As a mixed-race lesbian growing up in Bear Creek and Siler Creek, two small piedmont towns of less than 8,000 people each, it was hard for Makayla Henderson to find people she could relate to.
From a young age, Henderson had insecurities about whether she was “black enough” when hanging around other black people. She didn’t have many friends, although she drew inspiration from the artistic notions of her family, including her father who was a drummer.
When she moved to Winston-Salem to attend Winston-Salem State University, Henderson finally began to find her circle, which made her comfortable and confident enough to pursue a career as a singer and rapper. But when she moved to Charlotte in 2014, she felt isolated again.
“[Charlotte] wasn’t what I expected,” said Henderson, now 24. “I was hoping people were going to be just as accepting as they were in Winston, but they weren’t. They were very cliquey. The cool people, you can’t really find them, they’re kind of in the cracks.”
As she searched those cracks over the last four years, Henderson eventually connected with like-minded folks around the city and formed The Indigo Music Collective, performing as Bleu. Lately, as some members of the collective have branched out into other fields, Henderson has begun to focus more on her solo career, rebranding as The Bleus.
On Jan. 5, she’ll be connecting with some of her cohorts, performing with fellow Indigo MCs Killa and Braveaux at Oso Skatepark for a show hosted by local producer Cameron Butler.
In the lead-up to that show, we spoke with Henderson over the phone from Siler City about the transitions she’s made, her growth over the last year and what her goals are for 2019.
Queen City Nerve: What was it like for you to move to Winston-Salem after growing up in such small towns?
Makayla Henderson: Once I went there I found the type of people that I was looking for. I was too big for my small town. I didn’t really have any friends. I think I only had one friend, and he’s in California now, he didn’t belong here either. Going from being the one that was always picked on or put on blast because they’re different all the time, it was a change to be accepted by people and to actually communicate with people who have similar ideas.
What brought you to Charlotte?
I tried to find one of the best places to maneuver to and that seemed like the most opportunity. I had gone there a few times, the vibe was definitely more advanced and so, with where I had came from, moving into Winston was like, “Ok this is cool, this is a big change, I’m seeing more people like me.” But when I saw Charlotte I saw people that I wanted to be like — what I wanted to grow into, to improve. So I knew that in order to move over here I had to change and be better. So that was my whole transitioning thing.
But you didn’t find what you were looking for right away in Charlotte.
For the last three years, I’ve been trying to find the people that I knew lived there. It was kind of like trial and error, meeting people that I probably wasn’t going to like and having to step up and be real and be like, “Look, I don’t want to be around y’all,” and just keep looking for my group of people, and that’s when I found The Indigo. I started the name and I tried to bring as many people with like-minded ideas about improving and self love, because only with self love can you love others. And so meditation, chakras, stuff like that, I went on a spiritual journey with all of these people so that’s why we’re kind of bonded now.
You just came off the For the Love of She show, how was that?
Man, that was so much fun. I was a little nervous because when I got there, there wasn’t a whole lot of people, but it improved and it got bigger. The people actually knew my music, so to hear people singing my songs back to me … One song I didn’t even sing the chorus all the way through and everybody was singing it around me and I almost started crying.
What did it mean to be involved with a show that showcased local female talent specifically?
I was very honored, because I was so happy for Autumn Rainwater, SideNote and all of them, because they did the first one. I didn’t want to be the one to go ask people to perform, I wanted people to start coming to me and asking me. So when they came to me for that I felt very honored. That was like, “Oh my God.” To be able to demonstrate what women can do. Because for some reason, here in Charlotte, I have a lot of friends who are on Twitter and stuff like that, and they’re always talking about female rappers or female artists, and they’re always like “We need better, blah blah blah,” and they’re always referring to Nikki Minaj or Cardi B, the mainstream women. You guys are overlooking a whole group. You’re overlooking the people right here in your face, and they’re making the kind of music that you want, and because they’re not mainstream or they’re not Billboard Top 100 yet — because it’s only the future from here — so it makes me feel good to be able to show people this is what real Charlotte female music sounds like.
You don’t try to fit the stereotypical mold of a mainstream female rapper. Have you ever felt held back by your sexuality, style or identity?
When I was a little bit younger, and I realized recently I kind of had the same feeling, I never felt like I was black enough, because I’m mixed. The whole lesbian thing, that’s never really been a problem other than in my hometown. I know people like to try to put me in a box [musically] because I can sing, they don’t think that I can also rap, or they’re always surprised when I come with actual bars or I’m just as hard as anybody else out here.
It was always kind of weird to me, feeling like I wasn’t black enough for my black friends, or I wasn’t this or that, but other than that, I feel like I like my placement. I like being as different as I am. I want to be genuine. I want to give people a genuine feeling, I want it to be as authentic as it can possibly be. I don’t want to add any bedazzles or anything like that. I just want to be me, and that’s it.
As the year comes to a close, are you happy with how you grew in 2018 or are you just looking forward?
Of course I’m happy, because I got to meet so many people in between here and then. Some of these people that are amazing here in Charlotte, to be able to call them my friends, to be able to call up some photographers and be like, ‘Hey let’s do this or do that, let’s make moves,’ and actually moving, it’s very exciting. I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed in myself, but I definitely wanted to do more. I’m proud of myself for what I have accomplished. I went all the way to California to perform and that was a dream come true.
What are your goals for 2019?
I still feel like there’s more that I could be putting out, so this year, that’s what I’m going to challenge myself to do is literally act on every creative thought that I have instead of being afraid or maybe thinking that I can’t or it’s not going to be right. I’m finally trusting myself with my creativity, and I’m not afraid to be different anymore. What I’ve been noticing with other artists is, I may not like them as an artist, but they have fans and they love it, and they support it, and they go so hard, and they do all kinds of stuff for their artist. It doesn’t matter what other people think. As long as you’ve got your support system, and you like what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be having to please anybody. So I was trying to please more of the crowd with some of the music that I was releasing towards the beginning. So now towards the end I’m just trying to develop everything that I’ve actually wanted to do.
Will you be trying anything new as far as sounds and style?
What I’ve released already is more singing, it’s more of an R&B feel. I just released one song (“Spells,” see above) and it was more rapping. So I’m trying to keep a certain balance so that people see me as a versatile person rather than just bouncing around with different sounds. I want to be able to make whatever kind of emotional music I want to make whether it be happy, sad or whatever.
So trying to gather the versatility together and make it a plethora of things rather than just releasing randomly. I try to make sure that all of my release dates have meanings. I don’t like to just drop stuff and I don’t have a reason for it. And that’s cool, I know a lot of people do that too, and I don’t really judge them for that but I guess I’m just trying to take a different approach so that every time I drop something, it’s monumental. It’s not just like, “Oh yeah, she dropped something.” Naw, this is big. This is a big thing. You guys need to pay attention. Look, look, look.