You should be. I think it’s corny. This is the youngest genre of music. The youngest, most powerful, most influential. We should not be at a point where the elders are knocking the rookies. It’s corny. That’s an effort to stunt the growth of the genre. And that is just totally wrong, 100 percent.

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