Exploring the deep rabbit hole of ’90s alternative West Coast Hip Hop eventually means finding out about The Good Life Cafe and how it birthed everything from Freestyle Fellowship to Project Blowed. At the time, anything coming from that Leimert Park-based movement was the total opposite of the obviously more commercially popular gangster rap. More noticeably, it was a lot friendlier toward women wanting to rock the mic. There isn’t a better example than groups like Figure of Speech (featuring a very young Ava Duvernay) and S.I.N. The latter duo found minor local success with “The Power Of The P” before member Medusa started to enjoy some solo success.
She’s also become one of the most consistent female MCs in the West despite being so low-key.
Between dozens of releases from then to now, some pretty low-key acting roles and community activism, Medusa manages to pop up everywhere in Los Angeles. She’s also gotten serious respect within the industry working with the likes of Teena Marie and MC Lyte. Battle rap fans during that era may have seen Medusa compete a few times as well. As a matter of fact, one particular battle made Kevin Fitzgerald’s cult classic documentary Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme. Those who really understand the city’s scene just can’t miss her, especially adult underground Hip Hop fans over the age of 40. And yes, the City of Angeles has a booming market for it.
Taking a Sunday stroll through Leimert Park’s marketplace with Medusa, she shakes hands and gets props from everywhere. Local Rastafari, OGs and citizens hanging out in what many call the last black cultural hub of the city are showing mad respect. Clearly enough, this is her turf.
“I Started Back At The Good Life Cafe & Back Then, There Was A Distinct Difference Between Mainstream & Underground.”
HipHopDX: I remember watching for the first time on that one episode of Moesha.
Medusa: Oh wow! When I played Lady Lunatic. I was on one the whole episode. Youngsters that watched that show, they know me from there. Grown folks saw a movie called Stranger Inside. It’s really dope that I can touch a couple of generations through acting and music.
DX: As we both know, Moesha was set in Leimert Park and featured parts inspired by The Good Life Cafe and even Freestyle Fellowship. During the ’90s in Los Angeles, it was known as the antithesis to mainstream gangster rap.
Medusa: I started back at The Good Life Cafe and back then, there was a distinct difference between mainstream and underground. Back then, you didn’t mind being underground and it was almost like a graduation. If you were hot in the underground, were in the streets and giving yourself to every event, you were going to get it. There were active young labels out here that were snatching folks real quick and fast. Folks were coming out as far as Atlanta and New York looking for talent. They were coming to the underground for it. Then mainstream gangster rap was looking for a different flavor too so they would slide through The Good Life and check out the vibe. We’d make you want to grab your pen and get your chops together. Back in the 90s, there was raw Hip Hop. There was gangster rap and then this underground that you had to validate yourself through first. If you loved Hip Hop, you dealt in all lanes.
DX: “Power Of The P” alongside your cousin Koko as S.I.N is regarded as a West Coast underground Hip Hop classic.
Medusa:”Power Of The P” was huge and it was our introduction. No one will ever forget that song. There has been songs kind of like it since then. I think one of the highlights during that time was when we got to perform that and a few other tracks with Meshell Ndegeocello at The Roxy.
DX: The first time I saw you perform was at the United In Peace Ride that Tony Mohammed put together out here a few years ago. I had no idea your fanbase was pretty solid and they knew all the words to your songs. Considering you don’t have a significant social media presence, how exactly were you able to even build that.
Medusa: I’m a poet as well. I have a live band. That’s something that’s adult. In the ’90s and up till now, that’s been considered a grown thing. So, when I would perform, I would do grown Hip Hop. For a woman like that, your mother, grandmother or auntie will come to my show. Then I go to high schools and I perform. I go to the children’s detention center, perform and do workshops there. Now you know me as a spitter. I get to vibe with them in a different way. You got 16, 17, 18-year-olds at my show and they run into their auntie they haven’t seen in months. That’s generations I’m bringing together. That is my fanbase. It’s a marvel when people see it. I give to all the communities and all my folks. My fanbase is very vast. I do these cultural fairs, you’re going to not only see grown folks but a balance of everything. Everybody has a Medusa song. What keeps me rolling is that I have a vast fanbase that spans many generations.
Medusa Remembers Being Teena Marie’s Favorite Rapper
DX: How has that translated into making a living as a rapper?
Medusa: That’s a rough one. Over the years, I’ve written music for films. In addition to that, I’ve thrown events for years. I always have product on me. I learned with social exposure, that’s all that it is. I can send you to my website all day long, but are you going to buy music on my website or are you going to wait till my show, see me face to face get a hug and buy one from me personally. That’s what people look forward to. That’s what I look forward to. I’m old school. When it’s digital, it feels a little impersonal. Yeah, I have social media and I fuck with it. But, it’s nothing like a hand-to-hand or face-to-face.
DX: Those distinct contrasts between mainstream and underground have changed. It’s most definitely blurred. Has that affected you?
Medusa: It’s perfect because I’ve been doing what they’ve been doing now. So it’s nothing for me. It’s nothing for these cats who have worked with majors now to come to me and say let’s do your shit. I have avenues in places like Canada and Europe as well that I’m able to take advantage of. I did a joint with Speech from Arrested Development that went gold in Japan. So, people know me in Japan, but I’ve never been there.
DX: I remember you had the “The Mackin’ Game” track on Teena Marie’s Cash Money album La Dona with MC Lyte.
Medusa: Teena Marie was at my show at Fais Do Do. I was doing “This Pussy Is A Gangsta,” she got up on stage and sang with me. We played vocally back and forth with the song. She told me I was her favorite rapper. What? I grew up mimicking her voice on her albums. Are you serious? She invites me to her house and that’s how we developed that song. We sat for hours, she played the piano for me, told me stories about Rick James that I shouldn’t have heard. But, God rest her soul. That was an incredible experience for me. Doing shows with Roy Ayers is incredible for me. I grew up with those rich sounds. You’re telling me I’m your favorite rapper because you understand me. A lot of older cats can’t follow the younger stuff.
DX: There’s been lots of talk regarding Leimert Park losing its identity due to gentrification. Something you’ve been very vocal about. Does seeing young emcees like VerBS and the support behind Bananas give you hope?
Medusa: Yeah. It gives me hope that you can still be a nerd and be cool and accepted. In the ’80s or ’90s, he would have been seen as quirky. Now, we need that because there are quirky cats out there that need someone to represent them. They need to see their reflection too. We don’t all bang. It’s about changing the structure of Hip Hop to where everything is allowed to have light. Everything deserves light in Hip Hop. They’ve been leading us to one facet of who we are when we’re so much more. Music is so much more. When you look at all the greats like a Roy Ayers or Prince, they were everywhere based on things like age and what their experience was. As you grow as an artist, you’re supposed to express all of those things so I can relate. The honesty is what makes a gifted artist and VerBS is honest with who he is. I dig that and it’s necessary. There are so many pretenders out there because they don’t want to own their shit. They don’t want to be who they’re raised to be.
Why Couldn’t The West Coast Churn Out A Commercially Successful Female Rapper?
DX: When you talk about women in Hip Hop, there’s never been a real breakout star from the West Coast on a commercial level. Sure, there were almost moments with Yo-Yo and Lady of Rage. However, the biggest-selling female emcees have always come from either the East Coast or The South.
Medusa: And they were dope.
DX: What was L.A.’s problem in comparison to New York in regards to that issue?
Medusa: Once again, it’s a fear. I’m talking this shit, I can’t have her coming in talking other shit. I can’t talk anything opposite or make change happen. I’m making money off of this so don’t change the dynamics of my cheese. You feel me? Because a Lady of Rage was powerful. She could spit. When she kicked it, she kicked it differently every time because of how fly she was. If they had just pushed this woman could be like Queen Latifah right now. Same thing with Warren G and Da Five Footaz. You had five bad females who could all spit and they were beautiful. They were doper than The Twinz and Dubshack. These are all my folks, but I’m just being honest. If those girls had got pushed. The dynamics of Hip Hop would have shifted. A five-woman group with all spitters? Come on man. We don’t have it.
I can get on and on about it. This is the real shit to me. These females that are out now — I don’t have anything bad to say about Nicki Minaj. Do what you want. If you went to someone like Diddy and he said you got bars, but I need a look on you. He said I’ll give you ass, fix your teeth and all of that, I’m willing to sign you. I’ll make you a superstar. You think she was going to say no to that? She’s young, impressionable and there’s no one around her saying not to do it. Yeah, you’re going to do it. And, here you are. You’re a Barbie. I can feel that too. All little girls grew up with them fucking dolls so it’s great marketing. I get that. She can not be the definition of what all females in Hip Hop should be. She can’t. So now, you don’t have a balance out there. You have one image for all the girls to look at and become. Now, there’s no balance. Are you trying to turn us into that to make you more comfortable with your lack of telling the truth? I want you to see your reflection in me. It’s not about what you can have off my shelf. Let’s talk some truth. Let’s really talk. I’m hard pressed that I’m going to get a serious conversation from Nicki Minaj. Everything that I see in the media, I’m hard pressed.
Medusa: How do I know that? ‘Cause the conversation doesn’t happen in the music and it doesn’t happen when you’re on camera. How would I know that? I have to see my reflection in you so that I feel comfortable communicating. This is Hip Hop, it’s all about communication. Everybody has to find their reflection in someone.
Medusa Hopes To “Agitate The System” With Upcoming Project
DX: There were a handful of Good Life alumni who were able to make cracks from Freestyle Fellowship to Jurassic 5. Why didn’t they cross over into what many consider mainstream?
Medusa: During that time, things started to become cookie cutter. Everybody saw what worked and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Here comes this strange Freestyle Fellowship. Is that Jazz, Hip Hop, both? Now, how do they deal with it? How do they make money off of these five people doing something completely different than what’s acceptable? You push it without any fear. Myka 9 is one of the most phenomenal emcees I’ve ever met. “Park Bench People” is probably one of the most phenomenal songs you’ll ever hear in Hip Hop with a jazz influence. There are jazz performers that do that song in their set. That’s how phenomenal that song is and if they had followed that vibe and pushed it, once again, it would have been another new dynamic in Hip Hop. They don’t want Hip Hop to be quite that powerful. They don’t want Hip Hop to be the next jazz. They don’t have to take it seriously. When I went to Harvard and I was invited to go to the Hip Hop Archives department and my picture was on the wall before you walk inside, that gave me hope.
Medusa: All the major professors at Harvard were lining up to meet me. What? It was a panel of writers, journalists and social activists. I was the only performer. It was about misogyny. I saw that and was blown away. This program I did called “Next Level” where we went to El Salvador and taught a Hip Hop workshop gave me hope. It was a place where gang violence is way worse than here and they’re not fucking around. These kids love Hip Hop.
DX: Where are you with the music now?
Medusa: I dropped 100 Watts earlier this year. It features production from Battlecat that is completely out the box. I’m currently working with Broadway, who produced a lot for The Alkaholiks. I’m also working with Josef Leimberg who worked on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. I’m also working on a House project with a producer out in Canada.
DX: Finally, how would you describe your music career in total from then to now?
Medusa: Let’s just say I haven’t had an actual nine-to-five since 1986. So Hip Hop takes care of me for sure. I’m able to travel and be able to care for my body. I sleep well, I work out and I go support and see what’s going on. So, it’s allowed me the freedom of growing. It’s allowed me to be myself and speak at different colleges. It’s really been a beautiful life. I’ve been told I’m a millionaire waiting to happen. And there are so many different ways that I would like to give in the community and causes. My millions are coming and I’m here to agitate the maker.