Cha'keeta B Goes From Running Track to Running Tracks
Multifaceted rapper/entrepreneur looks to take names
By Derek Udensi, Fri., Sept. 16, 2022
There's an unmistakable ferocity found within Cha'keeta B's eyes, a ferocity matched only by her tenacious rap flow. Her magnetic presence transforms a simple burnt orange hair/T-shirt combo coupled with black Adidas track pants into something worthy of a drip check. By many accounts, the Eastside-raised emcee holds a place within the higher tiers of Austin hip-hop despite not releasing an official debut studio album some 10-plus years into her career. Now with hands in numerous industries, she's ready to set off a flare to remind people of her capabilities.
Born in Richardson, Texas, before moving to 78723 at the age of 2, Keeta grew up under the tutelage of an ardent track coach and a Marine. Leslie Riggins notably coached track & field at John H. Reagan High School (now Northeast High) for 18 years, while Jacqueline Chatham served in the Marine Corps for 22 years. Riggins hosted a summer youth program called Texas Heat – a program he still oversees today in retirement – that kick-started his daughter's promising track career at the age of 5. He still chuckles while recounting his grade schooler routinely smoking high school sprinters during practice runs.
"She was in like fifth or sixth grade and [when] we'd first start our season, we would run miles and miles," he recalls. "She would get back first, sitting there drinking water, waiting on the rest of them to get there. The kids that were in high school didn't like that because I would get on them about how [they] would let a little girl that's in the fifth grade finish before [them]."
While the talented runner's father pushed her on the track, her mother emphasized the importance of the classroom. The former Marine would take her children to the University of Texas campus to familiarize them with collegiate life. Those trips included sitting in on classes, visiting dorms, and performing research in the Perry-Castañeda Library.
"I supported her participation in track as long as she enjoyed it," Chatham states. "My focus was always on her education. [She] has always been an avid reader, an amazing writer, [and] never been shy about expressing herself."
Keeta on the track continued to shine in the 800-meter and 1-mile disciplines. According to her father, she earned a spot in regionals as a freshman and missed out on competing at the state-level competition by just a couple of places. An increased fervor for writing, however, caused the high schooler to vault from inside chalked lines to spitting rhymes in the 10th grade. Though neither Keeta nor her father pinpoint one sole cause for the transition, she mentions a mixture of battling teenage emotions as well as her parents' divorce as factors that made her appreciate the freedom of her creative writing class. The recognition of her poetry helped foster the proud Leo's burgeoning affinity for the craft, too.
"I feel like if I would've stayed focused on sports, I would've never been Cha'keeta B," the woman born Lauren Riggins adds. "Honestly, I still feel like it led me to where I was supposed to be. I love this shit! I wouldn't change it for [anything]."
House of Payne
Matthew Payne, a former teacher at Reagan, gleefully gushes at the mere mention of his former student despite not staying in contact with the Reagan Class of 2010 graduate. His testimony of 10th-grade Cha'keeta B's greatness mirrors Nike's "We Are All Witnesses" advertising for basketball royal LeBron James.
"When teaching is your passion and you're on the other side, you remember all of your students because you carry a part of them with you forever," the UT alum says. "You're in there as the teacher, but you're also the student. We're all making it together – the magic that's in [our] room. That magic is not just coming from you, it's coming from all of us in this room together. You're not just there to transform student's lives [and] it's like a position [or] they're the [only] ones changing and growing. You're changing and growing because of them. You have pieces of them inside of you and they're a part of your transformation as a person, too.
"Lauren Riggins – especially a strong personality like her. When you meet a person like that [who] just lives so fully and completely within herself and her conviction, with her confidence, with her ability to speak up, her presence, and her voice. She [was] such a big part of our campus. Her family was also a very well-known family [on campus]."
Payne's 10th-grade creative writing classroom served as a comfortable playground for Cha'keeta B to express herself freely about topics widely ranging from juvenile heartbreak to heavier matters such as police brutality and hardship she witnessed in her neighborhood. Her fiery poetry made waves around campus through word of mouth and publication of select pieces in the school's newspaper. She held little back when reciting her poems, at times channeling energy reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar on "Control" as she not-so-subtly spoke about her peers.
"At that point, people would be like, 'I need you to write rhymes for me. I heard your stuff earlier in class. But don't tell [anybody], I'll pay,'" she recalls. "Dudes would pay me $5, $6 per paper to do a quick, short little six, eight bars."
The conviction with which his 10th-grade student spoke deeply inspired Mr. Payne.
"The power of her standing up and reading those words in class [was] a really transformative experience and it's hard to put words to it," he beams. "But when you see a 10th-grader with the power of those words, those eyes and that sharp mind at work and other people feeling it in that room and the silence because people are feeling it so hard, it's a beautiful thing.
"That was the powerful thing about Lauren Riggins. She could see the world very clearly at a young age with those ferocious eyes. She could see it, with clarity. And speak on it."
Cha'keeta B began recording music after multiple people, most notably Payne, implored her to put her rhymes to beats. Her first tape, 2011's Industry Beat Assassin, no longer exists on LiveMixtapes, but the feedback to that debut project showed the upstart artist that she possessed potential. She smacks her lips to mimic the initial resistance she held toward pursuing a rap career.
"People love gassing lame shit," she says. "Not that I ever believed I was lame, but I know how dudes are. Dudes just wanna be in your face. I was like, 'I'm just having fun, I'm not taking shit seriously.' I would say [I believed] after I did that first project and I saw how people were gravitating toward me being an artist from just putting out my poetry on the little notes part of Facebook.
"I used to be like, 'Y'all don't know how I'm saying it. Y'all are reading it, but I'm saying it in a certain way. There's a catch and I really wish y'all could hear this!' So I said fuck it. What other way are they going to figure out how I'm saying it unless I record it? It just kind of went from there with it and I loved how people were receiving me. Like how I was in high school – when people really liking it, I'm big Leo energy. Well okay, I like it too! Let's get it!"
The Eastside rhymer's bars over then-prominent instrumentals such as Meek Mill's "Amen" and Ca$h Out's "Cashin' Out" on 2012's Incomparable mixtape can still receive play via DatPiff. That second mixtape features a plentiful amount of raw, assured rapping. In recent years, she's primarily found success by scouting nascent R&B artists to perform catchy, romance-related hooks. Tracks such as 2017's infectious "2 Can Play That Game," featuring Nubia Emmon, and the raunchy "Pull Up," featuring Kiki Ambrose, off Valentine's Day 2020's three-song EP, Lover's Lane, best display the formula.
The period from the drop of Lover's Lane to 2022 saw the fierce femcee release just one song: 2021's fast-paced "In My Bag." Involvement in other ventures such as her hair festival and cooking business, Keeta's Kitchen, perhaps gave off the impression that music became an afterthought for the long-tenured artist still missing an official debut LP. May's aptly named "The Comeback" announced her return with a warning shot to imitators as she tackled a soulful-sounding beat that differs from her usual upbeat offerings. The track also represents a return after experiencing a health scare that remained unbeknownst to some of her followers despite posting about the issue on social media.
"In the past, I've had hyperthyroid issues and I got a full thyroidectomy performed last September," she explains. "I've recovered since then and I've been doing [well], but it was kind of a weird experience because the surgery ended up going weirdly and I had to have a second emergency surgery that same day. It was pretty scary because they weren't listening to me and it was a prime example of Black women saying something's wrong with them and doctors ignoring them and telling them they're fine. And they're not fine.
"I'm still kind of dealing with the remnants of it and stuff like getting correction done on my eyes. I have to take medicine for the rest of my life to replace my thyroids since I don't have them anymore, so when I was struggling with it at the time, it affected my breathing. So whenever I'd perform, I'd be out of breath. It was a really weird time in my life."
Kinky, Curly, Coily
In 2020, Cha'keeta independently founded her vision of a natural Black hair experience as she aimed to combine education on how to maintain natural hair, the opportunity for Black-owned vendors to sell their products, and musical performances into one positive environment for all ages. The event – branded the Kinky Curly Coily Fest – occurred in 2020 and 2021 at Empire Control Room & Garage. Plans to host a third iteration of the festival tentatively exist.
"I'm a Black woman with natural hair and I've always wanted something down here for us, by us, that was just through and through the vision that I have for a Black hair experience," says the sole founder of the Kinky Curly Coily Fest. "I want to use my platform for [artists] to be able to perform and then bring the Black businesses out and have them sell their products.
"It's about showing people that we have culture down here and that we have something to provide as a whole. On top of that, I think it's important to educate us as well on how to love our hair and our natural selves because a lot of times, we struggle as Black women and Black men when all we see are the white images everywhere we go that is the beauty standard. I want us to be represented in more than one way – on stage, as business owners, et cetera."
Meme the Seamless Stylist, a traveling hair stylist who lived in Austin for a period of time and hopes to return, credits Cha'keeta's natural hair festival for helping change her opinion of the Texas capital. She also emphasizes the festival's importance in regard to educating attendees on how to maintain their natural hair in a healthy manner.
"I hadn't been exposed to a lot of the Black community [in Austin]," she says. "I'm open to all backgrounds and races, but most of my clients are African American, so it was really nice to have an event that was sponsored [by Black women] and predominantly around women of curly hair.
"Having something like [that] was very informative to a lot of women as well as the products that they provided because [they weren't] only for your hair – the products were also for your body and your skin. Those types of things and education towards different styles is very helpful. Especially for women who don't really know what to do with their hair."
Booked, Blessed, & Busy
With two singles already released and a potential extended play on the way by year's end, the 30-year-old femcee looks primed to take further advantage of a hip-hop climate that's become more receptive to celebrating a variety of female rappers in recent years. Locally, artists such as Megz Kelli of Magna Carda, Mama Duke, Qi Dada of Riders Against the Storm, Blakchyl, and Ms. Gold represent just some of the local female emcees regularly performing on bills across the Greater Austin area. Ms. Gold notably opened the same Fourth of July weekend Buck's Backyard lineup in Buda that featured Cha'keeta B. Houston heavyweight Z-Ro, an artist whose lyrics Cha'keeta and Mr. Payne dissected in class together, headlined the event.
Does Keeta think she can make her mark on a wider scale now that she's acquired knowledge on how to navigate the music industry from a business perspective?
"I do if people don't focus on my age," the self-proclaimed one-woman army says. "But that's what people do when you're a woman."
When asked to assess why she believes her name carries weight locally, she provides an interesting answer.
"I think I'm much more than an image in the music industry," she says. "I've done a lot for my community over the years. And I don't want a pat on the back for it. My feet are in the streets. I'm active. I really do what the fuck I'm talking about in more than one way.
"I don't just come down here and perform. I come down here the day before Thanksgiving and feed 180 homeless [people] with food that was cooked in my kitchen, standing on my feet for eight hours with me and my momma," she adds in reference to her 2020 Thanksgiving drive. She also expresses gratitude toward an Austin hip-hop scene that's not always shown love by its stakeholders. Her plan for the rest of the year remains a simple one.
"Staying booked, blessed, and busy," she says with a smile before chuckling the following one-liner: "That might be the title of my book."