The first time Linafornia performed at Low End Theory, the Los Angeles weekly club night that serves as the cultural epicenter of the city's fabled beat scene, the up-and-coming producer somehow got into her own head while in the midst of an out-of-body experience.
"I would love to say it was super magical, but I was so nervous," she says of the night. "It was such a surreal moment for me."
Stakes were high and quite personal. The gig meant a great deal to her, having regularly attended the Wednesday event to catch sets from residents like Daddy Kev and DJ Nobody as well as a fluid selection of esteemed guests including Flying Lotus and Samiyam. Now known exclusively by her stage name, Lina says she aimed to wow the crowd, to shatter any doubt as to whether her hometown booking was some fluke, to show and prove.
"In retrospect, I think I did a pretty good job," she says. Based on immediate feedback she received from multiple people in attendance, it was at least that good if not better.
As one of the most consistently creative strains of contemporary hip-hop, instrumental beat music invites those with unconventional or eclectic tastes to play in its sandbox. Labels like Brainfeeder and Leaving appear to give artists a great deal of freedom, as demonstrated by releases from their respective rosters. The child of Belizean immigrants, Lina grew up listening to the calypso-reminiscent punta rock of her parents' native country, along with Jamaican dancehall reggae and American rap artists like Daz Dillinger and Missy Elliott. These seemingly disparate sounds inform her musical craft, best demonstrated by her 2016 debut LP, Yung, for the Dome of Doom imprint.
"I didn't really listen to underground hip-hop or beats until like 2006, when I was in high school," Lina says. Turning on to the MF Doom discography led her to discover Flying Lotus and Madlib and so on into that sonic community. "I was listening to Dilla before I realized who he was," she says, citing the now-legendary beatsmith's early work with A Tribe Called Quest.
Instrumental hip-hop opened Lina's eyes and ears to a whole new world, one where a great beat could stand alone without the benefit of an emcee or singer. Taking full advantage of what her city offered in the way of these oft-unusual sounds, she began attending more and more shows, familiarizing herself with the likes of Dibiase, The Gaslamp Killer, and Ras G, among others. "They were expressing themselves with their music without having to say anything," she says. "I thought that was the coolest thing!"
While those live experiences ultimately helped prompt Lina to work on making her own beats, another compelling factor drove her to do so: she never saw a woman on stage making beats, so she decided to have a go at it herself.
Yung showcases a dozen tracks culled from the plethora of material Lina worked on for her own gigs over the years. Old-school hip-hop and even more distant jazz play a part on cuts like "Mafmaticbapp" and "Hi Shrimp." Lina's interests cross not only genres but international borders.
"I really love Brazilian music," she says, adding that a number of Yung's samples come from that world. "I like the whole idea of finding something older and repurposing it for something new. You have to be really resourceful."
Lina is an unapologetic Adult Swim junkie, and that sort of playful and cartoonish mischief infiltrates her work. One particularly inventive blend comes on closing track "GotchuallinCHECK," which pairs the unmistakable synth lead of Roy Ayers's 1976 classic "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" with the bombastic vocals from the 1997 Busta Rhymes hit "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check." She admires Ayers's work from that period for being so groundbreaking and experimental, especially the warm, full sound that he lays down with his band.
Yung's original release was only available in cassette and digital editions, but a vinyl pressing is currently in the works. It'll feature an exclusive bonus track, "Dig Deep," with one of Lina's musical heroes: Georgia Anne Muldrow. Made possible with the help of Red Bull Radio, "Dig Deep" features a murky Linafornia beat permeated by Muldrow's gripping voice.
"They gave me a couple options and [her name] jumped right out at me," she says. "I look up to her." She suggests that their working relationship may be ongoing, though she's reticent to reveal any details.
Indeed, Lina seems loath to reveal much about future Linafornia projects. She's taking her time, she says, trying to gestate new ideas and figure out what exactly she wants to do next. Meanwhile, those coming to see her in Durham, or anywhere else for that matter, shouldn't show up expecting a straightforward run-through of Yung.
"I'm like a beat conductor," she says, nodding to Madlib's seminal series for Stones Throw. "I'm triggering all these different sounds and effects." Taking into account the live, fluid nature of her approach, she insists that her performance match her mood. The number of unreleased beats in her arsenal suggests several possible directions.
"It's a vibe that I'm bringing from L.A.," she says. "Something that only I can bring."