Taurus Lenoir remembers journaling as a 10-year-old. As an adult rapper, she rarely writes anything down before she hears a beat. Lenoir said the music inspires her words.
“My sister encouraged freestyling off instrumentals, not even writing a song, just freestyling on that beat, going off the top of your head. So we would just do that for fun,” Lenoir recalled. “She knew what she wanted to do. Me, I was just flowing with the wind. I don’t think she was like ‘Pursue this rap career,’ but I think she was just like ‘You got talent right here.’”
Lenoir goes by the stage name Suruat—it’s her first name spelled backwards—and she works in a form of rap music called trap. That often combines minimalist beats with graphic lyrics. She’s performing her music as part of a comedy lineup Sept. 2 at the Orange Peel and over Labor Day weekend as part of the Goombay Festival in downtown Asheville.
Lenoir grew up in Asheville’s Hillcrest Apartments, where she says she was picked on by other kids. She said the name of her fledgling music business—Gangsta Boujee Entertainment—reflects pieces of her personality.
“I’m a gangsta at heart. I grew up fighting,” she said. “I had a home, always, but I grew up in the streets. You gotta fight for your respect. You can’t be out here being soft or let nobody talk to you any kinda way. That’s gangsta.”
Nicki Manaj and Cardi B are among women who’ve reached international acclaim through trap. Lenoir explains her attraction to trap artists reflecting her own experiences, and that was a natural steppingstone toward her own lyrics.
“I felt I would go outside and just be attacked and then I would go home and my dad is abusing my mom,” she said. “So you needed something to make it look good or at least sound like it’s good, because it wasn’t.”
As a 34-year-old single mother of two, Lenoir, by her own observation, is a rarity in Asheville’s underground rap music scene. She said she might not have taken her rapping beyond her own house if not for her older sister, who Lenoir affectionately calls “The Geek.”
“I think she was just hearing my punchlines and how quick I could come up with something that rhymed and I guess just how I sounded good,” she said. “I could hear her reactions as I’m freestyling and even I’m surprised. I don’t even know what I was saying or thinking, but you just keep going.”
Lenoir said, early on, the local men in this corner of music didn’t take her seriously.
“They would invite me to the studio but pretty much just to sit there and be cute and watch them,” she said. “I think it’s just how guys are. It’s like football or basketball, they don’t think it’s a women’s area, so of course ‘If you’re trying to be around, you can’t possibly seriously be trying to compete with us.’”
Undaunted, Lenoir recalls being a new mother when she purchased five beats from a producer and booked her first session in a studio. The first song to break out of that session is called “Diamonds and Pearls.”
“Once I made ‘Diamonds and Pearls,’ I realized I could make good songs and that this is something I could get paid for, whether it’s right now today or 10 years down the line,” she said.
In a genre where male rappers have objectified women, Lenoir prefers to see her lyrics as glorifying her own body.
“My grandma says ‘Hey hips.’ She calls me hips and I like it, you know? I had two kids,” she said. “And ‘bootycakes flapping like bird’s wings.’ We do these little dances and we make it flap, we make it clap, and it’s cute, it’s fun. I just wanna glorify that, glorify my body.”
Lenoir’s children are now ages 14 and 9, and they, along with her sister, are the first people to hear her new tracks. Lenoir said she hopes her independent pursuit of music inspires her children to believe they can do anything they want. Lenoir said she’s on a plan to step away from the customer service jobs that pay her bills so she can pursue music full-time.
“I always tell (my children) that there's no limit. You're gonna fail. Sometimes I know (my daughter has) seen me fall and, you know, I'm emotional,” she said. “It's okay to be emotional and express yourself, so those are the things that I want her to know.”