For a couple of years now we've been asking: where are the female emcees? Most folks, who we see as authorities in the local hip-hop scene, could either name only one person, or none at all. So we kept digging, and digging, and guess what? "There are a lot of us," says local emcee, Iman. You just have to know where to look. While underground buzz is cool and all, these six hip-hop artists create some of the best music and lyrical content the city has to offer — and the world needs to know about them. Without further ado, please meet Lexa L'Terra, Kween Katt, Jus' Jaz, Glizzy, B Kiddo, and Iman.
- Ruta Smith
- "I want people to know I know where you're at, because I've been there and I'm not gonna just tell you I've been there, I'm gonna articulate what it was like when I was there, and I need you to take me seriously."
B Kiddo remembers the very first bars she made up when she was seven years old, a little ditty about eating cereal, playing Nintendo, and watching someone get shot. "I don't know what gangster movie I had watched," laughs Kiddo. She continues rapping, "'I called my fiance and said get a casket/ But the man said that he only had a basket' ... It rhymed, OK?"
From that young age, fourth grade, until now, age 30, B Kiddo has lived for rapping. "I've always been a poet," she says. But it wasn't until four years ago that she ever wrote any lyrics immediately down on paper. "I remember being in fourth grade and getting in trouble for not doing my school work, so I had to memorize what I was coming up with until I could write it down, and that just became second nature," she says. "So I never wrote anything down for years."
But with Kiddo getting more serious about her craft in recent years, she's adamant about getting it all documented as quickly as possible. "Now I work on so much music — and my work ethic was not up to par for a long time," she says. "I could rap, but I wasn't an artist so to speak, so I didn't work on as much music. Now I have to write it down just because it's so much."
Also a mom, culinary arts student, and home health aid, Kiddo has had plenty to keep her busy lately, but she's still found the time to create a new album, 9, which was released on April 30. "Nine is the only number that gives birth to itself," she says before giving a slew of mathematical examples. "It's the natural order of life and giving life to things."
The concept Kiddo's worked around of late is the resurrection of B Kiddo. After being very active in the local hip-hop scene for a few years, she bowed out for a bit in 2014. "I worked on myself as an individual and as an artist, as a mom, so I'm emerging again," she says. "The magnitude of the word 'resurrection' is so much more than a debut or a return; it's like, to come back from the dirt."
That's the recurring theme in 9. "I used to get my nose so dirty when I was fuckin' around with that pearly," she raps in the track "Pearly." Kiddo says, "I'm not in the place now where I was when I worked on the music, which I'm kind of glad for. A lot of the stuff I talk about, like substance abuse, I'm really transparent about."
Kiddo opens up about drug use and heartbreak often in her lyrics, which were written when she was experiencing those things first hand. The album was slated for an earlier release, but she's glad 9 wasn't ready until now. "Looking back, where I'm at now I would hate for someone to miss the message, because I don't do those things anymore," she says. "At the time I thought it would be good to let people in while I was going through it, but now that I'm out of it, I'm like, no that wouldn't have been good — but not for me it wouldn't have been good, but because I want people to get it. I want people to know I know where you're at, because I've been there and I'm not gonna just tell you I've been there, I'm gonna articulate what it was like when I was there, and I need you to take me seriously." —KRS
- Ruta Smith
- "I'm learning a lot about the industry — I think the music just kind of comes to me but the business part of it is the hardest."
If you've never seen Charleston's own Lexa L'Terra, a.k.a. future freakin' star, get lyrical on camera, stop what you're doing right now and find this artist on Facebook. Like, now. We'll wait.
OK, if your mouth is currently agape, you've probably just finished watching L'Terra's October 2017 Halloween tribute to her five favorite female rappers, which she wrote and filmed herself on an iPhone 6, or any one of her many videos filmed in her car — the artist's signature video location. L'Terra freestyles over popular beats about everything from fuckboys to good friends, name-dropping familiar locales like Ashley Phosphate, Rivers Avenue, and Nigel's Good Food, to name but a few. Some of her videos have collected over a million views, making her somewhat of an internet celeb — that's a pretty baller start to the 25-year-old's budding career. "I don't know how that happened," she says. "The internet is weird."
It all kicked off a decade ago when L'Terra was a freshman at West Ashley High School and her classmates began making beats on a trash can. "And I started from there and started up a YouTube channel," she says. "Then I got into a five-year relationship. We broke up, and that's what kind of got me back into it."
A 2015 YouTube video marked L'Terra's return to music. Airing out her frustrations about the ex through song, she found, was precisely the kind of release she needed. "I don't know, it just made me happy — it's like it was my getaway," she says. "And so after that I just posted more and more and started getting more views."
The insane amount of exposure has not only made strangers stop her in the streets, but it's also opened doors for the emcee, giving her performance and feature opportunities. Last year, someone from Chance the Rapper's team even invited her to a show of his in North Carolina, complete with a meet-and-greet. She says, "It's little things like that that have happened that give me more motivation, like I need to keep doing this."
So is she writing anything at the moment? "All the time," she says. "I'm just learning right now and writing and practicing so that when that opportunity comes, I'll be ready. And I'm learning a lot about the industry — I think the music just kind of comes to me but the business part of it is the hardest."
And yes, L'Terra still raps about relationships. It's that kind of relatable content that the people clearly want, especially when it's so perfectly packaged with her special brand of sarcasm, sass, and magnetic lyrical flow. If her millions of video views alone are anything to go by, L'Terra — once she does decide on the right recording deal — should be straight-up unstoppable. —Kelly Rae Smith
- Ruta Smith
- "I live and then once I go through something, then I have something to put out."
Before Glizzy (23) was rapping, she was working with words. "I went through a little time in my life where I was going through some stuff and I started writing poetry," says Glizzy. "Then, I was surrounded by music. Everybody around me was doing it, and I just started picking it up."
Glizzy officially began her music career in 2015 with an untitled, unfinished track that she uploaded to Facebook. "It wasn't a full song," she recounts. "It was a verse and then a little hook." She put it on the social media site, not knowing what reception it would receive. According to Glizzy, it became a small viral hit. "After that I was like, 'OK, maybe I can do this,'" she says.
As Glizzy began to perform more, eventually touring, she realized that the warm reception went beyond a few likes and reposts. "I was scared to go to Walterboro. Nobody knows me, who am I, ya know?" she reminisces about a show she played outside of Charleston. "And, I went there and I felt like I was a celebrity. Everybody knew me, they wanted to take pictures, they were telling me that they love and they follow me." Without knowing it, she had become a small-time internet rap success story.
Glizzy believes that the positive feedback comes from her subject matter, which is often about whatever is happening in her day-to-day life. "People hear my music and they can feel where I'm coming from and they can relate," she says. "And I often have a lot of people hit me and tell me, 'I got through this because I listened to your music.'"
Because of her focus on life stories, Glizzy describes herself as more of a conscious rapper. "I spend a lot of time living, and then I rap. Most people are in the studio all the time and they're doing music all the time," says Glizzy. "I live and then once I go through something, then I have something to put out."
There are enough similarities between Glizzy's early music and her latest to know it's the same artist, but also a sizable amount of growth that's audible in the past three years. When you compare the ultimate fuck-off to fuckboys ,"The Motions" (one of Glizzy's first singles), and "Griselda Blanco" (Glizzy's latest), you can see similarities and differences. The former's an R&B-inspired track that's half singing and half rap, while the latter is a hype tune that plays with the radio-rap sound. On the surface, they're vastly different, but they both utilize a similar melodic approach.
Glizzy takes her influences from artists like Drake, Mary J. Blige, and Lauryn Hill, particularly the way that those artists occasionally take music fit for singing and then rap over it.
Recently, the rapper took 2017 off to have a baby and focus on her newborn's first few months, but she's ready to come back in full force for 2018, hoping to release her first mixtape over the summer. —Heath Ellison
- Labre Buckner
- "I'm very relatable in my topics. I'm a female and I did grow up in a very tough environment, so to see where I'm at now is pretty awesome."
We wish we'd known about IMAN when the City Paper did a cover story on sound engineers, because she does just that, on top of being an emcee and graphic designer. With a recording arts and music production degree from Full Sail University in Orlando, she can produce it, mix it, and master it all. During college, she also DJed. And the learning does not stop there — she recently enrolled in film school.
But with all the skills IMAN has on lock, there's one that, for her, stands out among the rest. While engineering other hip-hop artists when she was in college, she couldn't help but think, "I could do what they're doing, and better."
That's when she decided to become a rapper.
A Charleston native, IMAN moved back to the Lowcountry after college and posted a callout on Facebook for introductions into the music scene. An invite to perform at an event materialized, and she's gotten further immersed ever since. She's now part of a five-member squad called Charleston U.S.A., which encompasses five emcees (four male, one female), plus in-house producers, engineers, graphic design, and creative collaboration galore. It's a hive of support, enabling the artists to get on with the business of creativity without the burden of sourcing help they can rely on. Plus, Charleston U.S.A. puts on all-female cyphers,which are filmed and posted online, which is exactly how the City Paper discovered a few of the artists in this feature, including IMAN.
Back in March, IMAN collaborated with the collective's GeechieLord to release the single "ALL BLACK," which is simply about wearing all black. "It shows the more street side of me going out and basically everybody making a living for themselves."
IMAN likes to rap about real-life struggles she's experienced herself in hopes of striking a nerve in listeners who need to hear someone else has been through similar pain. "I'm 24 years old and have been through a lot of things a lot of 40-year-olds probably haven't gone through," she says. "I'm very relatable in my topics. I'm a female and I did grow up in a very tough environment, so to see where I'm at now is pretty awesome."
IMAN's debut album, Caged Animal, dropped in December of 2016, and chronicled her growth from a bad relationship to who she is now. Now, the artist is busy at work on a new collection, an EP due out this summer, to showcase her lyricism. "In the first album, you heard more of me exploring, more singing, more venting — that was more of a venting album," she says. "But I think on this EP it'll be more like real hip-hop, and showcasing a whole other side of Charleston's female artists, because we all can sound alike because we come from the same place, but there are a few of us who have our own styles and that's what I want this EP to be about. I want it to showcase who I really am and how I stand out from everybody else, which is my true style." —KRS
- Ruta Smith
- "I could rap about one specific topic on one song and then another whole field on the next. I make different kinds of music for different kinds of people, so I try to make music for everyone."
Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, dark beats and syllabic triplets are here to stay for a while in rap music. Thankfully for the Lowcountry hip-hop scene, Jus' Jaz (22) proves that Charleston can throw down in the trap sound when pushed.
The original reason Jaz got into rapping was that music was a safe and healthy outlet for her. "Growing up, I dealt with a lot," she says. "I got bullied, I dealt with mental health, there was a lot of anger issues. I just had problems communicating. So, I felt like music was a perfect way for me to get my voice out there and say what I need to say."
Like a lot of artists, Jaz really started to get into her craft in her teenage years. She went to shows around the age of 14, but didn't take it seriously until she was pretty late in adolescence. "When I really got into it, like started rapping and going to the studio, I was 18 or 19," she says. "So, I was fairly young when I started going to the studio."
As a songwriter, Jaz tries to be as varied and inclusive as she can be. "I realized there are different audiences, and some people like certain things and some people don't," she says. "So, I could rap about one specific topic on one song and then another whole field on the next. I make different kinds of music for different kinds of people, so I try to make music for everyone."
Sonically, the rapper says that she's most influenced by old-school rap, naming Queen Latifah as an influence, but she's got a damn fast and dense flow that lives in the modern world.
Currently, the rapper is hard at work on her first EP, titled The Introduction. "It's basically introducing me and my way of music and the way I do things," she says about the EP's contents. Jaz has spent over a year working on it. And, even though she's had to pause and resume the project more than once, Jaz states that she's "fully head-on with it now."
And thank God she is, because the collection's first single "The Introduction" doesn't play around. "Biting at bitches that want to try me/ Don't eat off my plate, I don't like to share/ Don't look at me wrong, I hate when they stare/ Don't hit up the boss if you can't pay the cost/ Wait, what's my name, I think they got lost," she raps in the song's sprint of a last verse. Jaz puts an impressive amount of words into three minutes, and if she can do this a few more times, she'll have a strong first outing that will demand attention.
In the near future, once The Introduction is out, Jaz hopes to perform more often, maybe tour, and continue to put out music. —HE
- Ruta Smith
- "We can't pinpoint where we came from, why we're here, why we do what we do, and [the album] is to show people that you are special, you do have a pinpoint, this is what we are, this is what we're made up of, and there's nothing to be ashamed of."
Kween Katt (28) brought down the house at Charleston Music Hall last year during hip-hop's debut at Charleston Music Confab, but the emcee has been in the local hip-hop game for over a decade. As a teen, she kept the lyrics clean and became known as a 'gospel rapper,' but she gradually shed that title. "When you call me that, I don't get the opportunity to participate in other categories," she says.
Katt was 15 when she dropped her first album, 2006's They Shoulda Neva Turned My Mic On, 10 strong songs you'd never guess were created by a teenager. Following that, she released three mixtapes to prove her lyricism — The N.R.A. Mixtape, The Kween Katt Story, and Sweet 16 (Hosted by DJ Tantrum). "That was popular back then, during the Lil Wayne era," she says. "Then Dre came and made mixtapes sound like albums, so now you have a lot of rappers who put out original content and call it a mixtape. But coming up, you would take other people's beats and rap over them to show your versatility and your lyricism, so that's what the mixtapes were for."
Having proven herself a more-than-apt lyricist, Katt found herself ready last year to unleash her second LP, Paradigm Shift: Mind Body & Soul. The 12-song collection is full of lessons the artist has learned over the years, passed down to the listener as teachings about subjects like black history. "When it comes to us as a people, we're kind of lost," she says. "We can't pinpoint where we came from, why we're here, why we do what we do, and [the album] is to show people that you are special, you do have a pinpoint, this is what we are, this is what we're made up of, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace your natural beauty."
Katt's also a vlogger, where she covers everything from concrete advice for fellow artists — like how to get your music on Pandora, copyright your music, not be so hard on yourself, and get a digital distribution deal — to her own coming-out story. When she's not filming, she's dropping new music videos in order to build her following, so that when she releases the next album, which she's writing right now, there will be an even bigger reception.
As for the other subjects Katt's music covers, they can make a drastic shift from teachings to twerking, because Katt doesn't always feel like talking about politics and the like. "Sometimes you might feel like dancing, and that's OK." —KRS