Desirae Thomas, known to fans as Jackson hip-hop artist Lady Cajun, says she felt drawn in two directions when launching her career: pop music and hip-hop.
Her father, Eugene Thomas, was a rapper and would record at a cousin's studio in California, putting his music out on MySpace. While growing up in New Orleans, where she lived with her mother Denise and two siblings, she began dabbling with the genre, as well, writing songs and performing for her family. Her interest in music went a step further after she moved to Jackson in 2008 following Hurricane Katrina and enrolled at Jackson State University.
"We used to do street rap, where everybody would gather around and freestyle and stuff like that," she says. "I got into that, as well, and also started recording myself off of other big artists' instrumentals, and I'd write a song to those beats and post it on Facebook. A lot of people would be like, 'Oh, I didn't know you could rap!'"
That surprise was definitely warranted, she says, because she had always been the shyest child in her family. However, her mother put her and her siblings through dance school and sports to help them learn to be more outgoing, something that she says has served her well in starting her music career.
Thomas says she has also long held a passion for pop music, following artists such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. When she first heard Nicki Minaj, who has since become one of her biggest influences, Thomas says it helped her see how she could combine hip-hop and pop in her own music.
The next step came when fellow Jackson hip-hop artist 2verse discovered Thomas' music through Instagram last year. He decided to help her develop as an artist and showed her that finding success in music is more about your business sense than anything else, she says. He then purchased a beat for her, which became the basis for her first single as Lady Cajun, "I Need a Boss."
"He bought me that beat and said, 'This is yours. You can do whatever you want with it, but see how you do,'" Thomas says. "I didn't want to be an artist where I was just making music, and it didn't go anywhere. I wanted everybody to hear me."
Soon after, she connected with entrepreneur Nickolas Mells, owner of women's clothing and accessories company Ladies Heavens, who had been looking for product models on Instagram. When he and Thomas talked over the phone about her modeling some of his merchandise, he learned that she was performing as Lady Cajun the next day and shipped her an outfit for the concert overnight.
As they continued talking through modeling opportunities and eventually met up in person, Mells says he saw how serious Thomas was about her music and how much work she was putting into it.
He says: "I told her, 'I don't know nothing about music. I know about selling shoes, clothes and bags, and basketball. That's what I know because that's what I've done my whole life.' But I told her I'd reach out to some of my friends and see if I could do anything to help her."
Mells began helping her book shows and make connections with promoters and entertainment-industry professionals throughout the South. Everyone who listened to "I Need a Boss" loved it and said they could see the potential, he says.
"I figured, if we're going to do this, we might as well go all out and see how far she can take this," he says.
Over the past few months, the duo has traveled throughout the region to promote the single, which Thomas released on iTunes, Amazon and most digital retailers Jan. 1, setting up interviews and airplay with radio stations and booking Lady Cajun performances to drum up interest in an EP, which she plans to release sometime in 2017. Even that, she says, is all in hopes of making enough buzz to eventually record a full-length album.
"You want to start off small because you want to see what people like," Thomas says. "A single's the best thing to go for just to see what type of feedback you get. After the single's released, you kind of have to let that rotate through the system, and I know that most artists put out an EP as kind of an introduction to your album. That's what I'm working towards. I'm getting an EP together in preparation of people wanting to hear my album."
Out of the feedback that she has received thus far, Thomas says one of the most common responses is positivity toward having more women artists make a name for themselves in the hip-hop community.
"I know, in the rap game, there's a lot of competition out there, but as far as the ones who are in it, like Nicki Minaj and Young M.A., there are not that many female rappers," she says. "People always tell me, 'Well, we need more female rappers. So get out there and grind.'"
Lady Cajun's "I Need a Boss" is available for purchase and streaming online now. For more information, find Lady Cajun on Instagram or Facebook.