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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!

READ MORE: New Orleans, A City Known To Create Moments, Is Having One Of Its Own

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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Music Sermon: Classic Conscious Posse Cuts For The Hip-Hop Generation

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

The year 1985 saw one of the biggest moments in music history when Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson gathered pop and rock stars from across the musical spectrum as U.S.A. for Africa for the anthemic “We Are The World,” raising funds for short and long-term humanitarian aid throughout Africa.

The following year, Dexter Scott King was inspired to create a similar moment. After decades-long efforts in Congress with pushes from public figures and notable artists, his father Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was finally being observed as a national holiday. King wanted to tap younger energy - the growing hip-hop generation – to put a spin on “We Are The World” in commemoration of the first MLK Day.

King reached out to Kurtis Blow, who’d been part of a mass anti-apartheid project the year prior. “I get a call… he says, ‘Hello, Kurtis. I want you to record a song for my father.’ I hung up on him,” Blow told Vlad TV. “He calls me back, ‘I’m serious, I’m Dexter Scott King.’ I said, ‘You playin’.” Kurtis finally realized nobody was playing on his phone, and they got to work. With Blow as producer, King and co-writer/co-producer Phillip Jones assembled a who’s who of young hip urban and urban crossover artists. “Anyone who was too young for ‘We are the World,’” he explained to Vlad: El Debarge, Stephanie Mills, Whitney Houston, Lisa Lisa, Full Force, Stephanie Mills, Teena Marie, Menudo (featuring young Ricky Martin), New Edition, Stacy Lattisaw, James JT Taylor, Whodini, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys and Kurtis.

They planned to shoot a video at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change — the designated recipient of all proceeds from the song — to give it a proper spotlight, but they needed money. A benefactor showed up in the form of Prince. Yes, that Prince. According to Kurtis, The Purple One donated $90,000 for a visual.

At this point, supergroups for a worthy cause weren’t a brand new thing. Prior to “We Are The World,” there was Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” for Ethiopian Famine Relief. In 1985, Artists United Against Apartheid released “Sun City,” but it was nowhere near as big a hit or pop culture moment as the other two.

“King Holiday” was the first of these event songs for us. For something specifically and directly connected to and about us.

After that, black musicians teamed up were several other socially-charged collaborations that took on issues close to home or challenged us as a community to do better–and then there weren’t any more of them. It could be because of lack of incentive, or abundance of egos. Or shrinking of artist pools in some areas, or the shrinking of budgets overall. It’s certainly not due to lack of topical options. Whatever the cause, in honor of MLK Day, we’re going to look back at some of the great supergroup movement moments in black music.


In the three short years between “King Holiday” and “Self-Destruction,” rap expanded from a niche genre to a full cultural movement. But along with that ascension came a growing affiliation with violence. In ‘87 and ‘88, melees were breaking out at rap concerts, and the art form was held solely responsible. Two incidents at New York’s Nassau Coliseum, one with a fatality, were the breaking point. Just as hip hop was coming into its own, it was in danger of stalling out. Media and community leaders were condemning rap as a negative influence. Venues started banning rap concerts, a pall hung that over rap shows and tours until the Hard Knock Life Tour ushered in a new era of all-rap shows more than a decade later.

The situation was dire. Journalist Nelson George contacted music executive Ann Carli with an idea: a posse cut with an anti-violence message. They took the name “Stop the Violence Movement” from a Boogie Down Productions song, and so appropriately enlisted BDP’s help. “This wasn’t about police brutality,” founding member D-Nice said around the song’s 25th anniversary. “This was about how we were killing each other and why we needed to put a stop to it.” The 17-year-old D-Nice produced the song, and BDP leader KRS-One laid his verse down first, followed by some of the best-known rappers on the East Coast: Ms. Melodie, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Heavy D, Public Enemy, Stetsasonic and Just-Ice. Just was a controversial addition because he’d recently been accused of shooting someone, but his presence lent sincerity to the message. The video, shot in part at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, was the largest gathering of rappers at one time to date. Beef was squashed, like former rivals DJ Red Alert and DJ Marley Marl pictured together at Scott LaRock’s grave. And though the record featured all east coast lyricists, Tone Loc showed up to rep the west in solidarity.

“Self-Destruction” was released on Martin Luther King, Jr Day in 1989, and received video support, but it didn’t get mainstream radio airplay. It still reached No. 1 on the rap charts in March and stayed there for ten weeks, driving enough sales enough to raise $500,000 for the National Urban League. The Stop the Violence Movement and “Self-Destruction” are still considered one of the most important moments in hip hop. The following year, the west coast took the baton.


Even if you’ve never set foot on the left coast, you know that LA was embroiled with racial tension, gang violence and a confirmed distrust between the black community and law enforcement in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s the climate that birthed “F*ck the Police” and Boyz N The Hood. “All in the Same Gang” was created in the same spirit as “Self-Destruction,” but specifically addressing the violence between nearly 100,000 Los Angeles area gang members.

Michael Concepcion, a founding member of the Crips, conceived the idea after a shootout left him paralyzed from the waist down. He reached out to key west coast artists – some former gang members themselves – to float the idea. Once they were on board, he pitched it Warner Brothers Records. His path was no doubt made easier by the success of “We’re All in the Same Gang.” Additionally, hip-hop’s commercial viability was being recognized as a real thing thanks to Yo! MTV Raps, among other factors. Warner got on board. The single was produced by Dr. Dre––his first track that wasn’t for Ruthless Records––and proceeds were designated for LA youth organization Project Build.

The track featured 14 of the west coast’s biggest rap and rap-affiliated stars, including Tone Loc, Young MC, Digital Underground, MC Hammer, JJ Fad, Michel'le, Def Jeff, Oaktown's 3-5-7, and N.W.A. The video was shot in Watts at the Nickerson Gardens projects––Blood territory, but the Bloods and Crips provided joint security during a temporary truce. Again, assisted with the foundation laid by “Self-Destruction” and illustrating how far rap had come in a short time, the single surpassed the success of its east coast predecessor. It not only hit No. 1, but crossed over to the Hot 100 chart and earned a Grammy nod for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies): “HEAL YOURSELF” – 1991

KRS-One is hip-hop’s Al Sharpton. If there’s some organizing poppin’ off, he or Chuck D––who may as well be hip-hop’s Jesse Jackson––is in the mix. It’s what they do; it’s their role in the culture. KRS and Chuck talked about this during a Rap City takeover in 1992, “The reason I came up with certain topics like H.E.A.L. and Self Destruction, etc., is because of the need for black people to be organized…So we get most of the rappers together, we organize, say something of some relevance…With rap music, when it’s time to get busy, I can get on the phone with Kane and go,‘Yo Kane, what’s up?’ I can get on the phone with Heavy and go ‘Yo Heavy, what’s up?’ and they’ll be right there.”

KRS always had a focus on self-education. Distrust of the education system and messages from mainstream media was a prevalent theme in his music. The collective H.E.A.L., named for an acronym Human Education Against Lies, expanded on that as a movement against propaganda and false information. “Heal Yourself” features Kid Capri, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J (perhaps redeeming himself for not participating in “Self Destruction”), MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Ms Melodie, Jam Master Jay, DMC, Freddie Foxx and KRS-One kicking knowledge about education, colorism, drugs, sex, AIDS, domestic violence and politics. The collaborative released a full album, Civilization vs. Technology, but as the lead track, “Heal Yourself,” is the best-known.

B.M.U. (Black Men United): “U WILL KNOW” – 1994

All the black male singers in the known universe came together to create this uplifting theme song for the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack. “U Will Know” is one of those moments unlikely to happen again, simply because there aren’t enough artists to pull off an event outing of this magnitude. The death of R&B groups alone probably halved the potential roster.

Aaron Hall, After 7, Al B. Sure!, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Christopher Williams, Guy, El DeBarge, Gerald LeVert, H-Town, INTRO, Joe, Keith Sweat, The Rude Boys, Portrait, R. Kelly, Silk, Stokley Williams, Tevin Campbell, Raphael Saadiq (on bass) and the Tony’s, Usher, Lenny Kravitz (also on bass). Yes, all of ‘em. Together. Same song. Your church’s Men’s Day Mass Choir could never.

But “U Will Know” is more than a soundtrack song; it’s now part of soul music lore. The gospel-infused track was written by a young D’Angelo, and his brother. It was the second song he’d ever written, on his first demo, and his publisher placed it for the film. He’s often credited the song with landing him his deal.

Looking back on the video now, he belongs amongst those artists and their voices and talents, but in actuality he was the new kid. “It was surreal,” he shared in a 2014 Red Bull Music Academy interview. “Here I am in a room with all my heroes.”

The track hit No. 4 on the Billboard R&B chart and cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. But the biggest takeaway, if we’re keeping it a buck, is that Gerald Levert lowkey called everybody else his background singers.

“FREEDOM (The Theme from Panther)” – 1995

In 1995, it was the ladies’ turn, with a once-in-a-career mass assembly for the Panther soundtrack. “Freedom” originated on Atlanta R&B singer and Dungeon Family affiliate Joi’s super slept-on debut album, The Pendulum Vibe. Director Mario Van Peebles then had the idea to flip the Dallas Austin track for the Panther soundtrack and gathered, apparently, every black female artist signed to a label. Many reports say over 60 artists were involved, but VIBE cited 93 artists in its August 1995 issue – all for a monumental song and video.

“Freedom” was promoted as a tribute to the women who’ve fought in the trenches for liberation and justice like Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman (note: here’s a moment where it’s acceptable to evoke Tubman, rappers), Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks. The collaboration encompassed female artists across multiple genres. The main edit featured Vanessa Williams, Mary J. Blige, Zhane, TLC, Aaliyah, Caron Wheeler, Pebbles, Xscape, Brownstone, Karyn White, Amel Larrieux, Monica, En Vogue, Joi, Queen Latifah, Patra, N’Dea Davenport and Miss Jones (seriously, everybody with a deal) on vocals. (In a cute parallel to “You Will Know,” vocal arrangement was in the hands of a not-yet-known Angie Stone).

There was also an all-rap version with Patra, Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-n-Pepa, Left Eye, Yo-Yo, and Me'Shell NdegéOcello (Spoken word. Rap. Same.). The lyrics addressed standing up to racism and oppression, but also fighting against misogyny and sexism, all through sisterhood.

“I represent not only in the kitchen and the bedroom / But also in the boardroom so give me more room / Deny my opportunity, you in jeopardy / Yo, yo, set me free, don't hinder me, let me be”

There's only one thing infuriating about “Freedom:” there’s so little story around it. Nothing like this had ever happened before and will probably never happen again (there aren’t enough artists!), but there’s no easily-found behind-the-scenes footage, no EPK interviews, no making-of documentation. This was obviously conceived to be a moment, but wasn’t documented as such, which is a loss to music history. There’s not even a mass choir name!


Over the years, these supergroup projects continue to pop up occasionally as world events call for them. There was even a “We are the World 25” for Haiti disaster relief. However, the art form of conscious posse cuts has fallen off. In 2015, The Game spearheaded collective of rappers and R&B singers for “Don’t Shoot,” a tribute to Michael Brown and in support of Ferguson, but it wasn’t a moment. There wasn’t the requisite in-studio-with-headphones video. In an age where artists can’t easily agree to outside projects without the label in a huff, when it’s not as easy to get on the phone with your peers the way KRS One did and summon them for action, and when verses can be sent via email with no direct connection with collaborators, the comradery and communion in these projects is lost, and that was the heart. Fortunately, time hasn’t dulled the relevance of these earlier moments.

PS: Somebody give MC Lyte the “Most Consistent” award for being in basically all of these joints.

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Mac Miller performs during Behind The Scenes With Mac Miller Filming Music Choice's 'Take Back Your Music' Campaign at Music Choice on July 17, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Thundercat, Juicy J, Ariana Grande And More Pay Tribute To Mac Miller For 27th Birthday

It's not lost on many just how much Mac Miller's influence affects today's lovers of hip-hop. The rapper and songwriter's passing was a blow to the industry last year as he seemed to be hitting a special space in his creative journey.

With today (Jan. 19) being what would've been his 27th birthday, friends and musical partners are sharing stories and messages of love about their favorite Capricorn.

Frequent collaborator and friend Thundercat shared on Twitter a moment Mac helped create with the "Them Changes" artist and his family. "All three of us were in the same room, playing and creating and enjoying music with Mac," he tweeted about an impromptu session with his brothers and Mac.

"Mac was and always will be a special dude, he was definitely Lebowski to me. I will always remember a man I considered to be another one of my real brothers and best of friends in the short time we got to spend together. I miss him so much every day."

See more touching messages from Mac's friends below.

Mac was hands down one of thee freshest people I’ve met so far in life, never a dull moment. I’ll share one of my favorite moments with you guys on this most dope day. I always enjoyed getting a chance to work with him, we would spend days at a time...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

..Creating music, playing music and introducing each other to new music all the time. This is the day he met my brothers @drummaboiblue1 & @_K_I_N_T_A_R_O_ it was a bit of a whirlwind how it all happened because at separate times they both came flying...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...through the studio door at separate times of the late night. My older brother @drummaboiblue1 kicked the door in and starts rapping and making hip hop hands at Mac who was sitting at the computer and it was so intense he just turned and looked at me like..

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...”Holy shit, this is your brother?” I didn’t know what to expect next because it could have easily gone south, but I got a chance to see what made Mac so special. My brother is hands down the most amazing drummer in the world *dont at me* and what I saw...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...from Mac really stays in my heart because I watched him turn my older brothers energy into creative energy by challenging him about the title of best drummer in the world, and handing him pots & pans and things from around the studio and the house...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

..shortly after Mac turns to me & says “hey man your brother @_K_I_N_T_A_R_O_ is gonna come by, I immediately felt like there was a possibility that this would be overwhelming for Mac, as I have seen from past situations in life experience with people & us..

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...but none the less, all three of us were in the same room, playing and creating and enjoying music with Mac. For those that don’t see the significance, music and family can be a very intense experience in itself in life (if you know, you understand)....

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...it’s not always so easy and lighthearted like everyone would like to imagine it is however as it may be, the night went on,and the moment passed. Since that moment me and my brothers never really would be in that same setting and satire for years...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...the reason that this story is so special is because while we were working on what’s the use, he started going through old music and came across that song, when he played it I began to tear up and I had to keep myself together because it was so special...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...that he captured it! Almost like a photo. he turned to me and reminded me of how wild that night was and we had a good laugh about it and continued working. No one really owns any recordings of us like that, so it was really special to me...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...Mac was and always will be a special dude, he was definitely Lebowski to me. I will always remember a man I considered to be another one of my real brothers and best of friends in the short time we got to spend together. I miss him so much every day...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...he changed my life in a real way. Thank you @MacMiller Happy Birthday! pic.twitter.com/4HVdwj2fMs

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019


Happy birthday Mac Miller! pic.twitter.com/DT31Smpbqt

— Hi-Tek (@HiTek) January 19, 2019

Happy Birthday @MacMiller. Love You Always & Forever

— THE INTERNET (@intanetz) January 19, 2019

Smile today - Mac Miller ❤️ pic.twitter.com/l5rmQDu5XE

— Karen Civil (@KarenCivil) January 19, 2019


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damn i miss this so much! i miss jamming with you and writing with you and talking about anything and everything. just watching you produce was my favorite. i miss the way you used to support me in everything that i did. i miss your smile and your tight ass hugs. i love you. happy birthday to a legend.

A post shared by NJOMZA (@notnjomza) on Jan 19, 2019 at 10:07am PST

Happy birthday to one of the purest artists I’ve ever known, Mac Miller 🙏🏾 RIP https://t.co/e8IIGaRjhx

— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 19, 2019

we miss you and love you Mac Miller happy birthday

— rex orange county (@rexorangecounty) January 19, 2019

Happy bday to my brother Mac Miller i miss my bro every day https://t.co/pXAn552l1w

— juicy j (@therealjuicyj) January 19, 2019

happy birthday Mac! 👼 tell your friends you love em twice as much.

— bear (@6LACK) January 19, 2019

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Nathan Pearcy

Planted Not Buried: The Moral Courage Of Asante McGee

One would think the tides would turn after the six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly pried the wool from the eyes and ears of negligent music fans two weeks ago. Executive produced by writer and filmmaker dream hampton (stylized as such to honor bell hooks), over 12 million viewers total were gifted proof of Kelly’s predatory ways by archived interviews from the man himself with gripping testimonies from black women spanning the ages of 16 to 33.

While watching the 6-hour series, it became clear that Kelly’s 30 years in the game traumatized the lives of those he allegedly sang about in his platinum and gold hits. It’s a factor that would morally awaken anyone, but between protests and his label departure from Sony, something else happened that wasn’t seen in the wrecking of other abhorrent figures.

Sleuth-like behavior from the court of public opinion reared its head in the other direction, shaming the women who came forward with their stories. Hate came tenfold toward hampton for her previous career in music journalism, particularly a profile on Kelly in VIBE’s 2002 issue, a month before he was accused of engaging in sex acts with a minor on videotape.

Not only were hampton’s character and prior working relationships brought into question, but the intake of Kelly’s music also skyrocketed with average streams totaling 1.7 million a day compared to the 955,600 average in 2018. Even as Atlanta and Chicago district attorneys announced investigations, the singer celebrated his birthday with reported girlfriend Jocelyn Savage and adoring fans while singing “Bump n’ Grind.” Although Savage sat in the club with Kelly, her parents Timothy and Jonjelyn Savage hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen their daughter in several years since she met the singer at the age of 17.

Memories like cookouts, proms, love tales and weddings soundtracked by R. Kelly trumped a conscientious duty to at least lend an ear to black women. From the outside, black women continued to go unprotected as memes and Instagram influencers turned their pain into comedic relief. With black women at the front of today’s movements (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo) and the current political battle in the White House (Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Kamala Harris), moral courage from the rest of us shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

In a digital space where endorphins rise in the blink of an Instagram notification, it’s not lost on many that black women go ignored in cases of sexual violence. Presumably, it’s more important to take part in “call out culture” instead of adhering to black women who’ve sacrificed their bare bones for our community, preferably black men.

In the throes of the backward backlash, one of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee, stands as a gleam of hope for young black girls and women. It’s the mission statement during our conversation with McGee, one of the first women to publically share her story of her time spent living in the Atlanta home where Kelly reportedly kept women captive for sexual purposes.

For McGee and other survivors like Lisa Van Allen and Lizzette Martinez, there’s no joy in recalling the emotional, mental and sexual abuse by Kelly, but the determination to hold the embattled singer accountable for his actions is worth it.

“I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word; they want to help others,” McGee says during our phone interview. While the rest of us are in shock over black women standing up for Kelly, the mother of three is centered on standing up against the other R. Kellys of the world who are disguised as our friends, uncles and pastors.

Even as a TMZ report claimed McGee was contacted for a criminal investigation against Kelly, McGee says no one has done so, promoting her to be more vocal in her journey to share her truth.

It’s in her tone, calm and reserved, while seemingly being at peace as the public processes what’s been hiding in plain sight for so long.

“I've received more positive than negative [messages on social media] so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health,” she adds. “If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general.”

As shared on Surviving R. Kelly, McGee opened up about being a fan who had the chance to travel with Kelly for two years before being invited to live in his Atlanta home. While there for only a few weeks, the days were unbearable once she realized she was there to be a servant to Kelly’s desires.

For McGee, the aftermath of the documentary was just as eye-opening since she learned how many people were complicit as well as the lengthy timeline of his reported behavior. It’s a juxtaposition many sexual assault survivors face in the aftermath of their healing. Studies have shown black women who face sexual violence in their lives have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, pain-related health problems, and low self-esteem.

Just a day before our interview, a page titled “Surviving Lies” surfaced on Facebook in an effort to discredit McGee and another survivor, Faith Rodgers. Mugshots from McGee’s troubled past were collaged together and a video of her ex-boyfriend taping a conversation with her then 18-year-old daughter without her consent also resurfaced. Believed to be conducted by a member of Kelly’s camp, McGee doubts it’s Kelly himself behind the page for one desolate reason.

“Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website,” she says. “Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.” It was taken down hours later but another quickly surfaced.

The tide will be brutal but McGee isn’t giving up any time soon.


There’s a lot to take in here, but we can start off small. Sometimes, subjects don’t like to watch the documentaries they participate in. Have you watched Surviving? If so, what was your reaction?

Asante McGee: When I first saw the documentary, the first night had me very emotional because I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about him. Also even finding out that people knew about the things he was doing and were actually covering up for him.

So for the documentary, it was very emotional. With the documentary promoting itself, I know a lot of people were still defending him. But after night one, I just knew that we would change the minds of those who have defended him because of how in-depth it was. But then you had a lot of people claiming it was fake or scripted.

It was heartbreaking to watch and it was even more heartbreaking to see that people were still sticking up for him. There’s even a video of popular Instagram figures like Rizza Islam in tears while standing up for Kelly. How has the reaction been for you, especially from black men?


I received a lot of support from black men personally. They’ve been in my DMs thanking me for sharing my story and saying "As a father of young black girls, it hits home." They're happy that women like me are speaking out and actually letting people know just how much he's capable of.

I've seen a lot of black celebrities that weren't even speaking on the subject that have now come forward. I've seen a few black men that are still taking up for him, which (laughs) I really don't understand how and why, but I've seen more support from those not taking up for him.

Do you think your wounds are healed? I’ve seen interviews where people have asked questions and treated this like a reality show and not cases of sexual assault.

My wounds have definitely not been healed. While watching the documentary, I feel like I was reliving the events, especially when it got to the part of me going to house and just showing that black room.

What was it about your room that prevented you from going into the “black room” instead?

I didn’t want to enter my room because that’s where I felt like a prisoner. I was only allowed to come out of that room when someone would knock on my door telling me to come downstairs or if I was summoned to the black room. The black room is where we were forced to do all kinds of sexual acts with him and each other. When you were summoned to the black room you knew you were not going to enjoy it.

When you're on the outside looking in, people are generally judging. I don’t think people realize how emotional things got, and how questions like, “What happened next?” on social media as the documentary aired can be triggering.

I understand that you may want to engage in a conversation with us, but that wasn’t the time because we had just revealed a lot of embarrassing things to the entire world. That was not a moment to be proud of. I just wish people would just understand and I know a lot of people didn't mean any harm in doing it, but you know after I calmed down I explained to those why I didn't want to talk to them, they understood.

Do you feel like you're learning new things about yourself in this process?


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A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 7, 2018 at 8:58am PST

Definitely. I didn't realize how strong I was until now. I think I built myself to become strong after the documentary aired because like I said, I was receiving a lot of backlash prior to the doc and even leading up to it and I thought it would mentally break me down. I'm happy to know that I am stronger than that. I’m overcoming a lot of obstacles I didn't think I would overcome.

That's beautiful. The questions, as well as this interview, can be draining. It also doesn’t help that there’s a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” floating around. Do you think R. Kelly was behind that?

Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website. Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.

Why are you trying to expose his victims? It's like you're trying to intimidate us and trying to get us to shut up by bringing out our past or just doing anything you can to manipulate the situation for people to say, “Oh, well that person was lying.” Their goal was to discredit us one by one.

The sad part about it is that they took that one down but that person has since created another one. So that it's another page saying the same stuff over again.

There was also a claim that you teamed with Jocelyn's father, Timothy Savage, to extort money from Kelly. Where do you think that accusation came from?

My ex and I had a bitter breakup so he’s behind that. I opened an HVAC business and he had one too, but the state sent him a cease and desist for his business due to fraud.

He knew that I contacted the Savages once I left the Atlanta home to inform them about their daughter. My ex knew I was helping them to get their daughter back and after our bitter breakup, he blamed me for his business closing and wanted to get back at me. He knew my reasons for going to his concert in December of 2016, I was on the phone with him the entire time. He’s trying to make money by using my name and discrediting me.

He also believed I was paid for my interview with Kelly so he taped a conversation with my daughter without her permission. She was 18 at the time and we were in a bad place. Like any parents and daughters, me and my daughter were having issues and she actually moved out and lived with someone else. He used that opportunity to call her after he saw me on the Megyn Kelly show. He knew that he could manipulate my daughter into saying whatever he wanted her to say so if you listen clearly to the conversation, you can hear how he's baiting her to say certain things.

At the end of the recording, you can hear her saying that I'm texting, “Do not tell him where he lives, he might be trying to kill me.” So clearly you can hear me saying that I'm afraid of this guy because of his personal vendetta against me.

He figured, “This is about to be my payday, I'm gonna go ahead and do this.” The video has actually been out since May and it just so happened that they weren't spreading it around until after the docuseries to discredit whatever I was saying.

How do you remain so zen during these times? How do you fight back during these negative clouds now?


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A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:11am PST

What really keeps me going and that motivates me every day is when I see these messages telling me how proud they are or they're sharing their stories and because we came forward, others are able to also come forward and start their healing process.

I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word, they want to help others. So just from receiving those messages, I've received more positive than negative so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health. If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general. He's going to have these fans and they're always going to believe him, that’s the tough part.

What can people expect from your book, No Longer Trapped In The Closet?

I recently released the book (Jan. 3), but it came together as the BuzzFeed story and my interview with Megyn Kelly came out. At the time, I read the comments and just saw a lot of people doubting me because of my age. It said, “Oh, she’s lying. She’s too old.”

I just wanted people to get a better understanding of my life so they can say, “Oh okay, she was going through this and why she trusted him so much.” I included evidence to support my claims with him.

Do you ever think about the other girls who were in the house with you? Do they ever cross your mind?

I think about them every day. It's one of the reasons why I came forward, to begin with. My breaking point wasn’t just one moment. The controlling and dictating when I can eat and bathe was hard but there was one girl in particular who was close to my daughter’s age (who was a teenager at the time) doing things to him in front of me and other people. It hit too close to home. I thought, “I’ve heard the rumors,” but to see this young girl in his presence was too much. I knew at that point that this needed to stop.

Would you be comfortable sharing what that was?

The mind-blowing thing that I witnessed happened when it was myself, the young lady, him, one of his assistants and another girl. We were all sitting in his cigar room in the Atlanta house, just listening to music and drinking alcohol. All of sudden she just pops his penis out and just started performing fellatio on him. I'm hearing the sounds and I look up like “What's going on?” and everyone around me did not seem bothered.

I was the only one that was bothered by what's going on. I'm just like, “What in the hell, are you serious?” And I looked back down and tried to ignore but in my mind, I'm envisioning my daughter. This could be my daughter.

Can you describe your relationship with your daughters now as opposed to when you dealt with R. Kelly?

I’m sure other mothers can relate to this; mothers and teenagers have their ups and downs. This was a period where kids start to rebel against their parents. Now we are in a better place and that’s what matters and my daughter is very supportive of my story and this movement.

Has it been hard to tune into your sexuality after all of this?

My sexuality hasn't changed in any way, but it is hard for me to trust a man. At this point, any man that I have been in contact with has a hidden agenda. I've tried to date after Rob and it was a hidden agenda behind it. At this time, I don't have a question [or] doubt about my sexuality, it's just my trust in men in general.

McGee released her memoir No Longer Trapped In The Closet: The Assante McGee Story prior to the airing of Surviving R.Kelly. You can purchase the book from Amazon here.

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