It took five years for Shauna Respass to fully realize she needed to get out.
Respass had been living in an abusive relationship in Kansas City, Missouri, from the time she was 19 years old until she was nearing 24, then one day she made a decision that would not only free her up to pursue her music career, but most likely saved her life.
“It took for me to realize that he would probably kill me and end up killing himself or something, not even meaning to do it necessarily,” says Respass. “So I had to really realize: Do I want to hold on to the hope of us being together or my life? And I just had to choose my life.”
One day in February 2018, Respass left home like she was going to work, but instead drove to Charlotte, where her family had moved in 2015. She brought two outfits and her dog, leaving everything else behind.
By March of that year, she was writing music again, then began performing as ReeCee Raps, or ReeCee for short. By the end of the year, she had earned the Queen City Award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist. She’s nominated for a Carolina Music Award in 2019.
Before May ends, ReeCee Raps will perform at Speed Street in Uptown, the Carefree Black Girl Cookout in north Charlotte, the Vegan Soul-Full Fest at Heist Brewery & Barrel Arts near Camp North End, The Vaudeville Show at Snug Harbor in Plaza Midwood and host a new bi-monthly open mic with her live band at the new Burgerim in University City.
We caught up with Respass during a respite between her busy schedule of shows — a schedule she says she keeps full to make up for those lost years in Kansas City.
Queen City Nerve: How did you become interested in making music?
I started out very young, like 4 years old, performing. My granddad had a group called The Unspeakables. We went around Pittsburgh, I was the youngest member, we had all types of shows. I used to lip sync oldies and Patti LaBelle songs and Alvin and the Chipmunks, up until when I left Pittsburgh when I was about 12 or 13.
After that I used to want to sing, and then I went through puberty and I was like, “I lost my singing voice, I can’t sing no more!” I wrote poetry on and off, but I didn’t start rapping until I was maybe about 18 in college. I used to play around and freestyle, and then I was like, “Let me actually write stuff down.” So I started a YouTube channel when I was about 19. I would just rap lil’ verses, I wouldn’t actually write songs.
I met my ex maybe like four months after I started rapping, and then he was a rapper too, so he didn’t want me rapping because he was a rapper. So I took down my YouTube channel, I made all my videos private and everything, I didn’t do anything for four years. I wrote probably two songs over that four years. I didn’t know I still had the ability to write because it was so new, and then I kind of just dropped off of it for four years. Once I exited the relationship, I wrote like 13 songs in a couple months. I was venting through my music.
What was that finally convinced you to leave?
For me, a lot of the reason why I stayed was because I thought it would get better and I didn’t have an experience of being an adult on my own. I moved straight from my parents house in with my ex, so I really didn’t know what the world was like at all. I didn’t know what it would be like, I was scared. That was my identity — my relationship — and it wasn’t bad all the time, so you think it gets better, but it keeps happening. Really it took for me to realize that he would probably kill me and end up killing himself or something, not even meaning to do it necessarily, so I had to really realize: Do I want to hold on to the hope of us being together or my life? And I just had to choose my life.
How would you describe your style now?
I make feel-good music, and it’s very original. You don’t hear nothing like it, because even though I listen to all this different music, I really look within. It’s just me and the beat and whatever I’m inspired to write, I’ll write it. Really a lot of it is inspired by experience. I’m really venting. I’m not trying to talk to people a lot about what I may be going through. I was in an abusive relationship, but I didn’t say anything to anybody. Everybody thought we were a power couple. My music is very raw.
From smoking songs to relationships, you can hear those experiential themes in your music. How do you go about that writing process?
I like to write to beats. The beat really usually comes first, and then I just form whatever mood the beat my come with, I just kind of run with it. Whatever the beat inspires me to write, it will be from experience, usually something that I recently went through or something like that.
So you’re not the type to let it marinate in your mind for a while?
No, I really be venting. I enjoy it. It really gives me purpose, where I felt like I didn’t have talent before. I used to be jealous of my siblings just because they knew what they wanted to do, but it was just me stifling myself from what I always knew I had from the beginning. You let society hold you back from what you really want to do because you look at statistics, you look at averages, but you’re really not average.
Not a lot of local rappers play with a live band like you do. How did that come about?
The reason I made the band, we did a RAW Charlotte show at The Fillmore back in February and I assembled a band just because I was like, “I perform every day already and I gotta sell these tickets.” I’m like, “How am I going to sell something to people when they’re like, ‘We just seen you yesterday.’” So this isn’t just me, I want to sell an experience, give you a reason to come out, put on an actual show.
Once I started playing with the band, I realized this is a-whole-nother level. It’s going to set me so far apart. And some people don’t even have the music to vibe with a band, but they elevated my music so much, so it is very important for me to have my band out whenever it’s worth it for them. I’m hosting an open mic starting on May 31st in University at Burger IM, every other Friday, and the band’s going to be there and I’m giving other people the experience to play with a band for the first time. A lot of these people have never played with a band. Not everybody really has that experience to do that, and I didn’t really know how to go about it either, but it all fell into place.
You mentioned that you’re out performing damn near every day. Have you always had that hustle?
What it really was is that I performed for the first time in my adult life at Red @ 28th (in University City) for their open mic Wednesday. Once I did that, I felt like I wasted so much time, because I started rapping like five years ago, so I was like, “I have to make up for lost time. If I can lose count of how many performances I’ve done, I’ll be a more experienced performer quicker,” and so within like three to four months I had performed over 100 times in Charlotte and Atlanta, and that’s how people knew who I was in such a little bit of time.
It was just a drive, I forgot how much I really loved it from when I was a child. I thought that was just a childish thing, but it really wasn’t, that was instilled in me. I’ve always been a performer, but I was letting the world stop me from being who I wanted to be, and I let my relationship. I was shot down so many times; everything I wanted to do I was shot down, and I didn’t understand why I was living life that way.
You’ve dove in head-first since then. How has Charlotte’s scene embraced you?
I love it. Charlotte shows a lot of love, they really have embraced me. I won the Q.C. Award last year and I hadn’t even been doing it for a full year. There’s a lot of talent in Charlotte, and I see the growth, I see where Charlotte can be, and that’s why I want to be a part of it, and that’s why this open mic is very important to me because I want to see more spots like the Red @ 28th on Wednesdays, I want to see more stuff like that. Some of the scenes are not really my scenes, but I was willing to go to any type of scene to get my name out there.
Charlotte is a small market but it’s huge at the same time and it’s growing constantly, so there’s a lot of people that know me, there’s a lot of people that don’t. I just feel like there’s a lot of talent out here and Charlotte, in the next five years, is really gonna be really dope. You can really get your hand in right now and be a pillar in Charlotte if you make the right moves.
You’re not only performing at the Soulfull Vegan Fest on Sunday, you’re listed as a speaker addressing domestic violence. Is that something you want to do more of as you build your rap career?
Me and my friend [Dandrea Kennedy] with the Rap Plug, we’re collaborating to do some Stop the Violence events incorporating violence on the streets with domestic violence, so I’m going to be looking for sponsors who want to help out with the nonprofit that we want to do. I know multiple people I’ve helped out of this situation personally, and I know if I spoke about it more and really advocated for it, we could go around to the high schools and colleges and really get people at that age where they can see the signs and talk about the beginning, middle and end.
A lot of it is insecurities within ourselves as people, to even allow ourselves to be treated that way. A lot of people have been through it and we don’t talk about it. I don’t feel like the statistics are right where they say one in three, I think it’s closer to two in three people have been through that, so I feel like we need to talk about it more and a lot of people are ashamed, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about.