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Stateside Podcast: The evolution of Detroit’s Miz Korona

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Paula Smiley
Hip hop artist, producer, photographer, and fashion designer Paula "Miz Korona" Smiley.

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the legendary film 8 Mile. While the film is best known for featuring Eminem, its cast is crawling with some of the best in what was then Detroit’s up and coming hip-hop scene -- including rapper, producer and visual artist, Paula “Miz Korona” Smiley.

Though Miz Korona gained most of her name recognition following her appearance as Vanessa in 8 Mile she had been active as a hip hop artist before the movie was released in 2012. Since then, her career has been filled with triumphs and a few health scares. But through it all, Miz Korona continues to create art through music and visuals. Recently, she even had the opportunity to branch out to the production side of things while recovering from a knee surgery.

“I'll be totally honest with you. I just got tired of waiting on people to send me beats,” said Miz Korona. “During my recovery period, I was just literally laid up in the bed just like, yeah, I'm tired of waiting on people. I'm going to order me an NPC, and I'm going to start teaching myself how to make beats.”

Miz Korona has already begun putting her newly honed production skills to work on a new EP, and says she has many years of experience in the music industry to thank for her well-developed ear. According to her, the pandemic presented a perfect opportunity to branch out.

“The COVID pandemic just gave me a sense of urgency just to create and just to leave more of a mark and a legacy behind. Because, you know, we never know when our day is going to come,” she said.

Entering the world of music production was certainly not the first time Miz Korona branched out, and it isn't much of a surprise given her background. Throughout the course of her career, she has kept the same “do it yourself” attitude, and it’s led her far beyond the music industry.

In addition to being a rapper and producer, Miz Korona also works as a photographer under the label Trigger Finger Visuals. According to her, it started as a way to express herself during a time when her music as at a standstill.

I’d just got off tour from overseas and same thing, you know, waiting on production to finish a project that never happened. And I was like, so depressed. I just grabbed my camera and started shooting. So I think I started shooting from that aspect of telling a story that I couldn't tell through music,” she said.

Whatever the medium, Miz Korona has continued to break barriers as an artist, especially as she brings more authenticity into her work. In recent years, she has talked more about her LGBTQ identity in her flows, despite knowing it could make her life in hip hop more difficult. For instance, in the past, she has had to cut ties with a production company, after being told not to speak about her sexuality. And today, Miz Korona continues to speak openly about who she is, including in the lyrics of her new EP, The Healer and the Heartbreaker.

“This project is the most vulnerable that I’ve been in talking about relationships with women,” she said. “If that’s your life, like, why should somebody hide who they are?”

Being more open about her queer identity is not the only part of her work that has changed over the years. Two bouts with COVID made her feel “the worst that I’ve ever felt in my whole life,” and changed how she approached her writing.

“It created this free thinking mind space, and just wanting to just live the best way and create in the best way,” she said. “If it’s a feeling that’s in my body that needs to get out, then that’s what I aim to do.”

The Healer and the Heartbreaker drops during Miz Korona’s release party on April 16. And tomorrow night, catch her on a star-studded bill at the Return of the Legends show in Detroit.

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Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.

If you like what you hear on the pod, consider supporting our work.

Stateside’s theme music is by 14KT.

Additional music by Blue Dot Sessions.

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Erin Allen comes to Michigan Radio as a new producer for the station’s Stateside show. She is an experienced communicator driven by her curiosity about stories of people.
Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.