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The Femcee Letters: An Open Letter to Rah DiggaPosted by Burmy on 11/05/10 | Filed under Features, The Femcee Letters, Rah Digga
To begin with, you're probably going to have a problem with the title of this series, as you have been an outspoken critic of the term "femcee". However, calling this series "The Skilled Rappers Who Happen To Be Female Letters" combined with the topic would be much harder to remember, so you'll have to bear with me on the title. That said, you were an obvious choice for this first round with your major roots and your emergence as a voice for the present-day skilled female rappers (for your sake, the title is the only time I'll say that f-word in this article). Under the wing of one of hip-hop's most creative faces you flourished, and just before he completed his stale turn (to which the Hype has dedicated entire articles), you knew when to abandon ship and make it on your own. As we've seen in the cases of Joe Budden, the Clipse, and Stat Quo among others, sometimes you have to go through the major purgatory to make it to the heaven that is the true hip-hop fans' hearts.
Though born in Newark, New Jersey in 1974, not much is known about your early life, except that you were an alumna of New Jersey Tech, majoring in electrical engineering. Influenced by NYC's pre-Biggie kings KRS-One, Rakim, and Kool G Rap, you would later align with the Outsidaz. Thanks to their close ties with the Fugees, they landed a spot on their 's classic sophomore set "The Score"'s eleventh track "Cowboys," with your specific spot splitting the second verse with the one and only Lauryn Hill. Being honored to share the shine with arguably hip-hop's most celebrated femcee on a verse should be enough to kick-start a career, yet it wasn't until Q-Tip spotted you at the Lyricist Lounge that your career really took off. Right after Kamaal introduced you to Busta Rhymes, you were immediately inked to the Flipmode Squad. In that era, joining up with the genius behind hip-hop's most "far-out" video ever was a power move!
At long last your debut album "Dirty Harriet" arrived on All Souls' Day of '99. Lead single "Tight" was a solid preview of what you had to offer the rap game (you've gotta be the first femcee to mention Ghana, beef falafel, King Midas, Dennis Scott, Pope John Paul II, Beck's, and a CRX-all that in the same single!). Follow-up "Imperial" had you tag-teamed with Bussa Bus together for yet more lyrical flames (White Castle, roman candles, Ally Sheedy, Banco Popular, and The Phantom of the Opera's long Broadway run all get props this time around). Because we'd already gotten whiplash trying to keep up with your lyrics, "Break Fool" was your most mainstream-oriented single yet, yet still giving the unique Northeast sound to these club bangers. The only question I still have was why "Do The Ladies Run This?" wasn't a single. After all, it had the backing of fellow femcees Eve and Sonja Blade, the banger sound of Swizz Beatz (when it was still fresh) and an uber-catchy club oriented hook. Whatever the reasoning, the critics gave rave reviews (in Booth terms, the average review would be a 4-spin "Solid").
Four years later, you were on the road to a comeback, as the Squad dominated Busta's mainstream smash-hit (and the one bright spot of Mariah's long drought starting with "Glitter" and ending with "Emancipation") "I Know What You Want," but with your verse taking on a much more mainstream sound. This carried over into your new Biggie-influenced buzz single "Party & Bullshit" which had been set to be the first from your planned sophomore set "Everything Is A Story" which was to drop on J Records. However, for uncertain reasons, it got shelved...and many say that after hearing the leaks, it was probably for the better, as your sound still had fire, but nowhere near the flamethrower streams of "Dirty Harriet". Yet the last straw for many was your brief contribution on Busta's "Touch It (Remix)". Though acclaimed as a whole, your longtime fans were banging their heads on their computer desks after hearing the gold-digger turn you made on your verse, giving you the dubious distinction of the "albatross" on that megamix. The next year, you finally announced that was that and departed Flipmode amicably so you could shine on your own.
For the next three years, all was silent, leaving fans wondering if the industry monster had eaten you alive like so many others. Then, in March of 2010, we finally got word on three things: 1. Your sophomore set was coming this year, called "Classic," 2. It would be entirely produced by Nottz, and 3. It would have no guest verses whatsoever. Though the first was a "Dayenu" enough, we jumped for joy at the latter two, since Nottz was respected by both mainstream and underground, and your former boss' decline on "Back On My B.S." could be attributed to its guest features (*cough*Ron Browz*cough). To give us a preview, you gave a best verse on acclaimed underground femcee Eternia's "The BBQ," where you announced the flame-broiled guest verses were back in stock. Sure enough, the first official single "This Ain't No Lil Kid Rap" had us all vibing once again, knowing that you were back on your old vibe and ready to reclaim the underground game as your own. Right before the big return, you stopped into the Booth for entry #194 in its Freestyle Series, "A Few Thoughts," still an honor for the whole fam. When "Classics" finally came on September 14, we were all pleased to see a female bring back hip-hop in its purest form: one MC and one producer team up to create heat (memories of Eric B & Rakim, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Pete Rock & CL Smooth all come to mind).
In a nutshell, I don't mind anymore that you don't like that term in the title. You've always aimed to be beyond "female rap", to express true hip-hop, bypassing the Nicki-Kim-Foxy heights to go straight to the KRS-Rakim-Tariq-Shady ones. In retrospect, your old alias "Harriet Thugman" is truly fitting, as in your recent progression, your aim is to be the Moses of female hip-hop, leading its proverbial underground railroad from the bondage of the sex-driven, glam-centered, majors-geared industry into the promised land of the hearts of all true hip-hop lovers. As long as you keep supplying us with this excellent new material, we'll be one step closer to that land!
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write what I'm hoping is my masterpiece, the letter to your fellow Jersey girl who helped you on "Cowboys" in the beginning and is still the barometer by which all other femcees are measured to us fans. Thank you so much for your time, and I wish you all the joys this art (emphasised here) provides!
P.S. to the fans: In case you haven't guessed, next week - Lauryn Hill.
For more information, the Official Home of the Femcees can be found on Twitter here and on MySpace here. Facebook page coming soon!