//Zyah Brown, known by her rap name Fly Zyah, on the swing in Patterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland Jan. 21. Photos by Madeleine Kelly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite Joe Biden being sworn into office, Black women were the toast of Inauguration Day.
Amanda Gorman, youth poet laureate and youngest inaugural poet stole the show. Memes uplifting Kamala Harris and Michelle Obama’s friendship went viral. From her home a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, nine-year-old Zyah Brown paid attention.
“For some reason, I don’t know in [Zyah’s] head what she was necessarily thinking, but she was like, ‘Mommy, now I can go to Harvard or Howard and get where I need to go,’” said her mother, Danielle Champ.
As an adult, Danielle understood that regardless of where one goes to university one can find their path to wherever they need to go. However, it took a nine-year-old’s observation that a Howard graduate now occupied the vice presidency to really drive home the impact of Harris’s moment.
Zyah, also known as Fly Zyah, has a talent for picking out deeper subtext beneath more mundane moments that adults might otherwise miss. It’s a skill that she nurtures through rap, spitting out bars on everything from Washington D.C.’s breach of contract with its Black and brown residents to the hope her generation carries for the future. She’s won cash awards for her performances, as well as other accolades. Her song, Dear D.C., has garnered over 700 views on Youtube. She has around 5,700 followers on Instagram.
“People want to hear from me,” Zyah said. “They want to hear what I have seen cause I’m so young.”
Of course, talent like hers doesn’t simply emerge in a vacuum. Behind her, stand two loving and devoted parents. If Zyah is the skyscraper, they are the scaffolding supporting her. Rapping since she was two, Danielle and her father, Ron Brown, ensured Zyah mastered the writing and reading skills she needed to craft her own music. Danielle said that learning those skills accelerated Zyah’s development as an artist so much to the point that she went from hearing her parents rap something to writing her own tracks to recording them in two days.
“I am a mom-ager. That’s about it,” Danielle said with a laugh. It’s a role she’s embraced full-time since the pandemic began. Before that, she worked at Zyah’s school. She is also active on the school board for their youngest daughter, Morghan. The restrictions placed by COVID-19, though, focused Danielle on Zyah’s goals.
“Well, you’re at home, you’re not doing anything else—how can you help Zyah make her dreams come true,” Danielle said. “You’re here now. You can’t complain that you have to be somewhere away from her all day, or not focusing on her most of the day. So, do it.”
Under Danielle’s supervision, Zyah has flourished.
But that’s only half the story. Her father, Ron, is also Zyah’s secret weapon. He keeps a vigilant eye on his daughter’s burgeoning music career as her manager.
Ron has experience as a music manager, working mainly for his brothers and other family members. He shot and cut together the music video to “Dear D.C.” His talent with a camera and editing timeline is prodigious. His skill easily rivals that of a larger studio with more resources.
However, where his talents perhaps come in most crucially are when it comes to contract negotiation. Both he and Danielle are well aware of how exploitative the record industry can be. As a result, they both deploy a critical eye to any offer Zyah receives. And, receive offers she does. She was already offered one contract, and industry executives are taking notice of her talent.
The thing with contracts is, sometimes the record labels want everything,” Ron said. “They don’t do anything. We do all of the work. They’ll try to take your rights, your publishing, your likeness. Before she gets paid, it’ll go through ten people and she’ll get crumbs at the end of the day.”
It’s an issue even megastars like Taylor Swift face. A recent row between Swift and her former record label over the sale of her masters from her first six albums made headlines after Swift denounced the sale. At issue was Swift’s desire to own the music she had produced when she was younger. It also revealed the common practice that record labels make of signing young artists in exchange for control over any future work—and profits—the artist produces.
Swift is going to the great length of rerecording her earlier albums to regain control over her work. Ron and Danielle are taking steps now to ensure their daughter never has to go through a similar ordeal.
“That’s why we’re so selective, that’s why we’re not rushing to the major labels,” Ron said. “We can do something for now—independent—and maybe later on we’ll sit down and talk to a label. You have to protect a child.”
Unfortunately, Ron has had to protect Zyah from more than record industry executives. On Election Day, Zyah was due to perform at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington D.C. when a scuffle broke out between protesters and police. As police started to push protesters back, Zyah was trapped in the crowd, in danger of getting caught in the commotion. Ron began screaming, “We have kids, we have kids,” to no avail against an advancing line of cops. Fortunately, a photographer scooped Zyah and her sister Morghan to safety but Ron was caught up in the line and arrested. He was later charged with inciting a riot and crossing a police line.
Despite that terrifying moment, Ron isn’t worried. He spoke to an attorney, and the family has footage of what happened.
“They arrested me, pretty much for screaming that my kids were out here,” Ron said.
Whether her needs are big or small, Zyah’s support system has fostered an enthusiastic, creative child. Her parents have also made sure to instill civic virtues in her by finding ways to give back to her community. Like any nine-year-old, she is also fascinated by dinosaurs. Mentions of Colorado’s rich fossil finds drew demands from her that her parents bring her to the state. Hearing about Colorado’s San Juan Volcano field blew her mind. She wants to start a noodle restaurant, and later become Bobalina Ross, successor to painting guru Bob Ross.
And when she’s 35, she wants to be President of the United States. Kamala Harris, she said, has already paved the way.
“I wanna be known, for when she was nine, she was a rapper and wanted to be president,” Zyah said. “And when she’s 35 or older, she is the president.”
Zyah Brown’s rap videos can be found on her Youtube channel.
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