Ladies First: 31 Female Rappers Who Changed Hip-Hop

Missy Elliott, Remy Ma, and Lil' Kim
(left to right) Getty Images for BE, WireImage/Getty Images (2)

In celebration of women's history month, we're spotlighting 31 great female MCs over 31 days.

Hip-hop is a tough game in which only the best survive. From the early days of the male-dominated genre, female rappers have proved that women, though few in numbers, are fearless, strong especially when unified and are not only capable of standing as tall as the next man but also of outshining them.

Many female rhymers, from Queen Latifah to Nicki Minaj, have destroyed the proverbial glass ceiling to become legends in their own right. In celebration of women's history month, we're spotlighting 31 of the greatest female rappers of all time over a 31-day series, kicking off with an interview with MC Lyte. Come back each day in March for a new profile.


 

“Lauryn”

Day 31: Lauryn Hill
There's no moment quite like when listening Lauryn Hill's vocal prowess on the Fugees' "Killing Me Softly." Every listen takes your breath away. Longtime collaborator, Pras, describes each moment as an awakening. While we patiently wait for a new effort from Ms. Hill, and as she overcomes adversaries and allegations, we bittersweetly listen to her past work as a member of the Fugees and her classic album, "The Miseducation" of Lauryn Hill." Read on as Pras shares memories of the singer-songwriter.

Beginnings
Pras: "I met Lauryn Hill back in 1988/89. My mom had me go live with my uncle to get a better education in the suburbs than in the hood. I met this girl named Marcy. This is the story about the Fugees: I had this vision of me in theses two girl. I still have this vision. Marcy told me, 'I know this girl. She might be a little younger than us.' I was a sophomore at the time. She says, 'She's still in the eighth grade.' I said, 'Eight grade? Cot damn.' She's like, 'But no, you have to meet this girl. She just came off the Apollo but don't hold that against her.' She didn't win the Apollo. Back in those days, when something came on television you had to catch it in that moment. So she thought I saw the Apollo, I hadn't. I was like, 'Don't worry about it.' I went to a part of Jersey where she lived [and] met her."

"She was this young girl. She had this innocence about her, but it was genuine. You can tell she was a beast; She was that girl that was emerged with talent. She wasn't rapping back then. She didn't even know how to rap. She was just a singer. She had all this knowledge."

"After I met her, right on the spot I decided, 'She's the one right there. Let's make it happen.' She said, 'I love the opportunity but before I can say yes, I would like for you to meet my mom and her dad.' I think she was only 11-years-old. I got it. Her parents were very welcoming. I told her parents, 'I'm going to make your daughter a star.' I felt like it was magic."

The Making of "Blunted on Reality"
"We were young kids. We didn't know what the fuck we were doing. We felt like we wanted to do something that can inspire people. It came from the love of the art. I grew up listening to pop-rock because that's what my mom let us listen openly. I was familiar with soul but I didn't listen. That, soul, I learned from Lauryn Hill. If you went to her house, she had a room full of vinyls of classic soul music. When we got to making the first album, I felt like I was back in school. She gave me this new appreciation for music. We were all learning from each other. The first album [was] eh. But the experience was great. We were able to build incredible showmanship."

The Making of "The Score"
"'The Score' [is] probably one of the most incredible experiences [of] my life. It was hateful, it was happiness, it was sadness, it was bitterness, it was lust… it was everything. Summer of '95 was considered a record breaking summer in New York; One of the hottest summer in New York. You mix that with us being so broke… It was hard to just find $1.75 to buy fried rice. When we'd get a little bit of extra money we'd go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and get some biscuits; That was our highlight. Lauryn Hill lived in the suburbs. She'd drive her mom's car to come get us. We all believed: 'This is gonna pop!' But you don't know, you just had to believe."

"Killing Me Softly"
"You know how you'll find something but it doesn't necessarily mean you discovered it? I heard her sing it for the first in the studio, but I never truly heard her sing it until two or three experiences. There's been two or three experiences in my life and it sounded differently [each time]. It's like seeing or hearing something and your third eye opens."

"I'll put it like this: Adam and Eve, from the bible, were running around the Garden of Eden naked. They didn't know they were naked until they ate the food of knowledge; Some interpret that as the first time they had sex. They were naked all this time. That's what happened when I really first heard her sing it. I became aware. I remember standing on the stage, playing the keys and she sung the first line. I was like, 'Oh my God. That's what that is?' I felt that each time, but there are moments [where] it was more heightened then others."

"One day, she came to a show two hours late. We were in Eden [Park]. London don't play that shit. The crowd was pissed. There was 200,000 people pissed. The crowd was looking at us like, 'You fucking clowns.' That girl started singing 'Killing Me Softly'? By the end of the show, it was Kumbaya. Everyone was happy. Life was beautiful. It was that impactful."

"Ready Or Not"
"At one point, the group had disbanded. She had left the group at this point and we didn't know what we were going to do. She calls me and says, 'Listen, I'm going to come down to the studio and I'm going to lay down a reference for you guys, a hook. I give you permission to use my hook, my voice, but I don't want to be a part of this group anymore.' I said, 'Fair enough. No problem.' She said, 'Make sure certain people are not around when I'm there.' I said, 'No problem.' She's laying the reference for 'Ready Or Not' and then she goes into the bridge and she's crying. I see her crying. She stops and says, 'I can't do this anymore,' and leaves. A couple months later she re-joins the group. She said, 'Let's do 'Ready or Not' again 'cause I was crying. It was emotional.' She goes in the studio to do 'Ready Or Not' again. She was in there five hours doing the hook. Every hit is incredible. But we go back and say, 'There's something about that reference. I don't know if we can touch that.' We end up keeping the reference. That's what the world has come to hear. There's something about that record… That's magic."

Troubles
"Things were just happening: One minute we were broken up [then] the next minute we were back together. It was 'Was I stupid for leaving college?' It was 'Where's my future? What happens when it doesn't work?' It was 'Should I go back to school and figure out my life?'"

"Here's the thing, we were on the road. Back in the day record companies put you on the road and said, 'Go figure it out.' We were so poor so we had to share a room together. So imagine three individuals in one room for most of the year. It was that… It was a combination of a lot of things. You want to make your parents proud. Then you had elements of outsiders trying to divide what we had. [There were] people who wanted to make themselves more important. I was always trying to keep peace 'cause I was looking at the bigger picture. I knew there was magic there. But, there are elements in life that you can't control."

"When you capture a moment that brought a form of euphoria to everyone, you want to keep that but then there are unforeseen variables that get in that you can't control. Without having to talk to them, I know they all feel the same way. Sometimes you go to a place you can't return to."

"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"
"I'd stop by her house or her in the studio. I heard bits and pieces, then I heard the final produce before it came out, before it was deliver dot record company. It was different from The Fugees, it was a departure but more a distinction. It was incredible. I could't believe what I was hearing."

"A lot of artists need whatever it is that they need to [create]. Lauryn Hill needs love. And, love doesn't necessarily romantic love. She needs to be inspired. She's inspired by love."

"Her best is right around the corner. I don't even think she's tapped into what she's [capable of]. She's tapped into maybe only 30% of her. I witnessed it."

NEXT: Foxy Brown

“Foxy”

Day 30: Foxy Brown
Foxy Brown turned heads the minute she stepped on to the scene at 15-years-old. She's influenced other rappers – male and female – with her vicious rhymes. Below, a handful of artists who've collaborated with Foxy Brown speak on her artistry and accomplishments.



Teddy Riley: "She's paved a way for a lot of female rappers, especially those who were young and had no direction. She carved out a path. Foxy played a big part in rap. I’m proud to be a part of her success. I hope she comes and does something because people miss Foxy Brown."

"It ('Get Me Home') was supposed to be a remix but when she added to it I decided to make it an actual song. She doesn’t know this but I only charged her a $1 for the song. When Lyor [Cohen] and Russell Simmons came down to Virginia they pulled me into a room and asked, 'What are you gonna charge us for this? This is a smash.' I told them to wait until we got it done first but they wanted to talk about it now. I said, 'You and Lyor but $0.50 each.' They thought it was a joke. I wanted to show them that the best thing can come out of something that's free or something that's pretty much free."

"He (Jay Z) gave her insight and had been writing for her for awhile. When she wanted to add more she wanted Jay to help her with it. Him being a part of her writing and him ghostwriting for her on a lot of things introduced her to many people and also made her one of the top rappers."

[Editor's Note: Foxy Brown's camp refutes Teddy Riley's statement that Jay Z ghostwrote for her.]

Havoc (from Mobb Deep): "Foxy was always passionate for what she did. She wanted to spit a hot rhyme. She wouldn’t just say anything; The bars had to be real hot. She was a little bit more savvy with her lyrics."

"We had the same management at the time. Chris Lighty had hooked it ('The Promise') up. She was real professional and energetic. I made the beat with how I felt at the moment, then I worked up the hook and she laid her verses down."



Pam (from Total): "Foxy's voice couldn’t be duplicated and it still can’t be duplicated. You've never heard someone like Foxy. She came with it. There’s no one else that killed the game like Foxy.

"'No One Else' was fire: Foxy putting it down the way she did, [Lil] Kim coming behind her and then Da Brat finishing it off. We were in the studio when Kim and Brat put it down, but we weren't there when Foxy put it down."

Kima (from Total): "I think they (Lil Kim and Foxy Brown) knew they were going to be on the song together."

Pam: "The elevation of that record was so high. Puffy was the mastermind behind it. Brandy had done something like that [with female rappers], but it was like 'I Wanna Be Down' to the 4th power."

NEXT: Queen Latifah

“Queen”

Day 29: Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah drew the blueprint for successful female MCs/entrepreneurs. While continuing to inspire, the New Jersey native has conquered different arenas in the game such as music, TV and film.

MC Lyte, a legendary female MC and businesswoman herself, has been close friends with Queen Latifah since the beginning of their careers. Below, Lyte shares heartfelt words on their friendship and Queen Latifah's impact.

"My sister, the Queen, has single handedly changed the way every female MC looks at their business and perhaps more importantly, has no doubt changed the way the world views female MCs and their business potential.

We were so young [and] so bright eyed [when] meeting at the New Music Seminar in NYC. Seems so simple however as I look back, it was that week of hip hop activities that changed our lives forever. 

I absolutely loved it ('All Hail the Queen'). De La Soul played 'Princess of the Posse' for me in a downtown studio prior to it's release. What a breath of fresh air! Her voice was so strong and her lyrical style was direct and engaging.

[Her] song('U.N.I.T.Y') was extremely impactful for the genre of Hip Hop. To finally hear a strong voice of a positive black woman speaking about uplifting young woman. To date it's still one of my favorite songs.

From the very beginning of our friendship I understood La to be full of flavor. When we would hang out, she would often breakout into a dialect of some sort or pick up her guitar and start strumming a beautiful tune. She was funny, engaging and brave. She was one of those people who could do so much well. I always felt she would mature into an artist that did it all and she does. She's definitely an inspiration to everyone who knows her and the millions of fans who support her.

She is the epitome of grace, style and class. I'm happy to say she's my friend and I am simply indebted to her for being one of my biggest inspirations.

Truly,
Lyte

NEXT: Nicki Minaj

“Nicki”

Day 28: Nicki Minaj
In less than five years, Nicki Minaj has taken over. She's transcended genres while planting her flag as one of rap's leading MCs—gender aside—as well as firming her brand as an entrepreneur with a flourishing empire. And for Nicki, paying the cost has no doubt made her a boss.



Beginnings
Nicki Minaj: "I would get on everybody's nerves [around] the house when singing the Star-Spangled Banner all the time and singing in weird voices. I would make up names for people. I still don't know why I did that. I remember going to high school, and I decided that I only wanted to  put a 'B' in front of people's name. And I didn't care what your name was, I thought you should have a 'B' in front of your name. It was always there but hip-hop, in the early stages, made me feel I had to suppress [it]. Now I'm like, love it or hate it, this is me." (2010)

"When I started rapping, people were trying to make me like the typical New York rapper, but I'm not that. No disrespect to New York rappers, but I don't want people to hear me and know exactly where I'm from. (2010)

"People definitely gave me a hard time... ridiculed, laughed at me, expected and wanted me to fail. It only made me better." (2011)

DJ Holiday (2011): "Back then, I tended to shy away from female rappers because you don't know what they're going to be about, but in the studio Nicki was totally confident. She was writing to beats right in front of me, and there were a million things going on, but Nicki was totally focused. I would look at her with headphones on and think, 'Damn, that girl is super focused.' Her musical ideas for 'Beam Me Up' blew me away. I knew that with a lot of focus and a push she would become something special."

Nicki Minaj (2010): "I was rapping on a DVD ("Come Up"). He saw the DVD and said he wanted to meet with me to discuss being a part of Young Money. I always liked him, Juve, B.G.… I never thought when watching their videos that I'd be a part of them."

"He's (Lil Wayne) been such a major part of my career, I can't imagine it without him. He brought that spotlight on me sooner than I could ever imagine… Young Money keeps my street edge. I can't get to up in the sky [because] then Wayne is like, 'I need you to be Nick.' It keeps me grounded and what drew people to me in the first place."

Birdman: "We were in LA and Wayne came into my room and played me a DVD that  she was on. He was so hyped about it. We were just in awe of her delivery, her swag and her confidence. He flew her in the next day to meet us. When we first saw her, we knew she'd be the female rapper of Young Money. Wayne had been looking for a female rapper to be a part of the team and when he'd seen that it was a wrap. It was how she was saying what she was saying. It inspired me.

Creative Process
Nicki Minaj (2010): "I like to write early in the morning when no one's up. Like 6'o-clock in morning is when my brain is at its peak. I haven't been indignated with emails or phone calls or deal with the world yet. That's my only ritual."

"I listen to beats and whatever emotion the beat ignites, that's what I write.I write in my notebook, and sometimes come up with ideas in my head. But if it's stuff that I'm singing, I don't write it at all. I just record it in the studio."

"I'm so critical of my own stuff that  I take a lot longer. I psych myself out, thinking it's not good enough so I wind up doing it over and over. But with features, I let the magic happen and it's a lot quicker." (2010)



The Making of "Pink Friday"
Nicki Minaj (2010): "Mixtapes were saying I can rap and the album [was] saying I can make a song - that's a big difference in the real world."

"I'm inspired by the beat. When a beat comes on, I am either going to sing on it or rap on it.  To be honest, I was doing it (singing) as a reference for singers. At times when I would do it, people on my team would say, 'You should leave it. It sounds good.' I left a lot of [my] vocals on the album because it's more personal to me and what I'm speaking about. The album happened to be more personal so I didn't want to get 10 R&B singers on it."

"I went in really not knowing what it is I wanted to say and I didn't know if I was going to give all  my different characters life in the album. At one point I was afraid, thinking, 'Can every one of my characters be on the same album? And if I do that, can this album still be authentic, exciting [and] real?" (2010)

"She (Taylor Swift) was doing a radio interview, and they asked what song she liked. And she asked, 'Can it be a song that hasn't came out yet?' She started rapping 'Super Bass.' Then she tweeted that she liked 'Super Bass' and all her fans who had never heard of Nicki Minaj went and purchased it. I think after she tweeted that, 'Super Bass' climbed up like 80 spots, the same day on iTunes. That's why people don't understand why I keep thanking Taylor Swift. This is real." (2011)



Birdman: "Working with Nicki and watching her work [on 'Pink Friday'] was magical to me. I wanted to see it all come out of her. I wanted her to do what she wanted to do and tend to that."

The Making of "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded"
Birdman: "For what she did, to explore that side of music, is hard. It's not easy. Coming where we come from and where she comes from, I don't find what she did easy at all. It worked and it did what it ended to do."

What's Next?
Birdman: "For the new album, she's doing what she feels like doing and we're supporting her. You hear a lot of growth in her music.  She's coming confident and hard. We expect for this to be one of the biggest [albums] from her. It's more rap. This album is going to have a little bit of everything but more rap. I am sure some of the team will be on it. She's still doing her thing, then getting features on it. She's definitely coming this year. She hasn't picked a date yet. What she did for Young Money is totally different then what she's doing for her album. She's more girlier. 'Tha Carter V' will definitely come before Nicki's [album]."

Lessons Learned
Nicki Minaj (2010): "Life is about growth and I don't want to remain the same my whole life -- I want to be able to change. I have to be true to me -- I started seeing different things, going to different places, eating different things. It would be fraudulent to rap the same way and look the same way, because I'm not the same. Period."

Birdman: "She's still eager to learn. She never acts like she knows everything. She loves to learn and that's the thing I respect the most about her."

NEXT: MIA

“MIA”

Day 27: M.I.A.

M.I.A. stands out with her versatility. The UK artist has curated an impressive four-album catalog by laying down rhymes of real-life, hard hitting issues and events over a range of sonic flavors.

"Kala"
Blaqqstarr: "The first song we did was 'What I Got.' Our first conversation was beautiful. We just listened to music, vibes and the next thing you know we started to work. We started working before talking about business details. We were going though a time portal of music. We were listening to tracks from India [and] from different parts of the world and study its elements."

"We'd work from the studio that was in the back of her house. It was connected to her house. We'd stay days in the studio just exploring sounds. We'd work on music and later decide where they'd go."



"/\/\ /\ Y /\"
M.I.A.: "It really seemed like my world was getting smaller and closing in around me at the same time that things were changing so fast. I couldn't keep up with it. It was the best year for me because my son was born and the worst year for me seeing so many Tamil people being killed. And then it was the best year for me because I found someone to settle down with, then the worst year because I couldn't leave [due to visa restrictions] and my mum couldn't come and see me. My album came out like that because that's how it was." (2010)

"When I was like, 'I want Hype to shoot the video,' everybody was like, 'No way-he's a nightmare!' But he was amazing to work with… It was interesting to take someone like Hype and mash him up with my aesthetic, just because it's so far removed. Sometimes when you do that you get some interesting shit, and I think the 'XXXO' video is going to be the perfect balance of both worlds."

Diplo: "We did a record called "Tell Me Why," and I just knew what she was good at. It wasn't the same bunch of noise or talking about politics, because that's stuff people had heard. I wanted her to do something where she was singing and doing something louder, like Animal Collective-style music, because I think that's where she shines best." (2010)

"Matangi"
M.I.A.: "I was confused by who to make music for, what to make music for. It was becoming really saturated and predictable. I wanted to break out of it. Suddenly it was like, 'Okay, I'm going to make this album for Matangi. I found a whole new way of looking at [music] – somebody saying it's so important they made a goddess for it who protected the meaning of music, the frequencies, the sonics. To learn about that and take it out of the context I'm in, it was pretty dope. It's making music without treating it as a business or as a game or as a competition."

"It's a bit emo in places. I developed a little emo side. Didn't think it was possible, did you?" (2013)

M.I.A.'s Influence
Rye Rye: "She stepped up out of the box to try different things. I had support from her; it was great to have her backing me. When she brought me along, her fan base rubbed off on me as well. We weren't afraid to be different. As a brand-new artist, I knew nothing about the industry, I was just trying it out. Working with her pushed me to go forward with it." (2010)

"M.I.A. was there with me every day from when I started recording my album ['Go! Pop! Bang!] to when I finished. She was pregnant then, but each day she'd come to the studio to lay the direction and add sounds into songs."

Blaqqstar: "She's ineffable; so divine you can't even put into words. Our energies transcended through music. Every clap [and] every sound, we'd just originally produce through sessions. We didn't plan any recording."

NEXT: Lil Kim

“Kim”

Day 26: Lil' Kim
Lil' Kim is undeniably one of the best do it. She's been ahead of the game as a musician and fashion icon, since being introduced to the world by the late Notorious B.I.G in the mid-90s. Currently pregnant with her first child, Lil' Kim is balancing impending motherhood with time in the studio, making sure to continue on the creative path she's been on since day one.

Beginnings
"Since I was a little girl, I used to always be the only girl in my group. My family was full of boys. When they needed an extra man to play football, it'd be me filling that space. They didn't treat me like a sister. They would play with me like I was one of the guys. I was always one of the guys."

Style Evolution
"I tend to be dubbed as a trendsetter. My style was always different. Before I got into the industry, I was super sexy. I've always been super sexy and feminine. Biggie's partner from the label, Un (Lance 'Un' Rivera) knew the essence of being fly. He said, 'I don't want to change her image.' He wanted to make me more sexy and put me in mink coats. They'd spend their own money. My record company didn't understand a female rapper being sexy. They thought I needed to look like MC Lyte, wear sweat suits and all that."

The Making of "Hard Core"
"There were a lot of things going on during the making of the album that it became stressful at times: Some personal [and] some business. But it was mostly fun. I got to see something that I created. And I was young, people don't get it. I came into the industry as a baby. I was 17-years-old. By the time we were signing our contract for Junior M.A.F.I.A., I was barely turning 18. My mom wasn't really feeling me doing the music thing, and I thought I had to bring her in to sign for me but I literally just turned 18 so I didn't need her to. I was able to sign my own contract."

The Making of "The Notorious K.I.M."
"No, I absolutely didn't know it leaked. Me and Puffy had our own ideas for the album. At that time, Puff was my manager; He was everything actually. Bad Boy was my label cause Puffy was my manager but you can basically say that Bad Boy and Atlantic [Records] shared me. Atlantic didn't really want to live up to their part of the deal because they didn't understand the direction that me and Puffy wanted to go. Me and Puffy had to get creative with a lot of the music. We gave them the first three tracks we wanted to be singles and they said, 'We don't want to support our half of it with this.' Puffy was very credible so I said, 'Why don't you think he knows what he's doing?' I totally trusted him. But, they kept saying no. We ended up going with 'No Matter What They Say.' That definitely wasn't me and Puff's choice as the first single. But Puffy is a business man, so we compromised. We knew we had singles but Atlantic didn't see our vision. I think our word should have meant more but we wanted their support."

"We met up with Grace Jones in the Bahamas. Puff had this studio home, and he took everyone down there who was working on an album: Mase, me [and] Black Rob. We saw her down there. She knew about me and I couldn't believe it. She was reciting my raps to me. She was on it. Me and Puffy were like, 'Let's put her on something.'"

"Some changes were cause of Atlantic. We didn't have a lot of clearance issues but we did have some. Puffy did what he was supposed to."

"The RuPaul song didn't make it. It was a great song, I loved it. I always represent for my rainbow kids. I think the issues came in at the last minute; It got cleared but it happened last minute. Puff said we should save it for another album. 'Til this day RuPaul and I are best friends. I'm actually supposed to do his show soon. I was supposed to do it before the bundle of joy came so we decided to wait. Hopefully we can do the song up and use it on his show."

"Magic Stick" (Song)
"That was one of my favorite records I ever made. That song has a now and then feel. You can play that five or ten years from now. A lot of songs don't have that. I was blessed to have and be a part of those type of songs. Some people I have great chemistry [with]. I have great chemistry with 50 Cent. I also have great chemistry Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige."

The Making of "The Naked Truth"
"That album was a bit more personal because of what I was going through. I was a bit more angry. I felt betrayed by so many people at the time. I wanted to get so much aggression out. My record label decided that's how I should go that route and have it be hard core. But I didn't totally agree."

"There's a song called 'Kitty Box,' which was big among my immediate fans and my gay fans but my record label didn't get it. Me, personally, [thought] that should have been one of my singles. They didn't get how music was going. 'Kitty Box' sounds like a lot of the stuff that's out now. I was ahead of my time. But again, my record label didn't get it."

"We were are all for 'Lighters Up.' 'Lighters Up,' to me, was so nice. I think if they would've pushed more we could have been further. But the record label got comfortable with the name Lil' Kim selling itself. But I get it, they're not going to gamble on things they don't understand."

"There was pressure, but I breezed through this album faster than other albums cause I had to. I didn't have time. Puff says I work better under pressure. I guess it's me taking over when I know I have to. Going into the studio was my relief for everything else that I was going through; I was getting ready to go away."

"I had discrepancies. I had a couple of other choices for the second single. 'Kitty Box' would have been a single when I came home or… It would have been a single. No matter what I was going through, there was no doubt that I was still a sex symbol. 'Kitty Box' was a sexy record."

Incarceration (2005)
"I don't regret anything in my life. There's things I wish I would have done differently but I don't regret how I handled the situation. I don't regret it. Being who I am, is who I am. At the end of the day, my character is my character. I'm not going to change that for nobody."

Female Rappers vs. The Industry
"I think females make really great music and they need to be acknowledged. We don't get the acknowledgement that men get. Sometimes we don't get the acknowledgment that men get and we sell more records. Sometimes we don't get the same push as male artists."

Advice from Notorious B.I.G.
"B.I.G. was sure I was good long-term. He wanted me to be the top bitch in the game. He named me Queen Bitch. In the studio he'd show me things about rapping and music. He knew that I idolized him and he's who I wanted to be. I would watch him in awe. He was so amazing to me to watch: His energy and they way he moved as a big guy. He was very smart; His mom being a teacher probably had something to do with that. B.I.G. is B.I.G."

What's Next?
"The baby dictates what days I go to the studio. I did work in the earlier stages of [my pregnancy]. My belly is pretty out there right now, but, I'm still working."

"Some of my fans want me to make one type of music. I love them, and will always give them what they want but I'm just not going to go back to what's not going to work right now. Even the way I used to dress, the Lil' Kim now can't do that. It's about reinventing and evolving."

"One of the best lines from Jay Z, that made me feel him even more is: '… Want my old shit, buy my old albums.' I'm smart enough to know to not fuck with a classic."

"My new music is not going to be 'Hard Core.' It's going to be sexy, of course. But you can't do the same beautiful thing twice, the same exact way. Lightning [can] strike twice but it's not going to be the same design or come at the same place. I just want to be creative."

NEXT: Remy Ma

“Remy”

Day 25: Remy Ma
In three months, Remy Ma will be freed from a six-year prison stint, and there's no doubt she's ready to hit the ground running. The rapper has reconciled with collaborator Fat Joe and is ready to live up to his still-standing belief that she's "the dopest female rapper ever."

State of Mind
"I have a new outlook on a lot of things. I'm ready to see the world with these new pair of eyes of mine. Everyone says I'm not missing anything but I think they're just saying that so I don't feel bad. I'm excited to get back into the game and make it a little bit more interesting."

The Making of 'There's Something About Remy' (2006)
"It was easy to make. I was in the studio all the time, wasting money I shouldn't have. If I would do it again I probably would have saved thousands of dollars. But I was young. So many great producers would come through. People like Ne-Yo, who at the time no one knew who this incredible writer was. I had someone great like Keyshia Cole was working with me. Fat Joe was always in there, supporting; We were having fun. He put out all the stops to make things happen. I was finally getting my chance to show the world who I was. They let me make the music I wanted to how I wanted to make it. I had free range."

"If I would do it again I'd also make it more polished. I would also wait how they [Terror Squad] wanted me to, in order to make the numbers that it could have. I wanted the album to come out the day of the anniversary of Pun's passing because that day means so much to me. I'm like, 'It has to come out this specific day.' I didn't want to push it back. I was being stubborn and pushing my weight around cause I had a little leverage then. I should have waited."

Terror Squad
"That was one of the most fun times of my life. I was young, making music, and traveling… We made one of the biggest records in hip-hop history. I think our issues came from our egos conflicting. [Fat] Joe used to give me advice on what to do and what not to do, but I didn't listen. He guided me, but I didn't listen to him. If I would have listened to him then, things would have been different now. If I would have listened to Joe half of the time…You don't realize it at the time because when you're young you think you know everything. There was a lot of conflict that could have been avoided. Sometimes when you have hit records out, you let that control your actions and affect your relationships."

"I just recently spoke to him and we had a wonderful conversation. It started off a little awkward. [Laughs] We're both like, 'Just say what you want to say.' We were both holding on to our egos. 'Well what do you want to say?' 'No what do you want to say?' We finally let it go. We ended up talking about things I want to do when I get home. He said, 'I still think you're the dopest female rapper ever.' I'm like, 'Really?!' [Laughs] When you put egos and pride aside, and be the real people that you are it works out… I told him that when I do go home I'm going to make it my business that we talk more."

Incarceration (2008-2014)
"You can't believe everything that people say about someone. I'm a strong believer that things happen for a reason. I'm not the type of person to bring someone down to save myself. I'm always one to take one for the team. Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself to make sure everything else is right. At first when I went through what I went through, people said, 'Whey didn't you work out a deal?' I never took the stand. I let people say what they wanted to say, and I just took the decision. That's the person I am."

Pending Reality Show
"That's when reality shows weren't as ratchet as they are now. I've been getting some calls about it but I'm like, 'I'm good.' I am going to be honest, I'm scared of reality TV. That's one thing that's not on my list to do when I get out. Once I have my music solidified, then I'll consider reality TV."

What's Next?
"I have so much material that I've been working on and so many topics I want to touch on. I've grown so much as a woman and as an individual. I know that I can bring something to the table that's missing. I don't hear the things that I want to say or have experienced; I don't hear it in the music that's out."

"I'm writing about my own stories but also the stories of the people I've come across while in prison. I'm not in jail, I'm in prison. You'd be surprised as to how many women come through here and what they've experienced. I've encountered people from all over the world.  I've always rapped about my struggle and living a hard life but there's a lot of things that are serious, like gang issues, immigration issues, domestic violence issues… There's some women in here, 18-year-olds with ambition, who may never see the light of day. I thought I had a hard life, but I've now experienced a whole different world. It's serious. I'm going to put it in my music."

"I want to show sides of me that I hadn't showed and tell my story since I left till now, and the stories of others. I can say I have at least 20 books or so of songs."

"I want people to know that Rem is still Rem. There's a history of artists that go to jail and when they get home they're not all that or even do anything. I'm not falling into that category. In my opinion, the only one that did some significant time then came home and went stupid was 'Pac. That's what I want to do. I want to come home and make an impact. I feel like my time was cut short and I didn't get to blossom where I wanted to be in my career."

"There's a lot of people I want to work with. I want to definitely work with these MMG guys; I love what they're doing. I love [Rick] Ross. I fuck with Meek [Mill]. He's one of my favorites right now. I love everything he puts out. I fuck with French [Montana]. I like Nicki [Minaj]. She's been doing her thing. I like that YG kid, a lot.  When July comes around, I'm around. That's my motto: I'm around."

When She Gets Out...
"I'm going to get my hair done. I'm going to get my nails done. [Laughs] People see me as this rough tomboy. I'm a girly girl. And I'm married! I'm over here married, without my nails done. I'm going to get dolled up. I'll then knock out a few things [and] lay down some melodies. I've written a lot down but I haven't been producing so I just write and listen to the radio. I think that if I get in to the studio with some of these guys that are out – like Rico Love and DJ Mustard – I'm going to get so lit." [Laughs]

"After I get dolled up and lay down some records and my voice is out, I want to get away and get my back blown out for like a week. Mess up the hair and make-up that I got done. I have been in prison for a while." [Laughs]

NEXT: Khia

“Khia”

Day 24: Khia
Twelve years ago, Khia came out with a song that, although it made everyone blush, it was hard to not recite: "My Neck, My Back." Now, the artist is celebrating her run as an independent artist with her upcoming album, "Love Locs," out July 4.

The Making of "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"
"'My Neck, My Back' was something I made joking around.  At the time, there was [a] guy in Tampa who had a song called 'My Neck and My Back,' and I was like 'Oh okay. My neck, my back, my pussy and my crack.' And instantly I thought, 'Ooh, I'm going to write that.' It was kind of like a Weird Al moment; I was just joking. And it turned out to be hit in 20 different countries."

"I had regular people in the video. It wasn't over the top. I had my hair wrapped and I was getting my feet done. They wanted strippers and models but I said 'No.' The song says enough."

"I was singing directly to men. I want men to know that I'm a female rapper and singer that's singing for them. It's not just women per se. It's not that K. Michelle, Keyshia Cole, Cry me a river type of music. I'm lyrically catering to men."

"I still perform all over the world with that song. I should put out a remix to that song but I don't have to because it will never get old. It's as if it's new today. It branded me and also created a cult following for me. Some artists won't be able to creat a classic, and I did my first time out."

Collaborating with Trick Daddy and Janet Jackson
"I don't like collaborating with artists. But I love Trick [Daddy]. When he called I was like, 'No, I'm not gonna do it.' Too Short and Lil Kim had called and wanted me to get on their songs. Her's was about pussy or something. When Too $hort called me, his song was like, 'My nuts, my sack, my dick...' I was like, 'What?' People thought I was some stripper chick and nasty all the time. And, here people come asking me to be on songs when it's about balls, ass, or pussy. I told Too $hort that I wasn't doing the song and he got offended. I told Kim I wasn't doing her song and she got offended. That was ten years ago; There's no beef. People were approaching me with very vulgar songs. When Trick called it was like, 'I like Trick! Let me hear it.' When I heard it it wasn't that bad. I wrote it in 20-minutes."

"But when it came down for cross promotion, he did me the same Janet Jackson did me, and didn't have me in the video. They edited me out for the video. We shot for two days and all of the stuff ended up getting edited out because they didn't want to share the spotlight. If you call me to be featured on the song, I think we should cross-promote and be able to perform together.  So keep your shit [and] don't call me."

"I pretty much had to sue Janet Jackson. I have it in my contract now that I will be a part of cross-promotion, even if it's just a song. I handled the situation with Janet; It just taught me to have everything written in contracts."

Her Friendship With Gucci Mane
"I knew Gucci before he was this huge artist. He'd come through a club I had all the time to perform. I got to know him before he changed. The industry has changed him. No one is going to get to know the beautiful side I did. He's too far gone. I think he was high when he was tweeting; He was speaking the truth. It may be the people he's around or drugs that he's on. Sometimes money or environment changes people. I think his team is not good and he doesn't have any positive reinforcement. I reached out to him a few times, but I haven't seen him since we did, 'What They Do,' [which] was 2008. When he did that he was on some type of drug; I don't know what he took to trip him out. When we did that song I can tell something was off. Something's been off since then. If you were to ask me, as a close friend, I don't think he recovered well when he ended up having to shoot someone... and it wasn't intentional. I think he was scared for his life and someone ended up getting murdered. I don't think he's recovered from that and I don't think he ever well. It changed him."

Collaborating with Miley Cyrus
"I love Miley! Her team called me and asked to do the official remix. I'm a fan of hers, so of course I did it. I had a chance to be creative and go in and create a melody. I like creating the melody more than rapping."

"Who am I to give advice to Miley Cyrus? I was ripping and running around 19, 20-years-old. She knows that the world is controversial and she knows the more crazy things you do the more albums you sell. I think that's just the route that she's going."

What's Next?
"My album, 'Love Locs,' drops on the Fourth of July. I'm celebrating 13-years as an independent artist. It's half hip-hop and half R&B, this one is a follow-up to 'Motormouf.' I'm singing also. It turned out so beautiful. It's super sexy. All my songs are bold and sexual. I love to love and I love to have sex, of course. It's all me 'cause I write and produce all my music. Some women think I'm male-bashing but, no, my music is majority for men. I'm not singing for women."

"I got a new book, 'Ignoring the Signs,' that's dropping in July as well. It's a fiction book based on non-fiction experiences. I'm trying to drop three books this year. I think the books are going to make people realize that I'm also a creative writer."

A Lesson Learned
"I was ripping and running when I was young. I ended up getting pregnant so young. My mom was so disappointed, telling me, 'You should be doing your music.' It took for my mother to pass for me to stop ripping and running the streets and work on music. My album came out quick, a year after my mom passed. Sometimes something bad has to happen to wake you up.  I don't want something happen like that to Gucci."

NEXT: Vita

Day 23: Vita
As petite as she is, Vita can hold her own. It's safe to say that's why the East coast-native was brought in as the first female rapper of Murder Inc. (A co-sign from her manager at the time, legendary director, Hype Williams, didn't hurt either). After a hiatus, Vita is back with new music,  individually and with a group of strong female rappers like herself.

Beginnings
"They were looking for a 16-year old who was feisty for 'Belly.' I auditioned three times and got the roll of DMX's girl on the side. [Laughs] When I got the roll I thought I was [going to be] doing more but when the movie got cut, there was only a bedroom scene and car scene. I went and told my mom that I didn't want people to look down on me  because of the roll and she reassured me that it was just a role. There was a backlash. Some said, 'Why do black women have to get on screen and do certain things? White woman do it too though. People aren't going to love everything you do."

"There was backlash against the movie. They were saying it was more violent than the average movie that was playing at the time. Hype [Williams] spent a lot of his own money on the movie. It wasn't in all movie theaters because of the backlash."

Murder Inc.
"Hype, who was my manager at the time, introduced me to his colleagues which were Irv Gotti and Ja Rule. I met them at a video shoot (Method Man and D'Angelo's "Break Ups 2 Make Ups"). I was supposed to only be featured on the "[Irv Gotti Presents:] The Murderers" album but they wanted me to sign and be a part of Murder Inc. Coming into the situation, I was thinking that Irv Gotti was well respected and known in the game."

"I don't think the we, as a crew, got to go as far as we were supposed to because, mostly, everyone was scared of the game. We couldn't do in-stores cause of the name. There was a lot backlash."

The Making of "Put It On Me"
"Ja Rule came up with the idea and everybody built around it. We recorded it in L.A. Once every one did their verses, Lil Mo came in and she went to church on it. The record was hit."

No First Album
"The album not coming out wasn't because of my mom passing away. There was a lot of stuff going on in Murder Inc. that was out of my control. I couldn't push the button. A lot of things happened within the crew that didn't permit for things to happen or for albums to come out. I was new to the team, so I couldn't dictate. Things were out of my control. I don't think it was cause I wasn't talented or style; If I didn't Hype Williams wouldn't have signed me. I believe it was about timing."

"When everything came crashing down…  If you make a certain type of money, how can you really keep up with the pace that you were on originally? You're in a million dollar videos and then there's no Murder Inc."

Her Mother's Passing
"My mom passed away in 2008 of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease]. She got sick two years before she passed away. She went to the hospital one day cause she wasn't breathing well and two days later she passed away. I remind myself of what she taught me about women and our strength. It was tragic for me. The loss of someone you love is a feeling no one can imagine."

What's Next?
"For the last year, I've been focused on making music. I put out my 'Pre-Cumm' mixtape. The title was for shock value. I'm sitting over 50 songs that I recorded instead of chasing the industry."

I'm working with some female rappers that have been in the game now. Me, Da Brat, Justina, and Babz just did a remix together called 'My Bitches.' It's called 'Shemix' on the clean version. We're doing different records with each other.. There aren't too many females that are coming together and showing love. Guys do it all the time and make money. We should too."

"I'm working on a a sexy and classy lingerie line. I'm also working on a boo, not a tell-all, but it will include some of my experiences. I'm also on a reality show with some other women."

"I recorded a song for Rick Ross. Musiq Soulchild is also on the song. I don't know what's going to happen with that song."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"[I'd] cross my T's and dot my I's. I'd make sure I use the money that I am making to have a lawyer. When you're young, you don't have money. Me sure you have a great lawyer on your team. Learn to be a better business person, even if you have to take some classes."

"I'd also tell myself to be my own person and not put my life in anyone's hands. With my situation, i not only did other people's situations hurt me, but… when management and other parties seem like they don't care it also affects their artist."

NEXT: Diamond and Princess from Crime Mob

“Crime”

Day 22: Diamond and Princess of Crime Mob
Not many artists can deliver a hit that both women and men can call their own, let alone enjoy as much as in the present as when it was first released. Crime Mob was one of those acts. The group's leading ladies – Diamond and Princess – brought sex appeal and charismatic lyrics that helped the group garner mainstream attention.

Beginnings
Princess: "We (Diamond and me) stayed in the same neighborhood and she used to braid my hair when I played basketball. Every week, we would record at my parents' house so everybody would be over there. Her boyfriend at the time was rapping with us. So everybody knew everybody. One time she was like, 'What are y'all doing?' I was like, 'Girl, I'm in a rap group. I have to go do my verse.' She said, 'Oh, I want to come.' At the time there were like 30 people in Crime Mob. It was just a whole Ellenwood thing. Everybody in Ellenwood was affiliated with Crime Mob at the time. "

"A lot of people don't know this but we had about six versions of 'Knuck If You Buck.' The way we determined who was going to be in the group was based on who was on the last version of 'Knuck If You Buck.' It was the last one and me and my brother had a discussion about it. We had a discussion as far as what made sense for who was on the song, what verses could be cut, and that was it. There were a lot of heated people at that time."

Diamond: "I remember being in school and I had a point person, like an assistant. My bus took me to my house at 3:30 p.m. and I had 20 minutes to get ready for the studio. It took us three weeks and we were in the studio everyday, non-stop. I was always asleep in class. Sometimes I would miss breakfast or showers. I'd have to do a quick wash up in the studio. I'd go back to school, take tests and still perform. That was a real challenge for me. Looking back on it now, I'm like, 'Wow, I didn't really have a normal childhood.' Most kids are playing sports after school and I have a record deal. After school, I'd be going to the studio to put an album out worldwide."



The Making of 'Crime Mob'
Princess: "When we did our first album, we were in high school so all we really knew is what we talked about. It wasn't work. It wasn't like it is now. We recorded the album in like, I don't even think it was a full month. We caught the bus from school and then my dad would take us to patch work and we were there until like five in the morning. We would come home and shower and then it was back to school. We would do the same thing the next day."

"As far as the female songs from Crime Mob, believe it or not, I didn't like any of them. There was another beat to 'Stilettos' but the hook was pretty much the same. I think she (Miss Aisha) took it to Diamond and then Diamond gave it to me. I was like, 'I don't like it. It's something about it I don't like.' My brother Lil' Jay redid the beat and we rerecorded it and I was like, 'Okay, it could work. Maybe. We'll see.' That's one of our biggest songs. Why do dudes like 'Stilettos'? It's talking about heels? [Laughs]"



Princess: "'Knuck If You Buck' was one of my favorites. I didn't think that it was better than 'The Original Crime Mob' song. We had about twelve people on that song and I went second. I was rapping real fast so I thought that was going to be the one. But we started performing 'Knuck If You Buck' more than 'The Original Crime Mob' song. That's what we called it. I thought that the Crime Mob song was going to be the one. I was like, 'No, we always perform 'Knuck If You Buck.' I don't want to do that. And lo and behold, another one. So usually when I don't get my way, it goes good as far as picking songs."



The Making of 'Hated On Mostly'
Princess: "I protested not to be on 'Rock Yo Hips.' When we did it, the guys would stay in the studio the whole time. I'm a female. I want to go home. I want to shower. I want to eat and then I'll come back. They would stay in there the whole time and they ended up doing their version of 'Rock Yo Hips,' so the song was finished by the time I heard it. The said it was going to be they guys' song.  I was like, 'Alright, well y'all have your little song then.' They really tried to keep it for themselves but when the label heard it, they were like, 'The girls need to get on there.' I was like, 'Nope, they can have their song. We'll see how far it goes.' We were real cocky back then. They really wanted to keep it for themselves and I was like, 'It ain't gonna do nothing anyway.' It ended up being the lead single from the album."

Diamond: "I didn't really care for the first album as much because we didn't really have as much to say. The second album was better because the label gave us a little bit more flexibility to do what we wanted. That's why we have those sexier songs like 'Rock Yo Hips.' Me and Princess were like, 'We're girls. We're not always fighting. We want to show our sexier side.' That's how 'Rock Yo Hips' came about, which is one of the best songs we ever made. I think the second album was more like, 'We got the hang of this. Here's our growth and our second approach to it. We got this.' Whereas the first album was, 'We're not sure. This is our first time doing this.'"



Diamond: "'Circles' was a song where we could all relate to the scenarios. On the record, two of us were talking about being in love and the other two were talking about not being in love and getting dragged around. It was fun because it allowed us to show more of our sensitive side and be more vulnerable versus being all, 'I hate you. Fuck you. Don't step on my shoes in the club.'"

The Breakup
Princess: "At that time, there was so much going on. I didn't think it'd be this long, but all knew it was coming. Not to throw shade at Diamond, but when she first announced that she was leaving, she was saying that we kicked her out and we didn't want her in the group. That wasn't the case, at all. She's always been good at finding a situation. When the ship is about to sink, she can find a lifeboat. We thought for a while that she was separating herself. At awards shows, she wanted to walk the red carpet by herself or with [Lil] Scrappy. So we thought, 'If that's what you want to do, go ahead. It's cool. Good for y'all.'"

"For her to say that we didn't want her in the group, that's just not true. We were about to do a Diamond [and] Princess project. A lot of stuff with that didn't go through for different reasons. That was before we quote, unquote kicked her out. So it was hard in the beginning. There was a lot going on and everybody went their separate ways. But as time went on, it's like, 'I wish you the best and whatever you do. I hope it works for all six of us. We all started together and no matter what we do, it's always going to come back to Crime Mob. I don't wish anything bad on anybody. We're all talented in our ways, individually and collectively. I don't know if we will ever do a Diamond [and] Princess project. Musically, I think we're on two different wavelengths. We'll just have to see. I think everybody's happy."

Parting Ways with Warner Music
Princess: "Warner treated us well. We were right at the end of an era and the beginning of an era. We were at the end of physical albums and street promotion. We were at the beginning of the digital age, with the ring tones and digital downloads. So we were the guinea pigs a lot of times for Warner. They didn't know how to market us. We used to record ringtones in the studio and didn't know what in the world we were doing. Why are we telling someone to pick up the phone? We didn't get it at that time. Like, 'Pick up the phone, yo man's calling.' We were like, 'What are we doing? What are y'all doing paying for this?'"

"A lot of it was hit or miss with the label. It was also the beginning of artists being able to eat without a label. With the older generation, you weren't really anybody if you weren't signed to a major label. Now it's all about being independent because you have social media that you can run. You can have your own merchandise and people will actually pay $100 for a t-shirt with your name on it. Crazy, but they'll do it. You can come out with a nail polish line and a hair company and all of this other stuff."

"I've seen the perks of the labels and now I'm seeing the perks of being an independent artist. I have a business mind so I know how to direct people and get things done the way they need to be done without coming out of pocket. You can be an independent artist and win; As opposed to signing to a major label: Get the chain and the car to floss in but they put the albums out when they're ready. That's like slavery now, in my mind."

Current State of Crime Mob
Princess:  "[A reunion] has been talked about over the years. I've always said that if it didn't make sense and it wasn't for the right reasons, I didn't want to be a part of it. I never wanted to be a part of it or come back to it because of the money. Starting off anything in greed isn't going to end well. It was about timing. Now, we've all experienced different stuff individually and collectively. We can bring back it to our music in terms of how we express ourselves."

Diamond: "We're just getting cool with each other. I have done a couple of their records in the past. But right now, my priority is my first solo album. My priority is me because I've had to fight so hard to prove that I can stand on my own. There have been so many different cycles and transitions in this industry that I've had to show that I can stand in. If I do Crime Mob stuff right now, it'll confuse people. I have to finish this task of being Diamond and working on my solo album. Then maybe down the line I can bring them out on my tour and keep it going. We still have Crime Mob fans but I think it wouldn't mean as much until I finish with this task of dropping my first solo album."

Beef Among Female Rappers
Princess: "I think females can do anything that males can do, except the physical stuff. We're a force to be reckoned with once we get those insecurities out of our head. Thinking that there can only be one female rapper at a time or there's only room for two or three, won't let us get past that — because we're the only ones holding ourselves back. We can do more female records. There can really be all females, or just more females reaching out and doing stuff. But we're so scared of being outshined by the next person, or we worry about what everybody says on the blogs and them putting us against each other. We'll never grow that way and it will always just be one or two."

What's Next?
Princess: "The group is working on something. Everyone is involved, but it's just hard for all of us to be in the studio at the same time because our schedules are so different. We've only been together a few times. We're a good nine records in with everybody on there. It's some topics, it's not just all the Crime Mob that people are used to hearing. We have grown so our music sounds a little bit more mature. There's still those club songs but we have other songs. The songs where you want to be on an island, sipping some tea or something. It's different and I like the direction we're going in now. The records that'll be coming out in spring and summer are from the group. 'Pull Up' and 'Say Yes' will be two summer records. One will come out late April and then another one in June."

"My solo project is an EP. I'm not putting too many titles or restrictions on it. I'm just in the flow of making music, of creating and taking in new sounds and inspirations. I'm writing in different ways and not just singing about Princess, the artist. I'm a writer first. My last mixtape 'Hiatus' had more an R&B tone in the middle and towards the end. People were like, 'Oh, you sing. I didn't know you sing.' It took people by surprise. I didn't know either, [but] thanks to Auto-Tune and a couple of other tricks. As far as where I was going musically, the world wasn't really ready for that yet. They're still used to seeing me at 16 years old, jumping up and down in some Air Force Ones or stilettos. But now, I'm more at peace. I can talk about more and I respect myself in different ways."

Diamond: "I'm working on a jewelry line.  There's really no celebrity who's dining somethings with accessories. I'm trying to bring it to life while I'm on television. I'm thinking no later than the end of summer. I'm doing a reality show. It's with a couple of other girls. It's supposed to hit this summer. We're working on it right now."

"[The album] has the old Diamond but double time with the unapologetic rhymes and more adult, sexy, and confident. I'm really representing for the ladies. I'm talking about things that happened in my personal relationships and other things that a woman goes through."

"It's different from the old Crime Mob days of just getting crunk in the club. It's really well rounded. It's for any woman who's been through some things, highs and lows, and dealt with some things in her life. Whether it's getting a new car or breaking up with your boyfriend, I know they'll be able to relate to it." [Note: "Spring" is when Diamond plasm to release the first single.]

"I just moved to New York as well. I'm excited about that. I wanted a change because I covered Atlanta. I want to expand my networks out here into fashion as well. My mother and my father are both from New York. New York is the place to be."

NEXT: Salt-N-Pepa

“Salt-N-Pepa”

Day 21: Salt-N-Pepa
With massive hits like "Push It" and "Shoop," Salt-N-Pepa have earned their status as the best-selling female rap group of all time. After years of trials and tribulations, the trio has sustained their friendship and continued to cement their legacy.

Beginnings
Pepa: "Our original name was Super Nature. Herbie [Azor] named us that; We hated it. After we did 'The Show Stopper,' the fans would call us Salt-N-Pepa: 'Those Salt-N-Pepa girls. You know those Salt-N-Pepa girls?' They took it from the line in the song: 'We go together like Salt and Pepa.' We were like, 'We like that! Let's keep that!' It fit so well.

Spinderella: "The whole thing with me starting to rhyme came about because Herbie [Azor], our manager/producer, wanted to give me more. Each character in the group had their own popularity and personality. Herbie wanted to magnify my personality. He saw something in me and wanted to utilize me more. I was doing everything—DJ'ing, dancing, choreographing—and when he saw that, he started adding me to songs. I wasn't on the first album 'Hot, Cool & Vicious.' I came in at the completion of that album. So when Salt-N-Pepa started to tour, that's when they brought me in. Me rhyming was because Herbie wanted to capitalize on my different talents and bring another dynamic. And thank God he did that because it was another side to me that I got to utilize."

Pepa: "We weren't one of those artists who had to grind. We don't have a war story. It was chemistry and being at the right place at the right time. Herbie [Azor] had a vision; He was Salt's boyfriend and we all were friends cause we went to school together. He said, 'Let's put this group together!' And, we did. I remember our first song, our answer to Doug E Fresh's and Slick Rick's' 'The Show.' We did 'The Show Stopper.' Herbie wrote that and  we thought, 'What? We're going up against Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick? Are you crazy?' Marly Marl played it on the radio but also people were requesting it. A label contacted us; We weren't trying to contact a label."

"We were playing at the hardest places in New York. We were 'In Your Face' types of females. They're like, 'Oh no, these girls are speaking their minds. Nothing to mess with.' We went head on. The labels were coming to us 'cause we were selling and making those numbers."

Salt-N-Pepa  vs. The Industry
Pepa: "When our music started to get popular, believe it or not but we got slack when our songs were crossing over. Back then they'd call you a sell-out. That's what we went through. It's like we were outcasts.  It was cool to be hardcore and underground, starving. We're like, 'We're not doing any of that. Sorry guys!' [Laughs]  It was all about street credibility."

"We were feeling a little tension in the game because we were so popular. Being popular was being a sell out. When all these rappers, including KRS-One, would get together to make a song, I remember saying, 'Oh they didn't call us? Oh, okay. They're acting funny.' Back then, when you'd do anything, you had to have Salt-N-Pepa on it. I don't care!" [Laughs]

"People couldn't believe [our success]. Salt remembers one time bumping into Russell Simmons and him giving her a thumb down, like 'You're not here to stay.' That only gave us more fuel. We work with him 'til this day so now he looks at us like, 'These girls were no joke.' It was always a battle for us to keep our feet planted." 

Spinderella: "We were owning it and inspiring a lot of women. A lot of our music had a message. And the thing that really motivated us during that time was how many women would come to us and say we inspired them. We were more encouraged by the fact that we were actually impacting a generation of women. We were really feeding off of that."

"Salt-N-Pepa was really raising the bar and we were the standard for women in hip-hop. There was MC Lyte, there was YoYo and we all created this standard. The door was open and that allowed for women like Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim to walk through and then Eve and Missy. Even TLC, they had that R&B and hip-hop flow. Today, the door is still open but the ceiling doesn't seem to be as high. But what we were doing was attacking issues as well as being cute and sexy. We were hitting issues and still seemed like the girls next door, so people responded to that. And it was global. We were that voice for the urban woman."

The Making Of "Push It"
Spinderella: "I had literally just joined the group and we were doing shows. 'Push It' wasn't a part of the show because we were pushing 'Tramp,' which was the A-side [first]. 'Push It' was the B-side but we had dropped a video for it based on the growing popularity. At shows, people started demanding that song. It happened so fast. The song was climbing the charts and before I knew it, we had a mega hit on our hands. As soon as I joined the group, it started to skyrocket."

Pepa: "When I first heard it I thought: 'Oh boy, we're going to get it now.' We told Herbie that we were scared it may come off corny. But, it took a life of its own. At that time, we had 'Tramp' on the A-side of the tape and 'Push It' on the B-Side. But then 'Push It' took off. We chose to switch and put  'Push It' on the A-side."

The Making of 'Let's Talk About Sex'
Pepa:"It was refreshing; we were the voice for many women. We were bold. 'Let's Talk About Sex' did good for us because it was a little taboo, but that hook grabs you. It opened some doors. Peter Jennings heard his daughter listen to the song; He had us change the lyrics to 'Let's Talk About Sex' to 'Lets Talk About Aids' for a campaign."

"That was us. We were outspoken. We dressed the way we wanted to dress and said what we wanted to say. We supported women to speak up and speak their minds, despite it being a male dominated field."

The Making of "Very Necessary"
Spinderella: "There was a major difference in our popularity. We really paid attention to the music, the production, and really put ourselves into it. It wasn't just all about Herbie. The prior albums were mainly Herbie and his masterminding. But this album had more of Salt-N-Pepa's touch. We were more concerned about important topics and relating more from a woman's standpoint. At that point, we were all grown up. And then image was really important. We took care of our bodies, got in shape, and got a good squad around us and made some good videos. Everything that we needed to make it come together was there."

"Shoop"
Pepa: "Prior to 'Shoop,' we were a little thick; We were a little healthy. [Laughs] We had lost weight. We had lost weight and were feeling good. I thought of 'Shoop' around that time and brought it to Salt. She thought it was dope. Salt and I wrote it and I co-produced it. Herbie wanted one of his songs to be the first single off the 'Very Necessary' album. He wanted a song of his, but we wanted for 'Shoop' to be the first single. We came together and finally convinced him."

"We felt so good about ourselves. Also, felt so good to have our own song  be the first single off an album. We were selling millions of records after that. Now when we had to sort out the guys for the video? That was fun. We were feeling good cause we had just lost weight."

"Whatta Man"
Pepa: "We were in the studio, and were talking about having En Vogue be a part of the song. Everyone was like, 'We can't get En Vogue. They're so huge.' I'm the one that said, 'Why not? All they can do is say no.' They fell in love with the song and said yes, 'as long as we can put it on our album too.'

"I was together with him (Treach) at the time. Salt and Spin were single; I remember them having fun choosing their leading man. [Laughs] I couldn't pick anyone. I'm like, 'I got to keep my boyfriend I guess.' [Laughs] Spin ended up picking a good friend. Salt was like, 'Tupac! I want Tupac!' He said, 'Heck yeah.' I remember Tupac going through something at the time, some drama with the police. I remember the label (Def Jam Records) being like, 'We don't want to show him as much.' We were upset. From that moment we decided that we will never let anyone control our music or videos, in that sense. It was a lesson learned as to how much control the label had on the album. The label was serious at the time cause of what was going on with Tupac. It didn't bother us though.

The Making of "Brand New"
"When you're under the umbrella of a record label, you're literally under their control, their spell, their timeline, and their schedule. And we just wanted to be able to be Salt-N-Pepa. There were a lot of political changes going on at the label. Someone else inherited this package, this brand and didn't see the vision that we originally had. It was a little rough.  It was almost like 'Brand New' was a sacrificial lamb. It felt really good and it was a great album. But in this industry, you have to be able to sacrifice some stuff in order to keep going."

Break Up to Make Up
Spinderella: "Salt and Pepa were in a place where they wanted to be more creative and there were some differences there. And just like with any relationship, if you don't allow someone to grow tension will arise. Just growing up, they wanted more of their voices to be heard so it was all about expressing who they were."

Pepa: "We were going through some stuff with Herbie. Herbie thought he was Prince and we were Lisa and Wendy. He was dictating us how to be and talk. That part used to get to me. It's the typical story of a guy running one of the best female groups. He was feeling power; He was killing it. It was cool, but when business started coming and money started coming, it became a little different. It wasn't until 'Very Necessary' [when] Salt and I said, 'We need to stand up. We need to have a voice. We've been in the game for a long time. We need to do us.'"

"We ended up parting ways with Herbie, which was hard 'cause that was Salt's boyfriend. She went through it, emotionally and from a business side. It was deep with Herbie. She had to deal with the music [and] the boyfriend. I'm like, 'What [do] you want? I'm here. Let's just keep going.' And she's like, 'No!' It got us closer though. She needed that time off and go through that. We were able to communicate on another level when she returned. She left abruptly and never spoke about it. That's the problem I had because she never shared or spoke about it. I'm like, 'Why am I getting punished?' She apologized for the way she went about it. It's okay to do you, but when you got people involved… I always tell her it's like a marriage. 'Your decisions affect me [and] mine affect you. We have to communicate.' We're good now. We're back touring, and are closer."

Spinderella: "Salt and Pepa were having some differences personally and they had to become their own people. We had basically grown up together so it was tough. But we went our separate ways. I got into radio, and I started producing my show called 'The BackSpin.' I was doing that and DJ'ing. My love for the art of DJ'ing kept me going. The role of the DJ started to grow and blossom in its own right, apart from the emcee. I took advantage of that time and started branding me as Spinderella. But artists that have been together for so long eventually start branching out. Salt was doing more with the spiritual side of her career and Pep was doing more acting."

"It came back together again because of the demand. People started really missing Salt-N-Pepa. It took us figuring things out and respecting each other's personal differences to come back together. I consider Salt and Pepa my sisters. And with any relationship, there will be ups and downs. But the real test is being able to address those things and move on. We let bygones be bygones so that we could come together as women and preserve the Salt-N-Pepa legacy."

What's Next?
Pepa: "We attempted to create new music a while ago but it just didn't happen. We are always open to do new music. I think it can come together, especially with someone like Missy [Elliott]. Maybe we can do something together.

Spinderella: "I do a lot of community work. I'm a spokesperson for the ADA, the American Diabetes Association. Though I'm not diabetic, it affects me via my family. I lost my mom to diabetes. It is a horrendous disease. I've dedicated my celebrity to the organization so we can raise awareness and money to lower the numbers and eventually stop it altogether.  As a DJ, I'll continue to be vocal about the quality and culture of the role and hip-hop itself. I plan to keep the legacy alive. Salt-N-Pepa is reunited and we're working on some projects that will be major for our fans. That's all I can say right now. We were a force to be reckoned with for a reason and we're doing it again. I'm really excited about the future."

Additonal reporting by Lauren Savage

NEXT: Missy Elliott

“Missy”

Day 20: Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott is one of the greatest to ever do it, among women and men. Her outlandish creativity has gifted the culture with music and visuals that are far beyond our time. Twenty years in the game and the rapper/singer-songwriter is in the studio, brewing something with close friend Timbaland that, if their track record is any indication, will set the bar even higher.

Left-Field Creativity
"It goes back to being the only chid. I didn't have brothers and sisters to play with so I created a world of my own. Everyone had imaginary friends, I had a whole imaginary world. I would be in no place that was on map. I think that imagination spilled over to me being artist. I had always thought in a unique, different way. As far as videos, I was always influenced by Michael Jackson's videos. I wondered what was going through his mind when he would make his videos. I told myself that if I was ever blessed to make a video, I'd want to impact people they way he did. When his videos would come out, I'd run home to see what he was doing next."

"Me, Timbaland, Tweet, Ginuwine, and all of us, came from a camp where we couldn't listen to what was on the radio or watch videos, which was a great thing looking back at it. By not knowing what was hot, we had to create our own. All we knew is what we were doing. We weren't influenced by anything else. We kept that mind frame and stayed own box. We created what we felt; Instead of what was trendy, we went with how we felt."

Creative Process
"When I get to making an album I never listen to what's out. I go back and listen to older music. There's something about older music that has feeling. That's my main thing: Never follow. I just want people to feel what I do. I close myself off from music and videos so I can maintain some kind of originality."

Self Image
"I was always different. I wasn't a follower. When I got into the music industry, I did what I would normally do. I didn't pay attention to any trends. Thankfully, I had Sylvia Rhone who never made me feel like I needed to change. They felt like it was refreshing. I always think that if you can walk in with confidence [then] you can convince the masses. I came in and did what I knew how to do."

The Making of "Supa Dupa Fly"
"The funny thing is I didn't' want to be an artist. I was an artist before, while in the group Sista. We got let go from Sylvia's, and she ended up signing me as a solo artist. But I wasn't going to be an artist; I just wanted a label deal. She said, 'In order to have a label deal you have to at least give us one album.' I was like, 'Okay.' Timbaland and me went in and did that album in two weeks. It was the easiest album to do because we went in and did what we normally would do. What people heard from us is what we we had been doing for years. Everything was just off feeling. We were knocking records out back to back."

"The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)": "When I first did 'The Rain,' I thought, 'This is cool.' But then I played it at the record label and they were like 'Wow, we've never seen nothing like this.' I'm just thinking it was a cool video; I didn't think it would impact people as it did. I didn't know what was happening on the outside to know that I was doing anything different."

"Hype Williams, June Ambrose and I sat down, listened to the record and we came up with ideas collectively. I told them I wanted to do what I said in the record. I wanted to paint out the song, and make a movie. I believe it was June who came up with the blow-up suit. It was so huge that I had to walk down the street, blocks and blocks in Brooklyn, cause I couldn't fit in a car. I had to walk to the gas station to get blown up. People would walk behind me with this gas tank."

"Beep Me 911": "It's my favorite record on the 'Supa Dupa Fly' album cause of the beat. The beat was hot! We did that [song] probably in 20 minutes. We had built a relationship with 702, and I said I had wanted them on the record. I then got Magoo. I told Hype I wanted to do a Barbie & Ken type of [treatment] for the video. Magoo's rap, 702 being on it and the lyrical content, which is still relatable, all came together so easy."

"Sock It To Me": "Hype came up with the miniature man idea for the video. [Lil] Kim is my sister. It was funny cause she at that time was basically running the streets. She had the streets on lock. I thought it was going to be hard to get her and [Da] Brat in those outfits, especially for Kim who was rocking all the name brand clothes. Here I go wanting to put her in a robot suit. But, I think that what they realized by that time is that Missy is one of these different type of artists. The greatest thing is they were willing to step into that world and not be afraid and felt like, 'we can make this cool, even though we're in these robot suits.' We'd look at each other and laugh. I couldn't believe they were in them."

The Making of 'Da Real World'
"It was my hardest album because by that time the expectations were a lot higher. Once you get over that sophomore album, you feel like you're staying. It was the toughest album to make. I thought, 'What do people expect of me next?' There weren't any expectations for the first album. The second album was like, 'This first album has got all these great reviews so where I do go from here?' I was over-thinking everything. I didn't think twice about videos, but yes for music. 'Ah, I don't like that.' I drove Tim crazy.'"

"She's A Bitch": "We did that (video) at Universal Studios. A lot of my dancers were falling off the platform because we were really in water. They really had life boats out there. A lot of my dancers were having asthma attacks because we'd have to be under water. We got snorkels on but still… That was the hardest video to do because we had make-up that took two hours to do. Some of the dancers were breaking out cause of the make-up. My videos have been some tough ones to show up."

"Hot Boyz": "That record got bad call-outs. Back then, they (radio) used to call your house and play the hook and you'd say yes or no. I don't know if it's cause they didn't understand it or it was the hook. It'd get back call-outs so radio stations started pulling that record. They said they weren't going to play it. Something happened, somewhere it turned around and ended up being No. 1 for 18 weeks. I would have never thought that would happen cause all of the headaches."

"We went through that with Aaliyah's 'One In Million.' Our music that we were doing was so different that, rhythm-wise, radio was saying they couldn't mesh our music with other records. We ran across that problem with 'One In Million.'"

"Busa Rhyme" (featuring Eminem): "He hadn't even came out with 'My Name Is' yet. I heard something of his and instantly told Tim, 'I need this guy on my album.' Immediately when I heard him rap I thought, 'He's special.' I had the label reach out to [Dr.] Dre. He did it (his verse). I heard it and thought, 'Oh, he's going to blow up!'

The Making of "Miss E… So Addictive"
"It's nothing like having songs females can relate to. I knew that 'One Minute Man' was going to be one of those that the girls were going to love. Even 'Pussy Cat,' that wasn't a single, was one that a lot of people loved. Those are the fun records that tap into a whole other side that make the girls feel like, 'Girl that's what I'm talking about.' They're songs that they're going to play around their dudes to get them mad."

The Making of "Under Construction"
"The only time I put some thought into what I was going to do was with 'Under Construction.' By that time we had been so many places musically. I wanted to fuse old-school hip-hop with new school hip-hop. I wanted the kids to remember the great music that me and Tim grew up on. I remember Adidas being the thing Run D.M.C. always rocked; It reminded me of the time I fell in love with hip-hop. I grabbed the shell-toes and the Kangol hat and took it another direction."

"I wanted to incorporate some of those [old-school] beats with Timbaland's beats. We went through old beats from Run D.M.C.'s 'Peter Piper,' Method Man's 'Bring The Pain' and infuse those together purposely. That's the only album we sat down and said, 'This is what we want to do.'"

"Gossip Folks": "I slept on that record cause I didn't like the way I sounded. After so many albums, you start questioning things."

"Work It": "He (Timbaland) made me change my raps five times for 'Work It', before the world had a chance to hear it. He's like, 'That ain't it.' I came back and said, 'Look, I had all these hits and you're telling me this ain't it?' [Laughs] I think it was on the fifth try he said, 'That's It!'"

"The reverse thing you hear was a mistake by the engineer. I was like, 'keep it!' People thought it was consciously done."

What's Next?
"It takes a good amount of time when talking about being in the industry [for] more than two decades. I'm very critical when it comes to my stuff. When you've done it for so long… I've talked about so many topics, so I think, 'What way can I approach something and not feel like I've heard five of those records before?' When you're trying to not just give anything, but give them 100%, you're going to think a lot harder. For this album, I decided to not give myself a deadline. I don't work well under pressure. I decided this time I'm going to work at my own pace. When I drop whatever I drop, it's going to be worth every year people have waited."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"It's advice I've taken: Be yourself. It's something that I stand by and that I've done. Be a listener and then you can become a teacher."

NEXT: Trina

“Trina”

Day 19: Trina

Meeting Trick Daddy and Signing to Slip-N-Slide Records
"I met Trick [Daddy] a while before we did music. Before signing to Slip-N-Slide [Records] he recorded a song with Luke ("Scarred"). My girlfriends went up for the video and I came with them."

"He [later] called me and asked, 'I need you to do me a favor. I need you to do a record for me.' I was like, 'Are you serious? No, I'm not doing it.' He asked for my friends and me to come up to the studio and hang out. 'No. Absolutely not. I'm not doing that,' I said. But we went and we were listening to some records off the album. The engineer came in and played the record he wanted to be on ('Nann'). He didn't' ask me to be a rapper on the record, he said he wanted me to 'go toe to toe with me but from a girl's perspective. I'm going to talk trash and I want you to talk yours.' I was like, 'Uh, okay?' It just happened."

"Trick knew that I was feisty and could hold my own. He knew if he needed someone to talk trash, without acting or forced, he knew that'd be me."

"I got a call from the owner of the label, Ted Lucas. He said he wanted to meet with me: 'I heard the record you did. What do you think about being Slip-N-Slide?' I was like, 'Absolutely not.' He told me to just think about it, and still I said, 'No.' But, hearing the record and the response, it boosted me to feel like, 'Why not?' I went to the studio by myself, listened to some more records and I liked it. I recorded a few things and tried it out. Him and I had a long conversation about the industry, and after that I said, 'Why not?'"

"I was thinking, 'I am not an artist. I did not wake up and say this is what I wanted to do with my life.' While I loved music, I was already into real estate and had a normal life."

Provocative Lyrics
"I'm from Miami. It's a beautiful place. It's nightlife: partying [and] strip clubs. I grew up in a world of Luke. He was one of the most provocative musicians to come out. That's the world that I came up in so everything of this real."

"It's realistic, whether it be for the clubs or about relationships. I like to face whatever I feel, and live through it. Some people are afraid to talk about stuff, I don't care cause it's life. I'm a realist; I think that's what keeps me grounded. People say it's money and everything but try living without it."

The Making of "Da Baddest Bitch"
"I was 17, 18-years-old. It didn't seem like a lot of work was being done because a lot of work was being done for me. I had guys in the studio telling me, 'You need to do something for the lovers, something for the independent women... something for everyone. They came to me and said, 'There's this kind of record or that kind of record. Give us something sexy. Give us something dark.' And, that's what I did. They would tell me my direction, that before I knew it the album dropped. There was no time to think about anything."

"Fans chose 'Pull Over.' I went go off the crazy response from my fans when performing certain songs. People would yell out, 'Pull over, pull over.'"

The Making of "Diamond Princess"
"At that point, from being on the road for a year or so, I had more direction of who I was trying to be. I had more say on what I wanted to do, whether it be something more romantic because I had fallen in love. The album took me to another place as an artist. I could step to the label and say, 'I'm going to record these type of records.' The label was always against the love songs or the slow records. They love the pop, raw songs. There was always a fight. But, they believed in me because they saw me work so hard for 'Da Baddest Bitch.' They let me simmer down and agreed that I could do more of what I wanted to do."

Advice from Missy Elliott
"She'd tell me to stand my ground and stand for what you believe in. No matter if you if you are in a relationship or not, always keep your business your business and do real business the way you want to do it. Nobody can hold you down better than you.'Til this day, no matter what I do – whether I sign a contract or go independent – that advice stands true and I use it. You have to step up to the plate knowing what you want, who you want to work with, and you have to fight. It's something that I take with me. It's helped me get in and out of all the shady business that happens in the industry."

Parting Ways with Slip-N-Slide Records
"It's growth. I had been with Slip-N-Slide since the beginning of my career, since singing my first contract, since the day my first album came out. Everything I learned, I learned through them. They were and still are my family. I grew up and grew out of that. I grew into something I wanted to do myself. I felt like it was time to take that step and do my own thing. It's like being a kid; At 18-years-old you want to get your own place. It felt like that. I have my wings. I want to fly. I did everything. I delivered five albums; That was my deal. I want to do something real and to take over my brand. I needed to do my own thing."

Female Rappers vs. The Industry
"The industry is not glitter and glam; It's smoke and mirrors, so you can be left behind or caught up. You can't really hate the players though, you have to hate the game. As a woman, you have to work twice as hard and twenty-times harder in the paint than guys. I have gone to male artists show and I can honestly say [that] my show is better. But, I don't get credit cause I'm not a guy."

Rap Beefs
"Women are catty, emotional and insecure creatures so it naturally brings drama. I'm conformable with who I am. I'm 100% secure in my own skin, so if I like your work and it moved me in any sort of way I will support you."

"Beef is a waste of energy and time. Beef doesn't pay the bills. Beef doesn't put food on the table. I have to take care of what I need to do so I'm good for the next 10-years. I don't have time for that type of lifestyle. My girlfriends and I were the types that supported each other. It's not about hip-hop, it's about what's in the inside and that's insecurity. I'm for performing and recording with all female rappers. We have dope female rappers in the game. I don't know why there aren't more dope records with us like there are with guys. I've been on video sets, and some of these guys don't speak to each other but in the video they act like they're cool."

What's Next?
"For this next album, it's about what's happening now. I'm extremely happy and extremely in love. I've gone through so much that I'm putting it all in my music. I had tragedy happen in my life. There's part of me that's numb from it; I was able to reflect that in this album. Something that happened last year is the loss of my little brother. It's the most tragic[thing] I've experienced. I don't think, personally, I've accepted it or come to terms with it. I still look at it as something that didn't happen. I'm dealing with it [though], so when I'm in the studio I'm letting it pour out especially one specific record. I had to face it and I poured it out on a record."

"I'm not rushing. I'm looking late summer or the fall for the release."

"I have a personal record called 'You' coming in two weeks. I have a record with Cassie [coming] after 'You.' The record is uptempo and produced by is about the strength of a woman that's been broken, lied to or cheated on. No matter how energy you put in a situation, it feels not good enough and your fed up."

"I was so young when I worked on my first clothing line. We were great, but had different visions. I wasn't as in tune with that part of the business because of music. I get it now. I'm working on a new clothing line right now. I'm looking at designs and patterns. I'm working on my second perfume now."

NEXT: Roxanne Shanté

“Roxanne”

Day 18: Roxanne Shanté
In the mid-80s, when female rappers were commonplace, Roxanne Shanté took a chance and sparked what would become The Roxanne Wars. In fact, the Queens-native never wanted to be a rapper; However, thanks to a pair of Sergio Valente jeans she went on to become one of the most respected emcees to bless the mic.

The Roxanne Wars
"I started participating in battle rapping when I was about 10-years-old. By the time I was 14-years-old, I already had a good reputation. 'Roxanne's Revenge' was a six-minute freestyle. It wasn't planned. I went to DJ Marley Marl's. He was my neighbor. We lived in the same housing projects, Queensbridge Public Housing – which was one of the largest housing projects in the world. He requested I come over. He said, 'I heard you can freestyle and you're really good.' I said, 'Yeah.' He put on 'Big Beat,' which happened to be the underlining beat for 'Roxanne, Roxanne,' so he said, 'Let me hear you do something.' I came up with 'Roxanne Revenge' right then and there."

"I was already known as a battle rapper so anything that came out of my mouth was going to be considered a diss. It just happened to be the topic at the moment. I actually did the record for a pair of Sergio Valente jeans. Marley Marl worked at the Sergio Valente jean factory, so I told him, 'If I do this freestyle for you, I'm going to need a pair of Sergio Valente western jeans.'"

"When it ('Roxanne Revenge') initially started playing on the radio, people were calling my house late at night. At that time, it was the era where you didn't have phones in every room. We just had the phone by the kitchen that rang real loudly in the household. It played on the radio at 1 in the morning and I heard the phone ring. The only thing I could think was, 'My mother is going to kill me.' I remember the first time I answered, someone was like, 'Do you know your song is playing on the radio?' I hung up and I had to keep the phone off the hook for a while to keep it from ringing. I didn't really see how big it was going to become."

"Bad Sister" (The Album)
"I wasn't the person who wanted to become a rapper. It was just something I was very good at. I didn't want to be this big rap star or hip-hop legend. The record label (Warner Music) had to push me to get into the studio. When it came to 'Bad Sister,' it was really a task. I have a career that spans 30 years and I've only done two albums. During the process of only doing that it was, 'I'm just going to do this and get it out of the way.'"

Female Rappers vs. the Industry
"A lot of people want me to say I did ['Roxanne's Revenge'] to speak out so women can have a place in hip-hop but that's not the case. They didn't have the title of 'female rapper' back then. I was just considered a great rapper. So, I didn't see the need to show and prove to them that I'm great because I'm a girl. I was great anyway. It wasn't until the late-80s that they came up with the title, 'female rapper,' because they had women like myself who were ready to battle anyone and go after everyone. They were like, 'Shanté, we just want to let you know that you are one of the greatest female rappers.' I really wasn't satisfied. I never accepted that title. I was a great rapper, period. I was ready to prove it."

"They had a contest at the time called World Supremacy, where you had the opportunity to be crowned the greatest rapper of all time. I battled an emcee by the name of Busy Bee. I was 15-years-old at the time. It was a process of elimination competition and I had already battled six or seven young men. It was one of those all out battles. I had no voice left once I got to Busy Bee. Upon doing that, Kurtis Blow said, 'What does she need to lose?' They said, 'The only way she'll lose is if she [scores] a two.' He [Kurtis Blow] gave me a two. I was devastated. I wanted to know why. I didn't talk to him for years. A couple of years ago, we came in contact and I told him how I felt. He told me, 'At that time Shanté, hip-hop was still new, coming out and needed to be viewed a certain way. There was no way they were going to take hip-hip seriously if the best rapper was a girl.' After a while, I understood what he meant. [I] just hated it was done to me and that [it] killed my love for hip-hop."

"Being involved in the industry, I understood the shift of a female rapper from an artist to a commodity. It really devastated me because I didn't understand why a female rapper would think she needed to have a male hype man. People always made it seem like I was aggressive with my rhymes, but that's what hip-hop is. You have to prove that you're the best. It's about your talent and your delivery. But as we went on, we stopped listening with our ears and [started listening] with our eyes instead. That's where the female rapper made herself less important to the hip-hop industry."

College Education Scandal
"I don't regret any of those decisions either. In the process of living life after hip-hop, I allowed for a title to be placed on me and continued to live and represent that title. When everything was all said and done, if anyone was angry or if I caused anyone any problems, I apologized and moved on. At the time, I felt like I didn't do anything negative or put out any negative representation of hip-hop. I think a lot of people felt I should have walked away and put my head down, but that's not Shanté and that's not who I am."

What's Next?
"I'm working on the Roxanne Shanté story called 'Please Believe It.' I'm a breast cancer survivor so I've learned to enjoy the finer things in life such as family and friends. It shows in my Instagram and Facebook. The Roxanne Shanté story is an open book. Keep reading."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"It's very important to have a lawyer who has no contact with your record company or your accounts. It's very important to understand the business of the music industry. I would also tell myself to stay true to yourself and don't regret the decisions that you make. You are who you are. I would say to her, it's going to turn out great because they will know you." – Tyler K. McDermott

NEXT: TLC on Left Eye

“TLC”

Day 17: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes' booming voice and creativity were infectious. Throughout her lifetime, she strove to remain outside the box and undoubtedly broke boundaries for herself, TLC, and women everywhere. Twenty-years later, her legacy still stands strong through the VH1 movie, "CrazySexyCool," a platinum-selling discography and memories shared by the two women who knew her best: Chilli and T-Boz.

The Early Years
T-Boz: "Lisa and I were together before Chilli came along. We bonded on a personal and professional level. I don't really get along with females. They're so catty. I'm like a prissy tomboy. But, I liked her. She didn't care what anyone thought. She was just going to be herself. I respect that."

Left Eye's Creativity:
Chilli: "Tionne and I might be in the corner of the studio coming up with a routine and Lisa would be sitting down listening to the track we were currently working on. Whatever the title of the song was or if Tionne and I already put our verses down, she would bring it all the together with her lyrics. For example, on 'Hat 2 da Back' – which is my favorite song we've done – we were prissy tomboys talking about how you don't have to walk around or be a certain type of way. The track became personal because she talked about a situation she was in. [Her verse] completed the song and made it perfect. She always came with that type of lyrical content. Like in 'Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg': 'Two inches or a yard/ Rock hard or if it's saggin'.' It was hilarious and amazing how she came up with certain lyrics. It was effortless for her."

T-Boz: "She was my creative partner in the group. We would feed off each other. I would go shopping for the wardrobe and she would spray paint them. As far as picking out our clothes and what the artwork would be, she would come up with the title of the album and I'd work on the album cover. We worked so well together. It was important for her to be a trendsetter, show the world how talented she was, and to encourage others to be different. She wanted to make her mark and go down in music history. We did that together and that's what made TLC so special."

Creativity vs. Reality
T-Boz: "Chili would get frustrated, mad, and leave me to deal with Lisa. Lisa wanted the video for 'Red Light Special' to be like, 'Me and Andre are in the bed making love in the middle of the grass with lions, daisies and tigers walking around the bed. And, you can see the smoke come out. We can be looking out the window and these lights turn around.' I was like, 'Lisa, no.' For two hours I argued with her, saying, 'No smoke. No fire. No nothing! It's not going to be like that.' She would turn around and tell me, 'I got your point two hours ago. I just wanted to argue with you.' I just wanted to choke her but that's what she would do. She would get you mad to the point where you're screaming at her and then she'd tell you she got your point hours ago. She understood my point but she didn't let me know she understood until I'd break. All I could do was laugh."

"She would have to be reeled in. We had already lost a few deals after she burned the house down. Adidas, Nike and a lot of people didn't want us to wear their clothes. There was one promoter who wanted to take us out on the road. She wanted to announce on TRL that we were broke but we had to tell her, 'No. You're going to ruin this opportunity because of possible legal issues.' We had to tone her down sometimes. But, when you're that creative you have to tame that lion and center that creativity. So, I would tell her, 'That may not work for TLC but you can handle that in your own career.'"

Expression
Chilli: "We wanted to express how we felt in a classier way. Also, L.A. [Reid] and Babyface would watch us and see how we'd word our content. We were about girl power. We weren't regular girls from the streets. That's why women looked up to us. We were always that approachable type of group. We said everything that women wanted to say aloud, that they felt like they couldn't. Plus, the way Lisa would put it in a rap made it a little more edgy."

T-Boz: "We were all for being different. Using sex to sell [albums] is the easy way out. We stood up for people. We weren't feminists but we wanted to be the voice for women, speak on their behalf, and let them know that you can be yourself. You can be in a pair of sweatpants and sneakers and still be as sexy as the woman with her butt cheeks hanging out and cleavage showing. We were all for that."

Spiritual Journey
Chilli: "There was a lot she was dealing with internally. Stepping away from the business was something that was needed for her. She always wanted to better herself. Going to Honduras was her place of peace. It was her time to reflect. She loved it there."

T-Boz: "When we grow up we have standards set by our parents, but once we become adults we're able to choose how we want to live our lives. Whether or not Lisa grew up with God in her life, she knew that there were different aspects of religion. There's Pentecostal, Numerology and Baptist. She wanted to explore different things. She wanted to find what worked best with her."

Legacy
Chilli: "She did the things that she wanted to do, no matter how anybody felt. She just did Lisa. She was a fearless woman; I'm not that fearless. I wish she was still here." "She would encourage anyone to follow their dreams. She was the type of person who wanted to help everyone. Unlike myself or Tionne, she could handle the stressors that came with being a manager. She always wanted to find the next rapper and help them reach their dreams."

"She would let a pure stranger in her house. We would get on her about that. But she was a free spirit."

T-Boz: "There will never be a person like her. One thing I try to take away from her is to stop caring [about] what people think. The thing I loved about her was the fact that she didn't care."

"She had painted this picture of Tupac. She was an incredible artist. She wanted to complete it before she died. She knew how her life was going."

"People may have thought she was lost, but she was actually in search of becoming a better person. I commend her for that. She made her mark in society, the world and the record business. You can't take away someone's success and she accomplished a lot while she was here on Earth."

What's Next for TLC?
T-Boz: "We're working on a book. The movie was great but it's hard to cram three stories about three different girls in a 120 minute film. So, expect a full length book to come out in the near future. We're going back on tour. I can't give away too much but, we do have some clothing that just came out in Forever 21 and H&M. I'm just blessed to be here 20 years later, still touring and doing what I love. I'm having a ball." – Tyler K. McDermott

NEXT: The Lady of Rage

“Rage”

Day 16: The Lady of Rage
As soon as she'd get on the mic, The Lady of Rage would make her presence known. It seemed only right that the lyrical emcee joined Death Row Records and became the Queen of a dynasty. In the 90s she reigned supreme with classic collaborations and hits like "Afro Puffs." When the label fell apart, The Lady of Rage persevered. And while her affair with hip-hop may be coming to an end, the love remains.

Beginnings
"I moved to New York and on my first day there, I went to all of these record companies. Back then, record label addresses were on the back of albums and I wanted to bring everybody my demo. Later that day, I met this guy in Tower Records and I spit something for him. He said, 'That's funny, my mom is looking for a rapper to do an AIDS awareness PSA. I'll introduce you to her.' I waited around and it turned out that she's Nile Rodgers' mother. Her name is Beverly Goodman and Niles' brother's name is Dax. So they all really helped me out. They gave me money for studio time and did recordings for me."

A Woman on Death Row
"It wasn't a situation where they treated me differently or disrespected me. I didn't even have to fight harder because my talent spoke for itself. Yes, I was in a league of extraordinary gentleman but I was on the same level that they were. It wasn't like they had to write my rhymes or hold my hand. I held my own. And that's how it was with my entire journey in hip-hop. I competed with guys, so it was nothing to me. These guys were my brothers and I was their sister. It (Death Row) was a family."

"I learned that I wasn't the only one who's a perfectionist [or] who's meticulous about their craft. [Dr. Dre] showed me the importance of forming a song. Like Snoop, he would go off the head a lot and Dre was there to direct and lead. Dre would show us the art of creating and forming a song. He also really taught showmanship and the importance of having a stage presence. There are a whole lot of elements that go into creating a song or a show, this perfect masterpiece. I took little things from him in that regard and added it to what I already had."

"We were all young and we all wanted to make this happen. Snoop wanted to show the world what he could do, Kurupt, Daz, and me. There was just this energy there and we were able to do what we did so well. We had someone in a position to lead us down that road so it became an explosion of sorts. All these things fell in line and it was just a beautiful, magical thing. It was this energetic explosion of talent that was incomparable. That was a dope experience."

"Afro Puffs"
"That song almost didn't happen. I just so happened to go to the studio that day and Dre was playing this beat. He was like, 'You got something for that Rage? Let me hear it.' I spit a rhyme that I had written a few days prior. I didn't like [the song], but Dre was like, 'Damn Rage, will you just shut the fuck up? It's not even done yet.' I still didn't like it, but everybody else did. I asked Suge [Knight] to not put the song on the ['Above the Rim'] soundtrack and he was like, 'Alright Rage, we won't do it.'"

"I was riding in the car with Suge's wife and I told her, 'I'm so glad they got rid of that song.' And she said, 'Girl, they didn't take that song off the soundtrack.' I had a fit! I said, 'They're going to ruin my career. That song can not be the one.' My style was more east coast. I'm from Virginia and 'Afro Puffs' was this G-funk sound. Jimmy Iovine called me and told me to calm down because the song is such a hit. That became my claim to fame."

The End of an Era
"When I first got to Death Row, the lineup was going to be Dr. Dre, Snoop, myself, and then the Dogg Pound. For whatever reason, the Dogg Pound came out before me. I don't know the reason, but I know that when it was time for my album 'Necessary Roughness' to be produced, the dynasty was crumbling. Dre was leaving, Snoop was unhappy and on the verge of leaving, Suge was locked up, and 'Pac was assassinated."

"And then it's like, 'Alright Rage, you're up next.' I didn't have the conductor and I didn't have the same help that everyone else had when it was time for their albums to be produced. Everybody came in and contributed for 'The Chronic,' 'Doggystyle,' and 'Dogg Food.' Everybody came in for 'Above the Rim' and 'Murder Was The Case.' When it was my turn, it was just me. I second-guessed myself. I have the highest confidence in my lyrics, but when it came to formatting and the sound, I depended on somebody else for that. That's always how it was always done, even with the L.A. Posse and Premiere. I'm not the producer. I'm the lyricist and I brought my part of the equation to the table. When the other part of the equation was missing, I had to fill in but I'm not skilled on that level. I had bitter feelings and I held a grudge about that for a long time. But I got over it because I felt like if it was meant to happen another way, it would have happened another way."

"Originally, [the album] was going to be called 'Eargasm,' which was Dre's whole vision. Granted, lyrically I feel like it was some of my best work. I feel like my lyrics back then could rival some of the stuff that's out today. But the album was still an accomplishment for me. When I set out to do this, my whole plan was for people to know my name. Back then, it was so much about respect from your peers. I wanted to be known as a dope emcee. In future years, I wanted to be in the discussion of dope female emcees and some of the greatest to do it. I feel like I did achieve that."

Acting
"I've always wanted to act, ever since I was in the third grade. Even before rapping, acting was the thing. Rap was just a vehicle to get there. When I pursued acting full force, I wanted to stay in that lane. I also wanted to write a book and write some scripts. [Doing 'The Steve Harvey Show'] was really exciting, I loved it. As a kid, you say the things that you're going to do but when they happen, it seems surreal. 'Ride' was my first movie. I remember going to audition and seeing all of these established actors, all these people—Miguel Núñez, Elise Neal, Tatyana Ali, and Yo-Yo. So I thought, 'Man, I'm not going to get this.' But, I went for the role of Peaches and her description was a gangster girl who don't take no mess. When they called me in, I walked in the room and slammed the door. I turned around and got all in their faces and said, 'Fuck that! Peaches in the muthafucking house! The role is mine. Y'all ain't to get no fucking further.' And everyone applauded. I was so excited to be in this element.”

What's Next?
"I just signed with a company called the Shirley Wilson Agency. I'm doing a doc-drama about the life of Chairman Fred Hampton. I'm working with Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and we hope to release the project by the end of next year. [Acting] is still my first love."

"I'm working with Premiere and we're going to do my last album. Musically, I call it my last hurrah and coup de grâce. I feel like if I'm not passionate, then I'm cheating myself and fans of mine who expect the highest degree. So, I'm going to put my all into this project and that's going to be my exit. It's like a relationship. If it's over, it's over. [Hip-hop] I love you, but I don't want to be with you anymore. I can still admire you from afar, but that's it. I will always love you, but I have to move on." - Lauren Savage

NEXT: Eve

“Eve”

Day 15: Eve

From the minute that Eve stepped onto the scene in 1998, people knew she wasn't one to mess with. With her talent and passion, the first lady of Ruff Ryders quickly took over the rap scene. The Philly native has delivered a handful of hits ("Love Is Blind," "Let Me Blow Ya Mind") and continues to follow her gut whether it be in music or television.

Eve of Destruction
"My first producer used to call me Blondie Blackwell, which is one of my business names to this day. I stopped using that name and wanted to just go by my name. This movie called 'Eve of Destruction' was out and I was like, 'Damn, that's dope!' At that time I was doing a lot of battle rap so it made sense to go with that name. That's the name that I had when I first got signed to [Dr.] Dre. When I got dropped from Aftermath, I dropped that and was just Eve. I went through a lot: getting signed, getting dropped, being depressed. I felt like I had to drop that name because it didn't get me where I was supposed to get to as if it wasn't right."

Aftermath Entertainment
"Once I got signed to Dre, I had people telling me where to be at a certain time and what to do at a certain time, [like,] 'No, don't come to the studio today.' I expected that as soon as I got signed I'd be in the studio recording an album."

"I got signed but I didn't have a mentor. I didn't have anybody telling me, 'This is they way of going about doing things.'  I was so frustrated and so feisty. I was horrible. [Laughs] I would show up to sessions that I wasn't supposed to be at 'cause I was mad [that] nobody called me to come through. I'd show up and say, 'Why am I not recording today? Why am I not working on an album?' I got signed and was sitting. I was recording but I wasn't recording the stuff I wanted to. I'd be in these sessions that had no direction. I felt like I was just hanging."

Ruff Ryders
"I stated hanging with Ruff Ryders while I was signed to Aftermath. One of the producers from Aftermath told me about DMX, saying, 'He's blowing up. You should meet him when he comes out here to L.A.' Every time X came out to LA, I'd go where he and the guys were: video sets, recording sessions. They then signed to Interscope and became label mates."

"Jimmy Iovine really liked me. [So] when I got dropped from Aftermath, he kept me on Interscope. He was actually the one that suggested that I get signed to Ruff Ryders. He introduced me to them in a professional way."

"Once I got dropped I went to New York to be a part of this Ruff Ryder cypher. Just because Jimmy said, 'You need to sign her' didn't mean I didn't need to still prove myself. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. It was like a job interview right in front of 20 people in the studio; it was me auditioning. It was also me battling two dudes from Ruff Ryders that had been signed for years. I came from battle rap and doing cypher on the corner of South Street, or in the lunchroom. I was scared but at the same time it was me going back to my comfort place. I had been writing my ass off during my trip to New York. I got signed for talent but also the courage, like, 'Damn, she really did it. She got heart.'"

"Ruff Ryders make you prove yourself: 'Do you write your own rhymes?' Being the only girl, I had to show myself double time more than a dude would do. Once they saw that I was serious and that I wanted to hold my own, that's when I started getting respect."

"They wanted me to stand out as much as possible. They wanted me to be seen and heard. At that time, Ruff Ryders had their ears to the street. They were predicting certain things but also taking a gamble, and it was as so natural for me to go with the music they'd give me."

The Making of "Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders' First Lady"
"The albums was made in two months. I tell people, 'You've been writing your first album your whole life.'  We got songs and skits done so quickly. The first album was me at that moment, me as the Philly chick that I wanted to show everyone. It was one of the most easiest and fun albums I ever recorded. Me and my friends were always in the studio recording."

"Swizz [Beatz] is one of the easiest producers to work with. He does this with all the people he works with: He can get into that artist's world and mind. Even if I was feeling exhausted or lazy, there was song done by the end of the night because his energy is so infectious. We'd end up doing 2-3 songs a night. At that time, we were coming up together. At some point, around the first album, we would be living with Swizz. We'd have people sleeping on the floors of the studio. Swizz was always making beats [so] songs were always being made."



"Love Is Blind" (feat. Faith Evans)
"I told myself that if I was ever to get into the industry that I'd be who I was. I wasn't going to pretend to be anyone else. I wanted to write things that I lived through, that were real to me. I'm sure it was a gamble but I never looked at it as so."

"'Love Is Blind' was a poem at first. I wrote that when I was 16 years old, then I decided to put it on the album. It's a true story. The first two verses are about my friend, who was 16 years old and she was dating this older dude who was 35 years old. She got pregnant by him and he used to beat her to try to lose the baby. She didn't really have anyone in her corner but me. When she had the baby, I was the one in the [delivery] room."

"I only had the first two verses, so when I finally made it into a song, I added the third verse. People die of domestic violence and I wanted to avenge my friend's death. I didn't know how real domestic violence was until that song came out and I had people come up to me and share their story."

"Who's That Girl?"
"'Who's that Girl?' was the crossover record, and was big overseas. That was the record that made media pay attention to me, a lot more than they did. I was still new to the business, so I never thought about radio impact -- I just wanted to make a song that felt good."



"Let Me Blow Ya Mind" (feat. Gwen Stefani)
"This was the first time we worked together since I was dropped. We had seen each other at the Source Awards. Ruff Ryders and Aftermath were performing. When we saw each other he said, 'This is crazy.' I said, 'Ain't it? See you on stage.' I was such a bitch. [Laughs] I was so extra, extra."

"Scott Storch, who I knew since I was 15 years old, ended up playing the keys.

"After I wrote it, I knew I wanted Gwen Stefani. She was a label mate, and I had been a fan of hers and No Doubt for years. People thought I was crazy. They'd say, 'She's not going to want to do it.'  Although we were so different, I felt like she was just like me. She was a tomboy who was a girly girl, and never had the chance to hang out with girly girls 'cause she was around these guys. But it happened and I proved people wrong. It was nice to do so also, especially to bunch of guys."

Working with Dr. Dre
"When I used to be in the studio [with Dr.Dre] I couldn't stand him because he's a perfectionist. Dre is a line-by-line producer, not a verse-by-verse producer. He wants to know how you're breaking down the track. That's why he's amazing. He knew how to bring out the best in me."

"We definitely had arguments. I definitely threw stuff and I definitely cursed a lot -- but it was worth it."

"Dre was not having it. He wasn't having me come at him. He's a very particular person and, at that time, I was a stubborn person. Neither one of us wanted to go there, in any type of way. I was like, 'Yeah, now you're producing for me.' He was probably like, 'Here we go.' [Laughs] 'Cause he already knew how I was. That was also an advantage: We knew each other creatively. He knew what buttons to push immediately. As frustrated I was, I had to prove him wrong. I had to do the record. Every time we got together, my manager was like, 'It feels like shadowboxing.' We'd be going at it without words, but for some reason it just works."

Parting Ways with Interscope Records
"There started begin label issues and misunderstandings [after 'Eve-Olution']. It was horrible because there were all these people who have been championing me for years and now, all of a sudden, I didn't feel like anyone was in my corner."

"At that time, music was changing. Interscope was changing. Music was more dance or [pop] influenced. Me as an artist, I didn't want to compromise my sound. I wanted them to let me go. I'd say, 'If you don't believe in me then let me go.'

"To this day, I still don't know the exact answer as to what happened. 'Tambourine' came out, and it did amazing. It took while for the song to grow, and maybe that was an issue for them. But once it hit, it hit."

"After that they said, 'We're not putting out the album 'cause we're not happy with the album but you have to go in and re-record another album.' I was like, 'What? After the single came out?' I was at the point where I just wanted an album to come out, so whatever suggestions they gave me, I'd do it. Whatever producer they wanted me to work with, I'd do it. I did some singing on the project, too. I was doing everything that I thought they wanted me to do in order to put out the album ['Here I Am'] and it still didn't happen.

"As I was moaning while recording I was like, 'If you don't like anything I'm doing then why am I still on this label? Let me go.' When I did what I needed to do and they still weren't with it I was like, 'Let me go.' There were meetings about me that they didn't tell me about nor let me be a part of. Finally, I stood my ground. I made an appointment with someone high up. I can't really say how it went down, though I wish I could. They finally said, 'She's right. Let her go.'

"When they did let me go, I went through a phase where I questioned everything and myself. 'Is it me?' 'If they let me go, maybe I'm irrelevant.' 'If they let me go, maybe I shouldn't be making music anymore.' I went through so much."

Depression
"It was during the Ruff Ryders/Cash Money tour. There were so many things happening; I wasn't sleeping right or eating right. My friends and I were fighting all the time, and I was depressed. And you're on tour so you can't just leave."

"I don't think I knew it was depression. I thought I was just tired and sad. I was very unhappy, and I didn't tell anybody. I was one of those people who cried but told myself I couldn't show emotion. I didn't want to be 'that girl' around the guys. I'm not like that anymore."

"I [finally] had a real breakdown. I was going to work on a video so I had to leave the tour to go to New York. I finally got to New York, and I started crying uncontrollably one night. Even though there were only three shows left, I said, 'I can't go back.' I didn't want to go back and see those friends on the bust that were just taking advantage. I didn't want to go back to being tired. Thankfully, my manger saw how I was and said, 'You need to rest. I'll get you out of this. Chill for awhile.'"

From The Rib Record Label
"Honestly, I didn't want to start a new label. I wanted to be signed to another label. I was going around having meetings with labels. I kept getting people telling me, 'You need to go back to the Ruff Ryders days. You need to be the old Eve.' How am I going to back to who I was? I've made music beyond Ruff Ryders. They made me who I am but I have songs beyond that first album with Ruff Ryders. I think people would think I was regressing or pretending. You can't bring back that moment in time."

"I wanted freedom. I decided that the only way to make the music that I felt like making was to do it on my own. It became a necessity, more than a want."

What's Next?
"For the next year, I'll be working on a new TV show with ABC. It's about an interracial couple. It's not just me and my fiancé, Max [Cooper], but more about a young black girl being with a white dude and what that entails. I never thought I'd be marrying a white man. Our relationship is great, but at the same time I haven't seen many positive or any kind of shows of interracial relationships.

"We're still in the baby stages. We're in the development [phase]. We still need a writer and a cast. I'm going to be starring and executive producing the show."

Advice To One's Younger Self
I would say, follow your instincts more. I wish I would have trusted myself more. I wish I would have trusted my gut more and not had second-guessed myself as much.

NEXT: Amil

“Amil”

Day 14: Amil

In the late '90s, you couldn’t escape Amil's voice on the radio. She appeared on countless Roc-A-Fella songs, including Jay Z's popular "Can I Get A…" and "Jigga What." Despite rumors of a falling out, Amil actually took a step back to attend to her happiness. After a hiatus, Amil readies a mixtape for the summer, titled 'Another Moment In Life.'

Check out her new song, "Remember," premiered exclusively here on The Juice. "Remember" samples Jay Z's "Where I'm From" and the hook from Faith Evans' "You Used To Love Me."



Beginnings
"At the time, I definitely wanted to be in a group. I wasn't thinking about being a solo artist or anything like that. Liz Leite and Monique were in the midst of starting a group [Major Coins] and I vibed with them well."

"I had been rapping long prior to meeting them. It was something that I did since a little girl. I never looked at it as going beyond me being known in the streets. I never looked at it as a career. That wasn't the case for the girls."

"I met Jay Z through the the girls. One particular girl (Leite) had that star quality. She was ready, maybe more ready than anybody else. To me, she was dope."

"He had us both rap, and I ended up doing the verse for 'Can I Get A…' She appeared on Jay's album ('Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life') too (on 'It's Like That')."

"Jay wanted to sign me as a solo artist. I was excited but not really knowledgeable of what was ahead of me."



Working With Jay Z
"I had no idea 'Can I Get A...' was going to be a hit. It [all] took off from there. He was looking for a female to say the verse and that's where I came in at. Jay had already wrote 'Can I Get A...' before I got it. I wrote my rhymes around it."

"Whenever me and Jay recorded it was a natural thing, it was always smooth. The way we sounded together, it was a good chemistry."

"Jay had respect for my talent – writing and my voice – nothing more. Jay gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and what I did with it was my own decision. That was my brother. There was never a relationship between me and Jay or anyone over there. He was like a brother; He was very protective over [me]. I'm never going to lose any love for Jay."



"Smile For Me" (Off "All Money Is Legal")
"Prior to the album, I didn't make songs like 'Smile For Me.' I may have been introduced by the songs I was on, those from Jay Z and from the rest of the [Roc-A-Fella] guys but the album showed another side to me. You understood me more on a personal level. I loved being in the studio. It was a great experience to work with Just Blaze, my engineer at the time."

"All my personal songs are my favorite, like 'Smile For Me.' There was  freestyle I did once that Kay Slay played. It didn't have an official title but that was one of my favorite songs I've done 'cause it was real personal too."

"When I first heard 'Smile For Me,' I loved it immediately. I wanted it. I immediately began writing once I heard it. I wanted it to be the last song on the album but Jay said, 'You have to make this No. 1 on the album.'"

Major Coins Reunion
"[The] original Major Coins never reunited and worked on a mixtape. I just want to clear that up! Not that it can't happen, they are my sisters, but it hasn't. I haven't spoke to the girls since 2001, however plenty of girls rep Major Coins and carry on the legacy.

Walking Away from Roc-A-Fella
"I wasn't there mentally. I was in my own world. Was I prepared? No. Did I realize what was happening right before my eyes? No."

"I started to rebel. I rebelled against the industry because it's not what I wanted. I hated traveling. I wasn't at after parties or the club. Also, at the time my son's asthma, [who was] 5 [or] 6-years-old at the time, was getting worse and no one was there for him. I had to be there for him."

"I didn't think about the legalities of a lot of things. I never cared about the contracts. I could have been signing my life away… I was not a business woman at that time. I didn't have a manager or the things that most artists have. I didn't put my all into it. I didn't give 100% of myself. I felt like it just wasn't for me. That's when I started rebelling. I started rebelling because I wanted out. It was easier for me to slip away. I faded myself. No one faded me. And, thats when everything seemed to go left."

"I think they (Roc-A-Fella) knew through my actions that I wasn't in it. I wasn't the artist that was doing everything be No. 1. I wasn't doing anything to make myself bigger than what I was. I wasn't putting any effort in promotion. I wasn't looking at it as a career. It's not that I wasn't doing it because I was stupid, it was because I didn't want to be there anymore."

"There was never a conversation. He (Jay Z) knew that that's not where I wanted to be. I told him that I couldn't do it for another year. I think he understood, overall. He thought that as time went on I'd be ready, but later realized I wasn't. I know he knew, 'She don't give a fuck about this shit.'"

"I was fine being an around the way rapper. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I wouldn't have allowed myself to jump in the game.  If I would have did it again, I would have left it alone. I wasn't cut out for it. I probably would have stepped in as a writer."

Self-Reflection
"My story is not everybody's story. Being a female rapper is not going to create my happiness. Being in the media or fame alone is not going to create my happiness. I need more. I have to be in control of my own life; Everything that goes on in my life. I won't be happy otherwise. If you're going to be in the music industry you have to be prepared. Be the best you can be, live that life the best you can. Don't let anyone discourage you from doing what you want to do."

What's Next?
"I'm wrapping up my mixtape, 'A Moment In Life.' It should be out late spring or early Summer. It's a lot of R&B. I still love 90's music so I wanted to stay in that zone. I miss the music of my era. People remember me from the late 90s, and that's what I like to represent. So I'm doing a lot of songs off 90s beats and collaborating with 90s artists (Havoc, JT Money, Killah Priest). You'll hear a much mature Amil."

NEXT: Rah Digga

“Rah”

Day 13: Rah Digga
A true student of hip-hop, Rah Digga studied with the boys but shined as a woman all on her own. She was the only woman in the Flipmode Squad for 10 years. With songs like "Imperial" and "Party and Bullshit" under her belt, she wasted no time establishing her credibility. As she looks ahead to the next chapter of her story, the hard-hitting lyricist proves that nothing is out of her reach.


Rah Digga-Party And Bullshit by Dante35

College Student Turned Rapper
"Actually, I was a rapper first. I've been writing and rhyming since I was in elementary school. I was on my way to boarding school and was still rapping. And even throughout college, [music] was a priority. I told myself no matter what I do or how old I am, I'm going to put out an album. I've always known that, since I was about 12. And once I was able to really be independent, I decided to leave college and keep it real with myself. I knew that music was my passion."

The Inner Circle
"I became a part of the Outsidaz in the early 90s. We were pretty much the crème de la crème as far as Jersey emcees go. I was partnered with a woman when I first met the Outsidaz. And lo and behold, my chemistry was better with the guys. So I link up with this crew of battle rappers and we're just slaying folks left and right.

"There were a lot of crews in Jersey at the time. Either you were a battle crew, or you were a song crew. As the Outsidaz, we did a lot of battle rapping, but the Fugees did both. Young Zee was touring with the Fugees at the time and he made that connection happen for us. When we crossed paths it was like, 'Either we're going to battle with each other or we're going to collaborate with each other.' That's pretty much how crews confronted each other back then. So we ended up doing this song "Cowboys," which unbeknownst to us, ended up on their album 'The Score.' It was my unofficial introduction to the industry."

Q-Tip
"I was part of a rap circuit called the Lyricist Lounge. I was performing while I was pregnant at a Lyricist Lounge showcase that Q-Tip was hosting. And about a week before that, Q-Tip was producing a remix for Young Zee. During the session, me and Q-Tip were the only ones in the room who weren't smoking. So we ended up sitting and had a real conversation. I just blurted out to him, 'I got 30 days to get a record deal before this baby is born.' And he said, 'I'll sign you.' Sure enough, the following week was the Lyricist Lounge, where I performed pregnant. And true to his word, [Q-Tip] led me by the hand up to the offices of Elektra Records. Sylvia Rhone came in the office and was like, 'Oh wow, I've been looking for a new female artist to sign. Pull up the paperwork.' And she walked right back out of the office. I was a signed artist just like that."

New Artist, New Mom
"I don't think [Elektra] knew I was pregnant at first. I think I was on Sylvia's radar already because I did the duet with the Fugees. We shot a video for that song, and I was very comparable to Lauryn Hill at that time as far as our size and our look. I guess we just reminded people of each other. So [Sylvia Rhone] had an idea in her head that I would be an artist similar to Lauryn. When I came waddling in the office nine months pregnant, it was like, 'Oh, we didn't know she was pregnant.' But the good thing was that I only had about a month to go because it took that long to go through the contract negotiations. By the time everything was all done, signed and sealed, I was literally giving birth."

Busta Rhymes
"Q-Tip was going through some things. I think A Tribe Called Quest was splitting up around that time. And I was a pretty headstrong artist, so Q-Tip might have felt a little overwhelmed with me or thought maybe he'd bitten off more than he could chew. He put a bug in Busta's ear and the next thing you know, I was a part of Flipmode.

"I think what sealed the deal for me was the crew record that Busta had on 'Disaster Strikes.' He had a song called 'We Could Take It Outside' where he featured the rest of his crew. I pretty much stole the show and the reviews came back like, 'Who's that girl?' And Busta just said, 'Okay, she's a firecracker. I have to lock this down.'"

The Making of "Dirty Harriet"
"When I originally recorded 'Dirty Harriet,' I wanted it to be a whole Pete Rock and Primo album. I told Sylvia Rhone, 'I want the whole side A to be Primo and I want the whole side B to be Pete Rock.' I met a producer by the name of Nottz and started working with him. We had great chemistry, so I got up to song number seven with Nottz before my manager and Busta was like, 'We don't want the whole album to be one style.'

"We had to get some different sounds going on so that's when Rockwilder and Shock came in. Shock did 'Imperial' and Rockwilder did 'Break Fool.'"

"After that, it was pretty much open as far as production. I was really focused on having a pure hip-hop album. I didn't care about having collaborations. I was really, really hip-hop, so much so that I couldn't even fathom having an R&B hook on my album. But the album came together and it didn't take long. I was in the studio round the clock, seven days a week, the same way I was with Flipmode. That's one thing with Busta. That dude's work ethic is relentless and it shows. So the focus for me was really just having the hardest hip-hop album imaginable."

Independent Woman
"It didn't matter, because I had already been the only woman in the Outsidaz. I respect both my crews for different reasons. I appreciate Flipmode for teaching me how to be a woman in the industry. I feel like I learned more about my stage presence by performing alongside Busta. But as far as the lyricism and the 'I can take down any dude' attitude, I learned that from my crew prior to Flipmode. Eminem was a part of the Outsidaz, so I had some real mic killers. So I had already gotten accustomed to having to stand apart from dudes that really spit. So that was a cakewalk."

The Split
"It got to a point where I felt like I was moving laterally as opposed to moving upward. We lost our deal with J Records and we were putting out mixtape after mixtape. And after a while, I was like, 'This is getting old. We're not making any progress.' We were still a crew but the sentiment was every man for himself because we were scrambling for solo deals. I didn't feel like I was accomplishing anything more being a part of the crew at that stage. I felt like anything more that I need to do, I needed to do it for myself. There wasn't any beef or anything like that. I called Busta up and we had a serious heart to heart. I was like, 'Look dude, I think this union has run its course. I wish you the best but I don't feel like being the chick in the clique anymore.'

"In that era, having a crew was everything. It's hard to say if my career would have progressed further if I was on my own. There's definitely a gift and a curse that comes with being in a crew. But I do feel that people don't know enough about Rah Digga as an artist. I think when you mention my name, a lot of people just think of me as the chick in Flipmode. People don't really realize that I had a history and career that was thriving prior to Flipmode.

"I don't ever want to say that the crew hindered me, because I always moved at my own pace. Anybody in Flipmode will tell you, I didn't sit around and wait for my turn. I made my turn happen. But I do feel like a lot of the fallout from crew-based decisions did affect my solo career."

What's Next?
"My next passion project is a community center. I'm working on trying to put together a center for kids in the city of Newark, because we're really plagued with violence. We have such a smaller demographic than Chicago, but when you compare the numbers, we actually have three times the murder rate. I'm really trying to give these kids something to do in the neighborhood. They all look up to me and respect me because they always see me. Throughout my life and my career I've always had what I call a little trap spot in the hood or an apartment in the hood. So they know I'm real. They know I'm not one of those artists who makes it and then leaves and forgets everybody. I have other residences in different places, but I've always kept a spot in Newark. I'm still here; I've never left. So I'm working on doing things for the community.

"For a moment, I was going to run for councilwoman. I was well on my way, too. I definitely had the backing. But I had to sit back and ask myself, 'Do I really want to be entangled in politics?' I felt like I'd better off doing what I'm doing. I'm really here to help. I'd rather just be the artist that I am and continue to make music and contribute to the community when I can."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"I would tell my younger self to trust my gut. I feel like I was so strong in every other aspect of my career except for trusting my own judgment. I disregarded a lot of my own personal concerns out of loyalty to others and trusting other people's judgment. At the end of the day, I was right and I knew what I was talking about. I was really scared to be a solo artist when I was at my peak. At the time, the sentiment was that female artists couldn't make it without a crew or a man at the helm. I don't regret anything but I just wish I could tell myself, 'Fuck that shit, you'll be fine. Just stick to your guns and you'll probably doing better than most of those guys anyway.'" - Lauren Savage

NEXT: Lil Mama

“Mama”

Day 12: Lil Mama
Known for her vibrant style and energy, Lil Mama isn't afraid to go against the grain. In fact, from the moment she burst onto the rap scene in 2007, the Brooklyn native has been determined to forge her own path. Her debut single "Lip Gloss" peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Though she's received her fair share of praise and criticism—many people were ready to write her off as a one hit wonder—she plans to continue to to prove herself. And no matter what skill she chooses to showcase, the rapper/actress/dancer will stay true to her herself and her individuality.


The Making of "VYP: Voice of the Young People"
"I started taking myself seriously as a professional artist at 14-years-old. So by the time I did my first album, I was used to going in the studio, dedicating my time, and writing music and coming up with concepts. It wasn't hard. The only difference was that I was traveling to Miami, LA, and all these different cities to produce the music. That process for me in the beginning was easy. And then there were times when it got tough. The label was looking for certain sounds and wanted me to work with certain producers. And there was a push like, 'you need to work with them.' But we made it happen and it taught me a lot. I learned a lot about relationships and working with different artists who have different sounds and bring different elements to your project."

On Hardship and Loss
"The loss of my mom definitely affected me professionally, because at that point I felt like I wasn't fully equipped as a woman to make decisions for myself. The mental and emotional imbalance of being hurt by the loss of my mom and trying to be prepared for business wasn't there. I was pretty much all over the place in a sense."

"It was difficult to put out a project at that time. Not only because of my age, but because at a moment when the best thing in the world was happening to me, the worst thing in the world was happening to me simultaneously. I had a very uncomfortable balance between the success and acceptance of my music and my mother suffering with cancer. She was basically slowly dying. It was a really hard experience for me."

On Healing and Recovery
"God has helped me in so many different ways. I feel that at some point, I lost faith. And it's funny because it's when you're down that faith really kicks in. That's the test of faith. I lost faith but over time, my faith was restored."

"There were people around me that helped me and believed in me. My dad was there for me and then I met my mentor MC Lyte. At one point, we were just really good friends. People would tell her, 'you know, Lil Mama really reminds me of you.' And they would tell me, 'you really remind me of MC Lyte.' And because of that connection from people comparing us all the time, we linked up. She would see how I was doing periodically. And more recently, she became a force in my life, a person who gives me direction, and a great mentor. Upon [MC Lyte's] presence, I realized that a woman's advice and a woman's outlook is very important in my life."

Controversy
"The 2009 VMA's was an example of my courage, my free spirit, and my free will. I had been in the audience with all kinds of artists and I was so new to the industry. I was so raw at that time. I was so Brooklyn and so Harlem at that time that when someone was singing about New York and being inspired, I took those words in a literal sense. It really touched my heart. But the message wasn't meant for me to respond in that way. I later learned that this is an industry—everything is planned and everything is a business. However you may learn your lessons, you take it and you grow from it. I feel like I've truly grown. Not in a sense that I'm more confined. I just know that there's a time and there's a place. No matter what someone's singing about or no matter what someone is saying, they may not even mean it. They may just be saying it because they're entertaining. And you're in a place where you're responding to something that's not real."

Criticism
"I always wanted to be a kid star and I always wanted people to see my greatness when it was happening. I never wanted to be a person who had to wait until they were 25 or 30 to get their break. And at 17, I thought I was grown. Now I realize that I got what I wanted. I was in the spotlight at such an early age at 18-years-old and my heart was younger. So people got a chance to see me evolve and blossom into a young woman. Unfortunately, I was a young woman who didn't have my mother behind me. But before my mother [passed], she allowed me to be expressive. My self-expression was important in my household and it was okay as long as it wasn't too grown, too advanced or provocative."

"As far as fashion goes, I've always been out of the box and [have] tried different things with my hair and my wardrobe. I would make stuff on my own. When I got in the spotlight and around people who were into high-end name brands, everything was cut and paste. So [my style] came off weird to some people. But I don't regret anything that I've ever done. And no matter who looks at it as weird, it doesn't matter to me because I know that I was a young woman and I enjoyed my life. And as a lady walking into my womanhood, I will continue to enjoy my life and express myself."

"What I can say is that my fashion has changed and my eye for fashion is a little different now that I'm older. It's been a really fun ride for me."

On Left-Eye
"The experience working on 'CrazySexyCool' was exactly that. There was also a bit of mourning for me. It's crazy because even though Left Eye has been gone for so long, I felt a sadness and missed her presence. With Chili and T-Boz on set to support us, it was very clear that one person was missing and that was the character that I played. So it was emotional for me. But [Left Eye's] spirit lingers. Her spirit was so powerful that I knew the things that she would tell me and the things that she would expect from me; That pushed me to go harder. I've experienced some of her same experiences, not necessarily in a literal sense but where the world is doubting you and judging you. Or when the world doesn't believe that you can achieve a certain accomplishment and you break through. So that connection gave me the strength to get through the film with authenticity."

What's Next?
"Through it all, the best part is when you can restore your faith and continue through life with a pure heart. I have no animosity and no regrets. I'm happy and free. I'm excited about my new project and I still feel 17. The music that I'm working on is going to touch important topics. I just did a track the other day called, 'Letter to Self.' I love the record because the concept—me talking to me—really touched me. I hope that it can help someone else. And also, I'm just having fun with music and creating sounds that [will] make other people feel positive, free, and excited."

"The EP has a more hip-hop and R&B feel. It's untitled right now, but I'm thinking a summer release. Every since I was a child, I'd sing, act, rap, and write. There was just constant art all around. I think it's interesting that when you're introduced as an artist on a certain level or you're popular in a certain genre, people may want you stay in that lane. So, I think it's amazing that you go from rapping and being known as a writer to singing and being known as a TV personality or an actor. I feel like I'm blossoming. Right now, working in R&B and hip-hop allows me to do something that I've wanted to do for a long time. I feel like I've matured so the [material] will be presented in a way where I have more of an understanding and better control of how I put it out."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"Be relentless and most importantly, be selfless." - Lauren Savage

NEXT: Jean Grae

 

“Jean”

Day 11: Jean Grae

Jean Grae embodies creativity. Stepping out and developing projects outside of music, she's been able to produce a successful web series "Life with Jeannie," as well as a well-received audio book, "The State of Eh." But don't get it twisted, she's not done with the hip-hop game as of yet. She's currently in the studio placing the final touches on the long-awaited "Cake or Death" album and contemplating recording a new album. There's nothing that will stop this Grae from getting what she wants.

What? What? to Jean Grae
"What? What? was my introduction to an actual audience. Jean Grae happened when I decided to streamline my career [from Natural Resource to] a solo artist. There were a lot of topics I wanted to touch on. I wanted that versatility. There was some growing up and relationship changes from me stepping out on my own. There was a little more child's play going on. I was sitting with my friend and we were going through comic book names. He came up with Jean Grae. I felt that was perfect, especially with [Jean Grey's] story and being able to go really far with this saga. It's a challenging namesake to live up to but it seemed perfect."

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Working With 9th Wonder on "Jeanius"
"Little Brother was on the Okay Player Tour at the same time I was. 9th came out to one of those shows and we hit it off real quick. I told him, 'Man I would really like to work with you.' We met up back in New York and he gave me a beats CD with eight records on it. One of those records ended up being 'Don't Rush Me.' I came up for North Carolina to record that. We only planned on doing one song, but immediately as we were done we thought we should do more songs together. We became fast friends. It was an organic process. I came back to work on what would become 'Jeanius.'"

"We were really gung-ho about the process of 'Jeanius.' It took 4 to 5 days to work on the album. Everyone was in one room. It makes it much cooler because everyone's energy was on there. We would play a beat and figure out what song that sounds like on the album. For instance, we would need a beat that was going to sound like a number four in terms of album placement. We got really excited about the project. I probably shouldn't have given out any copies of the CD. There was no mixing or mastering and all of the samples were still on there. 'Jeanius' actually leaked the same day my album 'This Week' came out. I thought to release 'This Week' and then I would have a space where I didn't have to do anything because I already had another album done. That didn't go so well for me. It was a time where we were trying to understand how an album could leak on the internet. In retrospect it was a great way for it to happen. It got to a lot of people before we had to clear the samples and everything. It happened how it was supposed to happen."

Industry Hiatus
"I came from a family that did nothing but the music industry. I didn't expect that to be more difficult than it already was. I think I wasn't prepared in an adult way to be able to navigate multi-tasking in life. I didn't understand that I can still do music, write a book, do a television show or anything I wanted to do. I think it was a level of maturity I needed to reach. I never wanted to put all my eggs in a basket with rap and it felt very confining at times. I put a lot of time into it and wanted to move on to something else. The most frustrating part was people saying, 'We need you! We need you!' I was like, 'Yeah, a little more support then would be nice. [So] I don't feel like I'm doing this for nothing.' I just needed to come into my adulthood a little more."

"I had a lot of personal changes I went through. I decided to change my living arrangements and things that were going on in my relationships. I didn't need to be in relationships that weren't constructive. I needed to be able to appreciate the art and start making the music that I liked. I've known Kweli since I was 13,14-years-old. It seemed like a natural fit that we worked together and do business together at some point. However, it was mostly personal changes and realizations that set me back on different road."

"The State of Eh"
"I was working on it for a few years on a blog. It was something I thought I should turn into a book. I felt like there are a lot of books but let's do something different that's going prompt the reader to turn the page. It felt like a nod to my childhood. I started doing readings from 'The State of Eh' about 3 to 4 years ago. Those readings were a great opener for me before I started doing stand-up. I loved being in front of people. The adrenaline rush I felt after [those readings] was a greater rush than [when] getting off a stage at a rap show. I love to read. It wasn't as confining as the rap world where you have to make words rhyme all the time."

"Life with Jeannie"
"I've wanted to do stand-up since I was very young. I grew up watching stand-up and listening to a lot of comedy. It's been something I wanted to do for a very long time. I did my first stand-up two years ago. I said to myself, 'Go try it. Why not? What's the worst that could happen?' It was letting go of the fear of doing it. With 'Life with Jeannie' it was another one of those, 'Okay, I can take on another job. I just have to do it.' I talked to people and they would say, 'Yeah, you're not going to be able to hold this up. You need to budget in equipment, people and the necessary expenses.' When people always tell me that, I always try to do it anyway. With my mother passing in August of 2013, it was catalyst for me to do it. I didn't want to wait around anymore to make things happen. That was a push for me to do a lot of my material I put out in the past few months. I wanted her to be around to see me doing more things. That was motivation for me to not delay any of my projects anymore and to jump into every situation fearless."

A Mother's Motivation
"She was an absolute genius but never referred to herself as a genius. She was one in every way: a mom, a musician, a visionary and as a businesswoman. Her advice was 'I don't want you to be like me, but better than me.' I feel like I have a responsibility to make her proud even though she's not physically here. It was an everyday thing. She was still performing and putting out albums at the age of 76. I can't be lazy, ever. My drive to potentially outwork anyone is probably where that comes from."

What's Next?
"I really want to start promoting artists I actually love. I want to create the score of 'Life with Jeannie' based around artists I actually love. That's a big deal with me in terms of the show. 'Cake of Death' is still coming out this summer. I'm really excited about that album; I love that album. I might decide to make another album this month. I don't know what it will be about, but I always say, 'Expect the unexpected.'"

NEXT: Gangsta Boo

“Gangsta-Boo”

Day 10: Gangsta Boo
The first and only lady of Three 6 Mafia is known to hold her own. Since before joining the Memphis-based rap group in the mid-90s, Gangsta Boo has positioned herself to be among the elite group of femcees that run the south. After countless notable guest features, collaborative albums with Three 6 Mafia and solo projects, Gangsta Boo strengthens her bottomless discography with an upcoming collaborative project, "Witch."

Beginnings
"DJ Paul introduced me to the world. He had a series of ['Underground'] mixtapes and he put me on Volume 16. I had a song on it called 'Cheefa Da Reefa,' talking about smoking weed. I was 15 or 16-years old." [Laughs]

"I wasn't really asked to be in Three 6 [Mafia]; I was told I was on Three 6. They just said, 'Here's a contract. Sign it.' I don't know why they went with a girl when they could have chosen anyone. It was a risk because I don't doubt they heard a lot of shit because they chose a girl rapper. But I was always around them; I wrote a couple of raps for members in the group."



Parting Ways With Three 6 Mafia
"We grew apart and wanted to try something different. It wasn't about the money because we were definitely making money. I was immature and let emotions get the best of me. Now that I'm older and look back, I realize it wasn't the money. I was let outside voices get to me."

Female Rappers, Then Vs. Now
"We didn't grow up in the social media world, so my grind is completely different. It was way harder. Now a woman can come up easier, with the right team and the internet. I've ben rapping for 20 years so I have some loyal fans. I wonder if the ones [female rappers] now will have loyal fans like that."

"But the way its hard for girls now is that they don't have a clique. You have to have the support of a clique. You also need a foundation. Back then we had Missy Elliott, Shawnna, Remy Ma, Mia [X]…"

Beefs
"I feel like I'm on a land of my own, as a female rapper. I love that everyone is doing their thing but I don't even see them. I hope they don't see me either. There's no competition. I'm [also] too old to be making new friends with these bitches."

"I don't really pay attention to what anyone is doing, beefing with, or fighting with… I am only worried about the person I see in the mirror. I'm not competing. I don't want the biggest booty, I don't want the biggest whatever. I don't want to be friends. I just want the money."



What's Next?
"Me and [La] Chat are working on a project right now called, 'Witch.' It comes out in March. It started out as a mixtape, but it'll now be on iTunes and in stores. Fans have always wanted something collaborative from us because everyone thought we were beefing. The official single is with Mia X, "Bitchy," produced by DJ Paul."

"'Witch' is dark and mystic; It'll make people think its crazy. Everyone knows I'm a hardcore rapper and crazy; I do it as if I'm an actress in a scary movie. Some people like comedy or drama; I like horror. I portray that in my music."

"Paul, DJ Squeaky, Drumma Boy produced some songs on it. There's a song called "Will Power Witches Brew," which features Yela's girl, Fefe Dobson. You have the drug-type songs. You have the relationship-type songs. You have the songs that the hood girls want to hear. I got a song where I say, "Nah, you ain't my ni—a, you're just something to do/ I don't want a relationship right now, I'm just fucking you." I don't make songs for the glam girls. That's not where I'm at. I can do that if I want to. I can be the red bottom girl, the Gucci girl but that shit is expensive. I'm not about to do that to impress those that don't like me. That's not my image. 'Witch' is more gangsta. It's who I am."

"We're also working on a Three 6 Mafia album while on the road. Everyone's going to be involved. Juicy J is on tour now too, so we just got to [find time] to get in the studio."

NEXT: Ms. Jade

“Ms-Jade”

Day 9: Ms. Jade

Ms. Jade caught the attention of Missy Elliott and Timbaland instantly. Her lyrical prowess and 'around-the-way girl' style called forth collaborations most rising rappers could only dream of. After overcoming personal and professional obstacles since the release of her debut album ,"Girl Interrupted," Ms. Jade readies a project which finds her at her most comfortable and honest.

Meeting Missy Elliott and Timbaland
"On one of my trips to New York, my manager and I went to shop beats for producers we were working with. We met Jay Brown, who was working with Missy at Elektra [Records] at the time, at Quad Studios. My manager told him about a female rapper he rep'd. He thought I was crazy, so he took me upstairs to meet Missy. She called Timbaland on speaker phone and had me rap to him, on the spot. She asked me, 'What you're looking for?' And I said, 'I deal!' Two weeks later, that was that."

The Making of "Girl Interrupted" (2002)
"When you're from Philly, around that time, there was a certain way you'd rap to the beat. Timbaland's beats were so crazy, that I had to get used to writing to his beats. He would teach me to listen to certain drums and certain patterns so I can have different flows. Some of those flows were important when it came to his beats. He'd spend a lot of time with me grooming me and molding me to be this lyrical beast."

"I recorded most of the album in New York and L.A. When I first went to L.A., it was like a bootcamp for all the artists Tim worked with: Missy, Ginuwine, Tweet, Misha from 702, Bubba Sparxxx. We'd go to studio to record from six at night to six in the morning."

"There were some songs that I wanted to come out more than others that did. I have a bunch of songs that didn't make the album. I've been thinking about releasing an album with the songs that I didn't get to put out, but I'd have to play with the beat cause they're dated and music's changed. Maybe I'll drop a compilation album or 'Best of…'."


"Ching Ching"
"When I was living in New York, Tim said he had this crazy beat for me. Nelly [Furtado] was already on it it but it was mumbled. He gave it to me and I wrote to it. Off that song, I was able to open for Nelly and also got a deal with Hummer."

"I was going crazy when I got a bunch of texts from friends about Beyonce's song ['Rocket']." (Editor's Note: ‘Rocket' features Beyoncé reciting a line from 'Ching Ching': ‘What about that ching ching ching.')"

"Count It Off"
It was crazy [because] I would get features without knowing about [them]. With the Jay Z feature, I asked Tim if Jay would be able to do it and he said, 'I don't know. He really don't deal with females like that unless they're known.' He surprised me with it because when I did it it was a full song and when I went back Jay was on it. I might have listened to that song, on the low, a 100 times.


"Big Head"
"I wasn't really a fan of ‘Big Head.' I definitely had to dumb down my lyrics. The radio songs had to be radios songs, so they had to be much more simpler. That was one of the songs that I felt like I wasn't able to show my lyrical side. I felt like I wanted to go hard. I actually wanted to go with ‘[Jade's A] Champ' as the first single, but I had to go with what the label wanted."

"I was a kid. I never thought I would be on TV and around these people. And these people were successful so I thought, ‘I'll listen to them. You'd be a fool not to.' When you're that young, you don't know better. At that time I was just happy to be there."

"I always had an attitude to because of those type of things. I didn't know about radio songs, I just wanted to rap and write."

Parting Ways with Missy Elliott and Timbaland
"It was growing pains. Me and Tim had built what we built. At that time, we weren't seeing eye to eye. I thought the album could have done more than it did. So, I wanted to try it my way. I wanted to try to do it from the ground up. And they thought, 'oh well…'"

"I went through a time where I was devastated after parting ways, not knowing what I'd do but then I told myself, 'I'm still Jade.' I felt like that was just a part of my story. They gave me the opportunity to change and see the world and I appreciate that."

"Million Dollar Baby" (2007)
I had learned you have to stand up for you.  On ‘Million Dollar Baby,' I felt like Ms. Jade. I had to find myself [after ‘Girl Interrupted']. After my album, I felt like I was dumbed down a bit. After time went by I still thought, 'That's not me either.' So I kept recording. I never not went to the studio. I had to find a balance of what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. It was a transition and ‘Million Dollar Baby' showed who I became. I thought, ‘This is who I am. Take it or leave it. I'm not dumbing it down or going ‘hard'.' Some say I needed to go harder. I'm not about to talk about poppin' guns or poppin' bottles, cause that's not who I am."



What's Next?
"Right now, I'm working on EP right called 'Beautiful Mess.' It's all original songs. I'm also singing on this project; I started singing."

"I found a few dope upcoming producers on YouTube for the EP. I want it be more musical because I'll be performing the songs with a live band."

"Lyrically, I'm 100% honest this time. I talk about everything, from feeling like I'm not good enough at times to people once wanting to change me. I'm much more comfortable. I'm talking about family, friends and men… life."

"Life's happened: One of my best friends got shot in the head recently. I was depressed. I didn't want to do anything. And, I was in a car accident. It felt like it happened all at once, like I couldn't catch a fucking break. But I'm not the only that's going through this so I pushed myself to write about it."

"I'm also writing R&B and pop for other people. I've been in the studio with Miley Cyrus. I wrote a song for Kelly Rowland but it didn't make the album. I have to go harder. I want to let out my creativity out any way I can."

NEXT: Mia X

“Mia-X”

Day 8: Mia X

Mia X was not only the female representation in Master P's No Limit Records, she was the glue – the mama – that kept the family together and standing tall. While the rapper and chef has faced countless losses in her family and attacks on her image, her resilience and talent made her a force to be reckoned far beyond her hometown of New Orleans.

Beginnings
"I got in the game in '84 when joined a rap group with DJ Mannie Fresh. We've known each other our entire lives. We lived right around the corner from each other. This guy, Denny D, moved from Queens to New Orleans. He started a DJ crew with myself, Mannie Fresh and three other guys called New York Incarcerated. We met a guy, Eli, who had us doing all the rap shows in Atlanta and opening up for huge groups like the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. We had a strong name around the city. I left the group in '87 because I had to concentrate on school. When I got to the 12th grade I had a baby, so I became full-time mommy. I then had another baby. In 1992, I had the opportunity to get back to rhyming because my kids were in nursery and I had some free time. I wrote this song called the 'Payback,' which my baby father helped me push. I moved 30,000 units, and that's what got Master P's attention."

"P lived in California and C-Murder lived in New Orleans. C-Murder knew the noise I was making in the south. He knew the impact and knew I'd be the one at the hip-hop stations freestyling. He was the first one to tell his brother, 'There's this girl named Mia X.' Corey was initially the one who co-signed me."

"There were people from Atlantic [Records] hollering at me, but at the time I was enjoying reaping the benefits of an independent artist: freedom."

"P came down from L.A. to New Orleans because everyone kept telling him about Mia X. He visited me at my job, this record store Peaches Records. He asked me to come to California in Christmas and be on his '99 Ways to Die' album. I moved to California and worked on '99' and Tru albums. P and I instantly clicked. We kept making records, up until my parents died in 1999."

"He (Master P) asked me to be a part of No Limit after '99 Ways to Die.' He's like, 'You need to put out a whole thing with me in order to introduce you to the people outside the south.' I went back to California and worked on 'Good Girl Gone Bad.' That EP moved 55,000 [units]. He said, 'If you keep working on albums, by the time you drop something you're going to be ready.' He was right."

The Making of 'Unlady Like'
"KLC brought a sound to my flow that the whole world was ready for. When I dropped 'Unlady Like' it was certified gold in six weeks. It was during a time when there was some heavy-hitters dropping projects. I dropped 'Unlady Like' with only one video that you hardly ever saw. [Laughs] And one single ['Party Don't Stop'] you hardly ever heard, but the streets and my family certified 'Unlady Like.' The streets messed with me the long way since day one."

"I had one single and it was, 'Party Don't Stop.' Percy really liked the song and suggested I put another female rapper on it. He suggested Foxy Brown, which I thought was hot, and himself get on the record. This was the time before the internet, so we had to mail the beat back and forth. They recorded it [and] mailed it back. We loaded it up and then sent it to get mastered."

"When first heard the drums hit in the beginning of 'You Don't Wanna Go 2 War,' we knew it was going to be a hit. We all lined up in the studio and chanted: 'You don't wanna go to war.'"

"I wanted a lot of songs on 'Unlady Like' to be pimp songs. I had one of the producers come in and talk to me as if he was missing me. I played like I was pimping him. We couldn't stop laughing though."

"If I had more commercial backing, 'Unlady Like' could have been a bigger album. I never went in the studio thinking of a making my album radio-friendly. I just went in and made music that I loved. DJs showed love. When they found tracks they loved off the album they edited themselves and played them."

No Limit Records
"I could see it in Percy's eyes that he wanted to make No Limit bigger than any other label. We – myself, Master P and  KLC – created soldier music. Soldier music then turned around and birthed crunk music. I knew the world was ready after seeing the east coast – New York, Philly, and Jersey – get buck from our music. The door was open from all the different sounds from the south.

"I was the mama of the crew. No one would drink or smoke in the studio or on tour while I was around. No one played with mama. What made the relationship at No Limit so special was that we didn't mix business with pleasure. Nobody was my boyfriend. We took the family thing serious. We didn't have anything extra going on. When we fussed, we fussed like siblings and we had some fusses but thing would eventually smooth over."



The Making of 'Make 'Em Say Uhh!'
"Percy used to say 'Uhh!' all the time. I started noticing when we'd do shows for 20,000-25,000 people that the'd say it also. We were in the studio once, and I brought up how a few comedians were turning 'Uhh' as if it was a noise when taking a crap. I said,  'Before they run with this like a gimmick we have to flip it.' I started singing, 'Uhh! Na-nah na-nah!' I told them we have to do that again and hit them with another soldier beat. KLC then started working the beat and the drums. In order to get him him excited to do the soldier beats I'd make him chicken and Jambalaya. As he was making this crazy drum pattern, Percy walked in and I started telling him about my idea. His faced scrunched up and he started jumping up and down, rapping, 'Ni—a, I'm the colonel of the motherfuckin tank.'"

"To this day, when it comes on in the club, I get butterflies."

"The video was crazy. We had Shaq up in there. They put Mystikal on top of the basketball pole. They put me in the locker room. We were doing too much. They had me in the Jordan XIII – two months before they came out – with the matching jogging suit. All the guys were losing their mind over my outfit. The energy on the set mad the song crazier. Sometimes I look back at videos and laugh at us because of how we were dressed. We used to be all in suits. [Laughs] All we thought was how we didn't want our mamas and dads to be mad. We wanted to be presentable. It had a lot to do with our families and children and how they'd perceive us."

Her Relationship with C-Murder
"As much as I love and will always love Master P, C-Murder is absolutely, hands down my favorite Miller."

"When C-Murder got arrested, I was physically ill. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe hearing the whispers from high places saying, 'We know he's not guilty but he's not talking to so be it.' And then I'd go to the court room and hear the evidence that was no evidence. The jury was doing the girl that wanted to vote him innocent so bad, even worse than [they] were treating C-Murder. They'd tell her, 'Just go and vote guilty.' The judge would refer the verdict as a 'conviction' before the jury had even decided. It was devastating. I understood what railroading meant by seeing it first hand. He did not murder anyone, and that's what's been so sad about the whole ordeal."

"I'm still heartbroken. I miss his loyalty. There's not many that deliver when they say they'll deliver. To know Corey, is to love him."

Self-Image
"I remember people saying that I had the look but I didn't have the body 'cause I was fat. People would tell Percy, 'Make her lose weight. She should get some liposuction].' He'd tell me, 'You don't have to do that.' I said, 'I'm not about to do that cause it'd be my luck that they'd suck all the fat from my stomach and it'd end up all in my eye.' [Laughs] At the end of the day, I'm going to be the fat girl in heels cause I know I look like someone's mom, auntie, or best friend. I wanted to represent the every day woman. Foxy Brown and [Lil] Kim were rocking high-end clothes, looking sexy, while I was the one that looked like the average girl with a big brain."

Rap Beef
"Who do I look like beefing with someone on a record when my whole life, my real life, was burning down? I just had double murder happen in my family a few weeks ago. I had two children from two men; One got inducted and one got murdered. My mama, my daddy, my grandma, my great grandma, my uncle, my cousin, and my other cousin have died and all that happened in an 18-month span for me. [Hurricane] Katrina hit and we lost everything. So what do I look like fighting with someone on a damn record? We, No Limit, didn't run like that. When we weren't with family, we were working."

Retiring
"I had planned on retiring at 30-years-old. I thought, 'When I'm 30, my children are going to still be young. I want to see them go to school and grow."

"From 1992-1999, I was on all the time: touring, writing, and preparing others on their projects. But everything changed when my mom died in '99. She was a huge support system for me. I have a young sister, Ashley, who was so close to my mother and father. She lived with them and was always under them. I told myself, 'Since our mother died I'm going to stay at home to make sure things go smoothly with Ashley and with my kids.' Five months after that, our daddy died. I stayed with Ashley and decided to put all my attention on my family."

"I miss the game but it paid off. Ashley is on her way of becoming an Infectious Disease Specialist and she just got offered a diplomatic position at the U.S. Embassy for Peru."

Cooking
"When my mom was finishing college, I spent most of my time with my grandma. She had a lot to do with who I am. She was a strong woman. She cooked in a whore house, and she'd take me to work with her. We also ran our house like a speakeasy. She sold food and liquor and people gambled. That's how we paid our bills. I learned how to cook since I was 5-years-old."

"Now, I'm working on my cookbook, 'Things My Grandma Showed Me, Things My Grandma Told Me.' It's coming out this summer. There's a group of us, #TeamWhipDemPots. We inspire each other to cook meals, post recipes and share pictures. We're 7,000 strong on instagram and 15,000 strong on Twitter."

"Cooking relieves my grief. I'm sad for my mommy, my daddy, and my grandma every day. I miss them every day. The thing we had in common was cooking. Me, my mother and grandmother would always cook together. When I'm in the kitchen I'm at my best because I'm comfortable and can feel them with me."

"I make music here and there, but my life has been about cooking since I left the game."

NEXT: Monie Love

“Monie-Love”

Day 7: Monie Love
In the late 1980s, Monie Love journeyed across the pond to sprinkle British flavor on hip-hop. A member of the Native Tongues, she became a part of the force behind hip-hop's women empowerment and served a dose of reality. Her soul continues to burn with hunger – mixing music and activism – as she prepares to return to England later this year for the first time in 15 years.

Beginnings
"A gentleman by the name of Dave Kline, we used to call him Bump-N-Kline, worked for Rush Management. He used to bring a lot hip-hop artists abroad to do shows in England and the UK. On a particular trip, he brought over The Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and others to do a series of shows in and around England. I went to one of those shows and Dave Kline was familiar with me because I had been making noise in the underground scene in England. He introduced me to the artists he brought over. Queen Latifah and I struck up a friendship from there. That was in late '87."

"We, Queen Latifah and me, were friends. We blew up each other's telephone bill. Her bill was astronomical because she was calling me from New Jersey. My bill was astronomical because I was calling from England. Our parents were pissed. One day she said, 'We should do a song together.' She said she wanted to do something that was uplifting for women because it's a male-dominated industry and hip-hop is full of male acts. [Women rappers] do exist but we're few and far between. She said, 'I want to do something that's going to empower women and shake the guys up a little bit. I want to call it Ladies First because when a guy and a woman walk through the door, it's supposed to be ladies first.' So we built the song around that idea. We spoke about the song a good 6-8 months before we did it."

"I absolutely had no idea the song was going to be as big as it was. The thing is, when you're a kid and you're so into something to the point where you can do it with your eyes closed, you're not cognoscente of the type of affect is going to have. We were just having fun doing it. We had no idea it was going to go down in history as this great woman empowerment song in hip-hop. I didn't know until this day that people would see me out on the street and say, 'Ladies First.' It makes me feel good in my stomach and in my soul. I love when young girls come up to me and say, 'Oh my gosh, my mother used to play your song all the time. I dressed up as you, my friend dressed up as Queen Latifah, and we performed 'Ladies First' at the school talent show.' That type of stuff makes me really feel good."

Studio Life
"We all used to record at Calliope Studios in Manhattan. Her, me, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, the entire Native Tongues, we all used the same studio. It was like a commune. We would be in each other's sessions lying on the floor or on the couch with a million boxes of stale Chinese food from the day before. It was commune. Queen Latifah and I had a good time writing 'Ladies First.' My record label got split in between Europe and America where I was working on my first album. My boyfriend was one of the Jungle Brothers and he did some production on it. He introduced me to Q-Tip. Q-Tip and I developed a family bonding relationship. He and I used to go record shopping. De La Soul would be recording a song in the studio and say ‘Phife go do a verse. Tip go do a verse. Monie go do a verse.' It was the same thing for everyone else's song. It was very organic. It was a family oriented vibe."

Female Rappers Vs. The Industry
"Back in the day, we (female rappers) were easier to find. We were plastered all over the 'Right On' magazines, the Rap Pages and 'The Source.' Now, most of the girls are seen but it's difficult because they don't even the get the attention they deserve. The ladies that do get the light are following a similar trend of being scantily clad. Everyone's naked, showing their boobs or ass. That doesn't describe every woman in hip-hop but unfortunately that is what's pushed to the forefront. Little girls don't get to see anything else unless they're pushing and searching for it."

"I don't think the scantily clad trend needs to fall off the face of the Earth because realistically, that won't happen. There's always been scantily clad [female rappers]. However there needs to be a balance. It's easier to find half-naked black women on television, reality shows, and on every hip-hop blog. There needs to be a balance so we can find more girls who are about the rhyming like Rapsody and artists who are focused on 'I want you to respect my art.' All of us, with the help of some of my brothers, can shed a light on what's missing and bring back the balance for women in hip-hop."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"When I look back at everything I did, I'm happy with it. I'm happy with my integrity, the stamp I made, and the time I was in the forefront. I'm working to start a non-profit organization soon concerning domestic abuse. I was a victim of domestic abuse. I wrote 'It's a Shame' when I was 19-years-old. I wasn't a victim of domestic abuse until I was in my 30s. I was sitting in it for a bit of time. I had to say to myself, 'What are you doing? You inspired women to not take crap and here you are taking crap.' But if I could tell my younger self anything, it would be to slow down a little bit and enjoy the ride. I think I went too fast. I was running so fast [and] working so hard."

What's Next?
"I'm touring this year, prominently overseas. I'm hitting London first. I haven't been to my hometown in over 15 years. I'm going to stay out in Europe and do some additional dates. I plan to come back to the states then go to Australia following that. I have a book coming out this year which is exciting because I initially wrote the book in 2010. I'm doing a lot of activism here in Florida with the Stand Your Ground Law. There's an incentive I'm working on with Harry Belafonte that will come to light later this year." – Tyler K. McDermott

NEXT: Da Brat

“Da-Brat”

Day 6: Da Brat
From her image to her music, Da Brat has been notorious, and successful, at staying true to her creativity. Going with her gut has earned her the title as the first female solo rap act to have a platinum-selling album (with "Funkdafied"), notable featured appearances and close relationships with the industry's most beloved. While she overcomes legal issues that's haunted her for years, Da Brat continues to challenge herself through music and connect with the ladies in hip-hop we love, such as Missy Elliott, Shawnna and others.

The Making of "Funkdafied"
"Before meeting Jermaine [Dupri], I first I met Kris Kross in October '92 at their show at the Arie Crown Theatre. I ran on stage and won a contest to meet Kris Kross. They thought I was dope and told me that they'd tell their producer about me, JD. I didn't think they really would, but I kept in contact with them. The first time I met JD was when he came with Kris Kross to the Oprah Winfrey show in Chicago; They were on the show with TLC, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and C+C Music Factory."

"He was excited to work with me so he invited to come to Atlanta. I got a buddy pass from my friend who worked at TWA, an airlines that doesn’t exist today. I called and called and bugged JD’s assistant until he finally came and scooped me and my god sister, Dawn, from the hotel and took us to his house. It was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen, seeing that I'm from the hood. I'm from the West side of Chicago. The minute I got there, I started working. He had me rap for people. The chemistry was so crazy and I was so eager to learn that whatever he taught me I absorbed like a sponge."

"When we first got in the studio, Jermaine Dupri started humming the song to 'Funkdafied,' and him and Kris Kross started working on the beat. Jermaine would then go back and forth with me on ideas."

"JD told me at first, "Brat, I don’t want you to be disappointed if you if you don’t go platinum. It's okay if you go gold." I told him, "I don’t care if I go double copper. I just want the world to know me and how good I am for what I do."

Self-Image
"I was already Brat, doing crazy stuff before I was in the scene. In high-school, I was different. I'd wear my pants backwards before Kris Kross did, just to be different. I’d wear my hair in a huge pony tail; It'd stand 3 feet tall and drape down. I was always comfortable in my own skin. There was nothing average about me.

"I was criticized for not wearing tight clothes at first or being girly enough but it didn’t bother me because it was me."

"When people started seeing me wear something tight – I think it was on 'Soul Train' when performing with Kelly Price – people were like, ‘Oh my God you got a body under there." I started liking the attention and that’s when I decided to doing shoots more girly. That was my own decision, not anyone else’s. It was because I liked it not because I was forced to.”

"Before I got signed to Jermaine Dupri, I had rapped for Michael Bivens. He wanted me to be in this group with his female rapper Tam Rock, who rapped on MC Brains’ "Oochie Coochie." He wanted me in a jail cell with a teddy on, freaking him with some ice. I wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t me. I could have gone that route but I didn’t want to go that route because 1. I didn’t want to be in a group and 2. I wasn't comfortable. I had a chance to be signed to Teddy Riley but I felt like I fit with Kris Kross and JD."

Her Friendship with Mariah Carey
"I first met her when working on the remix to 'Always Be My Baby.’ I felt like she was just like me but she had to keep it shielded. She wanted to do the things I did and talk the way I talked. She was signed to Sony and had this reputation to uphold of being a diva. That’s why we jelled. She was living through me and we became the best of friends. We’re both Aries and both like to have fun that’s why we say we’re 'eternally 12;' cause we’re kids."

"She was so down to earth but her circumstances didn’t allow her to do things. We’d be in the studio at Tommy Mottola’s house and she’d whisper because cameras were everywhere. It’s like she was trapped. I had never seen someone have everything but be so unhappy inside because they couldn’t be themselves."

Lil Kim's "Ladies Night"
"The whole experience was amazing. It was like a big ass cookout with everybody there: eating, drinking and having fun. Lance Rivera put that together, with the support of all our labels. I still watch it and say, 'Wow I wish we can do this again’ but in a bigger way. I don’t want to do it again and it look like a bootleg of 'Ladies Night.' I want us to all be on the top of our game like we were back then and make a part two but have it be bigger and better. I want us female to unite and do something that would knock the world off its feet."

Past Acting
"I was signed to William Morris [Agency], so I was getting a lot of scripts and auditioning. I even did a pilot for my own show with Loretta Devine, but it didn't get picked up. I even got a script for 'Drumline.' I was supposed to be in 'The Matrix.' Actually the roll that Aaliyah had, they called me and Aaliyah back three or four times to keep re-reading. When Aaliyah passed, they ended going with Nona Gaye."

Legal Troubles
"I don't really regret anything but I regret that (the 2007 assault). I learned from it [and] I'm paying for it. Butthis person getting that amount is probably never going to happen in this lifetime. Granted, I fucked up. I made a mistake. She deserves something, maybe doctors bills paid but… I can see $1 million dollars, but $6.4 million? She'll never see it because I'll never see it. Who knows though, I can become a billionaire. But I have my own bills, my own life. So, good luck."

"I'm just glad that civil suit is not hanging over me. She's entitled to something so when the checks start rolling in, she'll get some. I don't mind giving up some cause it was a stupid thing that I did. But $6.4 million? Baby. Who do I look like? Diddy? I don't have a Ciroc deal, clothing line, or all that."

What's Next?
I'm in the studio four times a week, at least. I have so many songs. I keep working just to stay on top of craft and try new things. I'm not pressed. I have enough material for an album and mixtapes. I think it's fun to put out mixtapes. I have so much stuff I can do that. I was thinking about putting out a mixtape.

If I get the opportunity to be on a major and the deal is beneficial for me then I'll take it. When you're independent you don't have the machine behind you. It's nice to have the machine behind you when you come from the 90s; You need that push. But now you have people like Macklemore who do it on their own. It depends on what my cards are through. I think God has a plan for everybody. I just roll with the punches.

Advice To One's Younger Self
"I would say, 'Calm down, breathe, take it all in and enjoy every aspect of life.' I was working quickly, too hard and not taking in the places I’ve been. And don’t take anything for granted."

"Also, don't leave room for the could ofs, would ofs, should ofs. I lost both of my grandmothers. And, I hate that I did what I did because I missed those years that I could have spent with both of them."

"When I was locked up for years, it felt like everything out in the world moved so fast. My grandmother that passed away in '04? She was never sick, always healthy. But her appendix ruptured and I was like, 'Oh my god.' They told me and the whole family she was going to be okay. We had stayed in the hospital for a whole week. They did the surgery and got all the poison out. As soon as we left they told us to come back... and that was it. But they told us she'd be okay. It's just crazy. You never know, so you should never take anything for granted."

NEXT: Yo-Yo

“YoYo”

Day 5: Yo-Yo

Before she became the First Lady of Detroit, Yolanda Whitaker, better known as YoYo, was stomping through the 90s proving that women are here to stay. Though she’s slowed down musically as of late, the natural-born leader is still making moves; but not without the memories of a lucrative career.

Meeting Ice Cube
"I had been rapping and performing in Los Angeles since junior high school from ’86 until I graduated in ’89. I was competing in every talent show that allowed youngsters. There weren’t many female rappers so I went hard and battled. I met Ice Cube through one of his friends who went to high school with me, T. Bone of the Lynch Mob. Bone was saying Cube was in the process of leaving N.W.A. and was looking for a female artist. We were introduced and it wasn’t long until we were in his mom's living room writing rhymes and making music."

"When I met Ice Cube I had this feminist mentality. That was before I even knew what a feminist was. I came up in the era where N.W.A. was like, 'A bitch is a bitch.' So, I was in defense of women. All of my songs were like Queen Latifah’s 'U.N.I.T.Y.' So, when I met Cube it was more so, 'You're not going to call me a bitch.' But once we got to know each other, I began to respect him as a big brother; It’s creativity and where he came from. Our bond was so strong. If you notice on 'The Bonnie & Clyde Theme,' I say, 'I got a down ass ni--a on my team.' He didn’t say, 'I got me a down ass bitch.' He tried it, but I was like, 'No, you're not going to call me a bitch.' He went in and changed it which was mad respect."

First Apollo Performance
"They had all this beef about the East coast and the West coast. We were so afraid to perform at the Apollo. Cube and I were excited to come yet there was this fear. We ended up getting up there on the stage and it was epic. The crowd was throwing money on the stage. I think that was the day the East coast started to accept West coast music. Ice Cube broke that barrier. I get so much love when I go to the East coast. It set a mark for me to really love hip-hop. I was always doing it, but that time was a 'wow' moment."

Female Rappers vs. the Industry
"There were always obstacles. Back then, it was about fighting for your rights. I'd go in and talk to record companies. They respected the person who brought you in. We were always the token and a part of the clique. It was always about what they wanted for us. Sylvia Rhone was such a leader. She was always like, 'What do we want to do, YoYo?' Sometimes that threw me off. I remember I got to the point where I didn't want to look like a boy. I didn't want to wear overalls. I wanted to shake my ass and dance. So we had issues there for sure. Sometimes I think she thought it was disrespectful of me because I was so vocal with my opinion and how I saw myself. It wasn’t until Cube had a big fight with the company and I told him, 'I don't want to leave.' I was happy being with a sister who was doing her thing. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. While they worked on their issues, I stayed on and that's when I started work on 'Total Control' because I felt like I had control."

Hip-Hop Sisterhood
"I've always had a relationship with Latifah and Lyte, but [with others] I felt like we always had this crabs in a bucket syndrome. I never really got close to other female artists. My relationship with Latifah and Lyte was really big because it showed sisterhood. We were all speaking the same language. We represented our own identities. I think us doing [the "I Wanna Be Down" remix] together made a statement not only to the world but to ourselves, proving to Atlantic and our respective record labels that we’re able to do something that we still haven’t been able to do [today] by having four women on one song. Lil' Kim and them did it with 'Ladies Night,' but there was always a struggle to show that love because of the way they made us out to be. That’s one of the reasons why I have so much love for MC Lyte and Queen Latifah because they weren’t afraid to reach out and show love, as well as Missy Elliot. We were all doing it for the same reason, to uplift women."

"Some [women] are intimidated. It's a confidence thing. A lot of the cliques play on that. I think a lot of women downplay their strength to be friends with other women. But those who are confident in who they are and know where they're going won't have that problem, but those who don't, will."

"I remember when Missy was really hot. I don’t think I met her then. My people were saying 'YoYo, Missy loves you.' I thought that was amazing. You don’t really hear women showing homage to other women, especially back then. When I was on the set of my music video, she sent me flowers saying 'Good luck on your video.' I loved her from that day forward. It showed respect when you’ve been fighting for women to be heard. It made me feel really good."

The Intelligent Black Women Collation (I.B.W.C.)
"The I.B.W.C. is still around. We have a mentoring program for troubled teens here in Los Angeles. We mentor 25 troubled teens per session. We have 10-week sessions for those of ages 10 to 17. We have re-launched and we’re doing some incredible work in our community. The parents who were a part of it then are still supporting us. We have a huge network of mentors and a lot of resourceful people who want to be a part of it."

What's Next?
"In 2011, I opened the doors to the YoYo School of Hip-Hop: Arts and Academics Program. We're now stationed in Los Angeles and Highland Park, Michigan. We teach kids beat production, basic computer skills, engineering skills, creative writing and hip-hop dance. We have a lot of parents put their children in those classes to gain confidence. We have a theater class. The last one was taught by Paula Jai Parker. We're really doing big things. We use the arts to perfect academics. When the kids go back to school in September, they're proficient in spelling, writing and English after working all summer long. We currently have a waiting list. It's very successful." – Tyler K. McDermott

NEXT: Shawnna

“Shawnna”

Day 4: Shawnna
Shawnna was born with a music pedigree: her father was legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy. So it was only right that the Chicago rapper would make some noise out the gate and tuck a handful of hits under her belt, as a member of Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace and solo ("What's Your Fantasy?" "Shake Dat Shit," "Gettin' Some"). Check out an exclusive premiere of Shawnna's new single, "Gettin' To It," below.

Infamous Syndicate Days
"When me and Lateefa met Kanye [West] it was fireworks. We're from Chicago, so met though a mutual friend of mine from high-school. We went to the studio the next day. One of the first songs we recorded was one of our biggest songs, 'Jenny Jonez.' At the time, we just had one radio station that would play hip-hop on late Sunday night, artists would try to get DJ Corey to spin their music. But for some reason he took a liking to us and immediately put 'Jenny Jones' on the radio. It  immediately took off. It got us a deal in a next month."

"We got one album under Relativity Records, 'Changing the Game.' Relativity Records went into default and Loud picked up the artists, like us and Three 6 Mafia. But they gave the artists the opportunity to stay or break contracts."

"At the time, Lateefa and I were dealing with some things with management which made us disagree on a lot of things. So, we decided to go our separate ways. Coincidentally, that's around the time that I met Ludacris."

Meeting Ludacris and Joining Distrubing Tha Peace (DTP)
"While Ludacris was touring, he was on an interview with us on Hot 97. We let him hear a lot of our music afterwards. He told me that he wanted to work with me, which I didn't believe at first. But, he flew me down to Atlanta to be on the hook for 'What's Your Fantasy?' I did it real fast because I was comfortable; It was a fast rap that I was used to being that was from Chicago."

"While on set for the video, he told me that he wanted me to be on the remix. He told me it'd have three female rappers: me, Foxy Brown and Trina. I said, 'No, they're going to murder me! They're established!' I kept asking if I can hear their verses first because I was scared. But I'm glad he didn't because then I would have built my verse around them instead of doing my own thing. He believed in me, so I laid down my verse and got incredible reception."

"Worth tha Weight" Album Delay
"It wasn't anyone's fault. We wanted to focus on making money and getting experience. The more people saw me the better chance of me having a successful album. We kept coming across opportunities to put me out there, like touring and Ludacris' idea to make a compilation album. It would give you an idea of what I would come with and put my name in people's mouth before I would come out solo."



The Making of "Gettin' Some (Head)"
"My manger, John Monopoly, and I were looking for a single. At the time, Mike Jones was the hottest out and he'd do this call & response type of rapping. We put that together [with what I was doing]. John called me at 2am in the morning and said, 'I got our hit!' He sent it to me and the first thing I hear was: 'Getting some head.' I was like, 'Why do you think we are going to win with this? The radio isn't even going to play this.' John was also managing Kanye at the time, so I trusted him but I couldn't believe that we could have a single about head. I did it though. If you really listen to the lyrics, you'll hear that I never make any references about anything sexual. We sent it to radio and the rest is serious. I made a classic."

Leaving DTP
"It was family. I have children. I had been on DTP for 10 years: touring, making albums and shooting videos. I had missed out on so many monumental times with my children, in their younger years. I asked myself, 'Is it going to be beneficial for me and my kids to continue or should I go home, reevaluate some things, be there for them before its too late? And I just had found out I was pregnant and that was my answer.

Teaming Up with T-Pain
"T-Pain and I threw around the idea of me coming on board and being a part of Nappy Boy. We did some songs to see if we had the right chemistry. But at the time he was going through his own difficulties with his label, Atlantic Records. He eventually left the label and was in talks of signing with Cash Money. That wasn't something that I wanted to. I didn't want to seem like I was jumping from crew to crew or being an opportunist."

Female Rappers vs. The Industry
"At this point in time, in hip-hop, the list goes and on and on with successful male hip-hop artists but you can count the successful female hip-hop artists with one hand. Males don't have a problem working with each other or creating opportunities with and for each other. We have to break the stereotype that women can't do that either. It's a stereotype that's holding us back."

What's Next?
"I came across the beat for my single, "Getting To It," through Twitter. I sent it over to DJs and they loved it, so we decided to move on it as a single. I love to get feedback from DJs and radio personnel. I have my own ears but they know what's hot now because of what they're exposed to."

"I have tracks on tracks. I always have an album. I'm always recording until the release date. I want to take it one step at a time though, see how the single does."

"I don't want to do the independent thing. With the internet [being] so overstated, it's hard to get out there and put out an album on your own. I want to release some singles, get the clubs back on lock, do some features and get the record labels to reach out to me and talk about a deal. I want put out an album with the power of a label behind me because they have more outlets and connections. With the groundwork I've done, labels already  know that I'm marketable. I don't feel like I should have to do it alone or prove anything. I've done that."

NEXT: Charli Baltimore

“Charli”

Day 3: Charli Baltimore

Charli Baltimore didn't have the slightest idea of the impact she'd have on hip-hop, when she took Notorious B.I.G.'s advice to transition from ghostwriter to rapper. The teen mom of two daughters at the time, went from proving her skills to those in her personal and professional circles to now co-owning her own label.

Her Relationship with Notorious B.I.G.
"I met him at a show. I wanted a picture of him and he wanted a picture of me. We were out there taking pictures of each other. [Laughs] It was a while before I was siting there writing rhymes and he was critiquing me. We were in the works to start a group called The Commission with myself, him, Puff [Daddy] and Jay Z but we weren’t able to have anything come from that because of B.I.G.'s death.

"I wasn't intrigued by all that was around him. I look at people for what they are and take them for what they’re worth. I didn’t go out with B.I.G. I went out with Chris. It felt like it was [just] me and him."

The Story Behind Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s "Get Money" Video
"I'm always playing with my hair color. When B.I.G. asked me to be in the video, he asked me if I can dye my hair back to dark. I said, 'No!' I had just colored it blonde. He told me that if I left it blonde there'd be some repercussions. I had never been on a video or video set so I didn’t know the impact it would have. I had no idea it'd come off as us dissing Faith [Evans]. I would never do something like that."

"It was a total misunderstanding. I just loved my blonde hair and didn’t want to change it. It didn’t click to me because I didn’t know any better. I told B.I.G., 'You’re the artist, no one is going to care about me.' I didn't realize there was going to be much attention on me in the video. It was a learning experience."

Female Rappers vs. The Industry
"It’s a male-dominated industry. You have to be an MC and a business man so people will respect you. It was hard because when B.I.G. passed, I didn't have that backing or support. It was a hard climb. I was young, and a teen mom that didn’t know the business. I had the 'that's all B.I.G.' stigma. People didn't believe that I wrote my own rhymes. I had to prove myself."

"With my first deal with Sony Records, they wanted an artist with an image and the whole package. It was during the Tommy Mottola era. They were trying to market me as a pop artist, and I am not a pop artist. There’s nothing wrong with that but I don’t consider myself a pop artist. I felt like I was compromising my music. There was a difference between the music they wanted me to make and the music I was making."

"People would tell the label, 'she looks uncomfortable' and 'it doesn't feel like its her.' It's about being comfortable with yourself."

"I left Sony because there was a lot of mismanaging of money and misunderstanding. Irv [Gotti] was the one who opened my eyes to it. He came in only trying to make a couple of songs with me for my album "Diary," and he figured out a way for me to get out of this $1.3 million dollar deal I thought I was stuck in. I found out that I could've left at any time. All he did was make a phone call and found out that I could leave if I wanted to. They (Sony) had been telling me that if I got out of my contract I had to owe them money which wasn’t true. Irv made one call and found out it wasn’t true. It diminished this love that I thought I built with Sony. I left before the "Diary" came out. I told them that they can keep the album and there was no bad blood. If it wasn’t supposed to be, then I’m not going to fight it. I was never shelved. I left both deals myself and left my albums with them."

Murder Inc. Times
"Irv didn’t believe I wrote my rhymes which put another battery on my back. It’s an insult and compliment. He thought Cam’Ron was writing my rhymes. I had to go through bootcamp where he’d lock me in the studio for 48-hours recording and he wanted to make sure I wrote my rhymes. Irv had a vision to make Murder Inc. what it was originally supposed to be which was: Ja Rule, DMX and Jay Z, who all appeared on the cover of XXL. But because of all the politics they couldn’t facilitate it."

"Irv had a female artist Vita so he never had the intention of signing me. He just wanted to help me because he thought I was dope. I wrote for some of his artists. He told people I could write from the perspective of a girl or a guy. He was running around as my cheerleader."

"He broke the stereotype that cliques can only have one girl, cause at the time Vita was a part of Murder Inc, and signed me after I killed Ja Rule’s 'Down Ass Bitch.' Since Murder Inc was more than a label, there was more camaraderie between us and it soon became a family."

Unreleased "True Lies" Album
"'True Lies' was one of my favorite albums that I did because it was so personal. My mom had just had a stroke and it was hard on us. I'd never experience that with someone so close to me. I was in such pain and turmoil. I was in a dark space spiritually. I just felt like I wrote 'True Lies' for myself. It wasn't meant to come out. It was my therapy."

"In the midst of getting it ready to come out, I wounded up in situation where I am now, which is co-owner of BMB Entertainment. 'True Lies' was my stepping stone to becoming a more spiritual, happy person, that now co-owns a label."

NEXT: Angel Haze

“Haze”

Day 2: Angel Haze

In the brief time that Angel Haze has been in the rap game, she's managed to turn heads. The rapper/singer, born in Detroit and raised in Brooklyn, has a fire in her that's ignited admirable and stripped-down rhymes. Emotions guide Haze's moves – whether fearless and rebellious (leaking her major label debut album without Universal's consent) or "out of control" (beefing with Azealia Banks on Twitter). They make her real, which is especially appreciated in hip-hop.

Beginnings

"The way I live my life is that I like to challenge myself, to take on the things I'm not really good at. I've always had an affinity for words. I started writing poetry and I said 'fuck it' and started doing this (rapping). When I first started rapping I was terrible at it. I'm only now becoming bearable. [Laughs] It became cathartic. I would listen to Eminem and Kanye [West] and said, 'This is soul-baring music.' You take an instrumental and you pour yourself on to it and it becomes a sigh of relief. It was really important, especially back then, because I was so angry."



The Making And Impact Of Her "Cleaning Out My Closet" Remake
"There are a tons of things that I haven't touched on publicly because I feel like if I can't cope with them in private I definitely can't cope with them in public. I can't have someone listen to my deepest, darkest truths if I'm not ready to."

"I told myself, 'Admit it.' 'Cleaning Out My Closet' was me wanting to let go. Being 19, [I was] still that angry little girl and wanting to scream all the time. Putting out 'Cleaning Out My Closet' soothed me.  I can't listen to that song, though. I've only performed it one time. I put it out, and won't go back. I let it go and it transcended my own personal pain and helped other people."

"It made me realize how universal music can be. It can touch thousands of people in thousands of different types of ways. I think life is philanthropy. If you're not living life in a way that you're helping people, I don't know if you're doing it the right way. That record made me realize I really wanted to do this."

Reconnecting With Her Mother
"We've had a real rough two years. We went from not speaking at all to about a month ago, starting to reconnect. As a child, I'm still a child, you get real wrapped up in your anger and want to hate people forever. Listening to Eminem's 'Headlights' made me realize that I don't want to be old and finally realize [that] my mom did everything she could to raise me. Even if she didn't do it the right way, she tried. I said everything that I needed to say and if she's interested in re-building a relationship with me, why not?"

"I can call my mom [now] and tell her that Sean Paul kissed me. [Laughs] We met in an elevator after a show we played. My friends left me on the elevator with him. He hugged me and he kissed me. It was completely accidental but I was so dead. I freaked out: 'Oh my God, Sean Paul just kissed me!' If I can call my mom and tell her stupid shit like that then it's fun for me."

Women In Hip-Hop
"I think of Lauryn Hill as the woman of hip-hop. I think of her as a music figure because she's transcended into pop, alternative and she's all those things and hip-hop at one time. She has a massive following because she poured [out] her soul and did it in a way that was completely authentic to her. I think that's what makes women in hip-hop so special. You have to be genre-defying."

"Missy Elliott is beyond rap. Queen Latifah and others have been relentless in their pursuit regardless of  whatever way they were conveyed. Nicki Minaj came out of the gates baring parts of her soul and being one of the most relentless woman in hip-hop. She's on everyone's songs, killing everyone from Jay Z to Kanye and she's still going. It's admirable."

"You don't know how high the ceiling is until someone hits it and [Nicki Minaj] shows us how high you can go."

Angel Haze Apologizes After Azealia Banks Beef: Watch


Beefing With Azealia Banks

"To be honest, for me it wasn't an amazing display of character. It was very emotional because it was with someone I knew outside of work. It wasn't like it was us saying, 'I'm a better rapper than you.' It wasn't an actual battle but more, 'Why are you being fake?' Then it was a lack of control of emotions. It wasn't okay.  I apologized to her personally. I got a bit out of control. You have a problem with someone and you can't resolve [it], then you have to take the high road. I didn't. I was a bitch and I regret that. I don't let people take me out of my element."

Competition Amongst Female Rappers

"There's no competitiveness between women rappers now, though people say there is, because we all do this differently. We're all in different lanes. But the male ego is easily damaged by that. If they can only focus on one woman, they will."

"My old managers would tell me, 'You need to do something better than Nicki Minaj.' I would say, 'You need to go fall on your dick because I'm doing what I do and that's it.' I have a warped perception because I don't believe in putting women against each other."

Sexuality In Hip-Hop

"I think it's very weird how obsessed people have become with sexuality within the past years. People used to shy away from that but over the past few years, especially now with gay marriages, it's something that people have started focusing on more and intimately so. In the grand scheme, it's like saying your favorite color is red. It shouldn't be the main focus of who a person is."

Advice To One's Younger Self

"[I'd say,] 'Bitch, get it together.' I can't say I regret coming out the gates projectile-vomiting my demons everywhere but I would have been a lot more cautious as to how quickly I shared myself. Some people are afraid to approach me or think that I'm a bitch because of what I've shared. There's this perception of me that I don't live up to in person. You put your feelings out there and people think that's who you are, not who you were."

"I've been doing this for two years and I've been letting go. I've been getting lighter and I think a part of artistry is evolution. I think the ultimate goal is to be happy."

What's Next?

"Seeing how my release went with 'Dirty Gold,' I feel like I should spend the rest of this year making [that] album one of the best things about me. It's one of my first albums. It's one I put all my work into and I want the world to hear it."

"I'm going to take some time off at the end of the year, a month or so, and move away to write. I'll go back in with Markus [Dravs] and do what we do."

"I'm going to start writing the next album soon. I've just been cultivating a sound. I want to do all live instruments this time and move further with the singing. I've been taking vocal lessons. To hone in on my craft, I have to take a step forward sonically and vocally."

NEXT: MC Lyte

MC LYTE

Day 1: MC Lyte

Since she was moved to rap by the soundscapes of Salt-N-Pepa blasting through her boombox, MC Lyte has inspired both men and women to rap at their fullest potential through her sharp lyricism and accomplishments, such as being the first solo female rapper to drop a major label album with 1988's "Lyte As A Rock."

Good Ol' Days
"I remember the days of the New Music Seminar, who were the best, where you had a bunch of talented people in love with this new art form. We'd all gather for the DJs and we'd visit hip-hop clubs once or twice a week to see the latest act, be it Rakim, KRS-One. I remember seeing Public Enemy for the first time at Latin Quarter. There were 15 on this small stage, performing 'Welcome to the Terrordome.' It was fantastic."

Being A Woman In the Industry
"There may have been times when promoters didn't want to pay me what I deserved. In a line-up they didn't want to put me where my songs warranted me going. But none of it affected me to a degree to where it mattered. There may have been set-backs but I never let get to me."

"Labels were signing MCs who were women, and it was all based on skill. It had nothing to do with anything else. I was Sylvia Rhone's first signing as an executive at Atlantic Records, and she still went on to sign a plethora of female MCs. We were one of the only labels who had three [female MCs] signed at the same time: Yo-Yo, Champ MC [and] J.J. Fad. That was pretty much unheard of, because it felt like every label had [just] one.

"Truth be told, I don't think many labels understood the difference between each female MC. They thought one female MC should cover the gamut of all female MCs. Sylvia and her team clearly saw the difference between each of us.

"Labels didn't steer me any kind of way. They just wanted me to be me. All of us, in the late 80s/early 90s, were given the opportunity to express ourselves – lyrically and esthetically – in ways that we chose to. I don't think it was 'til much later that it became important to others to get in the middle."



Sisterhood in Hip-Hop
"The conversations between [Queen] Latifah and myself during that time… we are growing up in New York. She was from New Jersey but she spent a lot of time in New York. The overall discussion, which included De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest, was on how we were raised by reggae music, because so many Caribbean families had moved to the New York. We spent a lot of time listening to reggae music and talking about the latest dance trend, latest hip-hop song and just music overall. We are drenched in music and understanding it because we were it.

"It wasn't until the video shoot for the remix to Brandy's 'I Wanna Be Down' when YoYo and I were really able to come together because she was on the West coast and I was on the East coast. We wound up doing a song for YoYo's album ("One For the Cuties"), and ever since then YoYo is my sister. All of the hip-hop sisters, in any given day, I can speak to: Yo-Yo, Missy [Elliott], Lil' Mama [and] Latifah. It is a sisterhood that exists; now it's just that we all got our lives that we're living, so it's pretty cool when we're able to get together.

"Closeness exists with those who feel it's necessary to keep those bridges of communication open, and those who feel good on an island stay on it."

"10% Dis" and Beef Amongst Female Rappers
"To me it's all a part of hip-hop. Back then, I had only met Antoinette once, and never seen her again except at the World but nonetheless it ['10 % Dis'] was done in the spirit of hip-hop. I was the baddest MC. If you don't think you're the baddest MC then you might as well just sit down cause that's what hip-hop is all about. It's braggadocio. You can come up and win a different type of way, but you stand the chance of your ground being shaken. You have to put your stakes in and say, 'I have to come at you some point.'

"That was then. Now there are MCs who can go at one another lyrically, and it's respected as just that. But then when it comes out of the record, it's when it becomes an issue. Even then, it feels as though, that with a little time they're able to work things out. I just saw most recently Rick Ross and Young Jeezy have worked out their differences, which is a big deal. I'm sure there were other guys around who pushed and promoted that to happen. I hope the same for the ladies, if given a space where there's an altercation that's able to be worked out."

Advice To One's Younger Self
"I'd tell myself, 'Don't be afraid to ask questions. You're young, you're just going with the flow, and by the time some of us decide to ask questions, it's too late. When you ask yourself those questions, you have to be ready for the answers that may cause a certain chain of events to take place. When I finally did ask the questions I also had to make the decisions to leave management. Also, I don't think anyone understands to be in the present moment until we're older."

What's Next?
"I've been carving out time from A&Ring and Sunni Gyrl.I'm recording my new album. It's a merge of what's happening now, and what was happening then. Strong bass lines really work well with my delivery. The crew of people that I'm working with, called the Natives, have been able to tap into a sound that's great for me. There are eight musicians that are varied in age, so it lends itself puling in everything that's happening that's going in music today.

"Lyrically, a lot of it has to do with love: be it looking for it, being misguided, being disappointed, being hopeful... The music speaks to me, and this is the story that should be told with this particular body of music."