In November of 2017, Netflix released their highly anticipated show She’s Gotta Have It, a ten episode serie based off of famed director Spike Lee’s 1986 film of the same name. The show stars DeWanda Wise as the protagonist Nola Darling, a Black woman going through a journey of self-discovery though her friendships, romantic relationships with men, and women and her art.
One of the signature aspects of She’s Gotta Have It is the music that’s interwoven throughout each moment of Nola’s life. One of those songs, “Little Girl,” plays during a particularly enlightening scene in episode 5 “#4MyNegusAndMyBishes (ALL WORDS MATTER),” performed by folk singer and song writer Clarissa Ramos, a/k/a Freelamour. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Clarissa about her life, music, and what it means to be a part of such a provocative show.
Carolyn: Clarissa, thank you so much for talking to me! It’s great talking to new people and learning about them and their journeys. What can you tell me about yourself? From reading your bio, I see you’ve had quite a journey, especially career-wise.
Clarissa: Yes [laughs], so my journey, let’s see where to start. When I was very young I loved music, and I went to La Guardia High School of Performing Arts for singing, but I was a very, very shy young woman. I was very insecure and very scared of the world, so after high school, I kind of hid from music. I didn’t even want to admit to myself that I even wanted to do it, because I was afraid of being made fun of and things like that.
Right now I’m thirty two years old. When I started music again in 2013, I started because I had gotten really into personal development, and I did some workshops and a lot of things came up for me. I realized I was holding up false beliefs about myself and of the world, and they were holding me [back] from my truths and being myself. So I started, little by little. I started learning guitar on YouTube, so that it could help me with my song writing, and I started writing songs that came from my heart and my soul. They were very healing songs, [and] when I would experience something I would just write. It would be my way of recording it in the world, so that other people who might be able to identify with my experience, they could possibly be able to create something with their [own] special gifts, if that makes any sense.
Carolyn: It does make sense.
Clarissa: So, since then, since 2013, I’ve really just been trying to do music as much as I can. It’s something that’s on my heart, I feel I need to do music and it feels so much better than all of the years that I was hiding from it.
Carolyn: In your bio it says that you have a degree in psychology, I know some people take courses in psychology and psychiatry as a way to gain introspection into themselves. Was that your intention?
Clarissa: I think I was always interested in the human condition. I was definitely always introspective, the program I did in 2013 was so intense, that it really broke through so much in a short period of time, more than I could’ve done on my own. Some people actually compared it to [doing] ten years in psychotherapy in a weekend. It’s pretty intense.
I think the psychology is [because] I’ve always been interested in people, and in understanding different perspectives and being open minded to different ways.
Carolyn: Is that what made you decide to share your music? Because for some people, their music is for them, it’s their therapy, but you decided to share your music with the world. Do you think that breakthrough you had is what made it okay, and made you more comfortable doing that?
Clarissa: Not the psychology course. But the personal development workshop that I did? Definitely, because I learned that my strength lies in my vulnerability, and that was something that I didn’t really understand before. I guess I thought that I was strong, I wasn’t really expressing my emotions and things like that. So once I started to open up, and felt safe to express myself and to share myself with the world, I realized that in doing that, that’s actual strength, being courageous in spite of fear is actual strength. Because of that, I allow other people to see that they can be themselves too. It was a kind of shift in mindset I guess.
Carolyn : With She’s Gotta Have It, knowing or learning who you are as a woman and who you are as an individual is a very big part of its premise. Nola is learning who she is, so it’s almost serendipitous I would say, because that’s your own personal goal and message. What has your experience been being part of a show that’s been such a provocative experience for women to watch?
Clarissa: It’s been amazing, I feel the fact that Spike picked my song specifically for a certain part in the show, Spike said that he felt “the song was meant for that part,” and it almost makes me feel like I was meant to write it that day, for this part in the show. The fact that the show is about a woman who is open with herself—I feel very similar in the way that I think with Nola, so I feel it’s a blessing and a privilege to say that my song is on that show, specifically in that part, as it’s very aligned with the message in the song from my own inner child.
It came on during the part where she’s speaking to the little girl [Reggie, played by Taliyah Whitaker] who’s suspected of being abused, and I feel that I wrote the song because I was talking to my inner child saying that “There’s a lot of darkness in the world, but it’s ok to shine, it’s ok to heal, to soar.” The fact that Nola is so confident in who she is, that she’s unapologetic about it, my opinion is that I think it’s how every woman should be able feel. She shouldn’t feel like she has to live up to a certain type of expectation, role, or be diminished in any way.
She should be in her power because women are amazing, we’re goddesses, we have so many parts of us, and I don’t think we need to be portrayed in one light. We can be everything we want to be. We can be sexual, we can be free, we can be beautiful, smart, we can be nerdy. We’re all of that, we’re everything. If I could’ve picked any show it would be She’s Gotta Have It, because it’s such an amazing story.
Carolyn: It is. I re-watched the episode just to refresh my memory of the episode the song is used in, and it deals very heavily with the topic of abuse, and talks about how girls and women use coping mechanisms to get through their abuse and their experiences. For instance, Raqueletta Moss (De’Adra Aziza) owns her identity by always referring to herself in the third person, and for Reggie, when she’s speaking to Nola in the library, she kind of checks Nola and says she knows when singers such as Niki Minaj and Lil Kim are performing, it’s just that: a performance.
Reggie knows who she wants to be, and at one point it seemed as though she was saying that she wanted to follow in their footsteps herself, wanted to put on a facade, but then I realized that the path she wants to follow is with art. With your song “Little Girl” playing in the background, the audience might be thinking the little girl it refers to is Reggie. But then I thought maybe it was Nola, because she’s still figuring out who she is, she’s still putting on a facade for everyone else to see.
Clarissa: Yes definitely, I see that. It could be all of the women. I feel that struggle within us in a way, we all have that inner child that we can really embrace and really support, because when we’re kids we don’t necessarily know everything that we will know when we’re adults, and we have to support her. We have to stop placing blame on everything else, and start taking accountability for who we are, and taking care of ourselves like we would a child. Sometimes we arm ourselves, and it’s just a lot and gets very deep.
Carolyn: You wrote “Little Girl” in 2013, could you tell me what inspired you to write it?
Clarissa: It was definitely my break through around all of the guilt, the pain that I was carrying, that I had just recently allowed myself to just let go of it, to not be in it anymore. To say “Ok, this was my experience, but this is not who I am.” I started to connect with my true self. When I started to write that song, I remember writing on a piece of paper, and I think I wrote the song in like five minutes because it all just poured out. It was like me speaking to myself as a child, it was almost like I was in a dream looking at myself as a child, and I’m saying, “Listen, I know that you’ve been through a lot, but I’m telling you that you’re safe and you can be yourself, you can fly, you can do everything, be that light.”
It was almost a therapeutic way of me expressing that whole experience. That’s how I record my experiences, by recording music, writing poetry. I have a lot of poems too, that when I’m very confused, or things are going on and I feel like it’s very deep, I write and it makes me feel lighter, it makes me feel like I was able to get it out there and now I can share it with the world and I don’t need to hold it inside.
Carolyn: What has it been like being involved in a project with a director like Spike Lee?
Clarissa: Initially, his people reached out to me to let me know that my song had been chosen, but they mentioned also that they were still doing editing, so in my mind I said “OK, it’s a definite possibility but not final.” But then Spike reached out to me, and I realized at some point that “this is happening,” but it still didn’t seem real. It didn’t hit me that it was happening, it’s not until recently that I started to get comfortable with the fact that this happened.
It was all new, and it did feel a bit intimidating, but now I’m feeling more comfortable, I feel more confident, and Spike has played a big part in that, because he’s made it very special for all of the artists. He had a listening party and we were all invited, he’s invited us to [various] events. It’s just been a really beautiful experience. He has a deep respect for music and musicians and he shows that to us, so I think that’s definitely built my confidence. As an artist it’s made me want to do more, to share myself with the world more.
Carolyn: How did you come up with your stage name Freelamour?
Clarissa: I actually came up with it years ago, maybe even ten years ago. I was trying to come up with a name, and I have a tattoo of a heart with wings on my stomach, and I got it when I was really young, maybe like eighteen. I felt, growing up, that love was associated with control, and I always felt that when you truly love somebody, you should want them to be happy and free and you should want to be best friends with them. So free love was always this big theme for me, I want to make sure that in any relationship love is unconditional, and it’s free.
Click here to listen to “Little Girl“.
On January 1st, 2018, it was announced that She’s Gotta Have It has been renewed by Netflix for a second season.