Alsace Carcione’s life has been one long, uphill battle. As an African American woman, the cards were stacked against her from the beginning. Being openly gay only made things that much harder — and that was before her stint in the military, before she got laid off from her job, and before she found out her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But Carcione’s biggest challenge may be one she chose for herself: a career as a rapper. Hip-hop is already a notorious boys’ club, and it’s even harder to be accepted as a lesbian. But at 31 years old, Carcione is still pursuing her dream, pushing twice as hard to prove that she’s just as good — if not better — than the boys.
At the tender age of 7, Carcione — who was born Tracy Thomas and grew up in Virginia — says her cousin Omar wrote a rhyme and asked her to sing it. She instantly fell in love with hip-hop. At that point, she began a musical exploration that continues to this day. She cites TLC and Missy Elliot among early favorites, but her first, real rap love was an artist you might not expect.
“Around that time I found my dad’s records and the one that caught my eye was Kurtis Blow’s Tough,” Carcione says. “Most people will say Bun B, MC Lyte — no, my favorite MC of all time is Kurtis Blow because it was literally the first album I got ahold of that was rapping.”
Fast forward several years and Carcione, who joined the Marine Corps, had a good friend who was just returning from Iraq and retiring with a nice fat paycheck. The friend decided to drop around $10,000 on recording equipment. It was then that Carcione decided to reinvest herself in music.
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“I actually recorded my first rap song in California, in the Marine Corps barracks of Camp Pendleton. And if you know anything about the Marine Corps barracks, we got like the crappiest barracks of all,” Carcione explains. “So, it’s almost like the projects of the military. There’s nothing but cement walls. It’s like a jail cell and we just recorded it right there, in the middle of it.”
In 2004, Carcione moved to Texas and within two years she was signed to LGBTQ record label Illicitlife Entertainment, fronted by Nik “CEO” Harper. Carcione has since struck out on her own, but she and Harper remain friends and Harper says Carcione is one of the best artists she’s worked with. “This little, skinny kid with glasses came up to me at the club and was like, ‘Hey, can you listen to my CD?’” Harper says with a laugh. “So, I took it and listened to it and was like, ‘Man, this kid’s got something.’”
While making the rounds as a member of Illicitlife, Carcione noticed that female performers were few and far between in the local rap scene. Occasionally she had a hard time getting on bills or working with certain artists, which she attributes to her male counterparts’ fear of being shown up by a girl, rather than her musical abilities.
“I have felt that I have been unfairly charged because some artists are ‘prettier’ than I am, that people will give those artists shows or sign them before they’d look at me — and I do feel like it is because I am a lesbian,” Carcione explains. “And I’ve actually had people tell me, ‘Hey, the world’s just not ready for you yet. You’re not going to get there.’”
One ally who can back up this theory is local hip-hop guru Joel “Bum Theary” Chapple, who has seen this social stigma at play firsthand. “It’s totally harder for female artists to be taken seriously within the rap community — especially in a place like Dallas where we have such a tough local culture,” Chapple says. “I guess it translates from social stigmas and how society sexualizes women. I mean, look how long women have had to fight to get a chance at more equality with everything.”
There is such a thing as a successful, openly gay artist — take God-Des & She or Siya, for example. The challenge isn’t coming out as an LGBTQ artist; it’s avoiding being perceived as a novelty. “Some artists choose to stay in the lane of the LGBT community. I refuse to stay in that lane — or any lane,” she says. “My music is too universal, so they may try to put me in a box and tell me that I can’t do this or that, but I’ve been doing this since 2004 and I’m still here.”
Furthermore, it’s not just an LGBTQ-related stigma — it’s also an issue for non-traditional or non-gender conforming female artists. “You see Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea, but you don’t hear about Rapsody or Lyric Jones,” Carcione says. “These are women that are just sincerely dope. They’re not lesbians, but they’re also not overly sexual.”
Carcione strives to stay in her own lane musically as well. Hers is a style that’s hard to nail down, a mash-up of classic hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B and trap. Not one to shy away from controversy, Carcione’s most recent album Cryptic Conundrum is socially conscious, sensual and positive all at once. “Black America” addresses race-related hate crimes and police brutality; then, just a few tracks down the line, you’re graced with the upbeat vibes of “Funk You Up.” She’s as versatile and eccentric a lyricist as you’ll find in Dallas.
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While it’s clear that artists like Carcione still face some unfair struggles, Chapple remains optimistic. “I think for Alsace, as far as sexual orientation and gender, we’re in a pivotal time in which she can be a voice for gays and lesbians within the hip-hop culture. Because there’s still a huge stigma with that,” he says. “There are a lot of people that don’t want to accept it and think it’s ‘not hip-hop’ — and it’s nonsense. But I think she’s in a position to really turn people on their heads and force people to rethink their perspective on it.”
Life continues to present its challenges — Carcione makes frequent trips back to Virginia to help care for her mother and is about to graduate from Full Sail University this fall, all while holding down a job as a business professional and maintaining a long-term relationship — but doors are opening musically. She’s one of two female emcees competing in the DDFW Master of the Mic competition; she’s participating in a fundraiser to raise awareness of mental health issues; and she’s opening for Snow Tha Product at Trees.
At last, Carcione appears to be gaining acceptance in the rap community — not as a female emcee or a lesbian rapper, but as a legit hip-hop artist — which is exactly what she’s been striving for. “As far as Alsace goes, I don’t even think about her as a female; I just think about her as an MC,” Chapple says. “She’s a ball of fire.”