Goldee the Murderess sits primly on a swivel chair at East Oakland’s Peekaboo Studios, squinting into a gold-plated pocket mirror as she reapplies her glittery gold eyeliner. The West Oakland-born rapper favors one color: big gold hoop earrings, a gold headband, a gold Marilyn Monroe stud, a gold barbell in her tongue, bell-bottom pants slung low to reveal the lace edge of her gold leopard-print panties, a gold coiled belt, a gold suede coat with faux-fur lining, gold high-heeled sandals, two gold chain necklaces (the one inherited from her deceased father bears a gold crucified Jesus), and, to top it all off, two gorgeous gold teeth. She has pieces of a five-dollar bill enameled on her fingernails and toenails — she saw it done with a one-dollar bill, decided to step it up to five, and says she’ll eventually do twenty. She has a tattoo of a CD on her left bicep, with the words “Goldee the Murderess” scrolled across the middle in cursive. On her right bicep, a music staff with a treble clef and three notes, to symbolize her father. On her right forearm, three Chinese characters, which stand for “Love,” “Luck,” and “Trust no one.”
With a few clicks of his computer’s mouse, Goldee’s producer, Fred White, aka Fred Funk, cranks up a crusty boom-and-slap track that sounds as stark and naked as any beat from Run DMC or T La Rock. When she hears the beat reverberate off the walls in Fred’s tiny studio, Goldee’s face melts into a look of sheer homicidal glee. In a voice so cruel and jagged it sounds as though the MC spent most of her life swallowing knives, she raps: The left trigger muscle has never lost in a tussle, so put the fuckin’ cash in that bag/I’ll put yo’ self in a titanium body bag/So choke on that thought/I’m Goldee the Murderess leavin’ my enemies outlined in chalk — so dig that.
Granted, the 35-year-old has plenty to be angry about. When Goldie was eighteen, a man murdered her sister in the culmination of an abusive relationship. Her ex-boyfriend — who fathered her eleven-year-old daughter, Andreanna — is serving an indefinite jail sentence for a violent crime that “he says he didn’t do, and I don’t want to get in no more shit with his ass,” the MC hisses. At a recent Hittaz on the Payroll concert in downtown Oakland, a friend of seven years told her he couldn’t talk to her anymore, because he’s a pimp now. “I ain’t never written a nice song for a gentleman, because ain’t no man ever given me a reason to, and that’s the truth,” Goldee claims resolutely.
Thus, Goldee’s raps consistently involve taking revenge and turning the tables on men through violence. Yet there’s a discord between Goldee the person — who wears all gold, enjoys working at a retirement center, and loves shopping — and Goldee the rapper, who makes more death threats, and sounds more convincingly menacing, than many of her male gangsta counterparts.
In fact, the divide between the two Goldees is so pronounced that the MC habitually refers to her alter ego in the third person: “People think that because I wear gold and got gold teeth, I’m gonna be this sweet-ass woman, and talk about how everything is beautiful in my fucking life,” she says. “But don’t let the smooth look fool you: Goldee the Murderess is all about pain. Goldee is the truth like a motherfucker.” Via hip-hop, Goldee revisits her relationships with the men who’ve abused her, yet she keeps bumping up against the limits of a medium that is misogynist at its core. It’s difficult to cultivate a flamboyant, ghetto-Nefertiti personality in a scene populated by pimps, dickslingers, and barrio Lotharios.
After all, gangsta rap is notorious for defiling women. Yet, it’s also a space where women such as Goldee, San Francisco MC Mak Diddy, and the older and more experienced Conscious Daughters are struggling to represent themselves. Understandably, it’s hard for them to resist indulging in a little defiling themselves.
“Female rappers are virtually extinct,” says Special One the Mic Strangler, one-half of the group Conscious Daughters. “I’ll meet female MCs who can rap tight, but then they quit because their boyfriends get jealous when they go to the studio to work with male producers, or because they have to raise families.”
On a recent Wednesday, Special One drives down the I-880 freeway toward downtown Oakland, on her way to record a promotional snippet for The Block Report, a program on hip-hop station Power 92.7. She’s wearing sagging shorts, impeccable black tennis shoes, and a long jacket with the Guerrilla Funk Recordings logo printed across the back. She turns her head toward a car rolling up beside her, driven by a young platinum blonde with two poodles leaning out the passenger-side window. “Hi, beautiful,” Special One flirts. When the woman looks over and smiles back, the MC snaps, “I was talking to the dogs.”
“Man, I love bitches,” the rapper chuckles as the other car jets off. “They’re so cute.”
Conscious Daughters launched their rap career in the ’80s, around the same time as female hip-hop outfits such as Female Fonk, Marvaless, Oaktown 357, Suga T, and Sonia C. Although female DJs had little presence in the scene back then — Female Fonk’s Pam the Funkstress was a glowing exception — many crews kept a token woman around to hype the crowd before shows.
While aspiring female rappers faced fewer technological obstacles than their peers in the DJ scene, it was difficult for them to get on the radar solo. Dovanna Dean, cofounder of the woman-owned production company UMA, says the demands of family often prevented female rappers from hanging out in the studio until 3 a.m., when lots of recording gets done. And frankly, it was hard for a female MC to front like a mack daddy in a room full of rapping misogynists. Granted, there were a few exceptions — rare female ballers like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Salt-N-Pepa, who acted macho enough to convince audiences that they weren’t covering up an inner soft side. Yet none of those women seemed to usher younger female MCs up through the ranks. In fact, it served women better to be individual and not invite competition from their peers. As Special One’s musical partner CMG remembers, “Women just really didn’t sell back then — you had to have something that really stood out about you. For us, it was the gangsta thing.”
The Daughters garnered fans through sheer force of personality. “Tenacity” would be a gross understatement. They were notorious mic hoggers, freestyling at every open-mic event in the Bay Area, standing in the front of the crowd at every Fresh Fest, and always saddled up with pockets full of tapes, ready to give them to anyone they saw. One day CMG saw the West Coast kingpin Paris at a show, and thrust a demo tape in his hands.
“He was like, ‘Hmmmmm … Conscious Daughters,'” she recalls, “I guess the ‘Conscious’ part got him. He called us the next day and said ‘I love your raps. Let me lay some beats for you. ‘”
Paris recalls, “Of course the name intrigued me. But it was that aggressive style, the emotion and sincerity that came across in their delivery, that attracted me to them. A lot of times people get it twisted and think they’re gangsta rap artists, but they’re not.” He adds that the Daughters’ preoccupation with female empowerment “makes their music more than just dope rhymes that talk about boasting.”
The result of that love connection was the Daughters’ debut album Ear to the Street, part Ice Cube, part Big Mama Thornton, released on Priority in 1993. That year, the album sold more than 200,000 copies, hitting Billboard charts and allowing the Daughters to appear on Soul Train and MTV — in fact, Special One says the two battled Ice Cube on KMEL’s “Make It or Break It,” and won. Their slick single, “Something to Ride to (Fonky Expedition)” — which Paris describes as a G-rated answer to Dr. Dre’s “Ain’t Nothin’ But a G Thang” — hit national airwaves hard, and soon there was nary a car speaker on the West Coast that didn’t reverberate with the song’s whomping beat. Although the Daughters congratulate themselves for being harder and more street- oriented than many of their peers in hip-hop, the joint that actually made them famous featured a more positive tip. Void of bullets or sexual references, “Fonky Expedition” was a chilled-out West Coast anthem about rolling through the ‘hood, directed more to club DJs than to mobb music audiences, who liked it anyway.
But in 1994, it was easier to be a cool, androgynous homegirl and make it big: Rappers such as Da Brat, MC Lyte, and Conscious Daughters are proof positive that a soft-butch style was marketable back then. Even TLC hadn’t yet traded in their backwards baseball caps for satin nighties. “The male rappers we knew treated other women like groupies, but we were never hated on,” CMG recalls. “Besides, the fact that someone else was sexist didn’t make or break what we were trying to do.” Today, artists like Missy Elliot, Rah Digga, and Eve are still working that tough-girl angle, except they tend to be a lot more sexual. The ubiquity of furs, catsuits, and beautiful booty girls in their videos distinguishes these new bombshells from old-school artists like Conscious Daughters, who grounded their image in the fact that they drove nice cars and could kill you — metaphorically — on the basketball court. Paris says that image “is not allowed to work anymore. We live in an era where so-called stars like Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears are made based on how they look, first.”
In other words, these days it’s a little harder to pimp your lyrics if you’re not also pimping your ass.
Conscious Daughters’ tenacity wouldn’t have lasted without Paris, who this fall will push them into the limelight again with a new CD, eight years since their last and more than a decade after that mainstream heyday. It’s nearly impossible to break into hip-hop without the right connections, and the paucity of resources for female artists usually makes them beholden to an already-established entity — what some call a male “enabler.” The pattern is consistent for virtually all the female MCs who’ve emerged in the Bay Area in the past two decades. “Often a guy will release a couple albums, get some money, and then decide to put out a female artist as one of his projects,” says Robin Harris, who spent 24 years working at Jones and Harris Records in Richmond. “I don’t know any women who’ve come out on their own.”
Thus, Oaktown 357 were MC Hammer’s “sidekicks.” Marvaless came up under C-Bo. Suga T rode on the heels of her brother, E-40. Sonia C is best known as the wife of rapper Master P. And ironically, Female Fonk led the way as protégées of Too $hort, an infamously misogynist rapper responsible for, among other things, popularizing the word Biiiiiiiitch.
This doesn’t make the enabler’s role necessarily evil or predatory: Conscious Daughters — hounded for years by Cheshire-cat “investors” who promised success but never followed through — have nothing but kind words for Paris. “We were a street group that was able to go mainstream because we had the money put behind us,” CMG says. “If Marvaless had the money, she would have probably been bigger than us. We had the break, basically.”
It’s often the case, however, that women who coattail a male rapper end up with little creative control over their own sound or image. Dean, who manages the rising East Bay hip-hop duo the Mamaz, recalls that when the group performed at a female MC showcase at the Oakland Box in March, many of the other participants “looked really hoochied out, which made it obvious that there was a man telling them how to present themselves. Artists who have a female team behind them don’t have to come across that way.”
The other main shortcoming of relying on a male “enabler” is that all the vicissitudes of his career affect his protégées, too. In 1995, Paris severed his ties with Priority, with which he had merged his own label, Scarface, in 1993, a deal that allowed him to produce records by several artists, including the Daughters. Since the Daughters still had a two-year contract with Priority, they released their sophomore album, Gamers, in 1996, but ended their major distribution deal shortly thereafter because of creative differences: The label wanted to record another album, while the rappers wanted to spend more money on Gamers and release more singles. Special One says they got a comfy five-figure compensation from the label, which lasted three years between the two of them. But then they fell off the map. Paris speculates that after he left the label, the employees who felt passionate about putting out the Daughters were replaced by people who didn’t care. “When the Scarface situation dissolved, it was really a result of Priority wanting to exclusively have artists that represented the gangsta mentality, so they weren’t equipped to handle the Daughters the way they needed to be presented,” he explains. “When you talk about misogyny in hip-hop, it exists on a label level as well.”
In the meantime, CMG took a day job and raised her son. “You need to have people who believe in you and want to put your shit out,” she says. “But you also have to be prepared to cut the fuck off at any moment.”
When the Daughters lost their deal with Priority, a few aspiring moguls offered to stake some money on the Daughters’ next album, but none followed through. They were all men, Special One recalls, noting: “Ain’t no woman ever tried to put money behind us.” So the two hustled on their own during this hiatus, driving down to Los Angeles to pass out Gamers at conventions, and performing shows throughout the Bay Area. Eventually, Special One fell on hard times. She’d always indulged in dreams of pro basketball, or running her own production studio, if the rap game didn’t pan out. Yet a series of invasive knee surgeries kept her off the b-ball court, and in the meantime, her longtime partner gave birth to a baby boy. As for production, she still entertains the fantasy of her own studio, although she was recently forced to sell a swank Triton keyboard to pay her rent.
Then, last year, Paris re-emerged with his new label, Guerrilla Funk Recordings, which will release Conscious Daughters’ third album, The Nutcracker Suite, in early 2005. Thus, two decades since those high school radio shows, the Daughters are back in the game — and evidently, they’ve progressed from stepping on toes to busting balls. But now that they’re both approaching forty, it will only get harder.
Conscious Daughters are speeding down I-880 in an SUV, bumping Top 40 joints by Lil’ Flip and Kanye West. Special One sits in the back — munching a bag of Lay’s potato chips and chattering about how fine those Mystic Journeymen are — while CMG drives. Goldee the Murderess sits shotgun, sucking on a lollipop and brandishing a golden microphone Special One gave her as a late birthday present.
The car exits onto 73rd and ambles through the flats of East Oakland, passing houses with cyclone fences, green Sears siding latticed with wrought-iron grillwork, checkerboard lawns, porches littered with tricycles, men barbecuing hot dogs, and kids sitting on the hoods of cars while they slurp Popsicles. CMG parks in front of a squat green house belonging to Fred Funk.
It’s a lazy Sunday, and Fred saunters down the hall in rubber sandals and socks to usher the MCs into the small, dank room that is Peekaboo Studios. His old sketches of Michael Jackson and Prince hang on the studio walls, along with egg crates and foam to absorb the sound. Fred’s desk is cluttered with recording equipment. He has stacked milk crates and copies of Remix magazine on the dung-brown carpet underneath. The bathroom adjacent to the studio doubles as a vocal booth. This is where the Conscious Daughters’ comeback album will be recorded.
Goldee gravitates to the gold things in the room — a little clock with musical notes engraved on the side, and a small figurine of a guitar with a man’s head and sunglasses. She puts her mouth behind it and mock-sings: I got the ghetto blues.
“Blind ya, this gold,” she says to Funky Fred. “Goldee blind ya with all this gold.”
Both Daughters take turns spitting verses from “Never Seen Us Coming,” a track from The Nutcracker Suite. Special One raps: And you never see me coming/Not even in the light/’Cuz I’m spitting balls of fire/And guns and knives/Bitches getting duct-taped to their fucking mic stand/’Cuz you invaded my space, ‘cuz you invaded my land/Put your hands in the air ‘cuz I’m gonna tape ’em to your hair/And then I’m gonna wrap the mic cord around your body and tie it around your throat, and use this garbage bag as a coat.
Richmond’s Harris says she’s not sure which fans the Daughters are trying to reach at this point in their career. “Marvaless still has a solid fan base because she stayed underground, and she still has that gangsta edge,” she says. “But the Daughters went mainstream. Now they’re gonna have to go harder to compete overall, especially if they want to sell to a younger crowd.” She notes that many of the Daughters’ original fans are now in their late thirties, and aren’t buying a lot of hip-hop: “Most people in that age group prefer R&B now, which is why a lot of former female rappers have gone on to do other things, like make movies, produce, or raise families. It will be interesting to see what female rappers are talking about in their late thirties.”
CMG insists that the thrust of the Daughters’ music is the same as it was in 1993: socially relevant commentary delivered in the most pissed-off tone possible. If anything, she and Special One are throwing harder punches. Paris notes that the thirtysomething gal perspective is badly needed in hip-hop: “As hip-hop grows and matures, and the fans get real-life responsibilities and become politically invested, they’re gonna want something that reflects where they are in life.” But Special One demurs. “Well, we’re trying to make some more hyphy shit — you know, energy music for the young crowd,” she says, recognizing that, at the end of the day, the two rappers have to appeal to an audience two decades younger than they are.
If the primary consumers of gangsta rap are males in their teens and early twenties, then it will be doubly difficult for the Daughters to let their femininity shine through on The Nutcracker Suite. While CMG and Special One insist they’ve taken several measures to update their sound and remain competitive — adding gloss from Fred Funk, Ric Roc, and Paris — it’s evident that they’ll have to embody the time-honored female MC stereotype: no-nonsense gangsta bitches you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. After all, if you’re not partaking of the earth-goddess Lauryn Hill hustle, you’ve already lost a sizable chunk of your mainstream audience. That’s not who the Daughters are, anyway, and if they suddenly traded their OG image in for a capoeira-headwrap shtick, they’d alienate themselves from Guerrilla Funk’s “revolutionary mobb” crew, which includes artists like Public Enemy, MC Ren, and T-Kash. In other words, Conscious Daughters have to find a way to keep the mobb audience on lock without devolving into badass caricature.
It’s either that or the sexpot role. In a medium intent on shoehorning women into one of two roles — the hardcore gangstress or the leather-bikini slut — Dean of UMA Productions argues that it’s hard for women to “slap you up and love you at the same time.”
Eight months ago, if you called up Jamaica Kellom you’d hear a forlorn voice on the answering machine greeting: “I ain’t pickin’ up my phone right now, but y’all know I’m looking for somebody to be in my life. And you know if it’s you, so leave a message.” You wouldn’t expect to hear the same sweet voice spitting lines like I leave dimples in niggas’ temples rippin’ through their tissue/Fuckin’ with me is suicide, you’re begging me to push you on her brother Jinicydle’s debut gangsta rap album.
But Jamaica, who raps under the name Mak Diddy, embraces such contradictions. She came up as a school talent-show gospel and R&B singer — that’s the soft side, says Coujo, her producer — but eventually turned to gangsta rap instead, because street poets such as Yukmouth, Keak da Sneak, and Killa Tay were rapping about the stuff she was living.
The worst thing you can say to Jamaica is that she’s “soft,” which, in hip-hop speak, is synonymous with “sucka.” “It’s basically like saying you’re a weak rapper, and that you can’t hang with the fellas,” she says. The MC idolizes Snoop Dogg’s former protégée, Da Brat, because she relates to her gangsta persona better than “girlier” female rappers, or perhaps better than girly-girls in general. Jamaica’s other fount of inspiration is her brother, Jinicydle, who made his name rapping about how he’s gonna put yo’ ass on the curb and knock yo’ ass toothless over a low, sexy bass beat riddled with the crackle of gunfire. She even has the word “Fam” tattooed on her left forearm, showing the world that “If you mess with anyone in my family, you gotta fuck with me first.”
Jamaica grew up in a subsidized housing complex in Bayview called Commer Court, aka Choppa City, which sits at the top of a street lined with weathered blue-and-white clapboard houses. If you look out the window of her apartment, you’ll see a swath of road that tapers into a shipyard, where the PG&E power plant stands like a middle finger pointed at the sky. Sandwiched between them are rows of projects. On the other side of Choppa City, a couple solitary trees are the last signs of life before a hill clotted with witchgrass and spiny thistle. It’s a place where the good guys are perilously close to the bad guys, and nobody is ever sure if the next person to get shot will be his brother, or the guy downstairs.
Choppa City’s mean streets don’t seem like the most appropriate place for an eighteen-year-old who loves Harry Potter books and writes rhymes the way many teens write diary entries. Hard as they are, Mak Diddy’s lyrics also reveal the ambivalence and fear associated with the gangsta persona that’s been cultivated for her. As she sings on the hook of her track “Death Wish,” I’m losing my mind/It’s like these niggas want me to die/They shot at me the first time/It was fortunate that they missed/But I can’t stay out these streets/It’s like I got a death wish.
In fact, two weeks before she recorded the song, some guys shot at her while she was waiting to catch a bus in her neighborhood. Jamaica herself is certainly hard to miss: oversize Phillies jersey, pants baggy enough to hide in, baby dreads glinting cherry-black in the sun.
“The beef has gotten so bad around here that they’re starting to shoot at girls, too,” says her producer, Isaac, who was shot in the chest last Christmas.
Jamaica’s musical career began at Matthew Zion Baptist Church on San Bruno Avenue, where she spends four nights of the week at choir rehearsal or Bible study. “I’m sticking to the church thing, because, well, I don’t necessarily live in a good environment,” she demurs. The contrast between street life and church life is what glues the church together. Pastor Washington, acting as a surrogate father for the congregation of aunts, mothers, grandmothers, girls in denim jumpers, and boys in Timberland shoes, reads children’s report cards out loud at services, embarrasses them with praise, and gabs about who’s supposedly dating who.
Then there’s the music: On the last night of Matthew Zion’s week-long Youth Revival, Jamaica leads the choir in songs about delivering poor souls to grace. The guest speaker, Reverend Nash from St. John Baptist Church in Richmond, advises everyone to spend the night talking to Jesus instead of yapping with a fine honey. Moreover, he continues, youth need to rechannel their musical talent, as they now “insist on using those gifts to write raps, instead of making music for the Lord. These young people,” he says, pointing to the bassist and organ player, “are setting an example by using their talents to praise Jesus.”
The two guys wink at each other, and the organ player furtively taps a Tupac bass line with his left hand, until a woman in the front row glares at him. Nobody else seems to notice.
During most of the service, Jamaica leans on her side in the back pew, punching numbers into a Nokia cell phone. What’s striking about her cool attitude is that, whenever she talks about church, she confesses not only that she wants to be there, but that she needs to be there: “My life is music and church, and that’s all that’s important right now.”
In fact, Jamaica situates herself a little outside of both settings — the church and the street — even though she seeks acceptance from both. There’s security and authority in being “one of the guys” that the church can’t offer. At the same time, religion provides a refuge from the violent world those guys inhabit. Jamaica says traditional girl roles are “too messy” — you have to squabble “to have your voice heard.” But joining the fellas means you have to prove yourself with your fists. And, as Jamaica assures, you can’t let anyone get too close to you. Just like the tattoo on Goldee’s forearm.
Love and trust are shaky concepts in gangsta rap, where misogyny isn’t merely condoned — it’s also sexy.
Hip-hop aficionados exalt Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls as the most romantic gangsta rappers in the pantheon, but that romance is steeped in violence and debasement. When Tupac rhymed about his relationships with women, he sounded like a soul in havoc — sometimes bitter and lascivious, and other times fawning.
“People like to hate on Tupac, because he doesn’t always say what everybody thinks is right,” Goldee says. “But I feel like he’s telling the truth about his life. I love his music, because he reminds me of myself: someone who came up straight from the ghetto, and had to struggle.”
As for Biggie, his glaringly misogynist “Me and My Bitch” imports all the characteristics of a classic love song or melodrama: At song’s end, the “bitch” dies after taking a stray bullet meant for her man, making her a tragic, star-crossed lover who proves her virtue by suffering.
For women rappers, the romance of misogyny is a catch-22: It’s hard to stake out your own place in a genre that sees the denigration of bitches as a heightened form of creative expression, especially when you’re being treated like a bitch yourself. Late one night in March, after performing a show at the Black Box Theater in Oakland, Goldee and the Daughters went to record at a friend’s studio. Goldee says she was cornered in the bathroom by a man who pinned her against the wall and hissed, “You’re a beautiful bitch, aren’t you?”
“So I pushed him against the other wall and damn near tried to tear his head off,” the MC recalls. “When I go to a crowded studio with pimps and hos, people look at me and think that, because of the way I dress, I’m gonna be a certain type of way” — in other word, the type of chick who puts out. “That’s why me and the girls just like to go together, record our tracks, and leave.”
Given the frequency of these confrontations, in rap studios and in everyday life, it’s little surprise that a female rapper’s relationships with men often form the emotional nub of her music.
Much of Goldee’s rage stems from her sister’s murder, which happened seventeen years ago. “The next day I went by the house where it happened, on 18th and Myrtle Street in West Oakland,” she says. “They left all the yellow tape up, and the door unlocked, and all the blood. I can’t tell you what it feels like to see that: It’s like, you’re stiff; you can’t feel anything anymore.”
The MC revisits the murder in her signature song, “Off with His Head,” a jeremiad addressed to her sister’s killer. On the hook, Goldee shrieks in a voice jagged enough to feel the shards flying in your eardrums: Off with his head/I want ‘im dead/I put seventeen Glock shots worth of bullets in your fuckin’ head.
Goldee, whose album has no projected release date, describes her music as an outlet through which she expresses anger, and also tries to make sense of what’s happened to her. “I feel like I was cursed from the womb,” she says. “I’m not gonna go out there and hurt nobody, so I just put it in my music.” Yet because the tragedies of which she raps mostly arise from violent relationships with men, her songs are about coping with individual trauma.
Goldee is not the only female MC to use violence to reverse or appropriate gender roles. Conscious Daughters, who put at least one song relevant to women’s issues on every album, see this reversal as a way of making their songs sound not only hard-hitting, but socially relevant. Ear to the Street‘s “Wife of a Gangsta” grimly discussed the dangers a woman faced in having a drug-dealer boyfriend, while “Shitty Situation” frankly addressed an unwanted pregnancy without any support from the baby’s father. According to CMG, when Queen Latifah met the Daughters at 1994’s Billboard Music Awards in 1994, the first thing she said was “That ‘Shitty Situation’ song is the bomb.” Their sophomore album, Gamers, featured “All Caught Up,” which dealt with AIDS: Ain’t that a bitch?/I’ll put this motherfucker in the dirt/If he done gave me anything, a pistol put him worse/I can’t believe I fucked around with that, and came up short/Without no beanie on the penie now I’m all caught up. In the past, men have cropped up on the Daughters’ albums like sinister, leering figures: people who lead their girlfriends into a violent, criminal underworld, or sire children and run off when they aren’t infecting women with fatal diseases.
On The Nutcracker Suite, the Daughters kick their gender commentary up to the next level of scandalousness. “Kill My Nigga” turns the tables on domestic abusers. On the song’s hook, the MCs chant over a crackling, whining beat: Bleed ‘im/Stab ‘im/Slash ‘im/Kill ‘im. Goldee — who joins the Daughters on the track along with Baby Doll, another up-and-coming East Bay rapper — says “The idea is that if a chick’s with her dude, and he’s an abusive partner, she’ll just pop ‘Kill My Nigga’ in the CD player, and he gonna be like, ‘Bitch, you tryin’ to kill me?’ And she gonna be like, ‘Nah, I’m just vibin’ with the music, you know.’ And maybe he’ll chill out, because he’ll think, ‘Wow, that chick just might be crazy.'”
Special One says that the rage in that song derives from personal experience: A former boyfriend tried to stab her on one occasion, and knocked out her teeth on her 21st birthday. “We still talk,” she says. “He wants to take credit for turning me into a lesbian.”
For her part: Goldee seems energized when she hears “Kill My Nigga” reverberating on Fred’s stereo at Peekaboo Studios: “Ooh, that’s deep. It gives me chills.”
Jamaica spends weekday mornings at the Dogged Outt Productions studio on 3rd Street in Potrero Hill, munching on Cup o’ Noodles and 25-cent packs of orange Doritos while her brother and his crew smoke blunts, drink 40s, and diddle on ProTools. The walls of the studio are covered with cut-outs of honey-skinned women in bikinis, along with posters announcing albums by such local turf rap artists as Louie Loc, Kev Kelly, Playa Mac, and the Straight Outta Hunters Point soundtrack. Two Terminator speakers sit front and center on a high shelf above the computer, heaving and caving in with the thrust of a perennially heavy bass. The couch, stove, and dishwater-gray rug are cluttered with A.1. barbecue sauce bottles, upended MK-4902 keyboards, soccer trophies, old boots, an econo-pack of cornflakes, blank videotapes, CDRs, and copies of Stuff magazine — in other words, titties galore, and more beautiful big booty girls.
Isaac Alexander (aka Coujo) started Dogged Outt — then Eight Bit Crappy Productions — in 1989 with his friend Emmet. In 1996, the Dogged Outt crew recorded its first album, Bay Area Crime Diaries, on a cassette tape. “We used to just hang a mic from the light fixture on the back porch,” Isaac says, waving his hand at the rear end of the studio. “That was our sound booth.” Dogged Outt the label released its first compilation, Tha Route of All Evil, on the underground market last year, followed by Jinicydle’s debut, Ghetto Tactics. While Jinicydle delivered a strong, convincingly homicidal performance, the real ghetto tactics belonged to Jamaica, whose guest raps as Mak Diddy were the best thing about the album. Having ushered in a solid hip-hop fanbase and a modicum of critical exposure, Isaac is now pushing ahead full throttle to drop Jamaica’s album, tentatively called Both Sides of the Game, this fall. Isaac claims that he’s never really liked any other female artist, even in mainstream hip-hop: “I wasn’t set out to put out a female rapper on my label, but when I heard Jamaica, she was the one of the tightest artists that I’d ever heard, period.”
In the makeshift studio, Isaac taps on his computer, and “Death Wish” resonates from the speakers. Cradled over a low-slung armchair, Jamaica bobs her head and mouths the words to her own songs, but she flinches a little when Isaac cues up “One Night Stand,” which sets an African drumbeat against a spare keyboard track and Jamaica’s remarkably vulnerable vocals: Just for one night, I’ll be your girl/A one-night stand, that’s all it has to be/Put your tongue in places, you can make me cream … /Just for one night, boy/Don’t try to fight, boy.
Obviously, this song is about wanting to get into a guy’s pants, but Jamaica has a song, “Maica, Maica,” about girl-on-girl love, too. The hook is a woman singing: Maica, Maica, you drive me crazy, I just want to be your lady. As she is always trying to be a little outside of the roles that society cultivates for her, Jamaica seems to be flirting with an open-ended sexuality. But she’s also unsure about whether she wants a romantic relationship, or just a person to value her: Jamaica’s current answering machine greeting has the artist singing in her gloomy, gospel voice, Ooooohhh, I want you to myself/And I don’t want anybody else/Soooo, if you want me, come and let me know/And we could get it cra-a-ackin, fo’ sho’. Asked if she’s really looking for love, the starry-eyed MC merely shrugs. “I’m just trying to get some attention.”
“There’s a singing part to my songs, and a rapping part,” Jamaica continues. “A male part and a female part, because that’s how my mind is.” Thus, Both Sides of the Game. Her cousin and fellow rapper Shaka Diesel contends that Jamaica’s ability to embrace this duality is what distinguishes her from other rappers, women or otherwise. “There’s a difference between being ‘soft’ and being ’emotional,'” he says. “Jamaica’s bringing something new to the table because she’s talking about feelings, but she can also keep up with the fellas. That’s different from a lot of the female rappers you see on TV who just like to talk about their ass.”
Even with that insight, so far the road for Jamaica has been rocky at best. The young MC consistently wins the talent shows held at the Bayview Opera House, but occasionally it takes more than skill to beat her detractors. Last November, a guy stepped up to her after she took first place and said, “I think they were doing too much, letting you win like that.” Almost a year later, Jamaica retorts that “males get intimidated by tight female rappers,” but at the time his comment stung, even though she walked away. “I wait until people put their hands on me before I fight them,” she says. “Otherwise, I might challenge them to a freestyle battle or something.” That same month, another female MC stepped up to Jamaica after a show, and she says they ended up fighting.
Jamaica says she kicked the girl’s ass.