Growing up, Tea Fannie had to try a bit harder to make friends. As a self-proclaimed “army brat,” the Calgary-based rapper moved from one Canadian city to the next thanks to her dad’s service in the military. With her birthday at the start of September, when the school year was just beginning, this meant she rarely had friends to invite to her parties. Beyond forcing her out of her shell to make connections, these years on the outskirts of various towns with only Walmarts and bike tracks to keep her occupied helped Tea Fannie develop her voice: as brashly articulate as Nicki Minaj and freakily funny as Missy Elliott.
“I started by writing poetry like every other rapper, but had massive stage fright until 2019,” Tea Fannie admits during a video call. She was brave enough to bring her poems to an open mic night in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood, but couldn’t find the courage to step on stage. After a serious breakup, Tea Fannie briefly moved to Edmonton and received the words of motivation that she needed. “Somebody said, ‘You have no kids, no animals, no plants, no partner, no nothing, so you can do whatever you want.’” She made her debut with a 15-minute live set. “When I didn’t die,” Tea Fannie says, “I knew I could do it.”
Getting started as a performer and recording artist during the 2020 lockdowns meant that she wasn’t able to find the usual guidance. Like in her formative years in a military family, Tea Fannie says she “turned out different,” even though that wasn’t her intention. “I just legit didn’t know any of the rules or gatekeepers,” she says, laughing. “No one told me which shows to do and which ones not to. A lot of artists took a break at that time, but I wanted to catch up with them before the pandemic was done.”
Now at age 36, Tea Fannie has more than made up for lost time. She has released a series of projects, performed at festivals from Calgary to Yellowknife and even hosts the Tea Fannie Tuesdays radio show on the Lethbridge alternative station CKXU. With production from skilled beat-makers like Lord Quest, Junia-T and Catfish the Wizard, her smooth rhymes are versatile enough to flow through any musical setting. Tea Fannie’s list of collaborations could warrant its own Wikipedia entry, but she counts Edmonton-born rapper K-Riz as her biggest inspiration.
“I met K-Riz when I was 15 or 16; we’ve been super close ever since then,” says Tea Fannie. People have told her they look alike, so she toys with familial facts à la Jack and Meg White. “Now that I’m doing music, we tell people we’re siblings. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I’d be doing it alongside him. Because I’ve been listening to K-Riz for two decades now, I can hear some of my flows coming from him.”
Tea Fannie’s exploration of her sexual orientation has been another late-blooming journey. While she openly raps about her desires on songs like “Money Long” (“His dick could never be thicker than whatever’s in my money clip”), and gets even nastier with her alter ego HerSheTea, she has only lyrically alluded to her pansexuality with pronouns like “she said,” “they said” or “her body.” Surprisingly, this interview is the first time she’s spoken publicly about her queerness.
“My dad always jokingly called me ‘lesbian’ growing up,” says Tea Fannie. “I would have feelings and thoughts, but always run away from them, because I’m a Virgo and never want to prove people right.” Her first date with a woman in Toronto, followed by Tea Fannie’s formative queer sexual experiences, were the earliest times she felt comfortable exploring her identity without outside influences. “It was there when I was a kid,” says Tea Fannie, “but as far as being with anyone else, it wasn’t until I was 30 that I got to figure myself out.”
One thing she’s known her entire life is that she loves to be funny. Tea Fannie’s jazzy new single “Okay” features laugh-out-loud punchlines like “I’m the whole burger/ Big ’Berta beef/ Funny cuz some of y’all only bringin’ the cheese.” It’s not all fun and games, however. On “Not Okay,” her 4 a.m. response to the 1 Million March 4 Children anti-trans rallies taking place across Canada beginning in September, she passionately raps about what she believes in: “You’re just homophobic, mmkay?/ No one is turning your child gay/ I cannot believe the ignorance and hate of today.”
“Since I started doing music, I’ve realized my path is through my voice,” says Tea Fannie. “I put those kinds of things in my lyrics with the hope that people will stop and think for a second. Somebody told me my rhymes were easier to understand than other rappers, so maybe I can break stuff down for somebody to get things in a way they couldn’t before.”
Alongside her day job in condo management, Tea Fannie is currently putting the finishing touches on an upcoming album produced by Toronto-based rapper Junia-T. While her lyrics already delve into topics of identity, this collection of songs will be even more intimate, with musical arrangements rising to the level of Tea Fannie’s grand ambitions. “[Junia-T] put this goal in my mind to be more honest with my songs, so now we have this deeply personal project,” she explains. “We’re adding lots of horns and a chorus of singers. I also want to do choreography with dancers.”
When asked why she’s decided to stay in Calgary instead of moving to a hip-hop mecca like Toronto, New York or Atlanta, Tea Fannie mentions Cadence Weapon’s Polaris Prize win for his 2021 album, Parallel World. Though he was born in Edmonton, most press coverage of the award cited the rapper’s current home base in the T-Dot, even after he exclaimed “the prairies got something to say!”
“Back in the day, people were saying hip hop was dead, but it’s happening in Alberta,” says Tea Fannie. “There are some crazy, crazy-good people doing amazing shows, but nobody goes out to support them. Edmonton doesn’t get the notoriety it deserves because Cadence Weapon moved away a long time ago. I decided to stay in Calgary to pop out of here.”