It’s been 42 years since MC Sha-Rock picked up the mic as part of the Funky 4 +1 — the “1” serving as an indication women were already being marginalized in Hip Hop way back then. But, as the first female MC on wax, she forged a path for other women such as MC Lyte and Roxanne Shanté to follow.
Over the past four decades, an eclectic roster of women have penetrated the Hip Hop space despite the myriad of obstacles standing in their way — a patriarchal society being one of those.
Veteran Hip Hop journalist and former HipHopDX staff Kathy Iandoli has taken her wide breadth of knowledge of women in Hip Hop and applied it to her new book, God Saves The Queens: The Essential History Of Women In Hip-Hop. Shockingly, it’s the first of its kind.
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Oh hi, hello, good morning, Happy Monday! So if you head on over to the Apple homepage you’ll see God Save The Queens is up for ebook preorder along with a sample chapter about my girl LEFT EYE. There’s also an anecdote in this chapter about how I dusted a TLC cassette for fingerprints that came from my friend @mrscook1017’s late father Tim. Long story, but you should read it all. God Save The Queens, coming 10/22. Grab the ebook and I’ll sign your iPad and/or Nook and/or Kindle, thereby depreciating its value. You’re welcome! #MondayMotivation #GSTQ #AnniesDaughter #RIPTimObrien
From the early days of Kool Herc’s 1520 Sedgwick parties to the Cardi B takeover and everything in between, Iandoli thoughtfully and thoroughly examines women’s contributions to the culture on every page. In between, she offers glimpses of her own personal experiences she’s had throughout her roughly 20-year career, bringing an unexpectedly touching element to the entire book.
Only a month after Iandoli secured her book deal, her mother Anna was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with cancer. She wrote the bulk of God Save The Queens while sitting in a hospital room as she received chemo treatments. Although her mother ultimately succumbed to the disease in February 2019, Iandoli has vowed to make her proud. God Saves The Queens is a phenomenal start.
In an interview with DX, Iandoli flexed her Hip Hop prowess as she discussed a plethora of topics, including Biggie’s relationship with Lil Kim, the Cardi B versus Nicki Minaj narrative and how Lord Jamar’s flagrant comments on women in Hip Hop is actually a positive step.
HipHopDX: Congratulations on the book, Kathy. I loved hearing your personal stories weaved into it. Those were really great.
Kathy Iandoli: I appreciate that because I struggled with wanting to add that stuff. It’s hard when you’re telling a story that so many people haven’t told yet, so I didn’t want to be like, “Now cut to me.” So I appreciate that.
HipHopDX: Not only does it show your tenure, but I got to know you a little bit more, which I enjoyed. How does it feel to finally have this baby come out?
Iandoli: It feels really good that the book is finally finished and it’s out in the world, but it means even more that there’s finally proper documentation of a history of women in Hip Hop. I think it’s kind of crazy that it literally took 42 years from the first documented female MC to have something like this. So that in and of itself feels really rewarding but at the same time, it’s been a long time coming. I’m honored I was the person to tell the story, even though it was a really hard story to tell, you know? I’m not going to lie.
HipHopDX: I know that you went through a lot while you were writing this and that’s why the last couple of chapters really resonated with me. We just went through the same thing back-to-back with our mamas. How did you get through some days? That must’ve been brutal.
Iandoli: I have to say that I got through it because of my mother. My mom was fighting cancer. I got my book deal and a month later she went into the hospital. So it was one of those things where she was my guiding force and my driving force, telling me you have to get this done. I feel like it’s one of those things where you’re really going through the motions of making sure this is done correctly. When your mind is in that space, it’s a lot harder to really focus on all the other things that are going on, which is both a gift and a curse, right? I was writing this book while sitting across from her during her chemo infusion, you know? It was this trippy experience of writing and reading about how women had to fight — fight for their rights, fight for visibility, fight for their money and fight to be taken seriously.
So watching the most important woman in my life fight while I’m writing about a fight, you know, there was something stressful about it, but there was something also really beautiful about it. Just even getting to talk to Megan Thee Stallion right after she lost her mother — this is the shittiest club to be in. But when you’re indoctrinated in it, there’s a sense of community and maybe it’s not the community you anticipated, but it’s a community that you need when you’re going through it.
HipHopDX: I’ve experienced the same thing and it’s wild. Like you said, you don’t want to be in this club, but that’s truly been the silver lining for me. Being able to connect with people who have gone through this and to just have that support is huge.
Iandoli: Absolutely. The thing that was really cool was just how many women who are part of the book were riding for me. Monie Love was amazing, Yo-Yo and her manager Gabby, like people who really didn’t have to be as generous and caring as they were really just showed up and Bahamadia. It’s just a testament to the strength, the big hearts and the graciousness of black women. I’m sitting here trying to do this thing, which I felt was my contribution to Hip Hop but also a thank you to black women for all that they’ve done and all they’ve fought for. And having them hold me down during the process was a blessing.
HipHopDX: Wasn’t Debbie D there for you?
Iandoli: God, yeah. She’s a pastor now. Debbie lost her mother at the same as I did. It was one of those things where she showed up and didn’t have to show up for me.
HipHopDX: I think it shows there’s a woman support network out there. So often, people want to pit us against each other but in reality, we want to be there for each other. I think your book brilliantly illustrated that. One of the things I found really interesting was how Biggie nudged Lil Kim to be a sex kitten. Do you think that changed the way women were perceived in Hip Hop from then on?
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Who is this man that everybody is talking about that coined the “dancers” at his parties break boys/girls, later shortened to bboys and bgirls? The one who owns two records of break beats and a undefeated monstrous sound system he called the Herculord? That’s the question I asked at 14 years old at a jam in Webster Houses when somebody yelled out “Kool Herc in 55 Park tomorrow”! I would soon learn it was DJ Kool Herc – The Father of Hip Hop! On hip hop’s 46th Anniversary I say “thank you” Herc for giving me one of my first chances to rock your mic in the parks and for always pushing my name behind the scenes. May you be blessed with love, long life and laughter! 😘 @kooldjherc @officialdjkoolherc #hiphop46 #hiphopcelebration #hiphoppioneer #pioneermc #koolherc #mcdebbied
Iandoli: We have to keep in mind what was going on in Hip Hop in general during that time period. It was coming up on this moment where we’re toward the tail end of what we perceived as the golden era, right? Financially speaking, things were happening and it was one of those things where, I think Kim was very lyrical, right? She’s from the streets of Brooklyn, she’s doing her thing. She had a horrible life and horrible upbringing, but she was still making it happen. I think when you have someone like Biggie, who at the time was just starting to form Junior M.A.F.I.A. and all this other stuff, if he’s coming to you and saying, “Do this, not that,” you’re going to do it because you’re trying to escape a particular situation and you’re being told by someone who has eyes on them to do something over something else. There was very minimal pushback. But I also think it has a lot to do with Kim’s willingness to escape the situation she was in.
I think Biggie was really basing these assumptions upon what maybe he wanted to hear. Maybe he didn’t want to hear some hyper lyrical female MC coming at him talking this and that. But at the same time, you can kind of see his theory on you’ve got to talk that sex talk because dudes don’t want to hear X, Y, Z. And yeah, I do think that it guided Hip Pop in a different direction.
I think as people in Hip Hop, we’re becoming more well known and women were becoming more outspoken. I think maybe it would have gone in that direction at some point. I can’t call it. But it definitely involved the nudge of a man, clearly. It’s a really kind of an interesting story when you’re looking at it and you’re just seeing how it all went down and what happened after that. I was having a conversation with someone yesterday and I said it’s crazy because everyone wanted to accuse Lil Kim of being this construct from Biggie’s vision, right? But it wasn’t until after Biggie died that Kim became iconic. So really, his hand wasn’t firmly on the shoulder of Kim while she was becoming an icon. Yes, he certainly helped with her visibility, but Kim became an icon because Kim was born a fucking icon.
HipHopDX: Right and she has the talent. She took it who a whole other level. Another story that resonated with me too was, of course, the story of Roxanne. She went through a lot. It’s so cool to see her standing in Rapsody’s video for “Ibtihaj” with the crown on her head. Well deserved.
Iandoli: I know. I got goosebumps when I saw that video because there was something so beautiful about it. The one thing I learned so much while I was putting this book together, when I was hearing about what had happened to Shanté, I noticed how similar it was to how people are currently treating Nicki Minaj and the idea of not understanding where the pushback is coming from. Much like Nicki, you know Shanté was holding court for a long enough time and during that part of Hip Hop’s life cycle alone. Then you turn around and you’re like, “OK, here’s a bunch of other girls and now that you are the one who broke radio, you can go have a seat.” It’s like what?
HipHopDX: With social media, we have more access to who Nicki is in a way, just because of her reactions to things on Twitter, her Queen Radio show … we obviously weren’t seeing that with Shanté because we didn’t have all that access. I feel like that’s been a detriment to Nicki because so many people, including myself, are often shocked by the way she goes at some people sometimes. I think that’s what’s starting to kind of override her contributions.
Iandoli: I love Nicki and I love Kim. It sounds really generic per se, but I do love all female rappers because each one is so pivotal to the narrative. Hopefully when people read the book, they understand Nicki a little bit more. I hope they understand the Azealia Banks a little bit more, you know?
HipHopDX: I definitely understand Azealia Banks a little bit more now from you. I think a lot of the things she says and gets shit for, sometimes she’s right.
Iandoli: Whether or not we agree with what she has to say, the reality is when a man does it, he’s seen as funny or outspoken. When a woman does it, it’s like, “Let’s get ready to cancel her.” There’s so many flagrant things that men do just daily …
HipHopDX: Hourly (laughs).
Iandoli: Yeah, hourly (laughs) — and they never get any real shit for it. I don’t know if I can necessarily say like I 5000 percent agree with anyone’s views on things, but I think given the opportunity to express them — provided that they’re not too extreme — is a luxury that’s usually reserved for men.
I wanted people to understand Azealia a little bit more so people could see she was put through the ringer. There’s so many artists who are put through this major label rinse cycle. I was even having this conversation recently. They were talking about how they were like, “Oh, in between The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj, no art, no female artists came out.” But the bulk of Missy Elliot’s catalog is from that point to 2005 were like all her albums.” I think it just wasn’t as visible because you’re talking about ’99 marketing, the Napster craze. As soon as that happened and they’re cutting their budgets, who’s the casualty? Women.
I remember talking with Trina and she said, “Yeah, they’re telling me I’m too expensive to tour. And if I say I don’t need to wear makeup, it’s like, “Oh yes you do.” And she’s like, “I would pay for my own makeup to get done just for a spot on that stage.” So you’re letting men tour and letting men do all of these things who could jump on stage wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, and you’re telling me I’m too expensive? It’s a mind fuck. It really is. So many legendary projects and singles came out in between Lauryn Hill’s exit and Nicki Minaj’s entry, but then fell upon blind eyes and deaf ears because it wasn’t as readily in our faces.
HipHopDX: And what about Monie Love shaving her head and taping her boobs down to avoid getting hit on? Wow.
Iandoli: Yeah, she couldn’t walk in the room. She told me the moment you succumb or surrender to the advances of those guys, you’re marked. That’s it.
HipHopDX: We’re white women this space. How do you handle being told you’re a “guest in Hip Hop.”
Iandoli: In the age of social media, there are people who don’t really know my 20-year tenure in Hip Hop. I’ve been getting it more frequently because the people who do know my track record and do know my intentions and all that other stuff, they’re not on social media like that. At the end of the day, we are guests. But it’s how we use that visitor pass that matters, you know?
I’m honored to be able to be a documentarian of black culture, but I know I can’t abuse that privilege, nor do I try or want to. Putting this book together, I had to pause and think, should this be better suited for a black woman to write? But really the reality is, black women are out there making the history, fighting the good fight, doing the damn thing.. Until 42 years of that fight, no one has stopped to take the notes for them while they’re still working. So I decided to be the one to do it and I’m happy to do it. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to do it because clearly, at this stage in the game, had I not done it, who knows how much longer it would’ve been going? I had this idea in 2009 and I was turned down.
HipHopDX: What? Oh wow.
Iandoli: There were moments before the Nicki Minaj craze and they were like, “Well, who else is changing history? We else is like doing the thing? Who else is moving the needle in a way that we can say basically, is this a hot enough topic?” Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know. It was a hot enough topic for me. It’s been a hot enough topic since I stepped into this industry. I realized the timing was right last year, but it was always in my mind to do this.
HipHopDX: Maybe 2019 is the perfect time just because there are so many and so many different kinds of female MCs. You and I got into it a little bit about Cardi B. Personally, I know you love Cardi B, but I’m not a fan. Do you feel that like women have to support other women simply because they’re women or can I still think Cardi B’s music is wack and still be supportive? I don’t have to listen to her music necessarily to like appreciate her hustle.
Iandoli: I don’t think you have to be a Cardi B fan to acknowledge that she’s moving the culture forward in her own way. I think so many artists will just kind of sit there, male artists, they’ll just kind of sit there and give the head nods to, “Oh that’s not my style.” But we never say they’re damaging Hip Hop culture. They’re just destroying the infrastructure. I think with Cardi, that became the narrative. “You’re ruining it for everyone else.” Ruining what? This woman is making history.
But you don’t have to buy Invasion Of Privacy. You don’t have to bump “Bodak Yellow” or “Be Careful” or any other of her hits. You don’t have to do any of that. But don’t create a narrative — not you specifically — don’t create a narrative that what she’s doing is damaging the culture. Because maybe it’s not for you, but she’s still pushing it forward and that’s the job of a hit maker. It’s because of Cardi B’s ability to penetrate the mainstream in a way that really has never been done before, that there’s women behind her now that can do that.
HipHopDX: I see that. I guess what started to bother me was when headlines became like, “Cardi B Breaks The Beatles Record From 1964” or some shit like that. We didn’t have streaming back in the 1960s and streaming has opened up this whole new way of measuring music that didn’t exist before. It makes it seem bigger than it is in my opinion.
Iandoli: Right. But when people were calling Migos the new Beatles, there was less pushback than Cardi B breaking a record. That’s where we see the sexism. We now change Migos to The Migos to liken them to the Beatles. And that is OK.
HipHopDX: Not with me.
Iandoli: I just think the narrative changes when a woman does something. Whether or not we are in it or out of it, it’s a reflex that people get more appalled. I’m not going to like, “I bump her music daily.” But I support her. I support any female artist who is moving things forward in their own way.
HipHopDX: I definitely respect that. You’re more like, “OK, you don’t have to be a fan on their music but at least like acknowledge their contribution.”
Iandoli: Just respect a gangster. Remember also, think about this. Cardi is very vocal about cosmetic surgery, right? Think of how many women for decades were going to these basements and getting injected with Fix-A-Flat to make their bodies different because they were so ashamed of owning up to these surgeries that they didn’t want to go into a doctor’s office to get them done. Cardi is basically like, “Yo, you want to change it about you? I change it about me.” Now, people can have their own opinion on cosmetic surgery in general. Even when when her own health got affected by cosmetic surgery, she was open about it. She put the warning label on. Like, “Yo, this happened to me. I want to put this on your radar. I got sick because of this.” Maybe that will stop someone from getting it done. We don’t know.
HipHopDX: What about that big story about Offset and Cardi purportedly having sex on Instagram Live? Or how she said, “Oh I need to tone it down. I realize all these young girls are looking up to me,” but then a couple weeks later is spreading her legs on stage at an award show? Little girls are looking up to these women, just like in pop music. Do you feel like they could be better role models or do you think they are good role models?
Iandoli: We’ve watched men grabbed their dicks on stage for decades. That’s what I have to say for about that. Like literally, that’s my comment.
HipHopDX: (Laughs) I love it. Very true. It’s lacking on both sides to be honest.
Iandoli: Right. I hate to be the person to always offer the male counter, but this has gotten so out of hand that we kind of have to. I feel like there is a counter everywhere and I just want to make it harder for the conversation to suggest that women invented some sort of destructive patterns when it comes to an audience because it’s guilt on both sides.
HipHopDX: I don’t think that at all. Like, I remember I interviewed a particular prominent rapper for Thrasher. He had a song that was basically like, ”Hey everyone, do a bunch of lean, get fucked up. This is great!” And I asked him about that. He was like, “I don’t give a fuck. That’s parent’s problem.” I was kind of dumbfounded.
Iandoli: There you go.
HipHopDX: Like really? I couldn’t believe that was his answer but at the same time, I guess I can.
Iandoli: In a word, yes, really.
HipHopDX: It’s definitely been there for a long time. I do think that there should be a little bit of accountability. I think Cardi noticed it for a minute and then was like, “Fuck it. I’m going to be Cardi B” and that’s fine.
Iandoli: The things that Cardi is doing on a mainstream level for Hip Hop, think what you want. Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not like of this ilk like, “Let’s all just fuck up the planet,” but there’s just a lot going on and there’s so many terrible things happening in this world. To start with pointing your finger at Cardi B doesn’t really peak on the radar, if you know what I mean.
HipHopDX: Yeah. It’s even worse for me now since losing my mother. I don’t really care about a lot of things.
HipHopDX: Did you see Lord Jamar’s comments about female rap and what are your thoughts about him on that subject?
Iandoli: I think Lord Jamar has a very strong podium to which he expresses his thoughts. I think it’s certainly not the most shocking thing I’ve heard, you know? But there are so many hot takes right now. I think just the fact alone that he’s having the discussion says a lot about how far we’ve come as females in Hip Hop. So whether good, bad or indifferent, whether you agree with him or not, the fact that the conversation even exists means that something right is happening. The fact that you can have an opinion on women. Because think about it, back in the day, there was no discussion topics on women. The fact he’s having a real ass opinion on whether or not women are doing the right thing or the wrong thing in Hip Hop, it means he’s acknowledging women are doing something. I think that’s a much better place than we were in even a few years prior.
HipHopDX: True. I just had a problem with some of his contradictions, saying he doesn’t fuck with female rappers but then in the same breath day saying how dope Bahamadia is. Obviously, he listens to them. How would you know if they’re dope or not? Is it shocking that he said that? Not really.
Iandoli: The fact that those conversations are being had means that something is going right. If he goes on and says this artist is damaging Hip Hop and then somebody goes on Spotify to hear it, it’s like, “Thanks for the click!”
HipHopDX: Yep! Thanks for the engagement.
Iandoli: Exactly. We’re in a very masochistic culture where it’s like, “Don’t click on that link, it’s going to … OK, I’ll click.” It’s just constantly, “Don’t push the red button!”
HipHopDX: Then you press the red button. Of course.
Grab a copy of God Save The Queens: The Essential History Of Women In Hip-Hop here when it arrives on Tuesday (October 22).