Lady Valore, queen of the underground, premier promoter of the DIY aesthetic and free-flowing spoken word/hip-hop MC/vocalist, is as eccentric, personable and positive in life as she is in her music.
In the past three years, Savannah's Elaina Valore has transformed comfortably into the skin of her nom de plume, Lady Valore. Music has been the catalyst. Lady Valore is a powerhouse of a persona. Daring, courageous and willing to put it all out there, she is the culmination of Elaina's struggles mixed with a relentless pursuit to stay positive.
Lady Valore releases her fifth album, "IRL," on Feb. 4. It is her most eclectic collection of tracks to date, featuring exceptional collaborations with a variety of producers and rappers, including Sunglow, the electronic solo project of Daniel Lynch, formerly of Savannah, now of Chicago.
Valore was captivated by the writings of William Shakespeare in high school. She performed sonnets and soliloquies from The Bard in competitions. Poetry seeped into her heart and mind.
When her first boyfriend started to abuse heroin, her world was shaken. Then 15-year-old Valore turned to poetry as a means to cope with the heartbreaking experience of watching someone she loved fall into drug abuse.
"I just felt lost," Valore said. "I saw a good friend of mine, that I was dating, go down into the hole of heroin. Literally get sucked down. That was heartbreaking. He was the first guy that said, 'I love you.'"
From writing poetry, to sharing that poetry via a spoken-word delivery, she found an outlet for the pain she was experiencing. Through a journey of music discovery that led into hip-hop, she formed her own musical style, blending spoken-word, rap and singing.
Being under age, her only stages were house venues, which mostly cater to hardcore punk bands. She would just ask to spit a few lines before a show. In the inclusive spirit of the DIY venues, the bands would give her time on their stage.
However, in the beginning when she would ask musicians for help producing work, Valore says she was shunned. She had to do it herself. These early transformative experiences solidified her attachment to the DIY aesthetic.
The internet has made the DIY process considerably easier for musicians and artists. One of the producers on "IRL" is from Scotland. He found Lady Valore via YouTube.
But nothing comes without hard work, and Valore has put in the work. She's been on eight tours in the past three years, including a trip through Europe, where she busked on the streets, played festivals and recorded with other rappers in Italy and France.
In May, she's traveling to London, in part at the behest of a DJ who works with her idol, English spoken-word artist Kate Tempest. Valore continues to perform in house venues, as well as bars and clubs on a regular basis.
All of the songs on "IRL" were recorded in 2017, although she didn't release any music during the year, a departure from her prolific first two years as a recording artist. She released her debut album in 2015, followed by two more albums in 2016. Last year, she also began hosting her own show on Savannah's only community radio station, WRUU. "The Abyss" (5 p.m. Fridays) showcases underground music from across the world.
"I didn't release an album last year, which is weird," Valore said. "Since I started, I've been like boom, boom, boom. There's a lot of songs that aren't on there. This is a colorful collection of beats on the tapestry of life. It's a bunch of different beats. Each song is so unique. The producers are half of the song. I am only half of it. All the music I make on this album is just going to lead to me buying music for my radio show.
"All the money I make from my art, I put back into my art. I am never going to get rich on this, and I don't want to. Even if I do get rich, everyone else is getting rich with me. But also, [expletive] money. I don't want fame. I don't want that. I just want people to love themselves and feel good about their bodies."
In the spirit of transparency, I should be clear here: Last year, Elaina and I became friends. She fronted a Janis Joplin cover band, which I played in for The Jinx's Halloween show. Valore and I have continued to play music together over the past few months, writing originals that might see the light of day at some point. (I do not appear on the new album).
It's hard not to be drawn to her positive disposition, although her honesty used to be too much for me to handle, too intense. Perhaps I was just struggling to connect with the issues she was dealing with personally. As Lady Valore has evolved in her own craft, I've found her music, especially this latest album, to be more accessible.
In part, I believe, Lady Valore has tapped into a new dimension musically. Beyond just being an outlet for her most intense emotions, her music deals with much broader subject matter. Anti-capitalism has emerged as a primary theme on the new album, existing in equal parts with uplifting messages and personal vignettes from her own life.
Through music, Lady Valore has emerged as a portrait of the human experience, a balance of the duality of our existence - the light and the dark.
"I put all of my demons to rest in one poem," Valore said. "Being so real, so honest, so open, people are like what the? I think even just saying things, like STDs. Talking about capitalism and feeling trapped in the system. Not feeling like you're enough and just talking about those things.
"I always, always have to end on a positive note. That's why I write! That helps me get back to positivity. I write myself out of a panic attack. I am like all this bad stuff is happening. I just need to exist and enjoy this. I am alive. I am alive right now. That's why I am so damn positive."
Joshua Peacock is a writer and musician based in Savannah. He studied music theory, jazz and playwriting at the University of Iowa. Empire of Sound has won two Georgia Press Awards in the past two years. Email email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Lady Valore "IRL" album release party
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 4
Where: Quolab (address upon request at facebook.com/balouq)
Cost: $5 suggested donation
See an interview and performance by Valore at dosavannah.com.