Ladies Of Hip Hop Tell Their Side Of The Story Hip hop has largely been a man's world, but a few intrepid ladies put some cracks in that glass ceiling. Farai Chideya talks with Yo Yo and DJ Spinderella, two ladies who helped pave the way for women in hip hop.
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Ladies Of Hip Hop Tell Their Side Of The Story

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Ladies Of Hip Hop Tell Their Side Of The Story

Ladies Of Hip Hop Tell Their Side Of The Story

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Now that hip-hop has been around for decades, are women getting more or less attention than they did when the art form started? With us today is Yo-Yo, a boundary-breaking rapper, plus Spinderella, the DJ who's a member of the legendary group Salt-n-Pepa. They both took part in BET's 2008 Hip-Hop Awards, they air tonight. Hi ladies.

Ms. YO-YO (Rapper): How are you?

CHIDEYA: I am doing great. It's great to have you on. And so the awards air tonight, and you take us back to the day.

(Soundbite of song "Push It")

SALT N PEPA: (Singing) Salt n Pepa's here And we're in effect, Want you to push it Coolin' by day Then at night, Workin' up a sweat. Come on girls Let's go show the guys That we know how to become number one In our hot, ridin', show Now push it

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Yo-Yo is dancing in her seat. That's a good sign. So Spin, it's great to have you back on. We had so much fun when you were here before.

Ms. SPINDERELLA (Rapper): Yeah. How have you been?

CHIDEYA: Things are great. So you know, it's amazing to think that "Push It" was released two decades ago.

Ms. YO-YO: Wow.

Ms. SPINDERELLA: I know, you're reminding me now. Like, oh my God. Seems like it was just yesterday.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, you know, it's like, you know, how do you think - why do you think that that song stands up today?

Ms. SPINDERELLA: I think it's because the, I guess, the subliminal message in it. A lot of people - we always talk about this when we're performing, how some people think it's about sex, some might think it's about dancing, but I think it's that subliminal message, you know, that classic - I wonder, you know, you know, what people are thinking, and it's been years that that has been really, really the issue with that song. Also, the fact that it's up-tempo, and it's just like...

Yo-Yo: It's a classic.

Ms. SPINDERELLA: It's perfect for right now. You know, if you're hearing the music right now, a lot of the music that is out in R&B and hip-hop, up-tempo stuff, is reflecting of that sound.

CHIDEYA: I want to go to Yo-Yo. Your career took off back in '90, with the song you did with Ice Cube. Here's a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of song "You Can't Play With My Yo-Yo")

Ms. YO-YO: (Rapping) That's right, my name is Yo-Yo, but know I'm not a Duncan, As I rap, chilly chill bringin' the funk and I steal yo man, as if he was a hawk and He'll call me baby, yo, or even pumpkin

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: So another great song, another set of memories. When you think about that moment in hip-hop, what makes it different from today?

Ms. YO-YO: Introduction. It was just - I think there's just - it's the same. There was only a few then, there's only a few now. And the Salt-n-Pepa song, I think that song is a classic. It just reminds you of the introduction of women realizing that they had a place in hip-hop. For me, that's why that song is just - so I can see the video, I can see it there. And for me, with 'You Can't Play With My Yo-Yo", same thing, I think it was just an introduction, another style, a west coast style, of female MCs doing their things, and that, you know, it was just very few of us then.

CHIDEYA: Salt-n-Pepa rolled out with three women.


CHIDEYA: And you - when you collaborated with a guy, you used a different mechanism to sort of enter the public consciousness. What's the difference, in your mind, between, say if you had, you know, come out completely solo, without having kind of this archangel figure, versus working with him?

Ms. SPINDERELLA: It wouldn't have been the same. I mean, because I think we all come out of camps. Salt-n-Pepa had Herbie Love Bug, who had introduced them to the game, I had Ice Cube, who really - I was the voice for women at that time because women were being talked about so bad within those lyrics, so that it was just a - it was like the answer. It was almost like when Latifah said "Who you callin' a bitch?" Just a little bit sooner.

CHIDEYA: Well, we cannot use those words on NPR, but we will just forge ahead because we're so nice here. But I want to go back to the awards show. You ladies dedicated the performance of "What A Man" to Barack Obama, and it also, you know, Yo-Yo, Lady of Rage, MC Lyte. What was that moment like? I'm going to start with you, Spin. What was that performance like?

Ms. SPINDERELLA: Well of course, we're all friends, and a lot of people seem to think that, you know, because you're females in hip-hop that it's catty and it's this, that and the other. But we've supported each other, each of us have supported each other in some way prior to that.

But when we got together, it was kind of the first time that we actually had the opportunity to be on stage, work with each other. We actually rehearsed together, we came up with ideas. The show you'll see later on, we came - we all had collectively brought something to the table with that. So it was a good - it was a really good feeling, and to portray that on the stage, we felt the energy.

It was like, you know, you didn't know what to expect, you knew it would be good. But when we did it, it was very empowering, and that was exactly what we were trying to get across.

CHIDEYA: And Yo-Yo, you know, it strikes me that you have had a voice that transcends hip-hop performance. You've also done stuff on the radio where you get to talk a lot, use your own voice outside of the performance mode. But there must be a certain juice that you get from performing. What is it like to just, you know, take the stage?

Ms. YO-YO: It's a different kind of energy. I've been a performer all my life. I was in proficiency in English programs, drama, art. So to be on a stage, it's just really giving my soul, it's really giving my energies, it's giving love through performing. Not necessarily what I'm saying is connecting to a people through music, through energy. I love it.

CHIDEYA: Do you ever worry that the music as you loved it, or as you started out in it, has gotten too rough for girls? You know, I mean I think that those of us who love hip-hop, and I consider myself one of them, I think that what a 15-year-old might hear in hip-hop today is different from what a 15-year-old would listen to when, you know, I was one. What do you make of that?

Ms. YO-YO: I think that hip-hop has not been allowed to grow up. I think that it's not getting better - although, well, it's getting better in different aspects of the word getting better. When you think about getting - music getting better, and broadening it, it being here - hip-hop here to stay, for sure, we know that now. But I think that hip-hop has not been able to grow up. A lot of people are still singing - they're still just mirroring what they see. It's past that point. Now you can become more creative, you could use your artistic side and perform music now.

CHIDEYA: And just really quickly, Spin, do you see more opportunities coming up for women? Real quick.

Ms. SPINDERELLA: Of course, as always. I think women need to really take advantage of the moment. The lack of females that are mainstream right now allows for someone out there to come and just snatch it up.

And that's kind of like what the artist that you know of, like a Yo-Yo, like a Salt-n-Pepa, Latifah, and MC Lyte, we've done that. And the reason why is because, not just because having a good team with us or whatever, but it's like that aggressiveness. You just have to have it.

CHIDEYA: Well, guys, it's a perfect note to end on. I want to thank you so much. And that was DJ Spinderella of Salt-n-Pepa. Also of the radio show, "The Back Spin." And rapper Yo-Yo, who joined us here at NPR west.

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