Artist interview: Blakchyl rolling into SXSW as East Austin’s most dedicated ambassador


(Courtesy photo: Blakchyl)


She’ll appear at South by Southwest in a month, but if Te’aunna Moore ever wrests control of the festival — or puts on one of her own — it’s safe to wonder if a different directional flavor might compose the name. Because, as Moore says, “When you hear Blakchyl, that’s what you think of, is the East Side.”

It’s part of what sets Blakchyl apart from just about anybody making the size of dent in Austin’s music landscape that she is right now. Not just her determination to wave the flag for East Austin, but that she’s waving a flag for any side of the city at all.

Think of it: songs that reference Austin definitely aren’t difficult to find, whether it be in the traditionally literal, musical-reality-show realm that informs much of hip-hop, or in other genres. Just a couple years ago, Spoon set “Lucifer on the Sofa” in our fair city, with namechecks of Lavaca, West Avenue and Dale Watson. But how often have regions of Austin been hyped and championed the way Moore reps the the East Side?

It’s unusual, at least among artists who start to blow up. Then again, Moore, who introduced herself as “Blakchyl” when we met at ACL Music Festival in October, is an unusual talent, too — a soft-spoken, contemplative presence with a pointed-but-deadpan flow to match, which can obscure how pithy and attitude-driven her raps can be. That introduction at ACL stayed with me because it’s rare; I thought later of my past ACL meeting with Primo the Alien, who dropped her campy intergalatic-assassin persona long enough to introduce herself by her real name, Laura.

But Moore is Blakchyl — pronounced “black-CHILE,” although if it were “chill,” that would work, too — and Blakchyl is East. Now in her early 30s, her long track record of building a footprint in the Austin hip-hop community dates back at least to age 15 and her joining of The Cipher, a nonprofit that “aimed to bring in high schoolers from underprivileged Austin areas under a unifying umbrella of hip-hop,” according to an Austin Chronicle profile on Moore last year. Her years-long, formative time in the Cipher program was about making music, yes, but also about a space for bonding and sharing experiences. Since then, she’s been part of the quartet Mindz of a Different Kind, which begat MDK & da French Touch, a current collective that periodically performs and holds workshops in Angers, France, a sister of city of Austin. MDK’s fourth and most recent trip there was the week before I met Moore at ACL Weekend 2.

But it’s in her own right that Blakchyl has become a singular local force. The concise, smooth and lean Better Than I Imagined, one of the best Austin albums of 2023, is reflective, in words and sonics, of Moore’s self-prescribed duty to rep 78702. It’s on the song “Eastside,” though, where Moore’s ambitions beyond being a regional ambassador, shine through as much as anywhere: “Wouldn’t bite my tongue for nothing,” she proclaims on that early peak of the record.

She has plenty to not bite her tongue about — from the experiential challenges of queerhood in the hip-hop community, to the changes she’s seen in her childhood neighborhood to, “Social issues, my life, having fun.”

To her, that line is a reflection of her drive “to constantly speak out about where my mental is, my journey, my experience, my life experiences, my friends’ experiences. Even if I’m not agreeing with something as far as hip-hop goes, or just standing for something as well, being just free to say that – whatever it is on my mind. Because that’s what hip-hop is: just being that rawness, and loud, and bold. ‘Wouldn’t bite my tongue for nothing’ – even when being vulnerable.”

Vulnerability and swagger (“Can’t be humble, no rewards,” she also raps during “Eastside”) go hand in hand for Moore, both onstage at ACL and on Better Than I Imagined, which takes less than 26 minutes to glide through an economical 10 tracks. Her 2022 collaboration with Hyah!, broken communication from the outer rim, similarly stuffs together concise pieces that take less than half an hour of your time, albeit with considerably spacier, more cosmic beats. It’s the kind of concision that many of Moore’s more maximalist hip-hop heroes — like Kendrick Lamar, whom she excitedly watched headline Friday night at ACL — don’t exactly make a habit of.

“That was definitely my intention, is for this album is to get straight to the point, by having it sound like a playlist in this way,” Moore said of Better, produced by The Mask. “And it just has these different references, different stories. It’s not super-conceptual, but the feel, the vibe of the album, there’s definitely an intention there, working with Mask. And just working out of my comfort zone with some things, because usually I don’t be singing. But trying like Auto-tune — this time around, I feel like I was playing with that a bit. 

“But I was intentional about that, yes. … And even with broken communication, it kind of sounds like that: one storyline … one song, but different cuts, different moments in time.”

The moments in time that she associates with her region — the ones that inspire her to keep creating — range from “being outside a lot with my cousins, being ridiculous, riding bikes, knocking on people’s doors, running off, basketball, streetball, catching a bus. Getting lost and trying to find your way back home.”

“I feel like it’s just the foundation, from my family, just being over there in my cousin’s house every weekend, just spending a lot of my time,” she added. “Then I remember too, early on when I started rapping, a lot of people wasn’t really repping 02, repping the east side like that,” she said. “I feel like the east side was looked down upon in a certain way.

“So I just took it as my own. I was like OK, I’m living over here, this is where I’m from, this is where I’m at. And then a lot of artists that I grew up listening to, you could tell right off the bat [where they were from] – Ludacris: Atlanta. Pitbull: Miami. Trina: Miami. Glorilla: Mississippi. You could kind of tell when you hear from them.”

Moore has a predictably askance take on what developers are notoriously doing to her part of town: “These gentrifiers think they run [the area], they be trying to look at us like we don’t belong there. That be the crazy thing. I be like, ‘Nah. You know where you at? Of course you don’t,'” she says with a laugh. But despite the gentrification, “things still go down on the East Side. I feel like certain things still have not changed.”

Keeping her finger on the community’s pulse, and promoting its continued vitality, have become part of her mission.

“I feel like that’s the most tangible thing I can do, is staying in touch with the people that’s still in the neighborhood as best as I can, still providing that entertainment for the East Side, too, when I can,” she added. “Whether it’s underground, we’re doing something at the Millennium Park skating rink, doing something at Rosewood Park, [or] we’re gonna screen a movie over there and a lot of what you see in the movie is going to be on the East Side. … Stuff like that to keep the presence known, still in there, while I’m still in the East Side, while I’m still in Austin. Because I don’t know how long I will still be in Austin.”

Blakchyl will appear at SXSW next month as a Showcasing Artist.