Rafters suspend the high ceiling of Da Urban Lion’s recording studio in Winston-Salem. Red, white and black paint coat the walls and cables criss-cross each other on the floor. A carved portrait of a lion hangs on the outside of the engineering booth and Demi Day McCoy sits back on a small, red leather couch in the corner of the studio.
“It just kinda blew up,” she says, referring to her stint in spoken-word poetry during her undergraduate years at Pepperdine University. “I was getting booked here and there and all the while I have rap on the side as a hobby. I [hadn’t] shared [my music] with many people. Spoken word got popular when I was in college and I got the opportunity to record a spoken-word album. When I got to the studio that was my first time being in a studio space…I got into the booth and I was so upset that I was doing a spoken-word album. I was like, I need to be making music in here!”
Demi Day grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md. with her parents. Her father served in the US Air Force and her mother works in sales and teaches hospitality at Prince George Community College. She knew she wanted to create music ever since she was a kid.
“My mom sings, my sister sings and growing up we’d play around and write songs together,” said Day.
“I used to listen to Ludacris and Missy Elliot. Those were the two MCs that got me inspired to pick up a pen and try my hand at rapping.”
After high school, Day received her bachelor’s degree in religious studies and later her master’s in divinity at Wake Forest University. She performed her spoken-word piece “Waves” at Pepperdine’s 2019 associate’s dinner in honor of university president Andrew K. Benton. The metric structure and rhyme scheme of the piece contrasts the non-rhyming, free-verse style of many other spoken-word poets. Really, the only thing missing from “Waves” is a beat.
Performance, the common thread that weaves together Day’s poetry, music and love of preaching, drives her. Day reaches out towards a wide variety of people with each of these artforms and can therefore have a greater, more positive impact within her community.
“I want people to understand themselves, just like I want to understand myself,” says Day.
On a track titled “Outta Pocket Freestyle,” Day boasts that she “Orchestrate[s] the flow like philharmonic,” describing her deliberation towards the flow of her verses. Often, the listener can notice metric couplets where the meter from one line mirrors the meter of the next.
“Years ago, my raps were very straightforward…. I just used a consistent flow through that entire time,” said Day.
She signed with King Poole Music Group four years ago in Gastonia, and got to know record producer Irving Poole.
“[We] would talk about music, the ear and the importance of diversifying meter for the listener and adding those surprise elements,” she says. Day honed her technical capabilities as a poet and started to create more metrically diverse music.
Day puts a lot of thought into how her verses flow with the instrumental of any given track. This kind of careful contemplation comes through hours of work that Day squeezes into whatever free time she has.
“There’d be a lot of listening and shopping for different productions,” Day says, reflecting on how she’d spend 24 hours of free time on her music. “If I have the beat first, I’ll listen to it and try to see where it takes me in terms of memories and visions, and I’ll cling to one and out of that I’ll carve out a concept of.”
Before she starts writing lyrics, Day chooses the proper melodies and considers the sonic aspects of the track.
“The most important part for me, when writing [lyrics], is the first line. If I can’t capture your attention with my first bar, then why would you listen to the rest? Once I get that then I’m good and I can rip through the rest of the track.”
While her lyrics don’t show many signs of religious symbolism in her work released thus far, Day often incorporates hip-hop into her ministry. She’s compared Ecclesiastes 1 to the works of Lauryn Hill. She’s juxtaposed the fall of Adam and Eve alongside the lyrics of Alicia Keys. Her talents in preaching led her to win Emmanuel Baptist Church’s Excellence in Ministry Award. She won the 2017 Addie Davis Award for Excellence in Preaching by Baptist Women in Ministry, an organization that aims to give a platform to women in the clergy. Even with all these accolades, though, Day still fights an uphill battle in her clerical career.
“I like preaching because there’s a performative aspect to it… but for me I think I’d be [better] able to sustain myself through hip-hop rather than through preaching.” Day says. “That’s mostly because of access. I can preach at my church once or twice a month if I really insist but I don’t get invited that many places to preach and I don’t have access to many places to preach.
“Because I’m a queer black woman, even though I’m ordained,” she says. “I’m not being invited everywhere to preach. I’m a decent preacher, too!
“I see the preaching coming and going, but hip hop is how I think I can sustain myself.”
Demi Day’s new EP, PLANS, drops on July 26. Find it on Apple Music and Spotify.