“Queen of the city, but you already know/I’m gonna keep on rockin’, til I can’t rock no more.”
As an artist, activist and human being, Grand Rapids emcee Lady Ace Boogie defies expectations.
Lyrically, she spurns comparisons. She rejects categorization and won’t let anyone deny her verbal supremacy.
But it’s more than carefully crafted wordplay and a fearless approach to collaboration that has made her the queen of the city’s emerging hip-hop scene.
It’s her heart.
“Honestly, I never really thought I would be the artist I am today,” said Lady Ace, whose real name is Linda Tellis. “I didn’t think my words would have such an impact on people’s lives.”
When Tellis first moved to Grand Rapids about seven years ago, she didn’t know anyone. Born in Atlanta and raised in West Virginia, she admits to having spent several years of her youth caught up in the gang culture of Dayton, Ohio, where she first started rapping with a decidedly more “gangster” edge during her late teens and early 20s.
Ultimately leaving that life behind, she moved to Grand Rapids, hoping to find her true voice. Little did she know she had just stepped foot into a supportive music community that would help her do just that.
“I didn’t truly feel like I belonged to this scene until my first open mic at Billy’s Lounge (for) ‘The Come Up’ put on by GR Promoter Lisa Downie,” Tellis said of her start here. “From there, I connected with so many dope and respected artists like Suport, Rick Chyme, Venson Dix, Sir Manley, Mike G and a few others. If it wasn’t for artists like them, I would not have been inspired to make the impact that I have.”
She soon started getting shows left and right, particularly at The Pyramid Scheme, where she had the opportunity to open for nationally known artists like Killa Mike, The Pharcyde, Slum Village, Jean Grae, Lizzo and many others.
Her career then took off in its own right three years ago, following the release of her first LP, Feel Good Music, on local label Hot Capicola Records. The album earned widespread acclaim, landing her even more gigs all around the city and scoring three Jammie Awards at community radio station 88.1 FM WYCE’s annual local music showcase.
“I am still very grateful for how well it was received,” Tellis said about Feel Good Music. “It is still very common for perfect strangers to approach me and have nothing but great things to say about it. I am happy so many people connected with it.”
The album’s powerful sense of positivity hit deep with many. Tellis took the opportunity to engage with the community and empower others as an activist and organizer. Outside of her music, she teamed with several nonprofit groups and has worked to give a greater voice to minorities and members of the LGBT community here in West Michigan.
Still, as an artist she felt creatively stifled, both by the prevailing social bias of many in West Michigan and the musical limitations of hip-hop.
So for her follow-up, she decided to rewrite the script on her story once again, and this past April released her second album, Don’t Box Me In.
“This album really shows a different side of me,” Tellis said. “The melodies, the content, the beat selection — it is all completely different from Feel Good Music. Overall though, the message is that no one should be boxed in based on genre, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race, et cetera. It’s a hindrance to our growth.”
Openly collaborating with nearly a dozen different artists across the musical spectrum, Lady Ace expanded her positive vibes and powerful rhymes into even more genres. Released entirely independently by Lady Ace Boogie herself, the new album took more than a year and a half to complete, working with local producers.
“I almost didn’t put it out because I am so vulnerable with the content and didn’t know how people would take it,” Tellis said. “But I have heard nothing but great things, and I am happy I put it out.”
Leading up to the album’s release, Lady Ace shot a video for the lead single, Love Me For Me, directed by Grand Rapids’ laFEM collectif. Speaking to the gift of true acceptance, the video features different pairs of people exemplifying love in all its forms.
Lady Ace also went down to Austin, Texas this past March, where she performed as part of the Michigan House Music Showcase at the SXSW Music Festival.
“I would really like to do more shows outside of West Michigan, so that’s my focus (now),” Tellis said, adding that she’s working on developing a team to help take her career to the next level. “All I can do in the meantime is stay true to the music, and continue to try and be a strong voice on topics that aren’t talked about enough.”
Up North Pride Festival
Traverse City, Mich., June 23
Cowpie Music Festival
Alaska, Mich., Aug. 11