Shrista Tyree is glad to be alive. While the whole country has spent a year on lockdown, comedian/rapper Shrista was ready for it, spending nearly a year fighting a deadly infection, following an almost fatal crash.
The release of her new single, “Black Girl” details her triumphs over this and other systemic hurdles, over a minimal DJ Mustard-style track that is equal parts dance, and Black Power fist alongside emcee Marzz.
“White surgeons didn’t wanna listen/Almost sent me home with my life fuckin’ missing/I was in pain, Kaepernick on my knees/I felt like a Black boy screaming ‘I CAN’T BREATHE,” Shrista raps before continuing on about police getting away with murder and keeping their jobs.
A comedian before a rapper, Shrista’s mastered the art of rapping pain in punchlines.
“The way I set this whole song up is like setup-punchline,” she says. “So it’s like, here’s some deep information, and here’s how we’re taking it actually since no one wants to listen to us.”
The winner of the 2020 PDX Hip Hop Week’s Trailblazer award, Shrista has spread her Black Girl Magic across the city mashing world’s creating platforms across the city for hip hop to shine, including her often sold out Bossin’ Up series, and rap open mic Late Lyrics which has given hundreds of artists an opportunity to share their truths and hone their crafts. After nearly losing her life in a drunk driving accident, it left her with 5 broken bones in March 2019, but she kept moving forward. You could still catch her hosting shows, cracking jokes, and trying to keep the show rolling, with a sling on her arm.
But at a certain point, the jokes stopped. For almost a year she was in and out of the hospital almost every day. Constant complaints of pain to her White surgeons got her, close to nowhere with medical staff believing she was exaggerating.
In protest, she finally brought her friends with her to the hospital to validate her pain. Then, a breakthrough.
“By the time they listened to me, they told me I could have died in two weeks,” Shrista says. “And so it’s kind of like damn, if I didn’t make these appointments on my own I could be dead ‘cause they didn’t want to listen to me.” Shrista beat the infection in January of 2020.
The ties between her battle at the hospital, and the most recent uprisings are not lost on Shrista. It’s part of the reason she enlisted activist and emcee Marzz to swag out on the track with her.
Marzz, a fixture in Portland’s 100+ days of protest and beyond slices through the track with an added dose of extra middle finger anchoring the last verse with an exercise in pro-Black flexing, calling out the “so-so wack’ rappers and the women who aspire to Whiteness before their own culture.
“Pro-Black,all black, so Black/ you ain’t so-so def, you just so-so wack/ black owned down to the tags on my back/ Real as it gets, so real’s all I pack,” she raps.
The bounce of the chorus, with an infectious reframe of “Black Girl! Black Girl! Black Girl!” while sure to get any crowd hype, included the reframe, “hair thick got a lot, Black girl!”
For Shrista, usually seen with her signature-braids that bar carries a weight that listeners can dive deeper into when they sit with the cover art of her with a blown out afro filled with colorful words.
After being removed from historically Black North Portland for foster care and being placed into the SW Hills as a youth, she and her siblings went from being the norm, to the normally gazed at and criticized, and one target was constant: her hair.
“My first week of school was really hard because I had really thick hair. I was already in culture shocked because there were a lot of White people. Then I’m just bullied: day one, day two, day three about my hair. It was always about my hair. Like ‘oh my God, your hair’s so ugly.”
The words stuck.
“And so at that point I just got insecure, because until that point I had just grown up with Black people. All of our hair looked like that. No one ever told me my hair was ugly.”
From 5th grade on, she began getting her hair braided to escape the cheers.
But, then as she stepped on more stages, finding more melanated community she remembered.
The fro returned.
Now, in 2021 more than a year after the corrective surgery to remove the deadly infection from her arm, Shrista Tyree has made a track that is equal parts spreading joy and reminding all the Black girls like herself to never let anyone steal their joy.
“I just really wanna bring joy, but also bring light to the fact that there is injustice happening to black people everyday. But at the end of the day, we as black people are strong, we as black girls are strong, and we’re gonna keep fighting everyday. No justice, no peace”