Dallas Rap Grenade Sam Lao, Is Ready to Blow Up...Again

Photo: Jeremy Biggers

Dallas based rapper and singer Sam Lao is truly in a class of her own. She caught fire in 2013 when she released her debut EP West Pantego, and everyone patiently waited for her follow up.  In early 2016, our prayers were answered when Lao released her sophomore EP SPCTRM. Soon after the release of her album, she signed with Dallas record label DEFDISCO who made her take down SPCTRM, promising a wider reach through its distribution channels. The label never re-released the album as it had promised and Lao was forced to regroup.

Finally free from the now defunct labels restrictions, Sam is trying to once again build momentum re-releasing her album. Teaming up with her husband and director Jeremy Biggers, Lao has released a string of eye popping videos to support her EP, including “Grenade” which draws inspiration from artists like Missy Elliot and Timberland. We caught up with Sam Lao to talk about her musical start, re-releasing her EP and of course those stunning music videos that have everyone talking.

We interviewed 88 Killa last year and he talked to us about how he was an early motivator in your music career, can you add on to that about how you got your start?

So right before I started in music — he was the first person to take me to the studio, and he was just working on his own stuff. I don’t even really remember what the catalyst was, but I remember getting a beat one day and they were like, “See what you can do with it,” and I’m like “Alright!” And it really went from there, but he was a really integral part from the beginning. He was a great driving force and really supportive — like fuck what everybody else is doing in the city and do whatever you feel like is right, no matter if it’s been done before. Just do whatever feels good for you.  

He gave me my first show. He was doing a birthday show at The Prophet Bar, and gave me one of the opening slots. I hadn’t even told my friends, pretty much my husband and the producer were the only ones who knew I was making music. I invited some friends, like “Hey let’s go to this show,” and they showed up and had been texting me and I’m like Yeah I’m on my way, I’m on my way. I came out and started my set, and they were like *gasp* “That’s awesome!” It was a really cool experience.

Did you do poetry or anything else before getting into music?

I did. In high school we had this spoken word group called Modern Graffiti — I don’t know why it was called Modern Graffiti ‘cause we didn’t do graffiti we did spoken word, like this makes no sense (laughs). But I did that for years and I did it a little bit my first year of college, but I fell out of love with it for a bit. I’m one of those creatives that doesn’t want to force it. If I don’t really feel it, if it’s not coming easily, I won’t force myself to do it because it feels contrived. So I stopped for several years, but when I started making music it just clicked because I always had that background in spoken word and it was really easy to just tweak it.

So you released SPCTRM originally 2 years ago and because of the whole DEFDISCO thing, you had to take it offline. Is it frustrating at all having to promote an album that is now 2 years old to you and try to make it still feel like it’s new music?

The frustration happened because I felt like I was losing momentum and I felt like I was in a really good place when I signed and had to take everything down. The original idea was we would be re-releasing everything fairly soon after that, and when that didn’t happen it was frustrating because I’m trying to book shows and do all these things. People are like, Well where can I listen to some of your music? And I’m like “Uhhhh...I can send you a private link” (laughs). It’s not really conducive to a musical career when you don’t have music to support the fact that you’re a musician. So that was really annoying, but I mean it ended up not being too detrimental because every set of new ears is a new fan. That is two years old, but to someone who’s never heard of me, it’s brand new. I never try to be like Oh no, I can’t push that because it’s an old project. These people have never heard this, this is a new project to them. I like to keep that freshness every single time I perform.

Without dwelling on the DEFDISCO thing too much, have there been any lessons learned moving forward?

Oh definitely, it’s definitely a lesson learned. You always feel that you’ve learned that things are always too good to be true, but it was just a little extra driving home on that one. Even when all the paperwork is right and you feel like you’ve done your due diligence - things can still fall apart and there’s really nothing you can do about it except keep moving forward. Because me agonizing about it isn’t going to do anything to further my career. So it’s like might as well keep going, but if anything it’s been like, hey labels are full of shit - even more so (laughs).

So your new music video, “Grenade”, obviously has Missy Elliott and Timbaland influences, but can you tell us how the idea came about for that song?

So when I first heard the beat it immediately felt very Timbaland-Missy Elliott and was like I need one of these tracks. It’s just like an ode to an era of hip-hop. When it came time to do the video, my husband was like, from jump I wanna do a Timbaland & Missy Elliott video. I was like duh, what else would we be doing? (laughs). It just so happened that a friend of a friend in Polyphonic Spree had a Missy Elliot suit and I was like Imma need that for this video. So we built sets in my dad’s garage down in Waxahachie and we shot it over the course of three days between there and just the living room of our house. I’m super happy with how it turned out and how everyone is picking up on those vibes.

Photo: Jeremy Biggers

Your husband’s [Jeremy Biggers] music videos are amazing, can you tell us how that creative relationship works out with you also being married? What’s the process like for coming up with music video ideas?

It’s fairly easy. We’re usually thinking along the same lines. Occasionally one of us will have this hairbrained idea, but we usually are really good at compromising or pushing one another’s ideas to be even better. So it’s not difficult at all, even when he’s working on a music video for another artist he’ll ask me for my opinion and ask what I see for this song. So it’s still collaborative even when it’s not mine. But when we are working together it can be frustrating sometimes because I feel like it’s my baby because it’s my song, and he feels like it’s his baby because it’s his video. But it never gets heated or ugly. But I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit (laughs), it happens sometimes.

With you guys both being artists and having art backgrounds, how does that come into play with promoting your music career?

It’s easy for me because I went to school for graphic design, and he also does graphic design and painting. So from a creative standpoint we already see things in a visual nature and how something can be packaged and branded and expanded. So one of the reasons this project is called SPCTRM is because each of the songs seemed to have a color to me - like each seemed to resonate at a color level which is why anytime I release a new song it’s in a different color. It’s the color for that song. Things like that, it’s not something I even actively think about when I’m creating, it’s just second nature for me to think, what are the visuals for this song, what does this song visually represent? And then he’s there tossing in his own ideas or helping me expand on ideas that haven’t come together.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Are you working on new music?

I am. My plans are to hopefully release early next year. That’s the ideal time. But yea, I’ve just started getting back in the studio. I’m learning to play guitar now and to incorporate more  instrumentation in my music. It’s going, slowly but surely. My fingertips are a little bit numb, but I like it and I always like to get better and learn a little more about whatever craft I’m doing. So learning to play an actual instrument seems like a logical step. So yea, so far so good! I just hope that people love it, and that’s all you can do.

Don't miss Sam Lao performing tonight at the Grand Opening of Deep Ellum Art Company.  Tickets can be purchased here.  To keep up with the latest news on Sam Lao you can visit her website here.

Austin James