The golden age of hip-hop birthed some of the game's most beloved female rappers. Back in the 1990s, everyone from Eve to Rah Digga to Yo-Yo were making a name for themselves with their own fire rhymes and lethal pens. ABC is capturing the spirit of that era with the new scripted show Queens starring Eve, Naturi Naughton, Nadine Velazquez and Brandy as four women in their 40s who reunite after 20 years for a chance to recapture the fame they experienced as a 1990's rap group.
Sisterhood is what connects characters Brianna a.k.a. Professor Sex (Eve), Jill a.k.a. Jill Da Thrill (Naturi Naughton), Naomi a.k.a. Xplicit Lyrics (Brandy) and Valeria a.k.a. Butter Pecan (Nadine Velazquez) as they reminisce on their glory days in hip-hop. The balance of comedy and drama drives Queens as the ladies take care of both family and work while attempting to make magic as a group once again.
To celebrate the Oct. 19 premiere of Queens, well-respected women in rap Rah Digga and Yo-Yo chat with radio personality Angela Yee in an exclusive XXL interview about being real deal pioneers in hip-hop during the 1990s.
While Queens centers on four women in a rap group, both Rah Digga, 46 and Yo-Yo, 50, came up as solo artists on their respective coasts. However, they were surrounded by male counterparts who gave them a cosign, which had the energy of a group. South Central, L.A.-bred Yo-Yo earned a cosign from Ice Cube, appearing on "It's a Man's World," from his 1990 LP, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. She went on to deliver her debut album, Make Way for the Motherlode, in 1991, which features the track "You Can't Play with My Yo-Yo." Yo-Yo earned acclaim in the rap world for promoting women empowerment, denouncing misogyny and creating the Intelligent Black Women's Coalition.
During Rah Digga's rise in hip-hop, Q-Tip helped her get a record deal with Elektra Records, and then she linked up with Busta Rhymes' Flipmode Squad. Some of Rah's earliest bars can be heard on Busta's songs like "We Could Take It Outside" and "Against All Odds," before she dropped her debut album, Dirty Harriet, in 2000. "Break Fool" and "Imperial" highlight Rah's gritty East Coast energy and intrepid lyrical skills.
Both Rah and Yo-Yo's career benefitted from cosigns from a male rapper. "I've thought about this a lot," Rah shares. "Like were there any of our female counterparts that maybe didn't go the distance because they weren't attached to any group. And, honestly, I can't really think of any ’cause I feel like we were all kinda like the chick in the clique."
"You couldn't get in unless a male brought you in," Yo-Yo adds. "The executives didn't believe in women the way they believe in the men cliques."
Now, over three decades since the 1990s, hip-hop is in a different place. Women in rap can rise to the top of the genre based on their own skills and recognition without needing a man to give their name a boost. Queens highlights that aspect with each character’s inimitable qualities. Eve, Brandy, Naturi Naughton and Nadine Velazquez bring their characters Professor Sex, Jill Da Thrill, Xplicit Lyrics and Butter Pecan to life in their own special way. Lyrical skills and plenty of laughs included.
Many of the rising newcomers in rap today have the freedom to excel in their careers with a creative vision that wasn't always respected years ago. "I feel like now you can pretty much do anything and it can fall under the umbrella of hip-hop," Rah Digga expresses. Queens thrives off similar creative expression. Rap reunions are celebrated more than ever these days, but it takes an artistic, imaginative vision to cut through the competition to reclaim that former fame.
With the younger generation skyrocketing to popularity thanks to the streaming era, there are now many women in hip-hop to collaborate with these days. Yo-Yo has a welcoming energy when it comes to connecting with the ladies coming up after her. "I just always wanted to work with these young artists," she says. Queens also gives space to young rapper Lil Muffin, played by Pepi Sonuga, which provides the show’s characters with a flashback to what it was like starting out as fresh talent in the game.
As ABC's Queens debut approaches, expect Professor Sex, Jill Da Thrill, Xplicit Lyrics and Butter Pecan to celebrate their hip-hop sisterhood in epic fashion.
Tune in to Queens, premiering Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 10/9 central on ABC and stream on Hulu.
Watch Rah Digga and Yo-Yo get candid about their rise in rap in the 1990s below.
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