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An Atlanta hip-hop cipher

Transcript: A roundtable between the indie scene's female MCs

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On May 22, indie hip-hop artists staHHr, Lyric Jones, Khalilah Ali, Sa-Roc, Adrift da Belle, Boog Brown and roundtable moderator Ms. Dia, of "The Show" on 89.3 (WRFG-FM), gathered at the invitation of Creative Loafing to discuss how their emergence disproves the industry perpetuated myth that female MCs are a dying breed. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation.

On falling in love with hip-hop and becoming an MC ...

staHHr: I fell in love on the southside of Chicago at a basement party in 1989 when I heard The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, the "Pocahontas" song, and I was like, "It's a wrap. I'm listening to this music forever. He's incredible." And when I decided to pursue it as a career was after seeing a Redman video. And that young man, he did a great service to humanity by letting me find out that he existed. Because I saw him and I was like, that's it. I'm going to do what he's doing, but in this body. 'Cause to me he's a perfect MC. He's a lyricist, he's a storyteller, he freestyles, he produces, he has personality, and he does that conceptual thing. He made me want to rhyme. It wasn't Queen Latifah and it wasn't [any other woman], it was Redman.

Sa-Roc: For me, it was recent because I was into Bjork, I was into Jimi Hendrix, I was into Lenny Kravitz — all that. So actually after I met Sol Messiah, he showed me this movie called Style Wars, which had all the facets of hip-hop in there, and I was just enthralled at the beauty and the whole culture that we created. And that had to be the moment that I said, "I love this." When I said I wanna do this, that took years of being confident enough to actually want to spit something that I had on my mind or wrote. So it literally was like two years ago that I said, "OK, it's time for me to do this."

Lyric Jones: Me falling in love with hip-hop I think started with my dad. I was really big into soul and jazz. I play drums so I was really into singing first. So when I started really getting in love with hip-hop, it was A Tribe Called Quest — my dad would bump them all the time. I would hear those Herbie [Hancock] samples and everything, and then it all just kinda happened. Then there was that, I know I'm about to date myself, but that whole era where all the young artists were coming out, like Bow Wow and Sammie and B2K and all them cats. And I was just around the same age; I was 12. And I was like, "I wanna do that, too. I wanna rap." But when I wanted to start doing it was pretty much my sophomore year in college.

Boog: I fell in love gradually over three albums. Those albums are [Raekwon's] Only Built 4 Cuban Links, [OutKast's] ATLiens, and [Nas'] It Was Written. Those three albums changed my perspective on how to write and how to connect with people over music. I decided I was going to make this my career when I lost my job in 2009. And then I said, "Ok, I need to have some sort of income coming in, and I need something to occupy my time before I drink myself into a stupor." And that's what happened.

Khalilah: I fell in love with hip-hop with Eric B & Rakim, "Microphone Fiend." And I think that was probably the first video I saw when my parents finally got cable. I would say when I started saying I wanted to be an MC, as far as taking it seriously, was when my nephew got killed. 'Cause I don't need this shit, I'm eating well. It's not about eating or paying your bills, I don't give a fuck about that. But we're all going to leave this planet and if this is something that I can do and I can affect some kind of change and have my voice out there and be blessed, it's a duty.

Adrift: I've always been in love with hip-hop. My older cousins always listened to it, so I literally grew up with it. And I would say when I said "Fuck it" was my last job. My boss bought a Porsche, like I had a stellar year and this bitch bought a Porsche. I said, "Oh OK, I've got something else to do." So that's what did it.

On positive male influences and supportive peers within the local scene ...

Boog: When I first came here, I was wack as shit. I won't say wack as shit because I knew how to write always, I just hadn't found my voice yet. But when I got here and I started working on music, Illustrate was the first producer I ever worked with that was like, "Yeah, that shit's dope — redo it." Most of my influences are males just because that's just what I listen to. But I definitely have to credit Illustrate in helping me in my career and helping me to find my way and believing in me before anybody else was — and not trying to fuck me off that.

Sa-Roc: I didn't record anything or want to get serious about rapping until Sol Messiah. Sol Messiah, of course, Atlanta's greatest producer. He made me feel like I was ready to do it. I was like, "Um, here's something I wrote." You know, like practicing, but he was like, "This is good." And his beats and my rhymes, they just go together perfectly. So he was the one who gave me the confidence to actually do it.

But to be honest — and not to take away from any of the dudes that are in Atlanta because there are some dope, dope, dope, dope male MCs in Atlanta — but honestly, staHHr was the first one, when I became serious about rap, I heard her. I saw the "Still Dope" video and I was like, "What? She is crazy!" And then when I met all of these sisters. When I heard their music, it was like iron sharpening iron. I love Boog's voice. Her voice is so silky and crazy. And Lyric's energy and style, and the singing, too. And Khalilah, she comes with it, and Driftee, she's like all hard. When I first saw her perform, we performed at the same event together. I wasn't confident so my voice didn't carry, she didn't have her mouth on the mic and everybody heard her in the room. So every time I see these women perform in any type of way or I see their musical output, I'm always like, "OK."

Lyric: We push each other; we motivate each other.

staHHr: I don't wanna date myself, but I've been here since the early '90s, and the scene is very different now than it was then. But when I first came in and started rhyming, the only female I remember was Divinity and I didn't meet her until like four or five years in. So if it wasn't for the men that were here on this scene — I definitely give it up to people like I Self Divine from the Micronauts, Cult of Icon, Applejac, you know the history, Massinfluence. They were so supportive, that's one thing I can definitely say. During that era, my big brothers were amazing. So to the founding fathers of Atlanta [underground] hip-hop, thank you.

Adrift: I know they're a complex trio, Organized Noize, but before I got here, I was doing my thing in Jersey, doing little shows up and down the seaboard. But when I got here with Ray and I got in the studio with Rico, and we chiefed a lil' something and you sit in that Dungeon for a little while, it's like you said about performing — something takes over you.

And they don't even do the whole, "You can do that better." Whatever. They're the type of people that'll be like, "Oh, you aight with that? You just gon' be average like that?" And you in the room with a whole bunch of dudes and you the only chick, right. They ain't trying to smash, they ain't trying to do none of that. They just like, if you're running with us, you're gonna be the best.

On collaborators with not-so-hidden agendas ...

Dia: What are some of the crazy things people either ask or expect of you all as writers and MCs?

Boog Brown: The damn relationship song.

stahhr: "Oh I got this great concept. See, I'm in the club and you're this girl that's really outta my league." I'm like, I am intelligent. I can't do that. How about quantum physics or, you know, the spiritual realm. Don't put me in a box. I watch "Star Trek," too.

Boog: Or they try to holler at you. And then they get mad and don't want to work with you no more because you're not trying to hear it like that. And it really is always disguised as this: "Let's collabo. We gotta work. Let me get your number." And then you're calling me, but you're calling me on some next and not calling me on no business.

Khalilah: Or even having your music held hostage. I've had that happen, where I don't have a project 'cause my music is being held hostage right now, on some, "So, what up, ma?"

Naw, what up with the music? But you really don't think people that you're cool with and you spent hours and hours creating with are gonna go there with you. Even though it's happened a billion times, you say, "Not this dude, 'cause we've talked about this." And inevitably, it just comes out. And to some degree it has stunted me because I don't have dough to be up in the studio. Now, [I'll set aside] $500. I will pay a stranger before I go through this again because of being in these situations and you just can't get your music. And that's messed up, because they don't do that to each other.

Adrift: Sometimes I think we're kinda being hard on the fellas. I get a lot of dope tracks from dudes, and in my case they want to hear my verse first. And I know that happens to y'all, you know on some, "I don't want you to outdo me."

Khalilah: Or they'll rewrite their verse after hearing yours.

Adrift: Yeah, and that's corny. Or they won't release the song like you said and your music's hijacked.

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