That’s definitely respect, and I agree. And speaking of respect, why did you coin the phrase “Respect Culture Over Everything”?
That came about on a song I did on Return Of The B-Girl. It’s the title track “Return Of The B-Girl (Mara Jade).” To me, it’s about culture more so then money or anything. The commercial side doesn’t represent hip-hop. 9th talks about it all the time. Hip-hop isn’t for everybody to understand and consume or for the masses to get. I make music for the people of the culture we’re in; that comes first. If you touch the people first, the rest just falls into place. That’s what it means to me, just preserving and respecting the culture.
That’s dope! What drew you into the culture of hip-hop in the first place?
First, it was Michael Jackson [Laughs]. I was a retarded Michael Jackson fan, and then I got exposed to hip-hop via my older sisters, my cousins playing music. Me and my dad would sit and watch videos, so I’d be sitting Indian style in front of the TV and Mc Lyte’s “Poor Georgie” would come on. That was one of the first videos, as a little kid, of me seeing a female emcee do that. That really captured me. Then, it was Queen Latifah, then it was Lauryn Hill and Bahamadia and Jean Grae and so many other rappers. When I got to college, I started writing spoken word, and we started a hip-hop organization [Kooley High]. For me, that was a way for me to do these first couple of songs I had ever done without really being judged because we were just having fun. 9th heard them and he was like, ‘You have a lot of potential. You have a dope voice, you just have to work on this and this.’ To have somebody like him tell me that, it was all the confidence I needed just to go give it a shot.
I’m glad you brought up 9th Wonder again because I want you to tell me more about your rapper-producer relationship with him.
We met in the Fall of 2005. Right after I recorded those first two songs, one of the guys in our group had an internship with 9th, and he asked him to come by the house. That was my first introduction to him and him to me and my music. Through the years, he just continued to coach me. He’d give me homework assignments; ‘Listen to Tribe, listen to Jay-Z’s Black Album and memorize it.’ It wasn’t so much me memorizing the words; he wanted me to listen to how he said it. And in 2007, I got a manager and was like, ‘What are your short term goals?’ and I was like, ‘I’d like to sign independently to 9th Wonder; I heard he had a label.’ So we had a meeting, and the rest is the future. 9th is a teacher first and I like to learn, so our relationship works out well for that reason. I absorb every bit of knowledge that he gives me.
I peeped that at your Southpaw showcase. It’s really awesome that you have that connection in this game with someone like him. In a previous interview, you’ve stated that you want to be the female Jay-Z and that’s a bold statement. What are your reasons for having such huge aspirations?
I say I want to be the female Jay-Z in the sense of him being 41 now and from The Blueprint 3, he still had a number one spot on 106 & Park which caters to 11 to 20-year-olds. To have that longevity in the game, it’s crazy! MC Lyte is probably the closest. Lauryn dropped one album, Queen doesn’t rap like she used to, so I want to longevity in the game like Jay and branch out and have businesses and make timeless music. He has more classic albums then any hip-hop artist I can think of. So that’s what I mean. I want classic album after classic album.
Which of your songs means the most to you or is the most classic in your eyes?
I’d have to say right now “The Intro.” That’s really where it all began for me. And you know, the beat that 9th made with the Jodeci song, it has so many emotions in it. That one tells my story; that’s my beginning.
I really rock with that. I have to admit, I ran that track back a few times [laughs]. Now, your album Thank H.E.R. Now drops on June 21. First, what does the title mean?
The “H.E.R.” comes from Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.” which stands for Hip-Hop In Its Essence Is Real or Hearing Every Rhyme. It’s like, I’m thankful to have hip-hop in my life. Hip-hop is my foundation, and I’m always going to thank H.E.R. It’s really just a representation of me and Jean Grae, Nitty Scott MC, Queen, all the B-Girls. I’m thanking H.E.R. for a role model and all these little girls.
How will this mixtape be different from Return of The B-Girl?
I’m rapping hard, it’s a lot more personal, there’s a lot more storytelling about my personal life and it’s still lyrical. We have a lot more features and I’m working with other artists and building that chemistry. It’s good music. It ain’t no gimmicks in my music; it’s life music, something a lot of people can relate to. To have somebody like 9th Wonder and the Soul Council on your music, I can’t front. 9th is a living legend, so I have great production.
That’s awesome. I’m excited to hear what’s next. And lastly, why should people rock with you?
I’ve worked day and night and night and day on being a better artist, working on my cadence and my flow and delivery. I’ve fallen into that range where I’ve got it, and I’m making good music. Especially for little girls, it’s important to have a role model. You have Nicki, but there also needs to be a balance to Nicki. I just want to give these girls a choice of what being a female is to them and what they want to be.