Going Solo, She Finds New Role Fits Her to a T

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Going Solo, She Finds New Role Fits Her to a T

It is cozy here in the tinted minivan, the kind of nondescript vehicle that blends in with Seoul traffic. In the back seat, two people are giggling. A block away, 500 people are crowded in plastic seats by the parking lot of Yongsan electronic market, waving balloons as a pop singer performs on stage.

Inside the minivan, Tasha is slouched in the middle seat, large, compelling eyes peering out from rows of long braids. She's waiting her turn in a joint concert starring nine groups, climaxing with the former H.O.T superstar Kang Ta. The no-nonsense, confident and up-front attitude of Tasha, born in Texas, proceeds her.

"I'm scared," she says, "about how people are going to take the new me."

When Uptown swept into Korea in 1998, Tasha, whose father is African-American and mother is Korean, was their lead rapper. She was originally hired as an interpreter for the group, but when the band heard her sing, they asked her to to join them.

Critics took notice, calling the five-member group "ahead of their time." Bernie Cho, a Channel V on-air host, called her the "female pioneer of hip-hop." At the time, pop ruled the charts, and while Uptown didn't topple pop, it helped usher in the hip-hop movement.

Tasha eventually left Uptown with another Uptown member, Annie, forming the duo known as Tashannie in 1999. Because of "creative differences" and clashes with the production company, Tashannie ended. "We're still tight," Tasha says of her former singing partner.

Now, Tasha, 23, is going solo as T. She has slowed down her music to rhythm and blues. Her first solo concert is Friday, and while the excitement is palpable, there is also fear.

Her manager taps on the window and slides open the side door. Tasha scrambles out and walks down the block to a white tent next to the stage. Choi Ja, a member of CB Mass, a rap group also featured on her album, comes over and starts joking about her outfit. He has an afro and wears a white sweatshirt over baggy jeans. She's wearing a grey suit with black shoes.

A couple years ago, all this might not have been possible. After several singers were jailed in a drug bust, an event Spin magazine in the United States covered, Tasha was brought in for questioning. The police decided she was innocent and let her go.

Tasha, now back on the music scene and more grown up, has watched her image grow up, too, along with the change in how she sings. "I'm still looking for my style," she says. "For now, it's a little bit of this, a little bit of that."

When Baek Ji-young finishes singing, Tasha walks on stage. Her voice has always been her pride, but it used to be breathy. You could hear the effort she put in to reaching higher notes.

But the moment she starts singing - after extensive voice training - her voice is youthful and electrifying. "She's good," a cameraman whispers. She keeps her right arm against her stomach.

For her next song, she raps, "Salmeui Hyanggi" with CB Mass and loosens up. She gets the audience clapping along with her. When she walks off stage, the audience is cheering.

Tasha, whose real name is Natasha Shanta Reid, grew up - mostly in the United States - listening to popular music. Her father, Thomas Reid, met her mother while serving in the U.S. Army in Korea. He used to DJ at Seoul clubs after work. Reid, now retired from the army, is back in Korea, where he continues to DJ.

"I have pride in being black and Korean," Tasha says. "I've got the soulfulness of a black person. And Asia is just dope."

For more information about the weekend concert series with guest appearances by CB Mass, Drunken Tiger and Cye, call 02-3486-6528.

by Joe Yong-hee

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