By Zach Schepis

Photo courtesy of Randa.

Mainard Larkin (aka Randa) seemingly exploded overnight. Back in 2012, she performed her first live show, and by the end of that same year he opened for Grimes.

What a minute. “He” did? Or “she” did?

Well, both actually.

Randa is a transgender rapper from Auckland, New Zealand, who seems bent on defying most of the preconceptions (the ones that still remain at least) as to what constitutes “hip-hop.” This doesn’t mean, however, that Larkin wants to be “trans-rapper Randa.” He doesn’t believe that such a definitive label would bring any more acceptance as to what it means to be trans, or any greater understanding.

Instead, Randa lets the words flow. Since the age of 18 he’s been making tracks in his bedroom–inspired by Kreayshawn’s road to fame, and equipped with nothing more than a MacBook and Garageband. She will rap about seemingly anything, with a free-form association that’s at once captivatingly oddball, slick, and comedic.

So enough of our words; here are some of Larkin’s insights into songwriting.

BreakThru Radio (BTR): So tell us, how did you first get into hip-hop? Was there an “ah-ha!” moment for you when you realized it was something that you really wanted to do?

Mainard Larkin (ML): When I was in high school I used to freestyle for my friends all the time. They always enjoyed [my music], and were supportive in assuring me to keep doing it. When I was in school I was writing a lot of songs, but I wasn’t really recording them. At the time I had a job in an office, and I knew that kind of environment definitely wasn’t meant for me. So I figured I might as well put a lot more time and work into creative projects. I got motivated, bought a Macbook, and started making beats.

BTR: Did you have any idea the kind of mass appeal and exposure your music would produce?

ML: I started throwing them up on the internet. I had no idea they would get the kind of attention that they have had so far. It was a pretty big surprise to say the least.

BTR: There’s been a long-standing conception or definition as to the “type” of person or “lifestyle” that seems to fit the genre, but which is being broken piece by piece over the past decade. Have people ever discouraged you from rapping for not fitting in, and where do you see the conventions of hip-hop headed towards?

ML: Yeah, I mean I was never super discouraged. More than anything at first I’d say people didn’t really know what was happening. They didn’t know how to react to my music or my image. But I kind of liked that, I thought it kept things interesting. Being in a room with so many uncertain vibes–it was definitely challenging but also a lot of fun. Plus there are so many new emerging styles in rap now.

BTR: Your lyrics touch on seemingly anything, from Tamagotchis to drinking orange juice. What’s your songwriting process like, and is there any subject that’s off limits for you?

ML: Well… (laughs). I suppose not. If I have a beat already made then I’ll just kind of fill it out–almost in a stream of consciousness way, whatever it suddenly makes me feel–visuals in my brain or what it causes me to remember. Other times I’ll take something that’s greatly affected me in real life and turn it into a story. In those moments I’ll generally write the lyrics first and then put a beat to it afterwards.

BTR: You went to school for audio engineering at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand. Have you integrated that knowledge and experience into your music making?

ML: Totally, it was really helpful. Even the little things, [like] learning about sound quality, it only takes five minutes really to explain… They can be small but have a huge impact. I think it’s inspired me to create in ways that I would probably have never considered otherwise.

BTR: You recently collaborated with Grey Lynn’s Reuben Winter, aka Totems, on a music video for your song “Frankenstein”. How did the two of you first get in touch, and what was that collaboration like?

ML: I think we had a mutual friend who pointed us towards one another. I went to a house party in Auckland, and I played a set along with some of my friends. He was there, and actually approached me asking me to write over some of his beats. Later he sent me a link and I really loved his work, it stood out you know? It’s cool, because we’re both super young, and doing it for the right reasons.

BTR: What are your plans for touring? Do you want to stick to New Zealand or do you have plans to go overseas?

ML: I’d love to go overseas. This year was strictly New Zealand, which was really cool because I’d never done a tour like that before. I’m definitely keen to hit up the US though. I love American culture, it’s definitely had a strong influence on my sound. Australia would be great too.

BTR: Any words of advice for young MCs and fans of hip-hop looking to start getting their music out there?

ML: Just have fun, but work hard too. Don’t be afraid to sit down and churn it out. I think that’s the hardest part, just believing in yourself. When you start sharing your work with the world your life will begin to change, you’ll meet likeminded people. Go for it.

To check out Randa’s music, visit her bandcamp, or tune into BTR’s very own In the Den.