Ladibree, trill since birth
Parents send their kids to summer camp in the hopes they will bring back the muddy and joyful memories of sepia-toned polaroids, but Briana Connor returned from summer camp at Staten Island’s South Beach with a new passion for rapping. She first recorded her rhymes onto a cassette tape with a karaoke machine. By her 10th birthday, she says, “I was hell-bent on getting into a studio.” Now a Notre Dame freshman, Connor is preparing to release her first full-length mixtape as Ladibree.
Connor dismisses those early recording sessions with a laugh. “Things rhymed obviously, but you can tell the skill set is different,” she said. Over time, she refined her writing process with a focus on writing fully formed songs, not just bars. Sometimes she writes her rhymes specific to a beat, planning cadences around the rhythms found across the internet. She now starts with freestyle, paying special attention to the first line. She aims to captivate audiences from the jump and then searches for a track to match.
Her first song as Ladibree, “Bout To Go Down,” came together this way. At age 15, she heard a party DJ drop a beat that fit perfectly to a verse she had in reserve. “I knew if I performed it, people would get into it,” she explained. “Once the beat came on and the hook came in, people would ask, ‘Who is this?’” She performed it live for the first time that night and posted a studio version on Soundcloud soon after. The DJ Mustard-influenced beat is catchy if somewhat dated, punctuated by soul claps that double-time over into stuttering rolls. The real highlight is Ladibree’s rapping, passionate and frantic without rushing. She packs every bar with trash talk and local shout-outs until she can finally catch her breath on the hook, demanding, “Put your hands in the sky right now.”
Her dense rhymes are more impressive given the lack of profanity. “Most of the time people use profanity because they don’t have a better word for whatever,” Connor said. She attributes this clean yet aggressive writing to the fervent support of her family. Until Connor was old enough to drive herself, “My mom was at every single recording session, every single performance,” Connor said. “She was recording one of my shows and you can hear her in the background rapping along to every line.”
This bodes well for Ladibree’s goal of appealing to Rolling Stone readers and Fader subscribers alike. Even before she started rapping, her influences impressed her elders. “Old people thought it was hilarious that a five-year-old kid knew how to sing ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone,’” she deadpanned. Beyond The Temptations, her influences range from Queen Latifah to James Blake. Above all, she admires Aaliyah for her ability to switch from gritty to silky at will.
Two stand-out Ladibree tracks emulate this dichotomy. “FLOW” is a song built for arenas, with a live Kanye West sample complete with applause — it would be melodramatic if the drums didn’t hit so hard. The boasts do too, like “everything that I kick so sick, woulda thought my name was Cristiano Ronaldo.” She states she’s “been trill since birth” in a cross-regional salute. On the other hand, “Got You” builds around whispered piano lines. There’s a post-Drake melody inherent in the rapping. Crooning the hook, Ladibree affirms “you ain’t never changed on me, know I got you.”
These two tracks share space on “Ambitions & All-Nighters,” her debut mixtape out this Saturday. In beats and lyrics, the collection showcases her stylistic range. Connor promised, “Whether you listen to J. Cole or Famous Dex, you can listen to the tape.” There’s chronological range as well: this project has been in the works since Connor’s days at Moore Catholic High.
Ladibree’s thick Staten Island accent is a constant on her songs, but she reps her community in more than just her enunciation. Connor is heavily involved with Projectivity, a non-profit organization focused on arts education. “I knew her not as a kid that could rap, but as just an active musician on the island,” Projectivity founder Christian Penn said. She always did it on her own, and she was a hard worker.” Their relationship began when Connor was too old to take advantage of a recently funded music program but was instead experienced enough to volunteer as an instructor.
“She helped at-risk youth build their confidence, especially as a female so close to their age,” Penn explained. In return, he offered the rising MC the ability to use the Projectivity studio and eventually his services as an audio engineer. Penn hopes the entire staff can help. “As instructors in the actual music industry, we know the game plan to form a career out of this.” Connor recently won a Vans national open-mic contest with a performance of a subdued track reflecting on her time in high school.
Ladibree also opened for Raury on campus last semester. With no pre-recorded vocals as a safety net, she took to the Legends stage with the same kinetic energy as the P-Fresh dancers backing her up. The crowd vibed to her original tracks just as hard as they did to her interpretations of hits like “No Problem.” She has more shows on the way to promote the mixtape.
Beyond that? More recording. “I’m trying to start with hooks, and then go where the word takes me.” She aims to work with producers in-studio in order to bring the energy of her shows to her recordings. For instrumentation, she plans to collaborate with other Notre Dame talents.
While balancing a full class schedule, college is just another stepping stone. Connor sees campus residence as a huge opportunity. “I see the bigger picture. There are a lot of smart people on campus. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to graduate Notre Dame with a label.” Her independent release this weekend, “Ambitions & All-Nighters,” is just the first step.
Originally published on NDSMCObserver.