The Celebreality Interview – egotrip

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Foxy Brown’s in jail, Remy Ma’s headed there and Lil’ Kim recently got out. Lauryn’s crazy, Eve’s in limbo and Missy can only cross her fingers and hope that her upcoming album hits as big as her music once did. The state of female rap is in such shambles that in ’07, Salt-N-Pepa were the most visible female rappers without having released an album in a decade. They turned to reality TV, and now, so are others — egotrip, the guys behind The White Rapper Show, now bring you the search for the next great female rapper, egotrip’s Miss Rap Supreme (which debuts tonight at 10/9c).

Below, two of egotrip’s founding members, the veritable doctors of street science Sascha Jenkins and Jefferson “Chairman” Mao, talk about the show and the decrepit state of female rap. What this show represents to its budding femcees is hope, and that makes it vital to an industry that’s almost entirely lacking in opportunity. This is not a game, ma.

I get the sense from Serch that Miss Rap Supreme is something the industry needs.

Sascha Jenkins: Well, you see where women are now: Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma, Foxy Brown have all been to jail or are on their way there. If you think about the roles that men have found themselves in hip-hop, as far as real life vs. the street and how important the street is to your credibility, it seems like women threefold have been caught up in a lot of the traps that befall men in the industry. There just seems to be a huge, huge missing slot for them. There’s really nothing exciting happening for women in hip-hop, or at least, women in rap. Not right now.

Jefferson “Chairman” Mao: Besides those rappers getting caught up in drama, even Lauryn Hill, who people look to as being the premier female rap artist, she kind of lost her mind. (Laughs) It’s been this weird situation where everybody’s taken a hit one way or another.

Any theories as to why women have it so hard on the radio? Is it an issue of quality? Is it that people don’t want to hear women rap? Is it that record companies don’t know what to do with them?

SJ: I think it’s a combination of things, but mostly, hip-hop is just a boys’ club. It’s not that different than heavy metal. You don’t have a whole lot of women fronting successful heavy metal bands, and I think that there’s so much emphasis on the male ego, male aspirations and there’s a certain aggressiveness that hip-hop currently embodies that’s the antithesis of what might speak to a woman’s perspective. There are plenty of women who have a hard edge, who can dress the same street perspective that men can tackle, but I think that the audience, both men and women, feel like women aren’t credible in a lot of these roles. In a male-dominated culture, women take the backseat and I think that men and women play into that notion.

JCM: Hopefully if Miss Rap Supreme is successful in its goals, you’ll get an idea of what some of the obstacles are. You get to see how that plays out, based on that cast and what they’re going through internally. Or how they deal with jealousy and competition or just the fighting amongst women for the spotlight.

As people who know the game so well, do you guys, in your hearts, feel that hip-hop should change to be more accepting of women’s voices? I ask because I was reading egotrip’s Book of Rap Lists and in your Top 25 MCs, there is only one woman: Lauryn Hill.

SJ: Maybe that’s indicative of where the culture is: run by a bunch of angry, old men who only can respond what we are expecting to come from the culture. I think what’s refreshing about the show, not only for egotrip’s edification, but for the viewers’ as well, is that you’ve never seen such a broad array of women MCs with different perspectives that you’ll see on this show. It’s been difficult to get a full range of what women are capable of because they’ve been typecast and thrown in a box. The reason why Lauryn Hill is so widely revered, including by members of egotrip, is that she was able to demonstrate the full range that a female MC can embody, from her vocal harmonies to her straight-up skills. At the same time, she was very true to herself. I think that’s the same thing that can be said about white rappers and someone like Eminem. The reason why Eminem has been so successful is that he has been honest and true to what his experience was. Maybe Miss Rap Supreme will give the world the lady who’ll change all of our lives. I’m looking for a woman to change my life.

JCM: In our book from ’99, we did list Salt-N-Pepa as one of the greatest groups of all time. We didn’t totally neglect women. We’ve matured quite a bit in the past 9 years.

Can you talk about YoYo’s involvement on the show, and what she means to you as an MC?

SJ: YoYo embodies a pretty broad range of female MC. We shot the show on the West Coast, and she’s the queen of West Coast hip-hop in my opinion.

JCM: Not J.J. Fad?

SJ: J.J. Fad can be the princesses.

JCM: Oaktown’s 3-5-7?

SJ: YoYo was true to who she was, a real intelligent black women. She promoted being intelligent, being beautiful, but also having an opinion. That’s what we needed on the show. I think her being a mom was also a perspective that we felt was important. We have this hotel with these women who want to make it and be where YoYo has been. YoYo as an artist is someone we knew that the women would respect. I think for someone who is disenfranchised, someone who is of their ilk and who paved the way is going to automatically have respect.

Is the beauty pageant set-up a kitschy comment on the concept of femininity?

JCM: Yeah. Exactly. Part of the egotrip creative process is that we like to think of a title we like and go from there. There was some discussion of doing The Female Rapper Show, but that didn’t really do it for us. Miss Rap Supreme kinda sounds like Taco Bell should be sponsoring it. It has that kitschy quality. Everything sort of fell into place from there as far as the challenges went.

SJ: I can get really corny and cliché and say hip-hop in the beginning was about skills, and we know there were female MCs from the break of dawn. But the hip-hop industry sort of adapted the same standards as the beauty pageant game. Those were a lot of the things women in the industry had to live up to. So a lot of the show comments on that. I think a lot of our challenges speak to some of the traditional challenges you would find in a beauty pageant. What does that have to do with hip-hop? A lot of women who want to make it in the professional rap game are judged against those standards. Or they have had to live up to them and there are lots of really talented women who didn’t have careers or couldn’t get their foot in the door because they didn’t have standard beauty. But then you look at Missy Elliott, who’s always been big and beautiful and proud of who she was, but artistry was always first for her. We wanted to convey that, too, on the show.

It seems like you’re walking the fine line between condoning these ridiculous standards and telling it like it is.

SJ: Welcome to egotrip!

JCM: I think we had the same issues on The White Rapper Show. The danger was similar in terms of, like, well this is just a gag show. This is just made to make fun of white people. And there were elements of that, just dealing with the issues of being white and what that means when you’re a rapper. It’s a tricky balance. I think it’s a valid issue to raise, condoning and perpetuating. But it’s TV. Not everyone’s going to get subtlety.

That’s what makes it so risky!

JCM: Yeah. With everything we do, we try to make it work on a couple of levels. Promoting the show last season, we’d hear, “Man, these guys are wack and you guys are just making a joke out of hip-hop.” It’s like, are you looking around at what hip-hop is? Don’t you think that hip-hop has made a joke out of itself in some respect? We all know where it came from. I’m not saying the industry is complete bulls*** right now, but you have to see the big picture and know where the critique applies. Hopefully, if people got the show last time, they’ll see the same nuances this season as well.

Whenever anything kitschy popped up on screen of The White Rapper Show and now Miss Rap Supreme – charts, titles, lessons – I’ve always chalked that up to being egotrip’s singular touch. Am I right?

SJ: We’d like to think. We started out publishing a magazine that was primarily based on music that we love and toward the end of its run, humor became a big part of the magazine’s tone. Humor and kitsch and a lot of the things that influenced us coming up, be it The Mike Douglas Show, be it a weird beauty pageant, be it vintage hip-hop, be it the principles of hip-hop, these are all the things that are responsible for much of what we do today.

When the cast was announced, people were responsible to Khia’s participation. Did her status as a published MC come into conflict with any rules you’d set previously?

SJ: She’s indicative of where the industry is. She had a huge hit and we haven’t seen her on a major level in a long time. Why is that? Has she made poor business decisions? Has she been ripped off? Is it because she’s a woman? Who knows. But what I will tell you is that when the contestants were flying in, two cast members saw her on a plane and just assumed that she was gonna be a judge. It was a crazy surprise to them when she showed up as a contestant. But this is a woman who has a song about how she wants to have her neck and her back licked. I mean, that’s excellent television. I wanna know more about this woman!

JCM: We make our own rules, as LL Cool J once put it. It’s our pageant, it’s our show, we can do what we want. And having her on really is indicative of the dearth of available opportunities for females. You think about excluding someone who hasn’t had a chance, but at the same time, Khia’s storyline is so intriguing. This person’s career has been pretty much dormant since having a huge hit.

Can both of you do a rundown of your favorite female rappers, singles and albums of all time?

JCM: Rapper – I always loved Shanté. I just think her attitude and her voice and because she was one of the first to really do it. Singles? “Have a Nice Day” by her. MC Lyte’s “I Cram To Understand You (Sam)” and “Paper Thin” are up there. I like some of the Tanya and Paulette Winley stuff, but that’s for the real old timers. Album-wise? Because she’s lost her mind, it’s probably not cool to say Lauryn Hill’s album. But so many of the female artists, their singles were so much stronger. There have been a ton of really good singles.

SJ: Shanté for me epitomizes not just a female MC, but an MC. I think she had a very strong voice and a sense of humor. Lauryn Hill, where she was in her life really came out on The Miseducation. But I think the greatest female rapper in my life has been my mother. She’s always had a lot of attitude, a lot of flow and has always dealt with a lot of drama and beef. So I’m gonna have to vote for my moms.

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