by The Minister of Information JR
Coco Peila is one of the Hip Hop musicians in the new class that is creating the new Bay Area sound. Her mother named her after an old blues song; then she took the last name of her Italian ancestors to show homage and created her Hip Hop stage name.
After being affiliated with Sandman of the Oakland-based Attik crew back in the day, Coco Peila is standing on her own two feet and spreading her wings. Her summer and fall is filled with an album, a mixtape, a video and multiple collaborations. Check her out in this exclusive interview.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell people where your name comes from?
Coco Peila: Coco is a nickname my older brothers gave me when I was a little girl. My mama named me Corina after the 12-bar Country Blues song “Corrina Corrina” from Down South. That song was first recorded in 1926 by Blind Lemon Jefferson, so it’s definitely an old school Southern Black name.
Most English speaking people from the Northern U.S. pronounce it “Ker-ina,” but my Mama and Daddy have always called me “CO-rina,” and I came to prefer that pronunciation of it in high school. Coco became my nickname again towards the end of high school because people would mispronounce it and I would say, “It’s CO-rina … CO … CO!”
One day a mentor was like “OK OK, we just gon’ call you Coco,” and it stuck. From then on everyone in my circle called me Coco. It’s always felt comfortable and familiar because it reminded me of my brothers and made me feel like I was around my family.
Peila is my last name and my Mother’s last name. My great Grandfather who carried that name immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s from Northern Italy. He saved up to bring my great Grandmother over; they gave birth and raised my Grandfather in New York, New York, during the The Great Depression. And it always tripped me out that at the time of his birth, Italians hadn’t yet become classified as White. But he died a white man in the early 2000s. Having Peila in my stage name is my way of honoring him and that lineage of people- and reminding myself of where they came from before they assimilated into white culture.
When you look at me, my African/African American ancestry is readily identifiable. I pay homage to my African/African American ancestors by wearing my hair nappy/natural and walking through the world wearing their features and melanin proudly. But my Italian ancestry is invisible in a sense, so keeping their name helps keep those ancestors and what they did to ensure I get to exist visible.
What does it mean? I’m told in Italy Peila is the equivalent of “Smith.” But when I was 19, a mentor of mine at the time named Sandman (of the Attik crew) told me it’d be dope if I used both my nickname Coco and my last name Peila together. He said in addition to having a ring, it sounded like “KokoPelli,” a Hopi name for the god of fertility, healing, storytelling etc. Coco Peila has no translation in any other languages but I think as I continue to live, learn and create art, it gains and develops meaning and continues to define me and my actions – personal, interpersonal, political and social.
Coco Peila has no translation in any other languages but I think as I continue to live, learn and create art, it gains and develops meaning and continues to define me and my actions – personal, interpersonal, political and social.
M.O.I. JR: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
Coco Peila: When I was 4, I had a vision of stepping onto a huge stage in front of thousands of people, and it has been growing roots in my heart ever since then. But it wasn’t until ages 17-19 that I became fully aware of the desire and decided to go after it.
M.O.I. JR: What inspired you to make your first recorded song?
Coco Peila: It was ‘04 and my friend D.yanna and I were chilling by the lake listening to KMEL, and Lil Jon’s “Lovers and Friends” featuring Usher and Ludacris came on the radio. I remember Luda’s voice saying, “You know you like it like that/ You don’t have to fight back/ Here’s a pillow bite that…” He went on to talk about all the things he was going to do to her, and I just had an allergic reaction to the song.
I had to rap about how it made me feel being a 16-year-old girl who had dudes young and old constantly trying to coerce, trick, interest my friends and I into varying levels of sexual interactions, usually thinly veiled as romantic or relationship propositions. I felt angry and vulnerable because at the time, as a young teenage girl I, like many other girls my age, wanted the approval of men and boys and I could feel in myself how influential these men and their opinions were on my mind, body and choices.
I felt humiliated and worthless when they called women and girls bitches, tricks and hoes. I felt like nobody cared what I had to say or like none of the males in the media really saw us – young Black girls specifically – as anything beyond eye candy or soon-to-be-possible sex interests, and it was painful and also hella boring.
That was around the time my friends were exposing me to “Conscious Rap/Hip Hop,” “Liberation and oppression theory.” I was learning about all the “isms” and was especially fired up about racism and sexism. I just flipped, I guess.
D and I were a part of a program called YMR (Youth Movement Records) based out of Oakland and had been given a beat CD the executive director gave us, ‘cause none of the young male producers were trying to give us beats. We popped the CD in, picked a beat and started writing.
M.O.I. JR: What was the name of that song?
Coco Peila: “Flow So Sweet”
M.O.I. JR: How did you feel about it?
Coco Peila: I remember feeling a mixture of things: Proud, angry, self-righteous, shy, insecure, powerful. It felt empowering to write, record and then listen to and share our response to that Lil Jon song and the attitudes of a lot of the males we came in contact with.
Frankly, most of the songs on the radio at that time had the same content, but it was bigger than that. It was an opportunity to voice our opinions about how the songs – and the beliefs and attitudes that created them – affected our lives.
I could tell that my Rap skills weren’t as sharp or strong as I wanted them to be. I had never recorded a Rap, and it sounded hella different than the Emcees that I idolized. So much less polished and tight, but I guess more than anything I felt like people needed to hear it.
The young men and women, especially my teenage male rapping peers and patnas, at the time were mimicking the rappers they idolized content wise. I don’t think I would’ve articulated it this way back then, but I understand now that what I felt was a desire to be a part of the conversation that is Hip Hop.
Most of the songs on the radio at that time had the same content, but it was bigger than that. It was an opportunity to voice our opinions about how the songs – and the beliefs and attitudes that created them – affected our lives.
At the time there weren’t any female voices in the mainstream media even trying to attempt to address the sexualization and objectification going on in Hip Hop as a result of how women were being targeted in the United States. In the Bay, Mystic had just gone on hiatus and in the Bay Area youth Hip Hop scene there were less than 10 girls rapping.
I felt like a lot of the girls didn’t address that kind of stuff because either they were unaware of how it was affecting us or they wanted to be cool and that definitely was not how you got cool points with the boys. So I guess I also felt brave and lonely.
M.O.I. JR: Who are some of the artists that you work with in the area?
Coco Peila: When I was 16 D.yanna and I were at a function at 2232 free styling shyly in the back of the venue. The three emcees – Do D.A.T, Sandman and Amani from The Attik – came over started rapping with us. They ended up bringing me under their wings; they encouraged, educated and supported me in any and all ways to go after my music and Rap career.
I’ve worked with all three of them in different capacities over the last decade and change, and they have all heavily influenced almost every aspect of my music – recorded, performed, written. Through them and YMR, I was introduced to and have worked with many in the Bay Area Hip Hop artists’ scene, but currently the Bay artists I work with are Will Bracy, Melina Jones, Talia Taylor, Ryan Nicole, Imerald Brown, Hazel Rose, Mic Angelo “Raka Angelo,” Hunny Tinted, D.yanna etc.
M.O.I. JR: What interests you in them?
Coco Peila: What interests me about these artists is that they are constantly sharpening their craft. They love Hip Hop, not just in bits and pieces but as a whole. They love and are committed to protecting and nurturing the culture, they are authentic and comfortable with themselves, and they are genuine. They also are humble, kind and respectful people. Those qualities make it easy, inspiring and fun to work with them.
M.O.I. JR: Can you explain your creative process?
Coco Peila: I am always singing, humming, hearing rhythm in the sounds around me, and rapping etc. I feel the music or rhythm first. Sometimes it feels like I pull the melody or rhyme out of the air, and sometimes it feels like it drops down into my mind or body.
Generally, I hear melodies and rhythm patterns, and my body has an emotional reaction to them first, and then I begin trying to tie words to the sounds and melodies. I also have been writing poetry since I was young, so sometimes a recurring theme from my poetry or free-writes will then pop in the lyrics I’m writing.
I often repeat the sound that comes into my head until it locks with the beat, instrumentation, rhythm. However, sometimes if I’m building the beat from the ground up, it works differently. It all depends on whether I have made the music, am singing, rapping, scatting.
M.O.I. JR: Do songs just come to you or do you work at the lyrics?
Coco Peila: Sometimes the songs just come to me and sometimes I have to work at the lyrics. I think it depends again on what I’m doing and what role I’m playing in the music creation process. When I’m writing raps about my life or what I see in the world, it usually takes me longer than if I’m just gassing and bragging, because I want to articulate and communicate an idea or experience in the clearest, most excellent manner.
I think there are so many factors involved that it’s difficult to pinpoint one method, which may account for why I haven’t quite perfected my craft yet. I will say that when I feel like there’s a message I need to deliver, I really work at the lyrics because my ultimate goal is to inspire people to feel and think.
We (Americans) live in a time and country where our society, much of its structure, and many of its institutions function to distract, confuse and numb us. I really want us, humans – with a special emphasis on Black people and Black women – to get the best possible shot at life. I’m a firm believer that this can only happen if we have access to all our facilities – mental, emotional etc.
Music and Rap (rhythm patterns) have the capacity to stimulate our entire beings and wake us up or move us. Lyrics get so easily stuck in our minds. Whether the song content is playful, braggadocio, educational or cathartic, it’s important to me that it always be positive. When I say that, I don’t mean positive in some packaged way we’ve heard before but that the lyrics and content liberate us towards positive growth and development and/or some form of healing.
M.O.I. JR: What are you working on now?
Coco Peila: Currently I am working on my next untitled music project. I am getting ready to do a digital release of Part 3 of my “I Still Love Him” trilogy, “Lady Day Said,” and working on several collaborations with local artists, including a song and music video dropping this month called “Golden State of Mind” with Imerald Brown.
The mixtape is untitled, but I recently released the first single off of it called “Handle My Business,” featuring Naysan, a producer and singer I met while in school down in Florida. I’m beyond juiced about this next project because I feel like my skill level is finally developed enough for me to clearly articulate some ideas, feelings and thoughts that have been in my heart and on my chest for a while.
M.O.I. JR: How do people stay in touch with you?
Coco Peila: Cocopeila.com and @CocoPeila on Twitter and Instagram. I release all of my experimental music projects and songs on Soundcloud.com/CocoPeilamusic as free downloads.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is the author of several books including the upcoming “Halfway to a Hundred: Dispatches from the Black Panther Party.” Tune to BlockReportRadio.com and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.