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Intimately Tatted, Hard Spitting

On a Saturday afternoon, I’m at Long Street Collective, scouring the works of established tattoo artists in Columbus whilst getting ideas for my own. As I continue flipping through pages of the artists’ lookbook, I receive a text from Stephenie Denise, whose upcoming project Let Me Be Me (due May 5th) is still in the works.

Though we were set to meet at Little Palace, a hole-in-the-wall eatery downtown, Stephenie notifies me due to conflicting schedules with her friend, that it’s best to meet in her neighborhood. After driving 45 minutes to the northeast side of Columbus, I find myself in a quaint and extremely quiet neighborhood surrounded by a large field. Once finally meeting with Stephenie in the neighborhood park, ironically, the first thing I notice is her tattoos.

“My name means crowned one,” she says as she adjusts her arm to expose the delicate tattoo on the inside of her wrist. The tattoo is her logo, a scripted treble clef forming the shape of an “S”. On her other arm is a tattoo that says “My Brothers Keeper”, with a rose shaping and framing the outside of the words.

Not your Average Femcee

Opposite from Stephenie’s sentimental tattoos is her rapid flow and hard-hitting verses, and I was introduced to her skill when I heard ‘F.Y.A.’ released in late-2016. Though Stephenie began rapping just three years ago, she has been songwriting since she was 16 years old.

“It’s really just drawing from everything I’ve gone through and what my friends go through,” Stephenie says about her music, and rightfully so. Her most recent song ‘Tug of War’ laced with a throbbing bass and keyboard loop was released just days previously, in which she sings “I cut off Cupid, so why am I still fighting?”

“Musical theatre was my introduction into songwriting,” Stephenie says. “My mom calls me the one man band. My parents would throw instruments at me to put me in the right direction.” I ask about the rest of her family and if they had certain thoughts pertaining to her artistry.

Know Your Real Ones

While sitting on a picnic table at the park, Stephenie’s green and brown speckled eyes veer off beyond her neighborhood, as if she’s looking into the past. “I struggled to like my voice,” she begins. “I knew I could write. I try not to listen to other people. They can get in your head, especially if they’re close to you.”

Two artists that Stephenie is close to are Tobilla, whose song ‘New Sweater’ produced by Lege Kale garnered critical acclaim and Kevin, whose mixtape Jungle was released in September 2015. Both artists have continued to make name for themselves in the city.

Stephenie says she was in rap collective Goldenwave briefly when she became aligned with Tobilla and Kevin, but that was before she ventured into her own lane. Though Stephenie has decided to continue pursuing her own solo career, she has received an abundance of support from her old crew.

“Know your real ones,” she says.

The Empath

Stephenie begins to share her thoughts on empathy, having once released a short video pertaining to a label that once offered her a deal, before asking her to lose fifteen pounds as part of conversion therapy.

“If you love something,” she says in the video, “There is gonna be somebody that is gonna want to shoot you down or find a way to bully their way through.”

As the video ends, her voice is shaky, as she audibly seems to be upset. What did not appear in the video, however, was praise from singer JoJo, who saw Stephenie’s message of self-love and extended an invitation for a meet and greet with that she was doing during her Columbus tour stop on March 31st.

I notice Stephenie becoming excited about meeting JoJo, as she plans hopes to sing ‘I Can Only’ alongside the singer. “I just want to inspire people,” Stephenie says. “My goal isn’t to be famous.”

As our conversation with ends, the air becomes brisk, but there is also comforting warmth in the atmosphere, as Stephenie’s message can resonate with every person she meets.

“Sometimes you have to pull back and recognize who you are. You have to be your own person.” Stephenie Denise has wholeheartedly found herself.

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