By: Claire Nenninger
Photos by: Amy Huang
I’ve been in DC for nearly three years now, but it wasn’t until somewhat recently that DC started to feel like home. I loved the city from the start, but in my first two years here, I found myself stuck in the “Georgetown Bubble,” where getting off campus was a seldom occurrence, and getting past M Street or Wisconsin an absolute rarity. Finally though, I started to find the time and self discipline to get myself out of Georgetown and into the rest of DC. In doing so, I began to realize that I had so much to learn from this city. While many laud DC for its political importance or varied international influences, I think people too often overlook DC’s own distinct culture, local pride, and ever-changing atmosphere.
Now I know for a fact that I’m not the only one here at Georgetown guilty of getting stuck in the “Georgetown Bubble” or being ignorant of the culture of DC. Not to mention, a lot of what we consider “breaking the bubble” just involves going to Dupont, Adams Morgan, or U Street. And while these places are great, we’re limiting our view of DC by never venturing out past 14th Street or down to Southeast. It takes fully getting to know and appreciate these areas as well as the ones we’re more familiar with to really become a part of this wonderful city.
This process of appreciation also means learning about and acknowledging how this city is changing, and has been for the past few decades. Not long ago, DC was truly a “Chocolate City.” As recently as 1975, the population of DC was over 70% black. Since then, this number has been steadily decreasing as a result of rising housing prices, communities transformed into shopping centers, and the many other effects of gentrification. So how is this shift affecting the culture of DC? Where do go-go music, carry out, and mambo sauce fit into the DC of today?
I don’t plan to attempt to answer these difficult questions, and it wouldn’t be beneficial to you as a reader to hear my speculations on such matters. However, since many Georgetown students call this city their second home, it would be beneficial for us all to get a better understanding and appreciation of DC culture through a DC native. So without further ado, let me introduce you to the spectacular Tarica June. For those of you not familiar with her, Tarica June is a third generation DC native, Howard-trained lawyer by day, and self-funded rapper by night.
I was first introduced to Tarica’s music about a year ago, when the video for her reflective track, “But Anyway,” went viral. This phenomenal song and video (which she edited and directed herself) pointed the spotlight on the gentrification of DC and the changing atmosphere she’s witnessed here throughout her lifetime. I highly encourage you to read more about her (there’s a great bio on her website here), and of course to download her music, all of which is available for free online here. I personally recommend her debut mixtape, Moonlight Revolution.
Though Tarica’s talent as a rapper is worthy of its own article, I want to give you a broader view of her as a whole person. And in doing so, I hope you start to get a better sense of DC and how it’s changing before our very eyes.
When I first reached out to Tarica, I thought it was a long shot that she would respond at all. So you cannot believe my surprise and elation when she not only responded, but agreed to an interview, and even suggested we meet for brunch. A woman after my own heart.
We met at Malmaison here in Georgetown, and the conversation ranged from music to fashion to how to get rid of the black mold in my apartment (which I’m happy to report Facilities finally took care of last week) and how we’ve both tried SoulCycle only to realize neither of us are skilled enough cyclists to pay money to go through that again… And of course we also talked a lot about DC and what it was like when she got started in the music business versus what it is now.
Tarica, though she has been an artist all her life, didn’t start recording music until her return to DC after going away for college. This was a little over 10 years ago, when something called ‘The Movement’ had been going on in DC. Tarica first started frequenting Movement events during college summers and breaks, and describes it as basically a series of open mics based in U Street where a community of artists (emcees, poets, vendors, singers, etc.) would come together. Each night would be at a different venue, and it would just be a joining forces of all kinds of creative minds in one place to share and experience each other’s art. These events and venues would help Tarica harness her skills and launch her career.
This was the first time our conversation turned to the gentrification of DC. Many of those venues that The Movement used to frequent have now closed down, such as State of the Union, Mango’s (where Busboys is now), and Bar Nun (which is now Pure Lounge).
Talking about the changes to U Street and other areas, Tarica said, “There are blocks now that I don’t even recognize.” A lot of this change manifests itself as communities turning into shopping centers or large, upscale apartment buildings. “It’s all boutiques, and fewer and fewer parks, schools… they’re making it into less of a family place.”
Even Tarica’s own neighborhood, Petworth, is becoming less residential, with more and more bars opening. “It’s almost like they’re trying to make it into a smaller U St or an Adams Morgan instead of people going down the damn street to Adams Morgan if they wanna party. Now everything has to be in your backyard… it’s just louder… the vibe is just different.”
She has watched Petworth lose its neighborhood vibe, and reports that now people don’t really speak to each other; the newer residents aren’t very neighborly. And this is happening all over DC. You even see people who used to live here who have now moved away, but still rent out their DC property because, given rising housing prices, you can make good money that way while living in a much more affordable area yourself.
Tarica’s biggest concern about this process of gentrification is that it will harm DC in the long term. When you have too many bars and shops, they can’t all last. When you take away parks, and more importantly schools, people won’t stick around long; you’ll have more and more people just passing through the city then vacating. Even if people want to stay and raise a family here, few can afford to these days.
She also talks about restaurants that had been around over 50 years that closed down recently. The Islander, a Caribbean restaurant on U Street, was one of such places. The owner just got tired of the rising property taxes and fighting against new residents trying to get her liquor license taken away because they complained about the noise. The restaurant closed down because people who moved to U Street didn’t understand that in moving to U Street, you’re going to have to be okay with noise, because it’s U Street.
Overall, Tarica is aware that gentrification is a very difficult thing to stop. But it’s not like there’s nothing that can be done. “People should think long term.. There has to be a policy shift,” she says. And this goes for cities all across the country. It could be a limit on liquor licenses, or keeping schools open, and better yet, improving them; there are many things that can help preserve neighborhoods. Furthermore, Tarica would like to see newcomers learn more about DC and what it is all about instead of simply trying to make DC fit their personal ideal.
Nonetheless, Tarica June doesn’t want to give off the impression that she has lost her love and appreciation for her city. Not only does she pride herself in being a third generation DC native, but even after leaving to go to California for undergrad, she returned to DC, because she admits, “I really missed it.” She has been able to look at DC from both an inside and an outside perspective, and she’s critical of the city because she loves it. “Tough love,” she says. Personally, I think she has placed herself in a perfect position to help be a true leader here in DC. Between being a lawyer and being a musician (which she hopes to eventually be able to pursue full time) she has seen all sides of DC and knows what it needs to truly thrive.
One of the things that stands out most about Tarica is her drive. Her ability to balance her day job and still have time to make her music, all while being self-funded, is truly inspiring. “That’s my biggest challenge as an artist.” She talks about always been an artist, always wanting to create things, while also knowing she has to support herself. “My mom always instilled in me this idea that you have to be able to take care of yourself, you’re gonna have to depend on yourself.” That’s difficult to do with music, especially when you’re still releasing your music for free. Every video Tarica shoots and edits, every minute of studio time, every photoshoot, those things all take time and money. This is why she pursued her education and went to law school, and it’s also why she plans to make her next project a for-sale one (which is projected for later this year). Hopefully this will help her be able to make her art a full-time commitment.
As a female rapper, Tarica is also a breath of fresh air musically. Her motto is, “make the music you want to hear.” She is not afraid to give hip-hop a female voice. She is very honest about wanting to be true to herself, and how that can be difficult when people who want to support her also want her to change and fit into a box of what they think a female rapper should be. Tarica doesn’t want to cater to the oversexualized stereotype, yet that’s the persona that usually gets the most publicity. She also doesn’t want to lose her own style and truth that she puts into her music. In her track “Main Topix,” she says, “if you ever hear me rockin’ and it’s only a act, please I beg of you, snatch my mic back.”
Another way Tarica June stays true to herself is through fashion. She has a very strong sense of personal style, and I’m a huge fan. Her thing is colorful prints, like tribal and traditional West African prints, but in modern cuts. Think of the now-defunct Boxing Kitten or Nubian Hueman in Southeast. She loves color, and she loves buying from people who make their pieces themselves. “Basically my whole life is Etsy,” she laughs. She’s also a big fan of big earrings (which is essentially the fastest way to gain my attention and respect). Plus, she believes in being fashionable on a budget. She’s a big thrifter, or will even run to Forever 21 if she needs some last-minute bling before a video.
I wish I had time to go into more of what we discussed, from Drake (this was two days after More Life dropped) to Chance (because of course), to the best thrift stores in the DMV (let me officially apologize to my wallet now). But alas, I’ve rambled on long enough at this point, so you’ll have to look into her more on your own (what else are Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for?).
So before I go, what can we look forward to seeing from Tarica June in the near future? Well, she has a new music video coming out any day now, and then her first for-sale project on track for later this year. I think there are big things in store for Tarica, and I encourage everyone to stick with her and watch her work her magic. So while it was sad to see Tarica and her goddess-esque 17-going-on-18 year locks go (hell yes, that’s her real hair), I know it’s not the last that myself or DC will see of such a talented artist, driven woman, and overall fabulous human being.