Karma Rivera Shows Who She Really Is With Proudly Sapphic PNW Pop Songs

Her next major goal is to start a record label for herself and like-minded musicians who don’t want to compromise themselves to fit a cookie-cutter mold.

Karma Rivera - Pride Karma Rivera: Pop music's next diabolical genius? (JP Bogan)

She never had to fully come out of the closet, but Portland rapper Karma Rivera has finally found her place in the LGBTQ+ community.

Rivera has rapped since 2014, starting her career in Chicago before moving to Vancouver, Wash. Though she says her family always knew and accepted her, Rivera, 34, didn’t start living as publicly open until 2017, when she started hanging out with the musician Fabi Reyna.

“I knew, but I wasn’t loud with it,” Rivera says. “I was definitely dibbling and dabbling.”

By the time local music industry insiders voted her among WW’s Best New Bands in 2019, Rivera says she hadn’t been intimate with a man in over three years. She amazes herself when she realizes how many years have passed since that moment.

“I haven’t dabbled in dick in seven years—that’s crazy, bro,” Rivera says. “Damn, I’m a lesbo forreal, y’all.”

With that change came a musical one as well, in 2022. Rivera traded in the trappings of the high-energy “conscious rap” she was known for up to that point to instead make music that felt more true to her: pop-style sensibilities, house beats and lyrics overtly referencing the babes she pulls in with ease, or her Afro-Latina heritage. For Rivera, the switch feels like pulling away from a rap world still dominated by cis, straight male narratives.

“The thing with rap is, for some reason in that community, it’s like—people say there are no rules in music, but culturally there is,” Rivera says. “I think I’m finally trusting myself more and not trying to chase trends. I’m going to do what I want to do, and that’s the point of being independent. "

The moody, serious beats Rivera once rapped over are now more fun, sexy and club-ready. The confidence her lyrics used to assert is more evident, freeing her to talk more about where she is than where she will be. The fun she must be having in her own life is infectious through her music. Rivera sounds happier, but not every track is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

“Been Awhile,” Rivera’s recently released single, is about trying to rekindle a former flame. She sounds slightly sleazy across the 146-second track as she offers her talents in the chorus, dangling bars like, “It’d be worth your while/If I come through and/Make your pussy smile/Don’t be too proud/We movin’ in style/And livin’ out loud.

Rivera’s next big concert will be Portland’s LGBTQ+ Pride weekend at Lollipop Shoppe. She would have also been performing at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park festival ahead of her evening concert, had Rivera not broken her foot this spring while playing basketball.

With a Jones fracture putting her in a rough position, Rivera’s called in reinforcements for her Lollipop Shoppe night. Local singers Veana Baby and So’Tae—and Venezuelan-born rapper Julimar, who featured Rivera on her 2023 song “To Rico”— have answered the call. Rivera says she missed her chance to cancel the show quietly, and is now balancing her real need for self-care with the classic showbiz adage to still press ahead.

“Who can I call, what friends do I have that are available in a month and can make the bill more interesting since I can’t give a full-blown performance?” she says. “I build good relationships with people, you know what I mean? You can’t be out here having transactional relationships, especially after COVID. Lucky for me, I have a community here, I have creative homies I can call up and go, yo, I need a favor!”

While she still works with straight men, Rivera is more selective now about which ones she picks. She pulled out of a show with an unnamed rapper after she realized that his audience wanted to get rough in a way that wouldn’t vibe well for Rivera’s girls, gays and theys. During a Hip-Hop 50 concert in Seattle to celebrate a half-century of rap music, she realized that the genre still has a long way to grow from its more discriminating roots.

“I was finally putting my queerness to the forefront, and it’s very hard to do that in a hip-hop space,” Rivera says. “I’ll be honest: Hip-hop is very homophobic and dude-ish. Toxic masculinity thrives in that genre, with both men and women. That shit just flies, and it’s just getting now to a point where it’s getting called out.”

Had things gone her way, Rivera would be ramping up for her first full-length album release, which she said would be a collection of her singles 2022 to present, with a handful of unreleased songs. Rivera’s now looking toward a potential release later in fall or winter.

In the meantime, she’s working for local agency Marmoset Music, where she writes shamelessly commercial pop under a pen name.

A few of the Marmoset tracks Rivera shared sound nothing like the in-your-face rap persona she’s crafted. Instead, they build the case that Rivera could be one of pop music’s most diabolical geniuses. Rivera sounds like she tapped Bruno Mars, Doja Cat and Lizzo to sell every Sprite can and Old Navy garment in America. With her sensibilities, Rivera honestly stands a chance to do just that, should the rest of the music industry catch up to her. Her next major goal is to start a record label for herself, and like-minded musicians who don’t want to compromise themselves to fit a cookie-cutter mold.

“This is my dilemma: I want to roll out more songs, but if I can’t be 100% Karma Rivera, doing what I do as far as the rollout...I’m conflicted,” Rivera says.

GO: Karma Rivera plays at the Lollipop Shoppe, 736 SE Grand Ave., 971-279-4409, lollipopshoppe.com. 9 pm Saturday, July 20. $15 advance, $20 at door. 21+.

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