On Sunday night’s Local Show, we celebrated Women’s History Month with a two-hour special dedicated exclusively to women in Minnesota music. This year, a large focus of the show was on hip-hop and some of the under-the-radar acts that started bubbling up to the surface in recent years.
In addition to a fiery in-studio performance and interview with GRRRL PRTY, I invited longtime scene staple Desdamona into the studio to talk about some of her favorite artists and the work she’s done to promote women locally.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, including a rundown of all the talented women she helped us highlight on this week’s show. You can also listen to our conversation and all of the great music she brought in using the player below; Desdamona’s portion starts at the 23-minute mark, and the segment begins with a brand-new song from her called “It Don’t Stop.”
Andrea Swensson: You’ve been a major player in the hip-hop and spoken word scenes for years now. When did you first start performing in the Twin Cities?
Desdamona: I moved here in ’96, and I probably didn’t start performing until late 1997.
Looking back at some of your contributions to the scene, the work you’ve done for women in particular has been really amazing. You helped found the B-Girl Be festival, and you have an ongoing series on your blog where you feature female MCs. What inspired you to focus specifically on promoting women in hip-hop?
When I came here—I was rapping before I came here—but when I came here I realized how hard it was going to be to actually break into the scene, let alone then get any attention after that. So I realized how hard it was for me and I kind of wanted to make it easier for other people. Because I feel like if you’re working really hard just to get in the door, you’re probably not even working on the artistic side of things, so things suffer and fall apart. So if I can give somebody some kind of access, I just feel like I need to do that so people can actually move forward and not get stuck.
What are some of the barriers that women face in hip-hop?
I think there’s a lot of barriers, and a lot of them—they don’t, maybe, smack you in the face unless you are a woman trying to do it. There’s this idea that female artists are not up to the standard, and you could argue about that because there are a lot of men that aren’t up to the standard of what good or great is, it’s so subjective. But even the way a sound man might treat you at a show, acting like you don’t know what you’re doing, but then treating the next person like they know, even though they may not. It’s these little things, I think.
There’s a definite competitive side to hip-hop in general, whether you’re a male or female, but as a woman you really get separated from other women in a lot of ways. I think it’s changing now, but I think you do get separated because—you almost get put in this position of ‘You’re unique because you’re female.’ And so you don’t necessarily want to be connected to other females because it takes away the uniqueness of it. Which is not true, but I think that’s sort of hidden underneath a lot of it.
As someone who has been active since ’97, how would you say that opportunities for women in Twin Cities hip-hop have changed?
I think it’s changed quite a bit. In 2000, myself, Jamaica DelMar, Toki Wright, and Larry Lucio started this series at Intermedia Arts and we ended up having one show a year that was all-female. And initially it was hard to find enough females to do that, it was almost like a challenge. Now, I think women go out and get shows. That was the only show of its kind at the time, but now women are having their own shows, their own CD release parties, and they don’t have to be connected, necessarily, to a male artist to get exposure or get out there or get any attention. So I think it’s changed a lot. Back then we were just still trying to prove ourselves, that we could even do it.
Obviously the big news of the week was the Soundset lineup, and it used to be there was one female act and last year there were three; this year there’s four. Are we headed in the right direction? Is this going to keep going?
I think so. I think it takes time. People have to get used to hearing female voices. There’s so many different things that contribute to why that’s happening. I also think women don’t know what steps to take to find those opportunities, and it can be very hard when you’re the only female, for multiple reasons. When I was coming up, I was always afraid to ask for help. I was always afraid that it was going to be this situation of, oh you’re the girl, I’m the guy, I’m going to hit on you and then it’s going to become about something else. And I want it to be about the art. So I really stood back for many years because I was afraid of that kind of thing, and obviously now I think how silly that was. I should have just done it and pushed my way through—which eventually I did. There’s just a lot of obstacles, even just in our own minds.
It’s exciting to see the younger women coming up and what they’re doing—and how different it is from when I was coming up. There’s a lot more, now, in this younger generation, so they kind of have each other to bounce off of, which I think is good because I think it pushes the art further. It’s good, healthy competition.
Do you think it’s important to see people who you relate to on stage? For a women to see another women on stage?
I do. I mean, I’m inspired by tons of male MCs, so it’s not like you don’t get the inspiration. But sometimes you just need that extra push, and that permission. There’s another woman who’s doing this; you can do it too. And I would say that more with my generation than with the younger generation; they don’t have that issue that maybe we had. But I do think now that they are all coming up together, they do push each other, whether they admit it or know it or not. But I think that it creates a better scene.
You were kind enough to bring in some music, much of which we haven’t played on the Current before. What can you tell us about these artists?
Irenic. She’s newer to the scene. She’s younger, she’s a musician, she’s done some shows with Dem Atlas, who just signed to Rhymesayers. She sings, she raps, she freestyles, she plays guitar. She’s very talented.
Lutunji. She was an MC coming up in the ’80s, she was mentored by a local well-known artist, Truthmaze. She’s actually still making new material. What I’ve heard from her so far is spoken word but she may also still be rapping. She’s been around longer than anybody else that I know on the scene, so I wanted to make sure that she was included.
The Lioness. She’s from St. Paul, and she’s been on the scene for quite a few years now. I think she’s gaining some momentum; I think she’s a really talented MC and I’m kind of waiting to see what happens with her and where she’s trying to go. I think she has a lot of potential.
K.Raydio. She’s a singer and a rapper. She’s got this new project out, she’s got a great new video out. It’s also exciting to see what’s happening with her and what’s going to happen; I think she also has a lot of potential, and a wide range of what she can do.
Indigo. Indigo’s been on the scene for quite a while. I’m not sure that she’s still making music right now, but she’s still doing artistic things—clothing design and things like that. And she was a part of the first B-Girl Be and many thereafter. She had a group called Bloody Black Eyes; she’s an MC; she’s been active in the community for quite a few years, and was one of the first ladies in the group that I came up with that I can remember.
Hear music from all five of these artists in the audio player above. Desdamona’s portion starts at the 23-minute mark.