In a musical genre known for its misogyny and violent content, Iyana “YaNi” Davis wants to bring a little peace.
YaNi’s latest project, The Rebel, dropped in June. It is the second installment in her “Who is YaNi?” mixtape trilogy. The first part of the trilogy, The Storyteller, was released in 2012, and she is finishing the third installment, Peace Personified. On The Rebel she pays homage through mash-ups and samples to women who inspire her, including Erykah Badu (“Didn’t Cha Know”), Janelle Monáe (“Queen”), Lauryn Hill (“Rebel”) and Beyoncé (“Partition”).
“I listened to a lot of soul music as a child, like Kindred the Family Soul, Tweet, Jill Scott and India.Arie,” the 26-year-old Queens, New York, native says. “They felt like big sisters because they were dropping knowledge, and their music made me feel better than being called a bitch or a ho.”
The fauxhawk sporting MC and her band, The Peace People, have performed in Atlanta’s hottest music venues, including Vinyl, Apache Café, Katz Café and the former Sugar Hill, as well as at Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Emory University. She credits her start to the Presbyterian Church of Saint Albans in Queens, however, where her father pastors a 1,000-member congregation.
She started using rap as her medium during her freshman year of high school when a teacher gave an assignment for the class to come up with a creative way to talk about the Ten Commandments. She came up with a rap for the Ten Commandments and received an A on the assignment. This is when it came to her that a lot of people may not read books, but they will listen to music. She was very active in the Holy Hip Hop scene in New York, but her message has shifted from gospel to inspirational.
The peace element came to her when she was in school at Spelman College, where she majored in English and was a member of the glee club. When Barrack Obama was running for president in 2008, the political mudslinging was pervasive. She created a T-shirt that said, “Peace for President” to make a statement about the caustic, partisan politics that marked the election. “If we master what it is to be peace on the inside, then we can be at peace in the world,” she said. Other students in the Atlanta University Center saw the T-shirt and started buying it.
After the success of the “Peace for President” T-shirt, this independent artist decided to make peace her message and use love as the catalyst through her clothing line Peace People Apparel, the release of her self-published book Love Poems for Peace and her work with underprivileged youth through her “Hip Hop and Poetry: Realizing Our Dreams” workshops, where she teaches students the elements of poetry and hip-hop. Then she challenges students to write a jingle or create an invention, and they close out with an open mic.
YaNi has taken her message of peace to Holland, England and India thus far, and she is working on creating a program to give middle and high school students an opportunity to travel and serve abroad in Africa.
“You may not have time or money, but you always have a moment to share love,” is a lesson she learned from her father. “He always taught me to lead the people in love.”
On August 8 YaNi and The Peace People will be hosting and headlining the “5 On It Concert Series” at Mammal Gallery, where people will get to see a showcase of local hip-hop artists for $5, and they are heading into the studio to finish their next album, Recreation.
“I wrote the songs on The Rebel mixtape because I don’t want people to be afraid to live happy lives, good lives,” she says. “If I can be an example for one person on how to live the life you want then I will have done something right.”