Mad Wednesdays: Maria Davis Gave JAY Z A Chance When No One Else Would

VIBE  profiles a NYC legend who gave Jay Z a chance. 

Reasonable Doubt may have set the foundation for Jay Z's career, but outside of its spellbinding lyricism and immaculate production, one of the most memorable moments came courtesy of a woman named Maria Davis. On the album's seventh track, titled "22 Two's," Hov incorporates the words "two" and "too" in various fashions and although his precision is to be admired, the main draw is the feisty host featured at the beginning of the song, who introduces herself as Maria Davis of Mad Wednesdays. After assuring the crowd that they're in for a good time, Maria spots Jay in the audience and commands him to "put that champagne down and kick a little freestyle."

But Davis is the one who steals the show, delivering the classic line "Who's smoking reefer" when she apparently smells weed smoke in the air and proceeds to admonish the crowd after Jay's impromptu performance. When the supposed culprit gets vulgar and insults her with a curse, Davis promptly orders the club security to escort the disorderly patron out of the venue before paying homage to Jay Z and continuing on with the show without missing a beat. Two years later, in 1998, Jay Z would release his Hard Knock Life album, sell over five million copies, and ascend to legendary status -- and Reasonable Doubt, which had been a mild success upon release, would be hailed as one of the definitive albums in hip-hop history.

Maria Davis, on the other hand, became somewhat of a mythical character in rap lore and has a fraction of the visibility that Brooklyn mogul has on the mainstream radar. If you were to mention her name to die-hard rap fans, most would instantly spout off about her standout appearance on the LP, and ponder what ever happened to her or if she was even a real person. Ultimately, chalking it up to another instance when the lines between storytelling and reality are blurred and moving along with their life. Many casual rap fans would be vaguely familiar, if at all, and fiend indifference before asking what you think of the latest mixape to hit the 'Net. But what both sets of fans should be well aware of is that Maria Davis and Mad Wednesdays is very much real and has played a pivotal role in the careers of many of your favorite artists of the '90s, including Jay Z.

"Well, you know, nobody knew who the hell he was so he was just a regular Joe Shmo to me, he wasn't Jay Z yet," Maria says when asked of her earliest impressions of The God MC. "But he was on his way 'cause they had they own label and I was a part of all of that." Although she will forever be tied to Jay Z, Davis isn't one to live in the past. These days, Davis still does her Mad Wednesdays sessions and had a massive one on November 11 at The Shrine in Central Harlem, during which she celebrated her 56th birthday, as well as twenty years of living with AIDS. "It's an experience and they never experienced what I bring to the table," says Maria in reference to Mad Wednesdays. Despite sounding a tad bit fatigued after a long day of running around the city, her voice lights up when speaking about the event and after getting to know her story, there's no surprise why Ms. Davis holds moments like this close to her heart. After all, it's in her DNA to be an entertainer.

Born Maria Antonnette Davis on November 13, 1959 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Maria and her mother would move follow her father and move from Cincinnati to New York City in 1962. "Well, my mother was only 15 when she had me so she didn't finish high school, but she wound up being a private nurse and my father was 17-years old and he had many odd jobs," Maria says when asked about her parents' occupation. "My mother followed my father here to New York two years after I was born and that's how we wound up in the Bronx. I grew up South Bronx, in Mott Haven Projects." The eldest of nine children, five girls and three boys, Maria describes her childhood as a bit tumultuous due to her mothers love life and the absence of her father, who split from the family when during the '60s, stating "Some of it was troubling 'cause my mother was a single parent and she was very young and looking for love. And sometimes didn't chose the right relationships and later on it affected us and our relationship"

The departure of her biological father from the household also took a toll on a young Maria. "It affected me a lot," she says in reference to the absence of her father. "I always say it's so very important for young woman to have their fathers in their lives because the father is what really sets precedents for their relationships. Your father's your first date. That's who talks to you about who you should be dating and who's acceptable and who's not acceptable and when you don't have a kind of guide or guidance for that because your mother's a single parent [it's hard]." Maria's mother would later marry her younger brother's father, but the wound left from her father leaving would remain a fresh one. "My mother married my brother's father and they were married for a while and he was a great example, but then they broke up but that was in the later years when I was in Junior High school. So he was definitely a great example [and] he was a hardworking man, but you miss your [biological] father, you know."

Despite Maria's less than storybook household, her younger years were also filled with plenty of memories that she speaks of fondly, most of all her mother's influence on the dynamic personality she would become. "My mother loved to entertain, so that's where I got the partying thing from, my mother," Maria explains. "She would always have parties and friends over and cook, she was always a entertainer. She loved music. We would listen to the Jackson 5 to Marvin Gaye to Nina Simone. Patti Labelle." In terms of interests, Davis mentions partaking in a good old fashioned game of the dozens as her main hobbies as a youth. "I loved to be involved in everything, I was a comedian," Maria reminisces. "I always liked attention. I was what they call the class clown [laughs]. And I did a lot of that to cover up the sadness of me missing my father 'cause we didn't get to see our father a lot so being a clown kind of masked some of the sadness I had inside."

That penchant for wisecracks often landed her in trouble among the faculty at PS 49, but Davis looks at her hijinks without an ounce of regret. "I would always hang out and be in the snapping circle and I was always snapping on people. So my mother was always coming to school ‘cause the teachers said I talked a lot, but never did anybody know that my speaking would be how I make my money today."

After graduating from William Howard Taft High School in 1976, Maria delved deep into the intoxicating portal that was Harlem World. According to Maria, a big proponent for what would prove to be a life-long love affair with Harlem was a friend by the name of Sunny Burke, who now goes by Sana Shabazz. "She was from Harlem, she grew up on 127th Street," Maria says of her longtime confidant. "Her and I became friends when I worked at one of my first jobs in an art firm called Collective Guild. She was just a taste of Harlem for me. It was so amazing because her and I crossed paths in everything we did. She's still doing art, and she works in a prison, and I go visit prisons for her so we're still family." She also began looking for work to make ends meet, eventually landing a job at Record King Audio, which she considers the place where she first got her feet wet in the business of music.

"I worked in Record King Audio on 125th Street from 1978 to 1979 and it was run by two brothers, Curtis and Neil. And my girlfriend, Sunny, she dated Curt." Maria continues to wax poetic about lessons learned during her time spent at Record King Audio, as well as mentioning her loose association with one of Harlem's most beloved and notorious gangsters in passing. "I worked with (Russell Patterson and Stewart) from Black Ivory. Both were my bosses, but me and Russell were very close so I got exposed to a lot of stuff," Maria explains before dropping a major tidbit, stating "One of my good friends was Guy Fisher, his sister Florence Fisher was my good friend [and] at that time they owned the Apollo. So I was involved a little bit in the streets but not that much in the streets, but I [just] had a yearning to wanna know people."

In addition to her sharp tongue and charisma, the almond complected beauty could also make waves with her looks, leading to a lucrative career as a model during the '80s. "I had a modeling career for a long time, I made a lot of money," Davis boasts. "I was one of the first models on the box of a perm called Optimum. I did the ad and everything with a woman named Olive Benson, she passed on, but I was the first Optimum hair girl. I was a Budweiser Superfest girl. They would have posters every year and one year I was the poster person." The MTA, McDonalds, and Ebony were just a few of the many companies she posed for, but what really took her career to the next level was when her first child, Joshua, was born. "I had my son in '82 [and] I made a lot of money when he was born. Before, I was struggling, giving little parties here and there, fashion shows, and then when he was born, I started getting a lot of work."

But aside from modeling, she was also building an interest in a burgeoning sound coming out of her native Bronx called Hip-Hop during those years. "I guess that kind of started when I was modeling and I was bartending," Davis says when asked about the root of her love for the genre. "The Cellar on 95th and Columbus, that's when I started getting into Hip-Hop. I bartended and waitressed there. And then I wound up giving parties there. Rod Strickland's party was my first party. You couldn't even get in."

Maria's answer is simple when asked about the motivation behind her plunge into the party promoting game. "Just getting a group of people together and starting with my friends," she says. "And being at fashion shows and seeing other peoples different parties. I just liked getting people together. I always had functions at my house. I lived in a house in Newark, New Jersey, always had parties there. I always organized family get togethers, liked to cook, and that all stemmed from my mother."

What started off as a way to spend quality time with family and friends soon evolved into a full-blown operation for Maria. "Early '80s I started doing little parties here and there, nothing big though. My big stuff came right before whenI was pregnant with my daughter [at] Terranova. That was kind of toward the end of me deciding I didn't wanna model no more 'cause I started knowing so many people in the music industry and hanging out with them and everything so I would find out when everybody's birthday [was]. It started with birthday parties. I said "oh, what could I do," and I combined peoples birthday parties and I found DJs that nobody was using and I created a whole movement with DJs. I had Funkmaster Flex, Chuck Chill-Out, Luv-Bug Starski, Hollywood, everybody played for me."

"I started looking for venues," Maria says of her subsequent moves. I did a lot of basketball parties at Kilimanjaro. I did a lot of parties at Terranova with Allison Williams, Guy, Russell Simmons, Andre Harrell. All of them were my friends. I did parties for Charles Oakley, I did some Knicks' parties." Her connections from Cellars was paying infinite dividends for Maria, but little did she know that her love for entertaining was about to become her claim to fame and make her one of the hottest party promoters in all of New York.

One of the facilitators of this ascension was Bob Tate, a local impresario and member of the Uptown Chamber Of Commerce, who would take a liking to Maria and become a mentor during this period. "He had all of these business ventures going on and one of them was promoting parties. "Bob Tate kind of spearheaded and pushed me into another realm of partying because I would watch his money for him. He worked with a man named Leo and they ran a club called on 23rd Street. Bob Tate asked me to watch his door and he would give me a ridiculous amount of money to watch his money all night cause he would get half the door."

Another invaluable guide was presented to Maria in the form of a friend named Shelly Brook, who would also play a key role in her development as a force in New York's urban nightlife scene "I was still working at Cellars for a little bit and I was the coat-fit model on 7th Avenue and a good friend of mine, Shelly Brook, she was running the waiters at Mikells Restaurant, came to me one day. She had Whitney Houston [as a client] and was handling a lot of talent and she said to me "Listen, I got a venue, Maria, why don't you put something together?" And I dilly-dallied for months and then finally I said, "Yeah, let me do Mad Wednesdays," and that was in 1994."

According to Maria, the name Mad Wednesdays was partly by chance, as well as actual fate. "I was throwing parties, but I didn't really have no names for the parties; they were just [the] 'Maria Davis Party.' And Mad Wednesday came up because Shelly wanted me to take a Wednesday. So MAD is Maria Antonette Davis, my initials, so that's how I came up with Mad Wednesdays." The first official Mad Wednesdays showcase in March 1994 took place at hot spot called Sweetwaters on Amsterdam Avenue and would be immortalized as a landmark in rap in little more than two years and change by a certain Brooklynite.

But by no means did that occurrence birth the relevance of Mad Wednesday because if you were to ask those that were around at the time to know, Mad Wednesdays immediately became one of the most star studded events in Harlem. And Maria Davis seemed to be going through all the right avenues to make what would be a half-court shot to most seem like a layup. "It was good 'cause I was getting up and coming artists like Horace Brown. Usher was there. I had Quo, Michael Jackson's group. Mary J. [Blige] was there. Soul For Real came there for my birthday party. Keith Murray. Jay Z started out at Sweetwaters. Missy Elliott, Brian McKnight, Case, Mike Epps, Bill Bellamy. The list goes on." With A-List hip-hop and r&b talent in close quarters during a time when New York was known more for crime. "I had Kwame perform there and Biggie Smalls came to beat Kwame up at Sweetwaters," Maria recalls. "That's when the polka dot thing was going on and Biggie snapped on Kwame and then Kwame quoted him back so Biggie came there and found out he was performing. I had to take Kwame out the back door."

She also admits to being nervous at times about throwing her events due to being independent of any major companies, unlike a few of her contemporaries. "Yeah, you had the Tunnel. You had the Red Zone when Puffy decided to do stuff there. You're always nervous trying to get people through the door and back then I was the only black female promoter. There uwas nobody else doing it the way I was doing it, it was just me and Jessica Rosenblum. Puffy, Russell and all them used her [to work their parties]. They used her and God used me." While that assessment can be taken a myriad of ways, but what cannot be ignored is its plausibility due to all three's tight relationships being directly involved at the upper echelon of the '90s New York rap scene. But when prodded, Maria maintains that she feels no ill will towards Jessica, but stands her ground on the fact that she was the underdog out of that particular pack.

"We were cordial. I went to some of her events and she went to some of my events," Maria says of Rosenblum. "I mean, they had the upper-hand on me. They had their hands in the record companies. Jessica Rosenblum was very good friends with Russell Simmons and then Lyor [Cohen], you know. So where I had to fight for Mad Wednesday, they didn't have to fight, you know, they got it easy. They was there already, they could go pick up the phone and call people. I mean, I had great people that was in my corner, too, like OJ Wedlaw and Mark Pitts so I had a machine too, I had God. And that's the best one that you can have. So even with all of the adversity and people not giving me the artists like they gave Jessica, Mad Wednesdays was still very important in the music movement."

The rat race to dominate the NYC urban nightlife landscape was in full swing and Maria was a top contender, but tragedy would alter her course near the end of 1995 when a club patron was killed inside Sweetwaters, the venue that housed Mad Wednesdays.

"Sweetwaters got shut down in 1995 right before Christmas," Davis says, explaining the incident. "A guy got shot in the head at a party. Back then you had the promoters and then you had some of the hustlers that was throwing parties and the hustler's parties made mad money 'cause they sold bottles. That's when champagne - Dom P, Moet and all of that - was famous. And this particular party, the week before that Christmas, they had had a little scuffle in the party and I said 'this is not a good look, you can't take every and anybody's money.' And sure enough, I was bartending that night at Sweetwaters and a guy came in and shot a man in the head right there on the dance-floor." The setback may have put a damper on Maria's streak of good luck, but would prove to be a pivotal moment in the growth of Mad Wednesdays as a brand.

"I went to the Country Club on 86th [after Sweetwaters shut down], which catapulted Mad Wednesdays to a whole 'nother level. [The Country Club] was on 86th [Street], it took up a whole street between 2nd [Avenue] and 3rd [Avenue]. But now it's a pool hall." Maria details the period with the type of awe as if it just occurred yesterday. "I mean, I had lines outside," she says. "That's when the jazz mobile at Grant's Tomb up there on 123rd Street was big and popular because I was doing parties at Perks too. Perks was over there on Manhattan Avenue so I had a little short run of doing parties there; I did some record company parties that I set up in Perks." She also lets me in on how she finagled those parties and other connections she had made into her claim to fame. "How I became famous with getting these artists too was because I had so many friends in the music industry. I knew artists that were trying to get in the music industry so I would say 'well, why don't I put the new unsigned artist together with the record label's signed artist and create a buzz.' So my friends would say 'Maria, we got so-and-so in town, can you put something together' and then the little artist that I knew, I would put them on that same show. So I developed relationships with all my friends that they needed so anybody that had a new artist would give me the new artist to work in."

Mad Wednesdays soon became THE place to be Uptown, eventually finding its way in the raps of the game's hottest stars of the moment. "Mad Wednesdays became famous because The L.O.X. got me in their song [when they said] 'Ask Maria How I Blew It Down Mad Wednesdays,' they got a verse [with me in it]. And then Jay Z put me in his, "22 Twos," Reasonable Doubt, so Mad Wednesdays became very popular."

Which brings us full circle. While Maria Davis would've went down as a legend in Harlem regardless of meeting Jay Z -- we would be lying if "22 Two's" isn't the reason she appeared on many folks outside of New York City's radar. Maria is forthcoming about the whole process that got her on what many rap fans deem as one of the top ten albums of all-time. "Damon had heard of me," Maria says, matter-of-factly. "I didn't particularly know him and one day he came into my life and he never left. Jay Z didn't really know who I was, it was Damon Dash because I had something valuable, I had a venue." And Damon Dash had an artist whose face and music he needed to get out in the world, so the alliance was a match made in heaven. While Maria doesn't speak in mesmerized tones when speaking of Jay, she let's it be known that she was definitely a fan of his. "Well, he was coming to Mad Wednesdays and he did this song and it was "22 Twos" and that was like my favorite song," she says. "And every time he would come I was like 'no, Jay, you gotta do that 22 Twos thing."

Responding to a question about how the actual skit even came about, Maria attributes it to her no-frills shenanigans as a promoter. "I was famous for throwing people out of the club when they didn't act right and they loved that so they wanted that on the record," she recalls of Jay and Dame's reasoning for tapping her to hop on the album. She also takes full ownership of the commentary she spewed on that record, accrediting it to herself and explaining the thought process behind it. "So that whole skit, I adlibbed myself. They didn't write none of that, I wrote it, it came off the top of my head. Cause I would go in bathrooms and they would be like "Oh, Miss Davis is here, Miss Davis is here" and if I found or smelled anybody smoking weed, oh my god, party would get shut down, n----- would have to hear a whole Black History Month speech. So they got used to being like 'yo, don't come in her spot smoking weed' 'cause they was having such a good time and if I smelled weed, shit is shut down. That's why I been in the Shrine for seven years now. I don't even play with people. Go downtown to the white man, go give Bloomberg, the police, and 'em a hard time, don't do it to me."

Despite feeling honored to be asked to appear on one of her Mad Wednesday alum's album, her expectations for what her fifteen minutes of fame in the vocal booth would turn into were lukewarm to say the least. "Yeah, we knew it was gonna be on the album, but we didn't know how successful it would be. Nobody knew." She also makes it a point to digress that her appearance on the record was strictly organic and more of an extension of their relationship outside of the music. "I was a part of their family. We was doing the barbecues in the park and the this and the that and I know all the kids. I know Biggs' family, I'm still friends with his brother, his children, his sisters. Dame's brother Bobby, all of them. I just saw Biggs' brother the other day."

Some fans have claimed to have been present during the recording of "22 Two's," but Ms. Davis' recollection of the events seem to make that theory a farce. "They took me in the studio, but everyone thinks it was done at the club and people be like "I was there, I was there," they was not there. We did it in D&D Studios and I don't even think they exist no more. They asked me to come in and I did the whole skit. And at that time Jay Z was having problems with the law so I threw that up in there, "Jay Z, I heard you've been having problems with the law, but I know you're innocent." I was just adlibbing cause that's what was happening at the time. And I'm like 'put that champagne down and kick a little freestyle.' Who knew that would be so big." She also vouches for Jay Z's street credibility pre-fame, but prefers to shed more light on his present than his past, stating "He was a hustler, but he turned his hustling into something different absolutely."

Admitting she's not going as far as saving press clippings of him, Maria reveals that her and Jay's relationship may not be nearly as hunky dory as it was twenty years ago, but his team has taken the time to keep in touch with Maria over the years. "I just had his little nephews and all of them, they come to my shows, perform and bring artists. His secretary, Shaka, gave my daughter 10,000 to go to school from the Shawn Carter Foundation. And when they had the B-Sides concert, I was invited to come. They played the whole skit and then when they opened up the Barclays, everybody was calling me saying "Jay just gave you mad shoutouts, oh my god, Maria!" And Jay Z said that he's traveled all over the world and he started saying all the foreign countries that gave him love and then stopped and said, "You know what, I do have to say, next to the foreign countries was Maria Davis Mad Wednesdays."

"22 Two's" may have been a major coup, albeit unknowingly -- for Maria Davis' legacy in the greater hip-hop conversation, but she kept on trucking and conducted business as usual, continuing to put on dope showcases that included everyone that was hot on the streets at the time. Comparing the climate then to the game now, Maria seems to think that the decreased interaction between the fans and the artists at parties today is disheartening.

"It was different [back then]. You didn't have to be roped off [and] there was no such thing as bottle service," Maria laments. "You know, the Spanish people were doing it, but we weren't doing it, that was not popular. When you came to my parties, you was partying right with Jodeci and everybody. I didn't have no special section where I took them to seat and rope them off. Nah. These are your fans. These are people that made you, these are the people that you gotta have connections with them. That's the difference between the music industry now and back then." Davis continues, even pointing out the disparity between how people behind the scenes were accessible during different eras. "Back then [you could go to labels]. I had friends at MCA so I was always up at MCA Records. Cold Chillin' Records with Fly Ty. Nobody was like 'I'm this, I'm that,' everybody was struggling, trying to make it."

The struggle of trying to stay afloat amidst the murky waters of the music industry may have been a grind, but Maria Davis was about to stare in the face of the kind of adversity that many fail to survive. And the opponent would be AIDS, which she was diagnosed with in 1994. Soon, the dream that Maria Davis was living in quickly transformed into a nightmare.

"Absolutely. Definitely a shocker," Maria says of her reaction to the news. "Nobody takes being diagnosed with HIV in stride. That changes your entire life, your dating life, your life period. That's like a life altering disease. I took it like anybody else would take it if they found out they had HIV, devastated." The revelation must have been even more of a crushing blow given the manner in which she was delivered the news. "In the Post Office opening up a letter, that's how I found out," she says as she relives that fateful moment.

Suddenly, the same people that had once wanted a piece of everything she was doing slowly strayed away from Davis and acted as if she was a modern day lepper. "Absolutely, nobody knew what HIV was when I was diagnosed in '94," Maria says while reliving that trying time. "They kept a distance [from me], they was calling it The Monster. There was a stigma around anybody that had HIV or AIDS. And back then they didn't even know that it was HIV. HIV as a word didn't come around until '96." She continues taking me through the chain of events, stating "I remember the first person I told was my sister, Brenda and then my spiritual sister named Deidra Fisher," she reveals. So they were the first two that I told." Her emotions were a wreck prior to delivering the news. "I was absolutely afraid." She tells these tales wearing her poker face and without any subtle attempts of a pity party, fore those are not the celebrations she tolerates, in turn leading me to become a tad bit taken aback by her frankness.

But those that are familiar with Maria Davis wouldn't expect anything different. She's always been one to take the bull by the horns and give the sassiest sneer known to man while overcoming the odds. So after wiping her tears, she got to work. Maria's first step to adjusting her lifestyle was "getting educated and knowing what you're suffering with." She drives home her point about being responsible as someone spreading awareness. "I can't talk to anybody about anything until I'm educated about it. Because that's how misinformation is given. So I was working at Harlem United as a pre-educator. I had a phenomenal doctor, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, that was on the cutting edge side of AIDS and HIV when it first started."

Mad Wednesdays would continue through the late '90s, until a series of violent at The Country Club and Essos would impede Mad Wednesdays' potential progress.

"I did Monday Night Madness because I became very ill and I was hospitalized in '99 and one week stay turned into twelve and I never thought that I would give parties again. And then my good old friend Shelly, who started me out at Sweetwaters who is now at Soul Cafe came to me and said 'Maria, please, would you just host my show once a week' and I was like "nah, people are already talking bad about me, saying I'm strung out on drugs 'cause I'm so skinny and then one day she convinced me, in 2000, so I started hosting for her once a month with her son. So Monday Night Madness was like my introduction back to a life that I never thought that I would never see again. And I was still skinny and very fragile" And then from there, I threw a party and I did one party, two party, three parties and I was there for four years."

Maria looks back at her decision as one that was essential to truly begin living her life in the public again. "It helped my healing process, getting back to what I knew and what I love to do and every time that I came to host, I felt myself getting stronger and stronger. And then I was able to incorporate my story cause in 2000, I wound up being in a book called Souls Of My Sisters: Black Women Break Their Silence, Tell Their Stories And Heal Their Spirit. So being in Souls of My Sisters is what kind of took Mad Wednesdays from being just a musical showcase and an event to a movement 'cause now I was incorporating HIV Awareness along with Mad Wednesdays. And the same young people that would come through my doors to showcase their artistry would also leave out educated about a disease that's killing our people. For a long time, I wasn't gonna change it back to Mad Wednesdays, I said Mad Wednesdays is dead, it's old. But one day when I wasn't in the Sugar Bar no more (Between Broadway and West End), that's when I renamed Mad Wednesdays."

"I had to get my strength back, so by May 2007, I was at the Sugar Bar," Maria says in regards to her second comeback following a bout with PCP Pneumonia. "I was at the Sugar Bar for about three years. But just when it looked like Mad Wednesdays was regaining its stride, another setback appeared unexpectedly, leaving the showcase without a home yet again. They wanted to change and do something different," Maria says of The Sugar Bar's decision to break ties with Mad Wednesdays. After inquiring on The Sugar Bar's reasoning behind their change of heart, Maria points to differences in philosophy and approach rather than anything malicious. "Well, mainly because Valerie Simpson's brother didn't wanna do tracks and some of the artists had tracks. Not because it was no trouble or nothing," she continues. "R&B artists had tracks and everybody doesn't know how to work the band and he wanted everybody to because Sugar bar is Val Simpson [and] it's Ashford & Simpson, they wrote a lot of hits."

After splitting with the Simpsons, Davis was left without a venue to house Mad Wednesdays. But a helping hand appeared again in the nick of time, saving Mad Wednesdays from going on an extended hiatus. "Well, one of my girlfriends, Rain Torae, she was doing showcases there, open mic, on Tuesdays. And I let her know that I didn't have a place to go and Sugar Bar didn't want me no more and she said 'well, let me talk to the owner of The Shrine, Abdel Ouedraogo, and she spoke to him and they agreed and I'm here several years later."

Mad Wednesdays is back in effect and after several years without a glitch in the system, seems to have found a permanent home at The Shrine, giving a whole new generation of fans the chance to experience what drew artists and audiences of past to frequent Maria Davis' shindigs. She remains a proponent of young talent, but has her disagreements with the way some of the current artists on top of the game operate, particularly the females. "It's interesting because people always think that Nicki Minaj is the end all of end all. I mean, I like her and all that, but [back then], you had Yo-Yo, you had Da Brat, I mean, you had so many different styles. Nicki Minaj is great, but she's very very commercial. I mean, she's got it easy compared to what these women had to go through." When asked why she thinks this generation doesn't make a better effort to reach back to the old guard for guidance, Maria pegs it simply as a sign of the times we're in.

"You have to remember what this generation is about. What do they call it, selfie, everything is about self, so the next man ain't trying to be humble or give the next man recognition. These young people been sampling all of these r&b artists forever and they never - not many of 'em - look back and say 'well this is where the music comes from. They just sample the music and then they get hit later with a lawsuit and they really think they made that song." With social injustice being a hot topic these days, Maria Davis' believes the artists and fans of today need to put the onus on themselves more. "A little bit, but more still needs to be done," she assesses when asked if the two groups are doing enough to raise awareness on issues affecting the urban community. "All of them songs about strippers and throwing money in the air and disrespecting young women. Disrespecting men towards each other and [concentrating on] all of the unnecessary shit that don't even matter 'cause at the end of the day, if you're not educated, you're going nowhere. How do you obtain your information if you're not around things to inspire you and inform you?"

The question is one that has been asked for centuries, but in the meantime, Maria Davis is content with living in the moment. With more than thirty years of experience in New York's nightlife scene, Maria is as exuberant as those half her age and continues to tend to the artists and causes that often go unsung. When asked if she ever feels she gets lost in the shuffle in comparison to her contemporaries from her heyday, her response is one that is seeped in the type of wisdom and clarity that you can only get by traveling this weathered road called life. "You know what I learned and I learned this from being diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. The world is a stage and everybody's an actor and everybody has a different role to play and you're as good as your last scene. So if you're last scene was ten years ago, nobody know about your. But if you keep yourself relevant and you keep yourself in the community, everybody doesn't have to know your name."

She continues with her sermon. "Let me tell you something, when you die, life goes on and it's unfortunate, but the way you live your life will speak for you after the death. So if you lived your live doing nothing for no one but yourself, no one will remember you. But if you lived your life trying to help people and give back to the community, those people that you touched and you reached, even if it's ten or fifteen of them, those fifteen people, you're in their hearts and that's the most important thing. We're not put on this earth for everyone to say our name because that's selfish. I want people to say my name because 'Maria helped me. Not Maria Davis because she's the baddest promoter and she was on Jay Z's album. I don't look for man to glorify me because if you wait for man to glorify you, you'll never be glorified."

The words hit you like a ton of bricks, much like the letter that Maria read at that Post Office some twenty years ago. When asked how she continues to cope and live with AIDS, Maria's response let's you know exactly where her mind is these days. "I have a regular life with medication for the rest of my life. I graduated from college at the age of 56 from the College of New Rochelle, I'm being honored on November 24. as a servant of the community. I started taking swimming lessons, so I swim now, whereas I used to be afraid of the water. I'm doing HIV/AIDS awareness, just [being] more community involved. A little politics. I'm the County Committee leader for the district here. They put me on the ballot and people voted for me. And a little TV because I've said I've always wanted to be an actress. I wanna go back to school to perfect myself even more. So I lead an exceptional life. And someone asked me the other day 'now that you're living with AIDS, how has your life been' and I said 'my life is better than it's ever been."

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

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