Acclaimed bassist/rapper/producer tells FBPO about touring with Victor Wooten and Beyoncé, her professorship at Bootsy’s Funk University
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
March 7, 2011
Divinity Roxx is an acclaimed bass player, rapper and producer. From 2001-2005, she was a featured member of Victor Wooten’s live show and can be heard on two of Wooten’s albums, Live in America and Soul Circus. Since 2006, she has been touring the world with megastar Beyoncé, and is featured in the music icon’s current DVD collection, including The Beyoncé Experience, I Am…Sasha Fierce and I Am…Yours.
Divinity is developing her own signature bass guitar with Warwick and is currently serving as a faculty member at Bootsy Collins’ Funk University. She is also recording a solo CD, scheduled for release in 2011.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.
DR: Growing up, music was a central part of my life. My mom played music constantly. Even today when I go to her house, there’s music playing. I noticed at a very young age how it moved me, how it intrigued me and I wanted to be closer to it. I wanted to learn how to express myself musically, as it was such a powerful medium and mode of expression. I loved music class, although it was only once a week. When I had the opportunity to join the school chorus, I did so immediately. I also joined the school band and, although I wanted to play the saxophone, I had to play the clarinet by the urgings of my band teacher. I ended up falling in love with the clarinet and became first chair in my middle school band.
FBPO: How do you think growing up in Atlanta influenced you, musically?
DR: Growing up in Atlanta and attending largely diverse schools influenced me in that I was exposed to all kinds of music. My parents were into the funk, soul and R&B music. I was playing classical in music class and singing musicals in chorus. When hip-hop began to expand and reach Atlanta, I was sooo intrigued by it and used to record the late-night mix shows on my stereo/tape recorder while I was asleep, as the shows were always around my bedtime. I would put my tape in and turn the radio down so my parents wouldn’t know it was on, press record and wake up in the morning to a whole new DJ mix of the latest hip-hop songs, which I then proceeded to memorize.
FBPO: What prompted you to make the transition from rapper to rapper/bassist?
DR: I was a rapper waaay before I ever even thought about playing the bass guitar. Though, looking back, I recall always paying attention to the bass lines and keeping time with my hands and feet. I was way more interested in rap music and, because I loved to read and write, I enjoyed the challenge of writing rhymes and began expressing myself through rap music. I used to write down the new rap songs from the radio so I could learn them word-for-word, with the proper inflection, attitude and all. I spent hours rewinding, writing and playing back songs until I had them completely written down. Usually, though, after rewinding and playing the tape back to get the next line over and over, I would know the whole song by the time I finished writing it down.
I realized later that I was transcribing rap songs as a little girl, but of course no one would ever look at it that way. Hip-hop music exposed me to jazz and funk because it involved sampling all the great records I probably would never had been exposed to. I quit playing music altogether by high school and focused mainly on improving my rap and performance skills. I performed in many talent shows and local shows early on as an emcee. I didn’t pick up the bass until I went to college.
FBPO: How did you hook up with Victor Wooten? You did quite a lot with him.
DR: I picked up the bass while a sophomore at UC Berkeley. After dropping out of UC Berkeley to pursue music, I heard about Victor Wooten’s Bass/Nature Camp and attended the first one in Nashville, Tennessee. During camp, Vic asked us to introduce ourselves with our instruments and I asked if I could rap. He said I could, so I played this song I had written with a li’l funky bass line with a rhyme over it. He asked me to go on tour with him after the camp.
FBPO: How did the Beyoncé gig come about?
DR: Beyoncé was looking for an all female band and I auditioned like thousands of other female musicians around the world.
FBPO: Talk to me a little about your experience performing, touring and recording as part of that band?
DR: Touring with Beyoncé is one of the most incredible professional and personal experiences I’ve ever had. She is a class act and that gig is a big deal for any musician. I really didn’t know if I was ready for it when I got it. I hadn’t had much formal training and, although I had been on tour with Vic, I still felt like I had a lot of growing to do as a player.
I learned a lot from that gig and I was blessed with the opportunity to play with some amazing musicians. I feel like I grew a lot as a person and as a musician from that tour. I also grew a lot as an artist. What most people don’t realize about touring like that, however, is that you really only play your instrument for an average of two hours out of a 24-hour day. I learned that the key to playing a gig like that is more about how and who you are when you don’t have an instrument in your hand. We traveled to six continents and played hundreds of live shows, as well as television and award shows. Beyoncé is a hard worker and she inspired me to work hard and push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. I will forever be indebted to her for that.
FBPO: How are you enjoying being part of Bootsy Collins’ Funk University?
DR: I grew up listening to Bootsy and it is unbelievable to me that he even asked me to be a part of his Funk University. Again, I didn’t think I had anything to teach anybody, but the responses I’ve gotten from the lessons have been phenomenal and I’m really happy I am a part of it. Bootsy made me a professor: Professor Roxx! [Laughs]
FBPO: What can a wannabe bass player expect to get out of enrolling in that school?
DR: Students should expect to be exposed to some really great musicians sharing their experiences as musicians and human beings in this world of music and beyond. I think what people go in expecting to get is not at all what they end up getting. They end up getting more of a well-rounded foundation about music, life and funk.
FBPO: You must be pretty excited about your new signature bass guitar from Warwick. Can you describe it for our readers?
DR: Right now I have a “purple beastie deliciousness” of a Warwick Streamer. It’s a 5-string with a 24″ scale maple neck and an ash body. I currently have MEC pickups in it, but I’m thinking of changing them out. We’re still working on getting her exactly like I want her and we’re close. The guys at Warwick are so precise and such experts! They think we’ll be finished getting her right within the year.
FBPO: What’s next for you and your career?
DR: I’m currently recording a solo album and looking to get out on the road with my own band, as well as doing some touring dates with Bootsy.
FBPO: Is it safe to assume that “Divinity Roxx” is not the name you were given when you were born? Is there a story there?
DR: Divinity is the name I was given when I as about 12 years old. That’s about the time I started rappin’ and writing my own material. I added the Roxx when I started touring with Beyoncé because I think it describes me best.
FBPO: What do you like to do when you’re not immersed in music?
DR: I’m very adventurous. I like camping, hiking, and kayaking. I went skydiving a few months ago and I recently rappelled down a few waterfalls in Costa Rica. I enjoy working out and spending lots of time with my family, as well. I think I’d like to get into race car driving as a hobby, since I don’t really have one. I like driving fast and doing anything that pushes my brain and body to the limit.