Mia X Talks Making 'Mama Drama' And Trailblazing For Southern Female Rappers
No Limit's First Lady Mia X looks back on the making of and climate surrounding her 'Mama Drama' album.
When looking back on the lyrical man-eaters of the '90s, names like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve and Trina often dominate the conversation. However, one artist that often gets left out of the shuffle is Mia X, who helped take No Limit Records from being a giant on the independent circuit to being a global force. Born and raised in New Orleans, Mia X caught the rap bug from an early age, joining forces with a teenage Mannie Fresh during the '80s and forming the group, New York Incorporated, in 1984. "The guy who started the group moved to New Orleans from Queens, his name was Denny D,” Mia X recalls via telephone. “We started a DJ crew, but I was their emcee, and we would go all over New Orleans performing. Sometimes we didn't have but $25 in our pocket at the end of the night, but we were so happy because we were rhyming and we were doing what we wanted to do. When my class night came and they asked what I wanted to be, and this was in 1987, I told them I was gonna be a rapper."
Mia X's desired career path became a reality in 1994 when she caught the attention of California transplant and fellow New Orleans native Master P, who recruited the buzzing rapstress to become the First Lady of his independent label, No Limit Records. Releasing her No Limit debut, Good Girl Gone Bad, in 1995, despite failing to make an appearance on any Billboard charts, Mia X's reputation as a fierce lyricist with a slick tongue and an air of raunchiness caught on big among rap fans in the south, making her one of the premier artists on the label. However, by the time Master P inked his historic distribution deal with Priority Records, Mia X was finally ready for her star-turn, releasing her sophomore album, Unlady Like, in 1997. The album, which peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart—and eventually went on to being RIAA certified gold—positioned Mia X as the premier female emcee out of the South, with the ability to go bar-for-bar with any emcee on a track, regardless of gender. With the massive success No Limit's stable of talent achieved during their first round of major releases and the deafening hype surrounding the label, the stakes were high when it came time for Mia X to return with her third studio album.
However, the following year, Mia X proved to be the real deal, unveiling her third studio album, Mama Drama, on October 27, 1998. With guest appearances from various No Limit artists, including Master P, Snoop Dogg, C-Murder, Mystikal, Silkk The Shocker, Mac, Fiend, Mr. Serv-On, and production from in-house producers KLC and Beats By The Pound, Mama Drama was the biggest release of Mia X's career. The album debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 with 99,000 copies sold in its first week, according to Nielsen Music. It debuted and peaked at No. 3 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, behind JAY-Z's Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and the Belly Soundtrack.The success of the album, coupled with scene-stealing roles in films like MP Da Last Don, I Got The Hook-Up and Hot Boyz, brought Mia X into the national spotlight and made her one of the more accomplished and respected females in rap, particularly from the South. But after the release of Mama Drama, Mia X seemingly vanished from the music industry, leaving fans to wonder what became of her and her once promising career.
In celebration of Mama Drama's 20th anniversary (Oct. 27), we spoke to Mia X and got the scoop on the making of the album, life on No Limit, her disappearance from the limelight, female empowerment, being a pioneer for female rappers in the South and what she's got cooking up next.
VIBE: Before the release of Mama Drama, you had a scene-stealing guest appearance on the No Limit posse cut "Make 'Em Say Uhh.” In what ways would you say that music video and song boosted your career?
Mia X: Well, I was happy that they liked the verse. "Make 'Em Say Uhh," it was another one of our soldier songs. And honestly, the concept [of it], people were making fun of P saying "Uhh" and I told KL, I was like bruh, we have to come up with some way to flip this ‘cause this ain't funny. KL really did his thing putting that beat together. We were happy that the world received it. I mean, no matter what coast you lived on, everybody loved that record. And for me, I was just happy that I was able to represent for the ladies, ‘cause when I came in the game, that was the only thing that I wanted to do, make sure we were represented right.
How would you describe life on No Limit during the label's Golden Era?
Most of us, we were like family at No Limit, and a lot of us actually were, so my time was really cool, aside from a few things that I went through. I was in an abusive relationship and then I lost my parents. I had some other setbacks in my life, but as far as being an artist and being on the label, I really did love and enjoy everybody, and I'm so thankful that I got the opportunity to, like, christen some of their kids, you know? We really were family and we really stuck together and ran together. We kinda weren't all over the place as a label, so we were around each other a lot. I think that's what people liked about us a lot, too. When they saw us, they always saw us together, but we were just excited. As a label, we were excited that the world was f**king with us. We was grateful because our intention was to hold the South down with everything in us, but we never dreamed that it was gonna blow the way it blew, where the whole world was feeling it and that was a great feeling and we were grateful. We didn't take that for granted at all.
Being the First Lady of No Limit, you were already well-versed in the No Limit system and how they create and rolled out projects. Given the breakout success of the label and it becoming the biggest business in rap, were there any differences in the recording process for Mama Drama in comparison to Good Girl Gone Bad or Unlady Like?
I recorded Mama Drama in 10 days and [had] already recorded four records [beforehand]. We was shooting I Got The Hook-Up, and [Master] P said if you wanna come out in the fourth quarter, you gonna have to go and finish your album now because I gotta turn it in. I was used to doing 20 records, so it took me 10 days. I wrote and recorded 16 [new] songs. KLC and Beats By The Pound, they was literally recording, dumping and mixing this record, like almost at the same time, to get it out on time. It was a fun album and it was challenging because I had a deadline and I still I wanted to cover all of the subject matter that I like to cover, but I also wanted to be original. It was one of them things like... I felt like that's when I was under the gun as an emcee to finish a project and not finish it at the luxury of my brain just being creative.
"What'cha Wanna Do," the album's first single, paired you with former Gap Band member and R&B legend Charlie Wilson. How did that collaboration come about and what are your memories of creating that song and working with Charlie in the studio?
We were in the studio together, [on] the same day, [at] the same time. I was at Snoop [Dogg]'s house, I was making Snoop some macaroni and chicken and Uncle Charlie was over there. This is around the time Mr. Biggs [Ronald Isley] was real, real hot. So everybody's talking about Mr. Biggs, but I'm telling Uncle Charlie that The Gap Band was one of my mama's favorite groups and she took me to the Burn Rubber Tour when it came to New Orleans. I had the Gap Band 3 t-shirt, I was telling him, you know? I told him "Yearning For Your Love" was one of my favorite songs and I asked him if I rewrote it, would he sing it and he was like, ”Yeah, let's do it right now. It happened just like that. We did the record and after we did the record, he told me he was impressed with the way I rewrote the record. I asked him would he be available for the video. Not only was he available for the video, but he also did a real solid, he brought the whole Gap Band to be in my video.
One of the more uplifting songs on Mama Drama is "Mama's Tribute," which finds you giving words of encouragement to women. What spurred you to deliver that message with that particular song?
The first time I did "Mama's Tribute," I redid "I'll Take Your Man." "Mama's Tribute" is really all about me showing love to some of my favorite emcees and I decided to pay “Mama's Tribute” to my renditions of [MC] Lyte's "Paper Thin." I just wanted to flip the lyrics to represent us as women and just make us feel powerful and make us feel uplifted because it's hard being in a male-dominated industry with so many records that's basically throwing tomatoes at women. And a lot of times, we don't have no choice. We find ourselves just drowning out some of the words and nodding our head to the fiery beats or whatever and, for me, I always wanted to make it like, well, if we gotta listen to all of that, then y'all gotta listen to all of this. At some point, we gonna get together and make us a record that everybody can jam to, but until then, men stand up for men. I was finna stand up for women and just make what we heard in the club sound a little different.
Women are everything, we gangstas. Usually, you learn how to defend yourself and be strong because nine times out of ten, it's your mama telling you that you gotta go outside and hit them back. Don't take no mess from nobody. You learn how to put your sentences together from your mama. And when it gets real, when a lot of dudes get locked up, the only one they have is their mama, and their mama does every one of them years with them. No matter how many times he embarrasses her, she’ll be there like a soldier. So how can a dude figure that a broad ain't a gangsta emcee when we the first gangstas y'all know?
Another song from Mama Drama that stands out on the tracklist is "What's Ya Point," which features guest appearances from Fat Joe and Snoop Dogg. What's the backstory to that song?
I wanted to do that record because we had got so much love from the East Coast and the West Coast. I just wanted to make a record to let everybody know... pretty much, when you travel different places, it's the same stuff going on. It's just the atmosphere and environment is different. The way we talk, the slang is different. The dress code might be different—
But the spirit is universal.
Yes, it's all the same thing. There is no such thing as the toughest live on this coast or that coast. Or the meanest or the smartest. I wanted to do that record because I didn't like the tension. Even in New Orleans, with the tension between the east and the west. I didn't ever like that because you have artists you love and they make music that you love and I just really didn't see a point. I feel, if anything, music is a universal language. You can be a Black Panther, you can be a Ku Klux Klan and little do y'all know, y'all might like the same record. That was my thing, as far as "What's Ya Point." I wanted us to represent our areas, but at the same time, bridge that gap.
Also, at the time of Mama Drama's release, which included songs like "Thug Like Me," "Play Wit P***y" and "Sex Ed." Aside from Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, there weren't many female rappers infusing sexuality into their lyrics as boldly and bluntly as you, particularly from the South. With the current feminist movement and trend of women empowerment in rap, do you at all credit yourself for being one of the pioneers of that style of rap for women?
Let me tell you something: yeah, I feel like I'm definitely in the front of the game with it. My first record, "Da Payback", it came out in 1992. It moved close to 50,000 units and I was saying stuff like "Suck a ni**a d**k for a outfit/And suck a ni**a d**k for some K-Swiss/Will eat lady's p***y for a home-cooked meal/And blow the a** for a forty, bi**h!" (Laughs) That was in 1992, so... yeah. Me and Choice, actually. Choice is one of the first to talk that sh*t, period, because she talked it in '86 on Rap-A-Lot. We've always been very, very, very strong and outspoken women in the South, because we've had to hold down a lot of stuff. That kind of rap in the South was always what that was. Trina, Gangsta Boo, La Chat, Jackie-O. The South has produced some really good women and even now in New Orleans, they got some really good females [rapping].
On the song "Fallen Angels (Dear Jil)," you honor the memory of a close friend. Do you recall the process of writing and recording that particular song?
I just let KLC and them run the beat and I sat on the floor, went over and over it until I got what I wanted to say to her. Jil was my best friend and had just got murdered right before I dropped Good Girl Gone Bad, so I just kinda wanted that record to be a conversation, just catching her up on what had happened since she was killed. And man, you know, ‘til this day, Jil is my best friend. I've had a lot of beautiful women in my life that have been nothing but 100 to me, but she absolutely was, I think, the best friend I've ever had. That record was a heavy record. After I got the girls in and told them to do the fallen angels part, it was just [everybody] kinda sitting there [in the studio] and looking [around] ‘cause everybody had been through something. There was a lot of girls getting killed [in New Orleans] in the '90s.
Of all of the songs on Mama Drama, which ones hold a particularly special place in your heart?
One of the records I like a lot was this record "Like That" because I was really just expressing the way I was feeling about a lot of things. You know, not feeling appreciated, but always expected to do things. It's just one of those songs where I felt I needed to get a lot of stuff off my mind and when I finished, Mac was like, “I think this is gonna be one of my favorite song on the album." But then one of my favorite records on the album was when I did "Flip & Rip" ‘cause what we did [was] we sat in the booth and we just went back and forth. That was really cool because it gave me a chance to get a little rhyme exercise out, as the same way on Unlady Like when Mystikal and I did "Who Got The Clout." The last verse, we just went in the booth together and freestyled that and I like that because it makes me feel like I'm on my game. But I like "Flip & Rip." I like "Thugs Like Me." I like "What'cha Wanna Do." I like "Play Wit P***y."
You like everything because it's your album. (Laughs)
I wouldn't say I like everything. Out of the 20 songs, I probably like about nine of them. The rest of them, I feel like, sh*t. I was just hurrying up and thankful that people were coming in the studio where I could say, “Look, just hurry up and write a verse and jump on this record so I can feel this space up.” But there's about eight or nine of them I like, that's just the way it is. But overall, Mama Drama, I think it is a good album. I'm proud ‘cause I wrote those records and I'm proud because I have made a lot of young fans off of my old CDs and that's really a blessing. To go to concerts and have records that's almost 20 and over 20 and have these families come up to you with their now 20- and 21-year-old children, saying, “Oh, we been listening to everything, so I had to bring him to check you out." That's so rewarding, to be celebrating an album 20 years later. Because I know people have a choice when they're buying music and I'm very thankful.
Mama Drama was an overwhelming success, but would be your last album under the umbrella of the No Limit family, as you went on a hiatus shortly after. It's been reported that the decision was due to turmoil and tragedy in your personal life. Can you touch on that?
A few months after Mama Drama, going into 1999 actually, my mom was killed and then five months after that my dad was killed and then seven months after that, my grandmother died. At the time, my children were still kinda young, they were still in elementary school and I had a younger sister and she was entering college, so I made the decision so that I could do what I needed for my children. ‘Cause when I was young, on the road, my parents and grandparents were hands-on with my children. They pretty much handled everything. And when they died, when you have children, you're always a parent first, so I had to go and parent. And then a lot of producers was leaving the label and I was used to working with them. Some of them I've known forever, so my whole drive just went away. I talk to emcees, we go through these different phases where you can perform forever and then there’s some times you don't even feel like it and the excitement my parents and grandparents had as far as my records or when I was about to do something, that was like fuel for me. I felt like my light had been put out because they was so important to me. So I stepped away from the game after they [my family members] died. There was a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff happening, so I stepped away. But I didn't stop writing, I have crates and crates of notebooks!
Did you ever have any regrets about stepping away from No Limit and the music industry?
Yeah, I felt regretful when the boys, when Mac and C[-Murder] and Mystikal, when they went to jail. I wish I could've stayed because we were always together and creating and thinking of something we could do to make a sound and push the envelope with the soldier beats. I felt like I kept everybody so preoccupied. I felt like I shouldn't have left because we would be busy and we would be planning. Sometimes I still feel like... I wonder how things would've turned out had I just tried to work through the process, but then I don't think that that would've been a good thing for me because I had to grieve, as much as I wish I could've stayed with my label-mates. We made records and we traveled really close together. We was always together, we really ain’t have time to be nowhere else, couldn't nobody accuse us of being somewhere else. So as much as I sometimes regret not just staying around, I think about all of the mental breakdowns I had in private as I grieved my parents. And I'ma tell you something, I always tell people when Kanye [West's] mama died, I always felt he should've stepped away for six months to a year. When you have a really good relationship with your parent and then they die suddenly without any expected illnesses, no prolonged sicknesses, when they pass suddenly and they are hands-on with a lot of stuff that you do, it takes you to a whole 'nother level. I think people would've seen me cracking up and tripping out in person right when the internet and blogs and stuff had just started blowing up...camera phones and things like that. I think people would've caught me tripping out during those early 2000s because I wasn't all there. I was really missing my parents, you know? I know we all grieve differently, but sometimes we gotta take that little sit-down. So as much as I regret it sometimes, I get slapped back in my senses because it's like, no, you needed to go through what you went through cause sometimes it was hell for me.
One of your latest endeavors is Team Whip Dem Pots, your catering business. When did you make the decision to jump into the culinary world?
#TeamWipDemPots is a cooking squad where I inspire people to cook and convince them that cooking is actually cheaper than going to buy food in those fast[-food] lines. Everyday we cook meals and we’re from all over the world. We post the meals, post recipes, inspire each other to cook and we're like a real serious squad. Got a lot of women and a lot of men, got people all through the U.K. and it's just about inspiring each other to cook. ‘Cause when you cook, you get your children involved and through preparing the food, you can find out how their day went, who they like, who like them, who don't like them. You find out a whole lot of things when you're in the kitchen and you're creating a meal. It creates that bonding time, so that's the whole purpose behind. But also, I was Essence Festival's 2018 Best-Selling Author in their bookstore this year. I did a cooking demo at Essence Eats and I dropped my memoir, Things My Grandma Told Me, Things My Grandma Showed Me and it's been doing very well. It's a memoir from 1975 to 2001, a lot of stuff that was going on at No Limit when I moved to California and how different it was living on the [West] coast and just how it was overall in the business. [I] talk about how my grandmother's house used to be a spot where people gambled and brought food and liquor and it had been like that since the early, early '40s. My grandmother, she had a lot of quotes. She was a straight-up talker. She had a sack of bullets on the side of her bed, she would loan people money. When you get her money, she throw a bullet at you. If you don't bring her money back, she gon' see if your a** catch the next one, so that's why I did that in “Bout It Bout It.” (Laughs)
My grandmother, I feel like she had a lot to do with the way I write rhymes, my style, the way she talked to us. When we were growing up—and thinking we cute and all that—and she tell us, “Your p***y don't make him stay, it make him skeet, the way to his heart is not your draws.” And [when] we have heartache—”our heart don't care how stupid you look, it just knows what it feels. That's why your common sense gotta have your heart's back.” So this cookbook is about her quotes and when she told me things and we would be in the kitchen cooking and she would be schooling me because I was a teenage mom and did a lot things in my life I shouldn't have did cause I had people that I could talk to. I talk about my mistakes, I talk about my grandmother's profound words that she would drop constantly on us and just teach us so much. I talk about how I've come to cook the food, because a lot of people in the industry, they know that I'm a fool with the pot! ‘Cause I been cooking since No Limit. I was always cooking for people. Cooking for all of the editors, all of the journalists. I cooked on Yo! MTV Raps. I was really getting it in ‘cause it's a passion, I absolutely love to cook, and now I'm happy. I'm leading a new generation and walking them into this age of home-cooking and growing produce and just bonding and just having real conversations with their children.
In the time since your departure from No Limit, you've released projects like your Unlady Like Forever and Betty Rocka Locksmith mixtapes and appeared alongside artists like Gucci Mane. What have you been cooking up in the studio as of late? Can fans look forward to a new project from you anytime soon?
I'm putting out a soundtrack to the cookbook, actually, and I'm also doing an audio-book of the cookbook where I actually read it to the fans cause they say they like the way I talk. I'm gonna read the book to the fans, but I'm working on a soundtrack. I love music, I'm still open for features, I still do concerts. I'm just enjoying myself. I'm allowing the game to feel the way it felt for me when I first got in it. And I fell in hip-hop in 1979 so it's like... I love it. I will never stop loving it. I will never stop writing, I will collaborate, but now, I'm also standing behind my son. My son, his name is Jakk Jo and he is dropping some incredible projects, he does tribute mixtapes. I've had him with me around the studio since he was four years old so he was around the early Cash Money, UNLV and Lil Slim making records. We would all be in the studio together, so his influences go all the way back to 1992. He drops these mixtape series called Wohday Musik, he's about to drop Wohday Musik Part 4. People really, really love him because he is naturally New Orleans. So I've been supporting him and I'm proud of him, but like I said, I'm still open for collabs, I'm doing the soundtrack, that's gonna be the little EP for me. And I'ma be whipping pots and getting where I fit in and then, what else? (Laughs)
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