Private Playlist: V.C.R’s seeds of musical growth, from Minnie Riperton to Erykah Badu

V.C.R. Photo by Miriha Austin

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

LA-based violinist, composer, and vocalist V.C.R makes self-styled “cinematic soul” that defies reductive categorizations. Homeschooled in a musical family, she began as a violin prodigy, performing in gospel choirs and string ensembles from age 5. Raised on a strict diet of non-secular music, V.C.R soon found her way to the popular repertoire, leading to obsessions with artists from Chaka Khan to J Dilla. Moving to LA, she quickly became an in-demand guest artist and collaborator, appearing with artists including Yoko Ono, Fiona Apple, Nicki Minaj, and St. Vincent, among many others. In 2019, she published her first book, “The Creative Black Woman’s Playbook,” published by Co-Conspirator Press. Her debut EP, including the single “Minnie Lives,” will be released in summer 2021.

For this edition of Private Playlist, V.C.R shares the music that’s nourished her throughout her life, from composer Ottorino Respighi to Minnie Riperton.

“What a lot of people don't understand about Southern rap, or rap period, is that it's a language, and that's why so many people are drawn to it. I like the theatrics. I'm into anything cinematic.” — V.C.R

V.C.R: My golden birthday was a few days [before this conversation], so I made a playlist for that day. But I have so many different influences that make me who I am and make my music what it is. It was hard for me to just pick one genre or one section of my musical eclectic brain.


Respighi’s "Pini di Roma" encompasses my childhood. I started playing violin at 5, [and] I was put in symphonies before I could walk. My mother made sure of that. And this is one of my favorite pieces. The third stanza is absolutely breathtaking. Whenever I hear it, I'm just inspired to make music. It's one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard in my life. I was born in spring. I love springtime. The song almost has a somber, melancholy beginning, and as more instruments start playing, it starts to brighten up. It reminds me of a metamorphosis or a flower blooming.


[My song] "Minnie Lives" was actually inspired by and named after Minnie Riperton. I listened to her song "Expecting" moments before I wrote "Minnie Lives." She was the future. She was the future of art. She was the future of music. She was the future of Black individuality and expressionism. The way she would dress on stage, the way she would have her musicians dress. I'm so inspired by her work. The fact that they could not pinpoint what type of music it was at first. She was just by herself. She was a singer's singer.

All her albums inspire me, and I will tell you why. Growing up, my father was a pastor. And for the first five years of my life, during my formative years, I couldn't listen to anything but gospel. I grew up in a really religious and constricting home. But every now and then, my mother and father were sneaking in little things, little seeds that have grown in me and are blooming today. And it makes me emotional, because I'm so grateful for that. My mother would play [Riperton's] albums, and it was so different from anything I had ever heard. And I really wish she was alive, because I would love to sit with her and tell her how much she inspires me. She's just so important.


I consider every gift I possess to be literally a gift from God, from the heavens, or Allah or Buddha or whomever. And because of that, I'm able to not be in my ego when I'm creating. And "Corinthian Song" talks about it. It reminds me that I am a vessel. It reminds me that I have my gifts, and it's my duty to spread it and to do it in this lifetime. It also reminds me of all the Black women, and everything my ancestors suffered, everything they went through in order for me to live in my comfy Glendale house. This song reminds me that I have a part to play in this big, beautiful world. It's one of those songs like you got to really commit to, because it's not an easy song. It's one of those songs that only a descendant of slavery can sing.


One of my favorite rappers of all time is Project Pat. Again, I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music when I was growing up until I was a teen, so I would sneak and do it. And I'm so glad for that, because the things that I fell in love with, I really fell in love with.

I'm a nerd. I'm a researcher. And growing up in Memphis with a dad that was a pastor [was] very sheltered. My mother went to Harvard and everything. But [I was] still going to public schools, so I'm around people that grew up in 'hood neighborhoods that had the coolest talent and the coolest fashion and the coolest lingo that I didn't know. I had the distinct pleasure and the privilege of learning two different cultures. And Project Pat's music, because it was so theatrical, would transport me into a world where I thought that I was there. I thought that I knew it. It created lingo for me. It taught me about a world that I was not a part of. You know, it was a language. And what a lot of people don't understand about Southern rap, or rap period, is that it's a language, and that's why so many people are drawn to it. I like the theatrics. I'm into anything cinematic.


Outkast's "A Life in the Day of Benjamin André" was one of the songs that changed my life and changed how I saw rap. This is one of my favorite rap songs of all time. Again, I told you that secular music wasn't a thing 'til I was 18. [But] I have six aunts on my father's side and three aunts on my mother's side, and they showed me music too. One of the CDs that my aunt had was Outkast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below." And whenever I hear this track, I'm taken back to my aunt's house in Memphis, Tennessee, listening to "Prototype" and this song over and over and over again. This song in particular is so important.


Erykah Badu is probably the reason why I make music. I was 12 or 13 when LimeWire became a thing [and] before everything was regulated. I found A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Jill Scott. But when I found Erykah Badu's music, her repertoire, [and] her lifestyle which she projected into the world, I was like, "Oh, wow, that's me." It was so specific. She's Southern, she's from where I'm from, where I would spend my summers. She still lives there. And what she was able to do, I only pray to do that. What she was able to build, I only pray to do that.

"20 Feet Tall" is probably my favorite song by her. I spent a lot of time feeling so small and not valuing the gifts God gave me. Not valuing my unique bone structure, my lips, my nose, my voice, what I have to say, my life experience, my music, nothing. So it took me a while to start putting out my own music. I have to listen to music like “20 Feet Tall” to remind myself of how powerful I am.

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