Old School, New Soul

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Megan Tillman, AKA Megz Kelli, is coming from a place of love. A member of fresh-faced Austin hip-hop group Magna Carda, Kelli has already put out a wildly exciting album called The Shoe String Theory with her musical comrade, Dougie Do. The group just released its newest single, “Inviting You” and is preparing to release even more new music in 2013.

With dynamic inspirations like Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes and Billie Holiday, Kelli is doing Austin a solid by helping to illuminate the local rap scene. I caught up Kelli to discuss her take on contemporary rap, her old-school inspirations and being a gay woman in the world of hip-hop.

How did Magna Carda come together?

Magna Carda started with me and producer Chris Beale (Dougie Do). We met at St. Edward’s. We worked separately for a while, and then we added in a live band for live performances and now we’re here.

What inspired you all to name the group Magna Carda?

The band name was inspired by the document Magna Carta that pretty much contained the King (of England) and didn’t allow him to have all the power, and that’s how our band works. No one has more power than the next member and all members are always equally important.

What exactly is your role in Magna Carda?

My role is pretty much structuring songs and being the lyricist and vocalist.

How do you feel about the hip-hop landscape of today?

I feel like there’s two different genres to look at nowadays: rap and hip-hop, and rap is definitely dominating. I feel like hip-hop is the original; where lyricism and creativity meant everything. Today, rap relies on a lot of spectacle as well as lyricism. But I can always appreciate both! My roots and what I try to allow my music to be inspired by lie with hip-hop.

What are some of the acts you’re feeling nowadays?

I’m really into old stuff. I hardly listen to anything new, but when I do, I gravitate to J. Cole and Nas…other than that, I listen to a lot of underground New Orleans rap acts like MidCity Ab and JAHovah. And I’m also listening to a lot of Tinashe and Jhene Aiko.

Where do you draw your inspirations from lately?

All of my inspiration comes from the older hip-hop scene, so a lot of 90’s music. Wu-Tang, A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, TLC, Lauryn Hill and Nas. My fast rap inspiration comes from 90’s Mystikal and Busta Rhymes. Also, any older older soul acts like Billie Holiday, Johnny Taylor, Teena Marie and Mary Ann Fischer.

Has being a gay woman in hip-hop/rap been a difficult undertaking?

Being gay is definitely something that stays in the back of my mind while I pursue music, but at the end of the day, I hardly acknowledge it because I want people to listen to my music, just like any other gay artist. We want people to pay attention to our work more than our personal lives. But I’m proud of who I am and proud that I can be a voice for other LGBT musicians.

Do you think homosexuality will become more accepted in the rap game?

As far as being a lesbian, I think hip-hop can become more open-minded, but when thinking about gay men, I wish I could be more optimistic. Rap’s image is so hard and grimy, I worry that sometimes people won’t feel as though they can accept a gay male musician in such a grimy scene. But with time things change and I’m hopeful that listeners can become more open-minded and more accepting.

Describe your relationship with music. How did your taste develop?

My relationship with music is all love. I love so many types of music, especially timeless music. Music is a type of rhetoric. It has power and it can move people and it always gets to me, so I can always appreciate it. My taste developed by following musicians and styles that I personally felt I couldn’t achieve. For instance, singing: I can’t sing, so I enjoy that music a lot more.

What’s in store for Magna Carda? What projects should we expect to hear from you guys in the near future?

Magna Carda will definitely be continuing to do gigs around Austin and other places, and we’re also working on a full band project and another mixtape to hold our listeners until the full-band project gets underway this Fall. So, people can expect some new music in August.

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