‘Let’s cut that narrative’: A Q&A with hip-hop artist Avian Alia

In recent years, women have become not only key players in the realm of hip-hop, but also some of the genre’s most visible moguls and trendsetters. But combining a balanced union of talent, image and intellect is a task not easily accomplished, and in some cases, artists sacrifice quality in an attempt to quickly garner success. This isn’t the case for Lake Village native Avian Alia, a 24-year-old who’s blending hip-hop and neo-soul to create a style that’s all her own.

After singing in school and church choirs, Alia decided to pursue a music career earnestly and actively while in high school. She officially entered the independent music community in 2021 with her debut project, “Aviation.” Exhibiting a remarkable lyrical aptitude, the seven-track album showcases her confidence as an emcee with songs like “Easy” and “Factuals,” while also revealing a softer, melodic side on “Brief Intermission.” The latter qualities would become more noticeable with the release of her most recent EP, “Upward,” which she dropped in September 2023. Highlights include “Merry Go” and “Disconnect.”


In an industry dominated by short-lived fads, Alia’s honesty and energy are rare and refreshing. Based in Fayetteville, Alia spoke with us from the comfort of Yellow Velvet Studios in Little Rock, where she reflected on her sound, struggles and the advice she would give to artists looking to start their journey. 


How does growing up in Arkansas, particularly in southeast Arkansas, influence your art?

I don’t think it does, if I’m being honest. I’m not extremely raunchy. Maybe that’s because I was raised in church. That ain’t my style or my steez, so that may be a factor. I like to sing, so you do hear me singing in some of my songs. I would definitely say my choir background probably influences that some. But as far as style and what I’m trying to bring to the music scene as an individual, I don’t think it’s heavily influenced by the musical background that I have, because I’m trying to create something that I’m not even familiar with. I’m trying to create something that’s not the norm when you think of a female artist.

What challenges have you faced as a female artist in a male-dominated genre/business?

Immediately walking into most rooms, you’re not taken seriously. They think or expect you to talk about a certain type of content in a certain type of way. So, I feel the need to say, “Let’s cut that narrative” shortly after I walk in the building. Feeling like you always have to prove yourself. Not just because it’s a male-dominated industry, but because I’m from a small town, because I’m from Arkansas, which is not an extremely hip-hop or music-oriented space to be from. Just feeling like I’ve always got to show people that I know what I’m talking about. I’m pursuing this with intention, and I know what I’m doing, to an extent.


DaCori Jones
Avian Alia

With your most recent project, “Upward,” I noticed a shift to more slowed down grooves but the essence of hip-hop is still present. In your opinion, why do you gravitate more to that style instead of picking a single lane of focus?

Well, I never liked to pigeonhole myself. With me, there’s no such thing as “one lane”; we’re trying them all. I’ve made the comment before that I’m neo-soul at heart, but I’m a rapper. I enjoy that type of music. In my free time, that’s the type of music I listen to. So, it came to a point where I was doing some self-reflecting and like, “This is the type of music you listen to on a regular, but this is the style you make. Why is there such a stark difference between the two? Why are you not making something that more closely adheres to the music that you enjoy?” So, I just started thinking that I want to incorporate more singing. I want to implement more of a softer side, because rap can definitely be real hard-bodied all the time. And I’m not like that all the time. Do I have that facet to me? Absolutely. Am I like that all the time? No. 


How do you stay true to yourself and your values while navigating the music industry and its expectations?

I think every artist can attest to the fact that you are who you are at home, and you are a performer as well, which is two different people. For some people, it can be the same person, but for others, it’s like a hat that you put on. Like when you go to any other type of job, that may not necessarily be your favorite thing to do in the world, but you go in there and put your suit or your hard hat on, whatever attire, and you go in there and do your job. So, I feel the same way about music. Who I am at home and who I am on stage, I view it like a job. I don’t think it’s hard for me to keep those lines from being blurred. First, you’ve got to know yourself. I know what my values are; I know what values I uphold and what’s important to me and I make sure I don’t ever compromise that. 


During the song “An Artist,” you say, “I done finally figured out to win now / But it got harder cuz my people feel like fans now.” Can you talk about that line?


I want to start off by saying that I don’t even think it’s specific to artists. It’s if you are pursuing something big, in general. I feel like I have lost more people in the last two years than I have in my entire life. Lots of friendships, relationships being severed because I’ve got to choose between the route I’m trying to go in life, where I want to be, who I’m aspiring to be and whether or not the people in my life align with that woman. Family members act like they’re timid to reach out to you sometimes, or when I come around, it’s, “Aww, we got the superstar in the building!” No, I’m still that same girl that grew up with y’all; please don’t do that. I don’t really like that, and it makes you feel alienated a bit. Yes, I am pursuing a career that is not normal in my family or my town; it’s not really normal in my state! But don’t treat me like that, like I’m not that girl that you’ve known for 20 years.

What advice would you give to aspiring female hip-hop artists or artists in general from Arkansas who are just starting out?

Speaking to women specifically, please don’t feel like you have to conform to any way of being. If you do something well enough and feed it to people enough, they will start eating it. Within the music industry, with female rap, there’s just a specific vibe and aesthetic going on right now, and to each his own. But that’s not Avian Alia; that’s not who she wants to be, either. I tell that to myself, and to any woman aspiring to make a career in the music industry.

To artists in general, save your money. Because it ain’t cheap. And just be confident in what you’re bringing to the table. Don’t be afraid to take constructive criticism because sometimes, your stuff might not be the greatest. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. So don’t think that everyone who has something to say to you that isn’t something that you want to hear is being negative or hating on you. 


Please don’t let the people closest to you convince you that this isn’t something you should be doing. A lot of times when you pursue a career like this, the circle you run with may not be pursuing similar careers. So, they’ll try to… it’ll start off with little jokes like, “You want to do what?” or “She really thinks she can do that?” Yes, you can! Just like the people you look up to in the spaces that already exist who have already accomplished what you’re looking to do. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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