Armed with a megawatt smile and a fierce confidence, there is nothing you can tell Jessica Butler that will dampen her effervescent personality. She is proud of the skin she is in and wants the world to know it.
In fact, much of the world has gotten a glimpse of how she has embraced her chocolate brown skin, full lips and coily hair through a charmingly bouncy rap she penned and titled “BAP,” an acronym for Black and proud.
‘I felt motivated’
Butler’s rap has gone viral on TikTok, the popular video-sharing social networking service, and has been viewed more than 6 million times as of Aug. 7.
Born and raised in Orangeburg, the 20-year-old also acts and models.
The Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School graduate is a former Ms. O-W and Ms. Orangeburg County. She later attended Claflin University, but always knew there was something more waiting for her.
“I always knew I was going to make it big in something. I always believed that. That’s what kept me going. I was like, ‘Jessica, you’re not going to be searching forever,'” she said.
Butler began rapping in February following the death of her grandmother.
“It was a turning point. Right after my grandmother died, I don’t know. I just wanted to try something new. I felt motivated. I felt like I had her support with her being an angel now,” she said.
Butler was inspired to write her rap song after watching “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” the popular Netflix series based on the true story of Walker, an African-American washerwoman who rose from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire.
“I wrote that song in February right after I heard the Madame C.J. Walker documentary on Netflix. Literally, the first few words she says are, ‘Our hair is our heritage.’ I paused the movie right there. I was like, ‘Dang, that’s deep!’ Right after I heard those words, I don’t know, my brain just went crazy. I thank God for it, too,” she said, laughing.
In her rap, Butler talks about being proud of her Black heritage and all of the beauty it contains.
She realizes some lyrics may be offensive to others, but she’s not exactly apologetic about it.
“It's very controversial. Of course, I'm going to have people who disagree with my song because of the things that I say. I say white girls pay for my melanin not to poke fun at them, but it's the truth. It's called spray tan. So I just shed a little light on it and, you know, with the times being like they are now, whenever you talk about being Black and proud or the Black Lives Matter movement, anything pertaining to being Black has a certain aura about it now,” she said.
Butler added, “You can take it in a good or bad way because of all the things that we have been going through as a community as a whole. We've been taking the heat lately, but it's showing that we're strong together. We're stronger together."
‘I’m just pushing that positivity’
Butler said she created her TikTok account “out of the blue” and did not expect the rap which her friend Alex recorded for her would garner as much attention as it has.
"It literally happened overnight. I made that account one day before, and I said, ‘Hey, Alex, record this rap for me.’ That’s my boy. He is to credit for this video because we had about 30 takes. I was like, ‘Dang, I don’t have a TikTok account.’ I see everybody posting about it. So I made it and posted my rap,” she said.
That was obviously not the end of the story.
“My best friend texted me saying, ‘When your best friend make a TikTok and go viral overnight.’ I said, ‘Huh?’ I woke up to that text, and I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I went viral?’
“I looked on Instagram and was like, ‘Um, I didn’t go viral here.’ I checked Facebook. I only had like 1,000 views. I opened up TikTok. I had 2 million views overnight, and each week it grows another million. So it’s been up since June 20 and each week it grows a million,” Butler said.
She said she hopes individuals who listen to the rap become comfortable with who they are.
“That is the entire message. At the end of my song, I say, ‘No matter your color, better love your skin.’ That’s an order. Pecan tan, black like sand, I’m talking about the different shades of melanin. Melanin just doesn’t stop at brown. We have albino black people. So we cover all the rays, and not just black people,” Butler said.
It has been nearly 52 years since James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” released the song, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” but the anthem which sort of redefined Black pride still resonates today.
“That’s always my message. I’ve had girls that roll down the window saying, ‘I’m Black and I’m proud!’ It just gives me chills that I have such an impact. Right now in the times we’re living in, I really want to push being Black and proud,” Butler said.
“Be proud that you’re Black. Be proud that you have the skin that you have. Be proud that you’re born from such a strong heritage. I’m just pushing that positivity,” she said.
‘I thank God for this confidence’
Butler has known she has a way with words ever since she was a sixth-grader.
“In sixth grade, we used to have something called 'Do Now.' So whenever you got in class, the teacher had an objective on the board that we had to complete. So in my English class, it was called free writing.
“I used to write poems, and whenever I read my poems in class, people would start snapping, or the class would be dead silent because I had such an impact with my words. I've known since sixth grade that I had some type of penmanship,” she said.
Butler plans to pursue a music career and traveled to Atlanta to begin working with DJ M16 BEATS on July 10.
“I’m going to start recording more music in the studio in Atlanta at Doppler Studios. I’m a solo artist. So I’ve been pretty much making it shake on my own. It has been a little struggle being so solo. I’m an independent young adult.
“Studio time doesn’t come easy ... but I really want to further my career in music because I’ve seen how I’m talented, and I see that people believe in me. I’m just going to get that ball and keep it rolling,” she said.
For the 20-year-old, it’s all about the confidence she gained after being bullied in school.
“This didn’t happen overnight. I did go through bullying growing up. So, you know, that did build some character. I went through bullying for the color of my skin, how big my lips were, the size of my feet.
“It took me all the way until ninth grade to say, ‘You are who you are, Jessica. People are going to accept you, or they’re not going to accept you. Don’t let anybody ruin the good thing you've got going on.’ In ninth grade was when I just started becoming who I was,” Butler said.
She added, “If you ask anybody about Jessica, they’ll say she’s a bubbly, happy-go-lucky person. So I thank God for this confidence because it’s something I really built up for myself over time. I got tired of feeling bad for myself. Whenever you eat the lies people are feeding you, you’ll starve.”
She said her confidence also comes her mother, Sophronia.
“This confidence thing is really what pushes me. I’ve been on stage since I was in sixth grade. I’ve always been a performer. But I've got my mama to thank for this confidence. She’s a powerful woman. My mama was a mechanic, she plays bass. Anything a guy did, my mama did 10 times better.
“I model, sing, rap, act. I get all of that from my mama, but I get this bubbly, happy-go-lucky spirit from my dad, Leon Butler. My daddy will give you the clothes off his back without even knowing you,” Butler said.
She is proud of where she comes from and appreciates the support she’s gotten from Orangeburg.
“I love my city. I want to say thank you for all of the love and support that I’ve gotten thus far. It’s only the beginning,” Butler said.
In the meantime, she loves when people remake her video on TikTok.
“They pose and put on a nice outfit and just dance to my song. I love that. I asked people to say why they’re Black and proud. I made a post with the hashtag whyimBAP (#whyimBAP). I had 207 replies. Everyone’s just saying they love my energy. I've got a lot of people saying I’m beautiful,” Butler said.
“I get a lot of support from the South. I see a lot of people tying Blackness to resilience because in Black history, we were on the suffering end for a good minute, and now it’s time for us to be proud. So you know we’re going to say that loud. It can reach a multitude,” she said.
Butler can be reached via Instagram at @jessieb803.
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