First of all, I have to say that it was a complete honor and pleasure to be invited into the home of thee Mrs. Lady B of Philly. I am so proud of this one for my city, as Lady B’s life and legacy is one to literally go down in the books.
She represents so many honorable things for us women, and fans and lovers of the arts, period. She helped break down some of those barriers of fear that stopped the world from being more open to culture and self expression through the arts.
Let’s get into Part 1 of this epic interview, as Lady B explains how she got into this lane, and shares some insight with us that will help us understand the history of Rap and Hip Hop Culture. She also gives us the real on putting your foot down as women in the professional world. It’s not easy for us, but it’s necessary to demand our respect and maintain our integrity. Many nuggets in this one.
When did you develop your love for music and hip-hop?
My love for music came first. I’ve loved music since I was a little girl! I’m the youngest of four, and my older brothers and sisters blasted all of my mother’s speakers until they broke. (laughter) I grew up on every old song; I’m a Motown connoisseur! – Yes, I’ve been loving music since I could walk. I grew up in a very musical family.
Hip Hop however; that bug bit me in 1978, hanging out with who was then my boyfriend, World Be Free. I’d be hanging with him and his brothers up in New York. I’d see them doing this “toasting” thing, it didn’t have a name called rap. It was called toasting, between the records, on the break beat.
I was working part time at a local club here in Philadelphia downtown, Kim Graves, as I was waitressing and giving out drinks, I would run into DJ and I would start toasting and rhyming and mimicking what I had seen up in New York.
How does it make you feel to go down in music history?
I am the first female on wax in Hip Hop! That’s my title!
I do hold several records in my life, but I’m the most proud of being the first ever to play Hip-Hop on the radio. That’s what I chose to do. I didn’t want to be a Hip-Hop artist, but I love the music, I love the culture, and I love turntablism.
I loved breaking all those artists and giving them a chance, a voice and a platform.
I was talking to KRS One the other night and we were laughing. He said “You were our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all wrapped in one. You were all we had!” – So, I’m just very proud of that. It was just me and another brother, Mr. Magic up in New York.
But for 10 years, you have to understand, we were the only ones playing Hip-Hop on the radio in the country. Now, you hear it everywhere.
I had to fight for the opportunity to play Hip Hop Music; it wasn’t easy.
I remember begging my boss then, Mary Mason, she was like “Nobody wants to hear that noise! Nobody wants to hear that Hippidy Hoppidy stuff. – And then a year later they hired me full-time, the station was making so much money, it was so lucrative.
You know how people say, digging in the crates? I was there when it was just one. There was only like 12 records out. – And then it grew and grew and grew.
Who were some of the people you introduced to the people?
Well I was really the only one, so it was most of them.
I asked her about the different people she met and asked about the different places they came from. I asked her specifically about down-south rap, and she kindly reminded me of my age-group. (laughter)
You have to understand, there was no down-south rap back then. It was just here, New York; and then as time went on we found a west coast sound, and the dirty south sound; and you’ve got the Miami sound. I always say that Hip Hop grew from the New York boroughs, representing the Bronx, Brooklyn, to Philadelphia adapting to it. It went from West Philly to Mt. Airy; we repped our set. So, it went from a local thing of repping your set, and then it grew into repping your city, or repping your coast! It grew, and it grew fast too!
Is that kind of how the battle rap scene came into play, through their locations?
Yeah, well you have to understand that Hip Hop saved lives. There was a turbulent time when we were gang-waring, a lot; shooting each other and stabbing each other and it was very territorial. You couldn’t just come into someone else’s neighborhood. It gave us a chance to put down those knives and those guns; instead we would battle with microphones and turntables. – A much better look.
And then the whole battle thing, I don’t want to say it was territorial, but it became like the thing to do. Someone would put out a record, you answered their record. We had the famous battles of LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee; Roxanne Shante and Sparky D. Everybody did an answer song back then.
I asked her if once the record was played, the public would then decide on the winner, similar to the way it goes today.
Different battles went different ways. LL and Kool Moe Dee carried theirs for about 4 or 5 records! (laughter) Shante’s first song was a diss to UTFO and that was different. Some battles went longer than others.
I would be playing tapes before they were even pressed into records. You couldn’t wait to see what he got to say about that!
You could tell this was where her passion was – she got so excited about the art of the music and the culture of it all. She loved the role she played in bringing the heat to the people and helping the artists have their moment.
This is where I mentioned that I could definitely see where artists would say she was their social media back then. These times were tremendously different in the sense that artists, entertainers, performers, etc., had to really work hard doing foot work to get themselves out there and reach the masses. They really had to maintain their skill sets and image, as well as constantly find ways to get their work seen and heard.
I hear people say all the time that I put them on. I don’t like to brag or boast or anything, but I’ve heard people say that about my show, that if you got on my show then you’ve made it! My show was called Street Beat. Street Beat will always go down in history for my Hip Hop platform and my fans. – But I kind of do a potpourri of things now, if you will. One thing I’m doing now, I call it a Basement party. That’s my new mantra, the Basement Party. – Coincidentally, we’re sitting in my basement (laughter), isn’t that funny?
What have been some of your greatest achievements in your music career? What are some of the things you’re most proud of?
Number one, I’m proud of the longevity. I will be celebrating my 37th anniversary this year. Representing for my sisters, I’ve always been proud of that! For the most part, I was the only girl in an all boys club. You have to demand a lot of respect. That wasn’t always easy, but I’m very proud of that. I don’t have any Harvey Weinstein stories. I never laid down for prestige.
One of the best feelings I ever got; I remember working at the radio station, I think we were in Conshohocken, R Kelly’s tape came out, and my co-workers, mostly men, were in the conference room looking at it. As I was walking down the hall they were running and fumbling trying to get the remote to turn it off before I got in the room, out of respect. – Like, we will dare not watch this in front of B. – That felt really good to me, that they had that kind of respect for me.
Also, just helping Hip Hop to get to the platform of where it is.—To watch it go from that little crate of records to selling everything from fast food to fast cars; knowing that I had a part in that.
God has a story for all of us and this one happened to be mine. I was really blessed to have been that person and you know, I’m happy for anyone that is a ground-braker who cracks a glass ceiling. The always has to someone to be the first in life to do everything.
I was the first female captain of the safety patrol as a child, so, I like doing things first. (laughter) In these streets, on the corner with my badge. (laughter)
What were some of the challenges you faced being a woman in the industry?
Starting with being a woman, then being a black woman. – Having to jump those hurtles before you can get down to business. Having to let brothers know that I am not here for sex, and that I’m not stupid. You are going to respect me, and if you don’t, you can do business with someone else.
As a woman sometimes, you just had to fight a little harder to be taken serious. – And I attribute a lot of that to my older brothers and sisters; when you have an older brother who is tough with you, and teaches you to be tough with the world. And another thing is, not only just being a woman, you have to understand that there were so many naysayers, that thought that the Hip Hop music and the culture was a fad that would just fade out. – And boy, were they wrong.
We also have to connect to Hip Hop’s real roots. The roots go deeper than when they say; you know, ’75 is when they say it birthed, mid-seventies. Up in New York, we had people like The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, who were rapping then, before we gave it that title – already spitting poetry. Hip Hop has been around forever. What my generation did, was lay it to some funky tracks, and bring a lot of other elements around it. – The dancing, the clothing, the turn-tables. So, it bloomed into a culture of its own.
Lady B’s Wall in her basement:
The most important thing about Hip-Hop, is that it gave us a voice. It gives Urban America a voice.
It was shocking when NWA said, “F*** the Police”, but it was a life that they were living. It needed to be said. I loved Public Enemy because of their lyrics, I love lyrics that are empowering and enlightening; that speak a truth that some people may not have known otherwise.
Like I said before, Hip-Hop was also a release of tension! In the projects and up in New York, there was and still is a lot going on. It gave you something else to do, a way to release frustration and be happy. – Shoot, we were mostly lying when we first started Hip Hop, like about the things we had.. (laughter) it wasn’t even in our Mama’s house! But it grew to where we actually had the money to have that stuff! (laughter)
You have to understand that there were no major record labels distributing Hip-Hop. When Russel Simmons got the deal with CBS, that’s when we knew a company was going to take it National and that it had already been taken serious. We knew Hip Hop had arrived. When CBS began realizing that Public Enemy was selling just as much as Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson, it was like, whoa! They knew this was something to be reckoned with, something they could make money from.
That is kind of a bad part of it too though, because I think that this country believes if you can’t beat it, buy it; and that kind of watered it down. Once that started happening, the art of Hip Hop lost some of its responsibility to its lyrics and its content, because we started putting out a lot of foolishness. – Now you’ve got all kinds of Hip Hop; disrespectful Hip Hop, bad Hip Hop, content that’s disrespectful to women and children… etc. We’ve got every country in the world doing it now; we’ve got Japanese Hip Hop and all kinds of other cultures contributing to it.
Who were some of your personal favorite people to work with?
Oh, that’s not fair to say!
She did not want to choose. (laughter) So, I explained that I understood fully that she loves all her musical babies, but that if she had to name a top 3 favorite to work with, who would they be?
Well, you know I love working with Will and Jeff… and I love working with Public Enemy; I love Flav’s crazy ass, I love my brother. Big Daddy Kane and Doug E Fresh are definitely my favorites as well. There’s a group out of New York called Stetsasonic that I love; they’re going to be at my anniversary celebration this year, I love them because I love drums, live drums.
I do have my club of Hip Hop artist, MCs and lyricists that I’ve become tight with over the years, that have been to my home, and we’ve watched our children grow up together. I love me some Salt n Peppa; they always keep it 100%, they always give me props and love. I’m so excited for them right now. They just got a residency in Vegas. – I think I’m going to spend my Birthday this year, out in Vegas with them. I think that would be a great way to spend a birthday.
What advice do you have for women looking to enter into the music, Hip Hop or radio industry?
They could probably teach me some things nowadays, with all this technology! (laughter)
I will say, that with all the technology and social media, to be careful. Be careful before you press send. I don’t want to bite Oprah’s words, but those words are important. You can’t take it back once someone screenshots it, it’s gone and it’s out there forever. Be very careful about the drunk nights with your girlfriends, and those moments that you choose to make public. Remember that you have a responsibility as an artist, as to what you put out, because there are a lot of ears that are impressionable.
Think about your babies. Think about how they are going to look at you, and consider what they are going to get out of the messages you put out.
I had a friend once, (I wont say her name), but she did a very sexy and provocative radio show, that talked about a little too much, in my opinion. I didn’t think it was very lady-like, and she called me one day, upset and crying that a letter was going around her child’s junior high school at the time, about certain sexual diseases, this, that, and the fourth, you know. – I had to stop her right there in her tracks like, don’t you think you’re contributing to this? And she was like, “Well No! You have to be an adult to listen to my show!” – But it’s free radio! Any child can turn the dial and tune in to any station. She had an epiphany at that moment, like, whoa.
Can you tell us what it is like to be THE FIRST EVER to record a Hip Hop single?
Yes, I am the first on wax. It was “To the Beat Yall” right after Sugarhill dropped Rapper’s Delight. I came out with mine, fresh out of high school. – But you had sisters like Chiraq and Pebblee Poo; the Mercedes Ladies, who were rapping up in New York before I picked up a mic. — They just didn’t get a deal. They ended up getting deals, just not before me. So, I’m the first person on wax.
We had a “Women in Hip Hop” weekend two years ago up in New York, and we were getting all the facts aligned, because people take it very personal, which I think is stupid. We should all just understand that we were all the ingredients to this wonderful cake, that couldn’t have been a cake if we all didn’t do our part.
I wish women, or even people, would think about that more. It’s not always so much about what you do as an individual, but more about what you do as a group. We can’t make this cake without each other. You be the damn eggs, you do your damn flour, they can be the sugar and I’ll be the vanilla extract! (laughter) But we’re going to all make this happen!
Don’t predicate how you feel about yourself based on what other people think of you. There’s such a need for self-confidence, and I need them sisters’ heads up and their shoulders back! I them to realize that you, just you as you are, the way God made you is so awesome! – And not to be influenced by what other people think of you. That’s a problem with this social media, and how many likes or dislikes you have, and all that crap!
Children are wanting to commit suicide, babies; because they’re being bullied in school! – I am so grateful that my mom instilled that self-worth in me. If you don’t like my pants, then you don’t have to wear them! If you don’t like the way my hair looks today, then go do your own damn hair the way you like it! I tell my kids when kids in school want to talk about what they think about them, to tell them that how they feel about you, is none of your business. Bottom line. Be a trend setter, not a follower. You don’t like these sneaks I got on; these are new sneaks, you aint’ got these sneaks, you don’t even know about these sneaks! (laughter) You know what I’m saying!?
And I knew EXACTLY what she was saying. I too, teach my kids to dance to their own beat. – And I teach them that REAL friends will support them and treat them with respect because of who they are as a person, not based on their style or their personal interests or lack thereof in these fads that come and go. I teach them that when they walk as leaders in example of something good, their behavior and mentality becomes contagious. The people around you will want to achieve that same level of confidence you have, that allows you to be free to be you.
I went to my old high school, Overbrook High; I was asked to come and speak to the girls because they were gang-waring and cutting each other up and whatnot. Instead of standing up in an auditorium behind a podium talking to them, I asked the faculty if I could take them outside and just sit on the step. We were out there sitting on the step, and to make a long story short, it comes out that the whole fight started because one girl said that the other girl thought she was cute. I had to stop them right there, I said, Hold up! When you went into the store to buy that shirt, did you think it was cute? Did you think those shoes were cute? That little barrette in your hair, did you think that was cute when you picked it up and put it in your hair? I told them I stood up in my mirror this morning and curled my hair and put on my lipstick because I wanted to be cute today. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG with thinking that you’re cute. What do you want to think you’re ugly? So, you’re going to go around talking about, “damn, I’m so ugly…” (laughter) No!!!! Everybody has the right to feel like they’re cute! How dare you! – I said, Everybody sitting here, did you walk past the mirror and grab your bookbag and say, aw man, I look a mess today? Of course not! You ALL are trying to be cute!
There was nothing but silence. They all had this Ah-ha moment like, yeah that does make sense. – But that’s one of the main problems I see today in women, with social media. It’s dangerous. You’re sharing yourself with folks you don’t know. I even had to catch myself and my girlfriends; we were on vacation at the beach and taking pics in our bathing suits and we had to catch ourselves, because you don’t know who is looking at that picture, or HOW they are looking at it. Everyone is not as innocent-minded as you may be. It also opens you up to predators. – And I say this even to you just meeting you, and anyone else who is on social media: When you’re out getting turned up with your girls and whatnot, post the pictures AFTER you’re home and in the door. Posting in the moment allows a man to know that you are at that location at that time, and anything could happen! He could follow you home and hit you over the head, or worse! So, yes, you have to be very careful. It’s okay if you want to share and post but wait until after you get home.
What do you think about Rap and Hip Hop as it has evolved today?
(laughter) Say that again???!!
SUUUCKS!!!!!!! (laughter) …I was actually thinking about writing a rhyme; it’s been in the back of my brain. I haven’t written any lyrics in a hundred years, but I just had this poem that’s been in my head, like:
Stop. What did you do to my Hip Hop!
CAN I JUST BE YOUR BIG SISTER REAL QUICK!?! CAN I JUST TELL YOU TO GO DO SOMETHING WITH IT!? (laughter)
Nah, it has just gotten so watered down and irresponsible. – Well, I shouldn’t say that. I’ll say, the mainstream. – That’s one thing I do like about social media; it gives the underground artists a platform to get out there. At one point, they weren’t playing any conscious Hip Hop on the radio. They went with what was selling. It’s unfortunate we don’t hear more of the Kendrick Lamars and the Commons on the radio. In our generation we heard from Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and artists like that.
What gave you the courage to do things in Hip Hop that no one else had ever done?
My older sister. – She’s a rough one. I’ve always admired that about her strength. I was more of the sly one, but she was the one who pushed me out there, and I needed it. As much as I talk now for a living, I was a really shy kid.
She used to want to get me to enter contests and when they came to me about doing a Hip-Hop song, she was like, “Do it! Do It!” – I wanted to go to college and be a lawyer and I had no idea that this was my story that God wrote for me. – And I loved it. I loved every minute of it. It has been a blessing, especially what I do now. When your voice gets big enough to make a difference, I think that’s the best feeling that I have now, when I can really change and help a community.
I think my community work now, what I do for our children and for our elders, is the most rewarding. But to have a voice that’s strong enough to actually make a difference; people hear my show and hear an interview with a non-profit that changed their child’s life… whether it be a culinary class or a karate class, or just an after-school curriculum. Knowing that I brought that information to them; the emails I get saying that I changed a life. – The people who were just ready to give up on life, who were able to turn it around and grab onto hope; that’s dope.
What’s one thing you’d like to see change within womanhood?
Hateration, and the lack of being happy for your sister; celebrating her, and not comparing it to you. – Understanding and celebrating the story that God wrote for her. Like I said, celebrate that she is the flour while still being cool with being the sugar.
All Images by NYACC Photos
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