Sammus/Time Crisis
Vrinda Jagota/Courtesy of Sammus

The New Class Of Femcees: S▲mmus

We've rounded up some of the industry's newest rappers who happen to be women. Get into their stories in our series, The New Class of Femcees. 

As the rap game consistently changes and grows, it's easy to get stuck on the favorites because, overwhelmed. To make it easier, VIBE has rounded up some of the industry's newest rappers, who happen to be women. Get to know them in our series, The New Class of Femcees.

When she's not rapping over her own beats, Sammus is a Ph.D student at Cornell University studying Science and Technology. Balancing the two can be tricky, but as she prepares for an album release and tour, the nerdcore emcee is making it happen in the best way possible. Sammus' new album, Pieces in Space, is out tomorrow (Oct. 28) on Don Giovanni Records and NuBlack Music Group. Pre-order here and get into her story below.

Age: 30
Hometown: Ithaca, NY
Craziest thing on your show rider: "I asked for a projector, if someone has it. But I don't think that's really crazy!"
Three words to describe the music: "Snarky, black, and nerdy."

VIBE: How did you get into rap in the first place?
Sammus: Actually I was a producer before I was a rapper. I never had intentions to do anything with my voice. I remember attempting to sing in undergrad, I have a terrible voice. So that's a very small part of the reason why I rap. I attended undergrad at Cornell University and I was making beats on my computer at the time. I remember sending a beat to a friend and then somebody else sent me the beat back with someone else rapping over it and I was furious. I was like, I didn't authorize this, if anybody is going to rap over my beats is going to be me.

But I didn't really take it seriously until I had graduated and moved to Houston where I was a third and fourth grade math and science teacher. I was really depressed at the state of the educational system. It's a hot mess and I needed some kind of outlet, something to feel okay with feeling powerless at the time. I had been making beats for some time and I finally decided to start rapping mostly about how cool it is to be a nerd because I thought about my students. The fact that they were coming in and they could recite all of Lil Wayne's lyrics but were struggling with some of my lessons. What is the disconnect? Maybe I can make it seem like it's really cool if you go home and study all the time. That was sort of the entry point into rapping.

As a female emcee, have you ever experienced anything crazy and how do you feel about the state of female emcees at this time?
I'll start with the second question first. Right now, I'm so excited about what's going on with women in rap. There's just so much good stuff and I think we're finally in a place where people are willing to accept all of our stories. I think for some time there was only one sort of narrative about women as emcees that could be told. There was one that was usually highly sexualized or framed within in a particular way. Which I will say, there is nothing wrong with that prospective, but when its the singular story that's being told it's frustrating for a lot of us. I feel so great about Noname, Lizzo, Ivy Sole, there's so many emcees I can think of. Through social media and through some of these other platforms, we don't have to work through traditional avenues to have our stories told anymore, which is part of why I think there's so many diverse voices with women emcees now. But in terms of my personal experience, a lot of my anxiety and a lot of the doubt that I face has been regarding my skills as a producer.

Part of the reason why I took on the name Sammus is that Sammus is in reference to a video game character. In that video game, the character is in an armored suit, so you can't tell what they look like. Then when you beat the game, the armored suit comes and you discover that it's this woman. When I was playing it as a kid, I was like that's pretty incredible. I had envisioned this to be a big powerful man. So when I would tell people that I made beats, especially with dudes, I would receive pushback. They would inquire, like "who helped you to make this" or "did you really make this." I felt myself having to defend my skill-set there. That was really demoralizing. By the time I started finding my rap voice, I already was just not here for the bullsh*t. I was already able to walk past the comments that had been made. I've heard stupid stuff before, stupid comments. The most frustrating thing is being framed only as a female rapper. I think Noname was actually tweeting about this but, "oh you're my favorite female rapper" and "you're a really good female emcee." I think there's definitely merits to being framed as a person speaking perspective, it can also be frustrating. It's like how can I be evaluated in the broader emceeing period. What do I have to do to be seen as an emcee in my own right? That's the tension that I think a lot of women emcees face.

That makes sense, it's accurate. If it's a guy, you don't necessarily say you're my favorite guy rapper.
Yeah! You don't say you're my favorite male emcee.

Do you feel that being empowered as woman is a part of your sound? Do you think it goes with your music?
Yeah, when it first started out I wasn't thinking about my music as being some feminist or womanist reaction to anything. It was just like this is my story, these are my ideas. But the more that I started to perform and get out there and more women said thank you for reflecting this story or thank you for sharing this thing. I started to realize that what I'm saying is important for a lot of women, that a lot of Black women specifically are thinking about at this time. So yeah, now that I've been doing this for some time I definitely take that on and feel like it's a big part of my music. But initially I don't think it was a central idea in the actual concepts that I was talking about.

How did you come up with your sound as rapper and what do you feel it brings to the rap game at this time?
I think that's a really interesting because as I was talking about before with this singular rap perspective, I remember feeling like my voice is too deep. When I first started, if you listen to my earlier stuff I'm like trying to make my voice higher because I didn't think it was cute enough. I was really anxious about coming across in a particular type of way because my voice. It's taken a progression for me to love my own voice and the way that I rap, the way that I say things. So that's a part of my sound now, I think it's my voice. The way that I phrase things I think is an interesting perspective that's being brought to rap game. I am a Ph.D student so I have this interesting vocabulary and interesting references that other folks may not be talking about. The last thing is that I think I'm bringing kind of an openness and vulnerability that for a long time we haven't been allowed to display. It's part of the reason why so many gravitated toward Kanye West when he first dropped because he's so open with the highs and the lows. I feel like I'm trying to do something similar but for black women and their experiences.

What does your creative process look like when you're starting off? Do you start with the beat or the song? Do you light candles?

I wish it was that spiritual! This last project or the last two projects I've been working on, the process was very, very different than had been prior to that. For those two, I would think of a thing that was important to me or I drive a lot, I go back and forth between Ithaca and New York City a lot, so that gives me time to think. When I hear something or think about something and I start kind of tearing up or start feeling emotional, I'm like oh that's something I need to talk about. That's obviously an important topic to me. If I'm driving around, I'll start thinking of words or putting words together. But sometimes, I might have a beat already that I've been working on and try to configure something to the beat. I guess say all that to say that this time around, the process was a lot more fluid than it's usually been where I'm working on the beat and the lyrics and the concepts all at the same time. Not going into something with sort of an idea already in mind. I'm more open to just working through my feelings, like why am I feeling this way and why does this does make me feel emotional. Writing down that I think about a particular subject. But in the past it was much more like I want to talk about police brutality, write a song about that. I want talk about my relationship with God, let me write a song about that. It's a lot less stretching now.

You just spoke about letting people into those highs and lows and that vulnerability in your music. What do you want people to gain from your music?
I mostly people to gain sort of a respect for themselves as humans. Especially, especially black women. In the sense that... one of the songs I put out on my last project was a song about going to seek therapy and dealing with a really, really awful breakup, medication, all kinds of things. I was so mortified at first to share those things, but having done that so many times now and seeing the response I'm recognizing that a lot of people are going through it right now. A lot of people need help, but are scared to say something. Or want to be seen as human but don't have the words to kind of articulate that so I want to help provide with a vocabulary working through some of things that they are thinking about it terms of their own identity. And knowing that it's okay to struggle, that's it okay to be unsure and also that it's okay to make space for yourself. To fight for your space in whatever circle you're in.

When it comes your career as an artist and producer, what is your ultimate goal? Does one outweigh the other?
I have been thinking a lot about this because I have been moving down this academic trajectory, but I don't want to have a career in academia. Ideally for me, I would be able to work in kind of an academic context, talking about teaching, songwriting, or production, but not tied to a specific institution. Maybe being an artist in residence, kind of working with a school for two years to do certain things. I appreciate teaching, teaching is cool and I would love to be able to do that and to be paid basically to perform and do your thing.

What can we expect from you soon?
My next is album is coming on Oct. 28 and its dropping on a record label called Don Giovanni Records. They have mostly done punk bands and punk artists which I think is interesting. I want to able to break into weirds scenes and do different things like that and then after the 28th I have a tour that I'm calling The Weekend Warrior Tour because I'm still in school so every weekend I'll go to a different place in the northeast and do things that way.

Outside of music, all the things that you cover there, what are you passionate about?
I'm really passionate I think broad social justice issues, particularly things around Black Lives Matter. I'm a working group member of the chapter here in Ithaca and it's a critical part of who I am. I'm interested in helping people to find ways to express pain and them dealing with it. Mental health issues are really, really important to me. Finding spaces or creating spaces to meet people who are open to sharing their authentic stories is really really important to me.

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Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.


What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jaquees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.


In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.


Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.


The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.


Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).


Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)


In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations


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