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Review: KaOtiC's hip-hop debut a roller coaster with bite

If there's an unlikely force from Sioux City's hip-hop scene, it's Tonya Leffler.

Last year as relatively unknown, Leffler (aka KaOtiC) pulled off more than 50 regional shows and has continued the pace this spring.

That's no casual undertaking in the upper Midwest, where weekend bar crowds are thirsty for Top 40 and country hits. And hundreds of miles separate the hip-hop scenes in Des Moines, Lincoln, Omaha and Sioux Falls.

At first glance, she's stepped into a beginner's trap: trying to do it all right away. There's writing, recording, booking, promoting and collaborating.

"I'm more serious than a lot of other rappers around here with what I'm doing," said the Sioux City native and 2000 North High graduate. "I can't stop getting out on a stage and actually traveling, besides just idling in Sioux City."

Her no-holds-barred attitude and outspoken personality have energized fans and foes alike. If there's one thing she's not, it's forgettable.

For starters, take her artist name on Myspace: crAzY KaOtiC LeZBTCH. (She also has another name, KaOtiC Bi-Polar.)

"I'm that bitch in a lesbian matter, girls basically representing as a power," she says of the first creative persona. As KaOtiC Bi-Polar, she copes with a range of conditions, from bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress, attention deficit disorder and "the whole nine yards of these disorders which is let out with music."

She maintains the music is not a bastion of self-pity or a soap box for pushing social issues. Rather, some people simply identify with her nontraditional hip-hop messages more than other local and mainstream artists.

Often fans share how they listen closely to her words, or a certain song helped get through the day, Leffler said.

Other times, people are nasty.

"It's a bully world," Leffler said of other remarks from within the scene. "Because I rap with black people, I'm labeled 'a black man in a white trash girl's body,'" among other jabs, including at her sexuality, she says.

"It's just making me work a little harder, if they're not seeing that. The more you criticize me, the more I'll criticize myself and take that in."

That's where her debut album "Chaotic-Ly Bi-Polar" comes in. (Also see: free listen, MP3 download, live YouTube video.)

In 66 minutes of run time, the tracks shift among the lens of those personas, gelling a pronounced cycle of ups, downs, twists and turns. It's a roller coaster with bite.

After two years of writing and performing, she thought time for a release was now. (The debut album drops this weekend with a hip-hop show at the Chesterfield.)

"I'm not really like everybody else when it comes to this stuff. I just threw myself into it," she said. "I'm just learning by a lot of other people."

Unless free styling, many rappers count and write in four-beat units called bars. A typical rap verse has 16 bars (sometimes eight) then followed by the chorus.

But not knowing how to write bars means Leffler relies on heavily on intuition instead of theory. Songs have begun as poems she posted on Myspace, then get matched to a beat.

"I just start writing, listen to the beat and keep writing until I get to the part where the chorus starts," she said.

Most songs are original with the exception of uncredited tracks "Kaotic N Bipolar" and "Fuel My Fire," which Leffler says came way of a friend.

Her album collaborator J Smalls produced a selection of beats and then Leffler mostly took the reins, producing the songs and mastering the tracks for disc.

Versatile lyricist Stevie Stone, a 25-year-old from Columbia, Mo., is featured on the album and is among this weekend's release show performers.

"As long as you've got someone who is producing a wide range of something to work with, it's hard to sound the same unless you're that lame," she declared before pausing and giggling.

The details

Who: Kaotic Muzik album release party

Also: Guest performers Stevie Stone, Ruka Puff, Mama H & M.S.B., Night

Shield, Tallboyz, 2 Much Ent. and Yizzle.

Where: The Chesterfield, 1225 Fourth St.

When: Saturday; doors at 8 p.m. with show at 9 p.m.

Cost: $12 at the door, $10 in advance by calling 402-916-0415


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