Amanda “330” Carter is a rapper originally from Harrisburg, PA, currently living in D.C. She’s probably one of the few musicians you will ever encounter with both a J.D. in law and a love for West African rap. She has also recently branched out into film, starring in various new queer-minded webseries. It was dapperQ’s pleasure to sit down and chat with this unique talent about labels, style, and authenticity.
dapperQ: Representing spaces, shouting out to cities and places, is a really important concept in Hip Hop. But you’re from all over. How do you stay involved in the D.C. scene as a rapper who has traveled?
330: I grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and I left to go to D.C. for college. I really became an adult in D.C. and established a network there through Howard University, where I did my undergrad. When I left Howard I started working at a barber shop. I got this job while I was looking for something in my field. It was a huge African American shop in Northern VA so I was twisting dreadlocks and doing corn-rows. Music was allowed, it was fun and casual, and while I was there I established an entirely different network. And after that was law school which was a network like…none other (laughs). In every situation you meet people and you exchange ideas and you build commonalities, and try to keep in touch. I try to stay connected. But when it comes to “representing a city,”… I’m from Harrisburg and I’ve lived in the DMV for years now. I try to shout out all of those areas. If you listen to my music you hear me rep Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the DMV— literally DC, Maryland, and Virginia—I’ve lived in each of those places over the years.
dapperQ: Authenticity is another big concept in hip hop, mostly about … well, growing up in a rough urban hood. Oftentimes when someone accuses a rapper of being raised in the suburbs, it’s a diss, a way of taking away his/her/their authenticity.
330: To me a huge part of being authentic is just being real and being myself. I came from a great family and was fortunate to have had some incredible opportunities. I’m blessed and I would never hide it. I like to reference it even. We’re not all from some hood, that’s a myth. The world and its population are diverse and it’s important that that’s represented in music, politics, whatever.
There’s also a huge space in your art to be someone else. Which is good and healthy. In your normal day-to-day life if someone pisses you off you can’t say “I’m gonna kill you,” but in your music you can (laughs). So there’s a certain room for escape there that is important in art. I want to be my funny, witty self, but I want to insert things that people really need to think about that maybe aren’t so funny. I try to sneak little things into my music that some people would consider “strange” as totally commonplace.
dapperQ: My favorite track from your first EP, Sorry I’m Late, is “I’m from Cali,” and at one point when you’re talking about a girl named Jasmine, you drop this line, “Said we couldn’t be together/ tried to Proposition 8 me.” I loved that.
330: Right? Shout out to Jas (laughs). Fun song. I’m black and I’m gay and I’m a woman and I wear men’s clothes but there’s no real fundamental difference between me and my straight, married sister or the guy down the hall. We all want the same things, you know. I want to take a fucking nap. I want hot food. So there are messages that I want to relay. No person or group of people should have the right to determine whether I should be allowed to marry— that’s ridiculous. But I don’t want to be a preacher, I want to make it fun. I want my listeners to think about how ridiculous we sometimes are and how powerful we always have been. Then I gotta find the right beat to match.
dapperQ: Another line I liked from that album was in the song “No One,” when you say “don’t compare me to Nicki unless you mean Giovanni.” Can you talk about what you meant there?
330: When I said that line what I meant was I want listeners to know me and respect me for my words. Not my ass or a pretty face or my affiliation with GLBT people. No shade to Nicki, I respect any woman that has made it in this game ‘cause this shit is crazy. But that’s something I wanted to make clear, that I value language. I value words. The sound, the feel, the manipulation into something hypnotic, influential, occasionally annoying (laughs). Language is clay! It’s what we use to create. So please talk about my wordplay and my lyricism and not, you know, a fat ass or something.
dapperQ: Do you feel like rap and law are kind of related? Do you think most rappers would make good lawyers, or even that most lawyers would make good rappers?
330: I think so. Each is good with words. Each is good with spinning things to make them sound good. And if they’re gifted enough, each will persuade the audience.
dapperQ: What made you decide to go for the rap thing now, after getting a J.D. in Law and everything? Why not go become a lawyer?
330: The aura surrounding law school is a myth. People believe you become a lawyer and get rich. Not really true. Only a very small percentage of graduates get those lucrative jobs. But they don’t tell you that going in. And I’m not about that life: I’d rather struggle doing something I love than doing something I don’t love for a disturbingly small dollar amount. Plus, the market was so bad, lawyers were being laid off, graduates were being asked to defer their first years at big firms: “Hey, I know we offered you a $125,000 starting salary out of school, but can you hold off for a year while we take care of things?” So when I graduated I literally walked off the stage and into the studio and recorded “Sorry I’m Late,” which is the title of my first mixtape. I felt like I had just as much of a chance becoming a famous rapper as I did a big time lawyer so, might as well. Plus, I got cold feet about going into the work world and becoming a real nine-to-five grown up. I love hip hop and I was like…if I don’t do it now, then when am I gonna do it?
330: At the time I was dating a woman that was a stylist and I thank God for her every day. She really taught me a lot about clothing and how to put things together. She taught me that putting your clothes together is like putting together a piece of art. The value of patterns and materials and layering, not being scared to put things together that someone else might not. And I think we’ve all been in a place before when we were a little too matchy-matchy. That’s a pretty valuable lesson in art in general, to be bold and think outside of our comfort zones. So now I look for fabrics, I look for color, classic pieces to mix with random trendy pieces. But yeah, a lot of credit goes to her for that ‘cause she hooked me up. In “Money,” I know I had on a graphic tee with Old Dirty Bastard on it, and on top of the shirt I had on like this dope ass black leather jacket with lambskin collar that came out hella high, a blue Yankee fitted, probably some blue skinny jeans and sneakers.
dapperQ: What would you define as your clothing style?
330: I switch it up a lot. I grew up studying classical ballet, believe it or not, in a very strict conservatory program. So that was like fifteen years of wearing tights and leotards, with sweatpants and t-shirts over them. In a way I feel like I didn’t start wearing real clothes until I turned 18 (laughs). I’m pretty nerdy chic most of the time. Big frames, boat shoes, cardigans, graphic tees, those balloon style pants, twisted and fitted at the bottom, from Top Shop. I love TopMan. I’ve got a pretty eclectic style, sometimes I look preppy and shout out to my private school days. And sometimes I’m super casual, like I’ll throw on a fitted hat, jean jacket, I like to switch it up. Play with accessories like chains and watches.
dapperQ: Where do you like to shop?
330: Mostly online, at Asos.com, it’s a British retailer that ships all over. And Top Shop, like I said. Whenever I go to NYC I always go shopping and hit up Top Shop. Plus I do a lot of restoring my old clothes. Clothes I don’t even remember where they came from, like back of the closet pieces. I’ll cut them up or rip something off of them and turn it into a whole new piece.
I get my African pieces at the Baltimore African American Festival, which happens every year. Adams Morgan, this neighborhood in D.C. on 18th street, has all these restaurants and niche shops. There are some cool places there. In Harrisburg, PA there’s a spot called Sneaker Villa downtown where you go to buy unique kicks, and they also have thick ass rope chains, my homage to ‘80s hip hop. I like to mix that up with one of those African inspired chains. So boat shoes, fitted cap, ‘80s chains, African chain, those are a lot of different things represented right there. Like I said, I’m eclectic.
dapperQ: So you’re about to play a show, you’re standing in front of your closet, about to get ready. Walk me through this. What outfit would you pick out?
330: Oh man. Some fitted jeans, skinny, with a bright color. Maybe yellow or red. Loafers, a long sleeve shirt, like maybe a plaid shirt, and a jean jacket cut off at the sleeves. I like to layer. A couple of chains, put in an African piece. Probably tie up my hair all crazy, with some big frames. I think that’s become my signature, those frames. I wear them on From Scratch.
330: It’s a webseries… and by series I mean two so far. Of these really short films, no more than ten minutes long. Directed by Be Steadwell who is hands down one of the dopest queer/black/filmmaker/singer/songwriters in the D.C. area. She’s currently part of the Revival Tour. She’s a beast. Anyway she asked me to be a part of this short film she was doing, and it got such a good response that she was like, let’s do another one and turn it into a webseries. It’s no full scale production like Skye is the Limit, we only do From Scratch when we have time.
dapperQ: How’d you get involved in film? Has it always been something you’ve been interested in?
330: I love the arts. Like I said, I grew up studying ballet, which was really strict, but I just wanted to do everything. I would be like, “Man I want to run track, I want to paint, I want to sing…” just anything. I graduated high school and I finished the dance program at 18, and that’s when I started to get into theater stuff. When I went to college I was originally a theater major. I switched to French but at first I was really excited about theater. In the end, even theater was way too strict. I just wanted to explore the arts in general.
My homie, J’Kaobie Diamond, she hit me up one day and said I know this director, Derick Thomas who’s looking for a dom to play this role. And I’m like what’s the role and she’s like a drug dealer and I’m like…nah (laughs). How many black doms do you see represented in media? And when you do see them, of course they’re a drug dealer or killer or something. But then I thought about my music career and I was like, well I guess I could use the exposure. That was a year and a half ago. Raising Wolves debuted in Baltimore at the Charles Theater in September and did great, the theater was packed, like even the first two front rows. It’s showing there again on November 14th.
Skye is the Limit is another film project I’ve been working on. It’s done by this production company Blue Centric. I’m surrounded by so many talented people it’s crazy. Blue Centric reached out to my assistant one day and they were like, “Hey we’re doing this webseries and it would be dope if 330 could be part of it.” The whole cast was super sexy and talented, the director was talented, the script was dope. We finished filming the first season and it’s gonna air at the end of January.
dapperQ: Is “dom” a label that you identify with? How do you feel about labels, in general?
330: I’m not rejecting it, I identify as a dom. I identify as a masculine presenting woman. I wear men’s clothes, got a little boi swag with me. But the older I get, the more I mature, the less I cling to those labels. Labels are for other people, they make other people comfortable when they think, “Ok how can I define you, are you a boi are you a femme are you a dom?” So if it makes other people around me feel comfortable, then I guess I’m a dom. But at the end of the day I’m just me.
dapperQ: Do people in the industry try to label you?
330: God yes. I got my first record deal offer from an indie-label a year and a half ago. And I met with a rep from the label, and he was like yo, we were at your show and we love you and your crowd loved you so we’d love to add you to the team. And he basically said…he basically said that they put a lot of money behind their artists and that if they were to money behind me, it would involve changes in wardrobe and content. He wanted to femme me up and switch up the subjects that I touched on. Which is dumb because it wouldn’t be me any more. Part of the reason why I’m well received by crowds is because I’m different. So, yeah, labeling happens but I actually can’t say it happens a lot because most people respect me. I’m not about to be burned at the stake or anything.
dapperQ: So what’s next for 330? When can we expect more music?
330: Music-wise I’m trying to be in the studio every week because my manager wants to put together an EP by March. I’m also a featured artist on this Consumer Voice 360 project, which is the brainchild of Lewis. He hand selected his favorite Baltimore artists and us to spit over all old school hip hop beats. Great project, it’s even available for free download. The cipher for the first track was actually filmed so you can watch the video, too. I credit all of the good things that have been happening to my incredible team. @os_kill and @jeromevo are my insanely talented producers, my assistant Rizzy keeps my schedule under control and Trice, my manager, links me with the people I need to know!
dapperQ: Any final fashion tips you’d like to leave us with?
330: I already tweeted this to dapperQ a couple of years ago but I want to tell doms to stop wearing oversized dinner jackets, oversized suit jackets where the cuff hangs down over your wrist and it’s too baggy, like…stop that! I know it’s difficult to find men’s clothes that fit women’s bodies the way you want them to, but it’s important to ask for help! Consult a stylist when you go into the store, speak to someone personally, you can’t do everything on your own we’re not all experts. I’m so glad that dapperQ exists though, and I wish I had known about it years ago. You grow into your look and I grew into my look with the help of friends and experimentation. But we’re all evolving. My look will probably change next year, next month.