May 04--LENOIR -- She's quick to point out she's a rap artist, not a singer. Her music is raw, edgy and in-your-face. The studio is her home, where she can be herself. Anywhere else, she is like a fish out of water.
"I was always the oddball," says Jazmin Villanueva. "I've tried to be okay with everybody, tried to fit in."
Villanueva, 24, is building an East Coast reputation under the name "Jagi Blanco." She was recently nominated for Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the Queen City Awards, as well as Entertainer of the Year. She is about to release her third CD, "Queen of Queens," due out in July.
The Peruvian's musical roots began growing when she was a child listening to her father, Antonio, play traditional Peruvian music on his guitar. Villanueva was born in Lima, Peru, but moved with her family to New Jersey when she was only 2. Antonio also played in rock bands in the U.S., which further fueled her interest in music.
"Dad had his own group," she said. "His family told him he'd never make it as a musician. I want to make it in this business for him."
When she was 7, she was introduced to hip-hop music. Singers like Aaliyah, Lil' Kim and Big E. Smalls were her biggest influence.
The following year, her family picked up and moved to Miami, where her Latin roots were never far. As she got older, she hit the club scene, honing her dance skills.
"I used to battle-dance," she said. "I'd go to parties and clubs. Hip-hop dancing became second nature for me."
She also began to write poetry. It wasn't long before she was merging music and her writing. She now mixes English and Spanish in her lyrics.
"My target market is everybody," she says. "Through music, you're able to say and do things the average person can't do, to express your art through different mediums."
In 2005, the family visited Western North Carolina and decided to move.
"I loved it here," said Rocio Villanueva, Jazmin's mother, who says the mountains remind family members of their native Peru.
Rocio and Antonio opened a hair salon in Longview, where Villanueva works in between recording sessions in Charlotte. Recording sessions do not come cheap, she says. But the move from the urban Miami streets to rural Hudson seemed a step backward to her. She immediately began to make noise in high school. But for all the wrong reasons.
"The first time I heard the kids talk with their accents, I just laughed," she said. "I didn't have friends. I wouldn't get used to that. It's like I wanted to scream to the world but I couldn't."
The rebellious teen bounced around from high school to high school trying to fit in. She says she was kicked out of Hickory, South Caldwell, West Caldwell and Hibriten high schools before finally returning to South, graduating in 2007.
While at Hickory High, she met Direesh Freeman, an aspiring musician. They immediately bonded and then got married in 2008. The marriage would last four years. Villanueva had her sights on big dreams. Relationships just get in the way, she says.
Graduation brought with it the new-found sense of freedom she sought. It was time to pursue her career. She recorded with several labels, including Deadzone Entertainment. Wanting more control over her music and her career, she formed her own label, Blanco Kartel. She quickly adapted to the money side of music.
"You have to understand the business side of music to be a successful artist," she said. "I'm very passionate when it comes to my job. I love my music."
She adopted her new persona, Jagi Blanco, and also is known as LadySolja. Her music oozes with swag and confidence. The music seems to unlock her freedom of expression.
"The beauty of being an artist is you can jump out of a mold, and you're able to be that good person and that bad person at the same time," she says.
"She can take this to the top," said her manager, Martese Lawrence. "She has all the qualities you want in a female rapper. She's the complete package."
Rocio is glad to see her daughter finally fit in, through her music.
"All we want is to make it where she wants to be," Rocio said. "We wish her well in her future."
Her music and videos can be found on Google, iTunes, ReverbNation and Youtube.
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