Her time is now: Rapper Anastasia on motherhood, music and finding her moment to shine
A decade after she dipped a toe into the Austin music scene, singer and rapper Anastasia Hera is riding the biggest wave of her career.
Her EP, “This Is Anastasia,” a collection of sexy love jams and thoughtful odes to living authentically, dropped in May. In her new live show, she fronts a rock solid five-piece band that bolsters her soulful singing with R&B grooves punctuated with hard funk. She’s part of the Austin Music Foundation’s Artist Development Program Class of 2022, and her own artisanal liquor, HERA Tropical Rum, a banana coconut blend created by the woman-owned Striped Pig Distillery in Charleston, South Carolina, is set to hit shelves in December.
For roughly a decade, the Austin native has been known around town for her blistering hip-hop bars. On the new EP, she showcases her singing chops.
“I’ve always been a rapper,” she said in a recent interview. She kept her powerful pipes in her back pocket.
“I think it was just something that I kind of saved for later in my evolution as an artist,” she said.
Anastasia grew up playing piano. She sang in the choir at Berean Baptist church, which she describes as a “small family church.”
“On Sunday, there might not have been more than 20 people there,” she said.
For Anastasia, the experience became about more than communion. The pastor’s daughter wrote hymns for the congregation, composing them on the piano and then teaching the choir their parts. It was the young musician’s first exposure to the process of building a song.
“That used to be so intriguing to me,” she said.
She discovered hip-hop listening to Austin’s community radio station, KAZI 88.7 FM. Through the station’s popular mix shows in the ‘90s she was exposed to East and West Coast hip-hop as well as regional sounds.
Her favorite rapper was Houston OG Scarface, “because he told stories,” she said.
Around the time she was 12, she discovered a knack for making her own rhymes. She lived across the street from a basketball court where aspiring rhyme-slingers gathered to test their mettle.
“It was sort of a ritual,” she said. “We'd go over there with our notepads or whatever, and, you know, spit our latest rhyme.” The kids returned to the cipher again and again, always trying “to beat what you did last time,” she said.
Throughout high school, she was a teen up-and-comer, rolling with Eastside legend Nook Turner, who would go on to host the popular Jump On It eastside summer concert series, and future poetry slam champion DaShade Moonbeam. But then life happened and it happened fast.
She found out she was pregnant around Christmas break before she started her final semester of high school. For “many, many months into the spring,” she didn’t tell her family.
“I was really consumed with that. And, you know, I just had no idea what I was going to do,” she said. Her longtime boyfriend and the father of her son joined the Army. After he finished basic training, her plan was to settle where he landed, but she was still searching for her own path. The semester after her son was born, she enrolled at Austin Community College.
“I was determined to just keep going no matter what it was,” she said.
A few years out of school, her boyfriend was stationed stateside, but military life has its own challenges and it took only a few months for her to realize living on base was not her jam. She returned to Austin, attended the University of Texas for a couple years, had a second son and landed a job at Apple, where she still works.
“For a good 15 years of my life, I didn't do music. I didn't write poems or songs or anything,” she said. “It's just a side or part of myself that I kind of put on the shelf.”
For years she was haunted, feeling incomplete, like something was missing from her life. “That's a really long time to go without something that you later find out is your passion and it's probably been your passion all along,” she said.
As she began to ease back into the music world, she realized she was a good decade older than many rap breakouts. She was a mom. She struggled with self-doubt.
“They're gonna laugh me out of the room," she thought. "Is anything that I have to say relevant? Can anybody relate?”
She didn’t want to rap about partying all the time. But as she realized her technical skill was still on point, she “figured the rest (would) fall into place.”
In the pre-Lizzo era of rap superstardom, she centered a message of positivity in her music. In 2016, she released the single “Kale and Yoga,” which equates wealth with wellness.
“It has been at times an uphill battle as a rapper, you know, because people aren't always expecting that,” she said.
There's a sense of competition and bravado and machismo that comes with being a rap artist. “That's just the nature of the genre and in a lot of ways, and I understand that, and I can participate when it's time. But again, I have to look in the mirror and decide what it is that I want to say. And I have to be at peace with, you know, the things that I say being my real life,” she said.
In her real life she’s focused on making choices that keep her mentally, physically and emotionally healthy. Her sons are now 19 and 25 and she's been proud to put "some good solid young men out into the world," she said.
She still makes steamy love songs, but there's a maturity to her work that rises above many of today's commercial hits.
“I know that it will land somewhere with some people,” she said. “And I'm willing to push until it does.”
Her live show got a big boost when she formally assembled her band the Heroes from a group of musicians she’s been playing on and off with for years.
“I just love playing with the band so much,” she said. Having a dedicated ensemble has changed her musical trajectory. “I hadn't had the musicians that were really invested in playing my music, learning my music and making the best out of my music,” she said.
Playing with a band also opens the door to more gigs in Austin. When people refer to Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World, they’re still thinking about guitars, she said.
“You're thinking about a Stevie Ray Vaughan and rightfully so. In order to get in the door at some of these places, you do have to flex your versatility,” she said.
After a decades spent honing skills and gathering life experiences that feed her depth as an artist and a businesswoman, Anastasia believes her time is now.
“When I started to pursue a career in rap, I've always said that I only wanted to do it if I could take rap different places and make people see it in ways that they hadn't previously thought of before,” she said. “Right now, at this moment in my career, I feel like I'm in an excellent place to do that.”
Anastasia and the Heroes
They play at 10 p.m. Nov. 27 at Geraldine's. Information at geraldinesaustin.com.