She doesn’t recall the exact line she used, but Tia Corine Shults, aka TiaCorine, remembers the first time she was able to hook an audience.
It happened at a free-style show during her first year in college at Tuskegee University in 2011.
“That’s when I finally came out introducing myself as a rapper and an artist,” said TiaCorine, who lives in Winston-Salem and has a 5-year-old daughter.
Despite being nervous, she went for it.
“I said this one line, and everybody in the crowd was like, ‘Ohhhh,’” she said. “That means I said something, like, crazy good. And everybody respected me after that.”
Now, at 28, her music career is on the rise. In the past 22 months, she has signed with a record label, had a song go viral, gotten a brand deal with Bojangles’ and done shows in cities including Winston-Salem, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami.
TiaCorine graduated from Reynolds High School in 2011 and has a degree in exercise physiology from Winston-Salem State University. She left Tuskegee University after her first year there.
She focused on being a singer at an early age, initially participating in talent shows, and school and church choruses. At 16, she was introduced to rap.
“That’s when I started mixing singing and rapping,” she said. “That’s where I get my cadence and stuff from now.”
While in high school, she learned how to record herself.
“I would have some of my friends come over, and I would record myself in the closet,” she said.
As an artist, she mixes up her style of music, featuring genres including rap, hip-hop, R&B, punk rock and pop.
“I don’t just rap,” TiaCorine said. “I have my own sound. Basically, it sounds like I use my voice as my instrument. It’s very animated, so I call my music anime trap.”
She said some of her music sounds like the intro music to a cartoon.
“But at the same time, it has, like, heavy bass, and it’s solid – a hip-hop song, too. It’s this really cool combination.”
She added that some people tell her she has a cute, soothing voice but then says hard, radical things in her songs.
To date, she has released an EP entitled “34Corine” (2020) and a deluxe EP called “The Saga of 34Corine” (2021), which is an extended version of her first EP.
“All the songs are, like, so old, except for “Luigi,” “Lotto” and “Pancakes,” TiaCorine said. “I made them two or three years ago.”
“34Corine” has eight songs and “The Saga of 34Corine” has nine songs, all of which are personal songs. The number 34 is in reference to the Tre-Fo or Tre 4 slang nickname for Winston-Salem.
Her favorite song on “The Saga of 34Corine” is “34 Villain,” despite the fact that she had to re-record it after someone accidentally deleted the original song files.
“I spent a lot of time on that song,” she said. “I was going through a lot of stuff with friendships and my relationship with my boyfriend. I was really speaking about my life, and I kind of free-styled the whole song. I went in on the mike, and I was recording myself. It was me, by myself, in the studio.”
For “34Corine,” she recorded every song herself, except for “Lotto,” which has been her most popular song.
“Lotto” has gone viral three times on TikTok. The first time was in 2019, and most recently, in the past month, generating more than 12 million views, TiaCorine said.
“I think it was just a different sound,” she said of the success she has had with “Lotto.” “It’s not what a lot of females were doing at that time, and it was kind of when TikTok started (gaining popularity).
She said she can be in Winston-Salem, Atlanta or Los Angeles and people will stop her and say, “You’re the girl on TikTok.”
A lot of young people are starting to ask her for advice and look up to her, she said.
“This is what I wanted to do,” TiaCorine said. “I wanted to inspire people. I wanted to let people know everything is possible. You can do it all.”
In the past, she said that people told her she wouldn’t be able to rap, work, go to school and be a mom at the same time.
“But I did it, and I made it,” she said.
She said she was also told she would never make it in Winston-Salem and would have to move away.
“No, I made it sitting right here, and I didn’t have to (initially) sign to a label,” TiaCorine said. “That makes me proud, knowing I’m doing what I told myself I wanted to do.”
TiaCorine’s release of “Lotto” in November 2019 drew the attention of local radio stations, DJs and clubs and helped her grow her profile on the internet.
Her rising popularity and talent also caught the attention of Marcel “Flip” Holmes, the owner of Lyric Management Group, based in Raleigh.
Holmes, now TiaCorine’s manager, reached out to Arnold Taylor, the chief executive of South Coast Music Group, a label based in Charlotte.
In April 2020, TiaCorine signed with South Coast Music Group.
“She is very diverse,” Holmes said. “She is urban. She’s pop. She’s hip-hop.”
He said he noticed how multidimensional she was from the first time that he met her and listened to the unreleased songs she played for him.
“I saw that when she only had five records out when the ‘Lotto’ record went viral,” Holmes said.” I saw star power. I saw she could be somebody big coming out of the Carolinas. She didn’t sound like anybody else that was out.”
Taylor said he’s not trying for South Coast Music Group to be the biggest urban label, but he likes to sign different types of artists.
He said he signed TiaCorine because “she was totally different from anybody I’d ever seen before.”
Taylor added, “You can’t really compare her to nobody else. I think that’s what makes the biggest super stars. They don’t sound like something that’s already been done before. That’s what intrigued me.”
TiaCorine just did her first brand deal.
She wrote a song for the Bojangles brand and was asked to shoot a commercial.
TiaCorine suggested doing the commercial in Winston-Salem because she once worked as a shift manager at the former Bojangles on Patterson Avenue.
She said the Bojangles’ restaurant on Peters Creek Parkway, which was used for the shoot, shutdown on Aug. 6 from 6 p.m. until about 5 a.m. the next day.
It was like a crazy big production — one of the biggest videos I’ve ever been a part of,” she said.
Details on how the commercial will be marketed are still being worked out, but TiaCorine said she expects it to be a music video, at first, on YouTube. Her hope is that it will be a national commercial.
Next, TiaCorine’s plans are to branch out into other areas of entertainment.
“I hope to get into acting,” she said. “I want to act in thriller movies. I’d like one of my own animated shows, and I want to do voiceovers.”