The video for “Flavor of Green,” the title track on Queens D.Light’s latest EP, opens with the soothing cadence of ocean waves; their lapping is the soundtrack to the camera’s motion as it dives from the rocky shoreline to the deep sea and fades to black. Like a rebirth, the scene reopens in tropical greenery—a backdrop for an intimate, nature-based ritual. Yet despite the beautiful setting, it feels like something’s missing, like there’s an untold story being hidden from view. The soulful beat kicks in. And Queens D.Light, with a piercing, questioning look, fills the frame.
Those first few seconds of the video are a visual metaphor for a theme Queens grapples with throughout her project: working through darkness and past trauma to reemerge in a more confident place, both in art and in life. Recorded over the last four years, Flavor of Green is an exploratory, poetic hip-hop project that probes topics like heteronormativity and spirituality over hazy, atmospheric production.
Flavor of Green is Queens D.Light's first release since her strong debut, California Wildflower, in 2014. Since that time, the Oakland rap artist has shared the stage with Kelis, screened her short film at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and continued her work as a co-founder of the women of color-focused creative agency, The House of Malico—all while becoming a mom. (On July 21, Queens plays her first show since Flavor of Green's release at the Oakland Museum of California alongside Daveed Diggs's rap group, clipping.)
While working on Flavor of Green, Queens's life was constantly in flux. She moved to New York and back to Oakland, embarking on a long housing search, and then had her son. Admittedly, Queens struggled to find her own artistic identity amid all these changes, and the project took years to come to fruition.
“It was difficult. Flavor of Green was one of those projects where I had a lot of resistance,” Queens shares, referencing her internal battles. “With California Wildflower, I was around a lot of male presence. I was encouraged to rap harder, be harder, come harder. And I feel like that's a part of me, but that doesn't feel the most natural to me. This project, I had to spend time with what felt natural to me. I had to find my voice.”
With her many forms of creative expression, looking within and sharing her revelations with the world is something that comes naturally to Queens. As a rapper, art director and filmmaker, she's learned to balance everything she does by meditating, giving gratitude and committing to being present in every practice.
“Basically just immersing myself into different processes. The moment that I give resistance to the opportunities that come my way, I begin to hesitate and have negative self-talk,” explains Queens. “I mean, just to be real, sometimes I'm not present. And [in those] moments, things take longer. That's part of what I've been learning through my different crafts. The process is the process. It's not gonna change just 'cause you're not paying attention.”
Some of the challenges she faces in her work are also not self-imposed. Rather, they’re a consequence of societal perceptions that dictate how women should look—especially in the music industry. “It kind of moves away from your technical skills. Your skills matter, but what matters more is how attractive you are,” says Queens. In rap’s competitive scheme, it can be difficult to build the support systems to keep oneself confident or rooted through change.
“When you're a working mom, especially in art, people don't want you to be present. And they definitely don't want your child to be present,” Queens emphasizes. “Your body just went through so many transformations: stretch marks, weight in areas that you didn't have before, and I think that the industry can be hyper-critical when it comes to that.”
But Queens’ own strong support system in her creative community—in Oakland and across the state—shines through clearly in every part of Flavor of Green. She called upon producers Monster Rally and Creepyjoni, as well as Lauren Dupree for string arrangements and backing vocals. Melinda James's About Her Films shot the "Flavor of Green" dual track music video, which was edited by recent California State University, East Bay graduate Mecca Media. Through the track listing alone, it’s clear that Queens’s work on Flavor of Green was a highly collaborative effort that manifested in something experimental, thoughtful and unique.
Ultimately, the EP stands as a full and interrogative work. Through its rich production and raw lyricism, Flavor of Green is a testament to how it can take a village to realize a dream—and how, sometimes the dream is that much more beautiful because of it.
Queens D.Light performs at the Oakland Museum of California on July 21. Details here.