Photos by Salihah Saadiq
Words by Jody Amable

“I feel like in the Bay it’s OK to be weird.”

Perched on a blue sofa in Qulture Collective, a queer and POC-focused coffee shop and arts hub in Oakland, Queens D.Light has been talking about her influences, her upbringing, and life leading up to the moment she’s in now.

As a full-time artist in the Bay Area — co-founder of creative agency House of Malico, filmmaker, and rapper — she feels a little bit lucky to have grown up in, and still live in, in an area that embraces the weird. “Like, even like people from like the hood. It’s like, if you think about it, in the culture and the history of the Bay, like, Mac Dre was weird as fuck. E-40 was weird as fuck. Y’know. Digital Underground was weird as fuck. It had two personalities and like dressed as a different person — but it was embraced by the culture.”

Queens D Light

She’s not that weird in person — the closest she comes to carrying on the whimsical legacy of Bay Area music is asking what my sign is within minutes of meeting me — but the frankness with which she discusses her points of view, her goals, and her sexuality in her music can be read as revolutionary, even in a region where standing out comes standard. Songs like “Boss Goddess,” “Queen of Zamunda,” and the title track from 2018’s Flavor of Green establish her as a whip-smart creator with wicked wit and a rare brand of self-assuredness. Being surrounded by artists unafraid to experiment has given her the freedom to take her time with her craft and explore all avenues of herself and her art. It’s brought her to this particular moment, where she has a body of work under her belt she can truly claim as her own. “Slow motion’s better than no motion…I’m hella grateful that I’m doing something that a million other girls can’t say they get to do.”

Queens D.Light is one to watch, and one to watch right now. Catch her and her revolutionary rhymes at Phono del Sol on June 15.

On how she got started:

[My sister] was like 18-19 when she got out of jail, but in that time period she left all these, like, books of her rhymes that was being written, so I would just, like, write in her book, resume where she was at, write in her cadence, kind of like mimic everything she had going…Really just mimicking my idol at the time, and missing her and connecting to her through rhyming.

“…then I started recording on tape, and got in trouble for recording on my cousin’s SWV. And she was like, ‘I’m gonna tell you’ve been cussin’!’ and I’m like ‘I haven’t been cussin’!’ And on the tape I am cussin.’”

On being influenced by everyone from Lil’ Kim to Nina Simone: “I think at this point, I’m a dynamic person, and in my artistry I really try to like…I don’t know, like…I try to not suffocate the different parts of myself.”

Queens D.Light by Salihah Saadi

On how poetry prepared her for the stage: “Poetry was my one thing that I felt comfortable reciting. So I recited a poem, my first one was in high…junior high?…I think that that poem, “400 Years,” was in I wanna say my first year of high school. I wanna say my freshman year of high school. I did a poem called “400 Years,” my first year reciting a poem and like…I was really quiet. A quiet kid. And when I did that poem, it shocked everyone in my school. It shocked me.”

On why she stays in the Bay: “Oh, how can I forget to say this? The revolutionary spirit in the Bay is one of the most beautiful things. It’s like…the level of resilience here. The history of, like, the Panthers and like Angela Davis, and people really, like, Fighting. For. The. Right. Things. Even with gentrification you see, like, fighting poverty, creating their own space. The same space. That’s important. These are the things you can do to act in the affirmative as opposed to always thinking about the negative.”

On staying committed to her art: “I think a lot of times we get into, like, trend-chasing, and it gets repetitive. And so with that it’s like, yeah, you can do something, but that makes it easy for someone else to do it, and then flood the market. So with me, it’s like taking my time as an artist to get exactly where I wanna be, I think.”

Born in Austin, bloomed in Oakland, Salihah Saadiq is a visual artist and photographer. As the daughter of a photographer, Salihah was raised around the art form. She earned her first photo credit in the sixth grade and has honed formidable skills since.