Death to Barbies: An Interview With Baltimore Rapper Keys

Keys talks to Urban Belle Magazine about the Nicki Minaj diss, and just what she hopes to bring back to Hip Hop as a true female lyricist.

By: Amanda Anderson

As the female rap game continues to evolve, each generation will be lucky to get a few female emcees that will change Hip Hop forever. My generation was blessed with the likes of Hip Hop heavyweights MC Lyte, Salt N’ Pepa, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Eve, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and Missy Elliott. We had a range of female lyricists who spoke of high self-esteem, up lifting women, sexual domination, and independence over tight beats and dope hooks.

Today, female rappers are a rarity. Although the current female rappers pose some serious talents, it’s no secret that their lyrics have been watered down, their images manufactured, their outfits have gotten skimpier, and their self-esteem has been placed in the hands of executives that believe a female rapper’s only chance at selling millions of records is to become a sex kitten.

So when Baltimore rapper Keys came busting on the scene in that infamous Youtube video, going after one of the only female emcees left standing, Young Money’s Nicki Minaj, Hip Hop took notice. Uploaded only in April, the video has gotten close to 2 million views. The Barbies may have labeled Keys as a nobody after the Head Barbie herself has refused to answer the up and coming rapper, but true Hip Hop heads know a real lyricist when we hear one. Obviously Violator West Management does as well, as Keys has been signed to the top management team and she doesn’t even have an album yet.

Keys recently took some time out to chat it up with Urban Belle, and tell us everything we have been dieing to know–from how she got started rapping, to why on earth she went after Nicki Minaj and her Barbie Movement. And we have to say, at 21 years old, we’re impressed at the level of talent this young lyricist already possesses. She didn’t grow up wanting to be a rapper, but it’s clear that the female rap game might need another emcee that isn’t willing to trade in sex appeal for skills.

Here’s our interview with Keys, The Problem.

Urban Belle: Judging from some of your latest mix tapes and the infamous Youtube video, it seems like you have been rapping for a good amount of time. How old were you when you first got into rapping?

Keys: Well I’ve been writing since I was a small child, poems, essays, short stories. I remember turning in class work assignments and getting in trouble with teachers because they always thought I had a parent or older sibling doing my work. Rapping came later on down the line. I was probably about 12 when I knew I could be really good at it.

Urban Belle: What influenced you to become a female emcee? Were there any rappers that inspired you to get in the studio?

Keys: Well, as I stated before, at that time I started to gain all of this exposure I really wasn’t pursuing a career in music. It all just sort of fell in my lap after the Nicki diss. Now I cater to the following that I have by pushing out new music, new videos etc. They are my inspiration. Rappers that inspire me include Lauryn Hill and Krs One.

Urban Belle:
Although you’re respected heavily from your hometown of Baltimore, you are more known as one of the only female emcees that went after Nicki Minaj. What is it about Nicki Minaj that set you off and made you feel the need to go after her lyrically?

Keys: It’s not really her per say. It’s more of what she represents which is the rappers of today that get by with being a gimmick and then boast as if they are the gift to hip hop.

Urban Belle
: Recently, Nicki Minaj won a couple of BET awards. During her acceptance speech for her individual award, she stated that she is doing this for all women. She also feels like female emcees should unite with one another. Do you feel as if she is doing a good job representing women?

Keys: Not my call. I can only represent the women I know and the women who brought me up. I just find it strange that people are going from “I kill all bitches” to “I support all women”.

Urban Belle
: It is clear that you are not a fan of the Barbie Movement, and you instead call your fans Spartans. How did you come up with the idea to refer to your fans as Spartans?

Keys: My fans are called Spartans because they mirror the story of the Spartan 300. A small group marching against a huge mass fearlessly because they believe in what I represent, realism and lyrics.

Urban Belle:
When you look at the current state of the female rap game, what do you feel like needs to change? Do you feel like women are being represented well or do you feel that female emcees have lost their edge?

Keys: I don’t really think that women are being represented at all. The men in hip hop represent women and the women just get on stage and play the role that the men told them to play. They rap about big booty material obsessed women and the female “emcees” just play into it. We need people to be like “No, that’s not us.”

Urban Belle:
Lil’ Kim has recently given you her approval of your place in the rap game. She isn’t too happy with Nicki Minaj either, but she seems to really admire you. What does that mean to you and do you plan to do any music with Kim in the future?

Keys: It means everything to me. To go from rapping in a alley way with a few friends to being on stage with a hip hop legend in a matter of months is beyond any words I could say. As to if we’ll do any music together or not… stay tuned.

Urban Belle:
Even though you may be at odds with Nicki Minaj, are there any female rappers that you are interested in collaborating with?

Keys: Sure there are lots of female emcees that I respect. Remy Ma, Foxy, Eve, Lady Luck, Babs, all females I feel always bring the raw.

Urban Belle:
What do you hope to bring to Hip-Hop as a younger female emcee?

Keys: I hope to bring good music without jeopardizing the messages I came into the game with. We haven’t had a clothed female rapper in the game for a while. Let’s see if I can change that.

Urban Belle
: It’s hard to be a female emcee and have commercial success. In most cases, you have to compromise who you are to sell albums. How do you plan to survive and put Baltimore on the map without losing yourself?

Keys: Well I try not to think about doing things that are going to “sell”. I try to just put out my best work and my message with my character. If people like it great, if not, oh well. Losing myself is something I just refuse to do. But honestly I think that changing who I am as a person or lyricist would be my downfall. People like me because of my noncommercial uncut ways. To change would be letting all my fans down.

Urban Belle:
Congratulations on your recent deal with Violator West. Your fan base is growing and a lot of labels seem to be showing a great interest in you. What’s next for you?

Keys: Right now I’m focusing on solidifying that fan base. I don’t want to go to any label and have them rolling dice on the numbers I can do. I want to go to their door with the numbers done already, so they don’t have a choice but to go all in. So right now I’m taking my time, enjoying the opportunities I’ve been blessed with and having fun, allowing myself to grow mentally, and artistically. But you’ve all been warned. It’s far from over.


  1. Yo…Keys is the truth! I'm so glad there's finally another female rapper that can keep her clothes on and spit fire without compromising her true self. #TeamKeys damn it!

  2. Keys is refreshing. I'm so glad there are female rappers stepping up and calling Nicki Minaj out for the bs. Minaj has sold out period, and I can't even get into her new stuff. I will be supporting Keys.

  3. And the only thing Nicki Minaj fans say in defense of their Barbie God is how much prettier she is and how much money she has. I guess it doesn't matter that she went and purchased those good looks they keep bragging about, or that she watered down her skills to make a man (Lil' Wayne) happy. Latifah, Lyte, Lauryn Hill and the other greats would have NEVER done that. Real women stand up!

  4. Ok, I understand Nicki Minaj is kind of horrible lyrically, but why can't Keys be happy for her success? It isn't that many female rappers around for them to be so catty with one another. I mean, besides bad music, what has Minaj done to deserve the attack?

  5. @ MelKeys explains why she went after Nicki Minaj. Re-read the interview or stop sipping on that Barbie Kool-Aid. You're a regular here, so it's all love but come on, Minaj wasn't all "unity" herself when we she dissed all the old female rappers, and said they should feed her grapes since they aren't doing anything.She's been torn to shreds on Youtube and ripped apart by Kim, and now she wants unity. lol, ok Nicki.

  6. @ 11:05LOL!Play nice anon, play nice. Keep it clean on the comment section ladies…We keep it classy in these parts. If not, I'll delete you with no problem. Thanks.

  7. It would be dope as hell if Keys and Kim did a track together. Like I wish all of the real female emcees would come back. These youngins just don't know what real female emcees sound like.I'm riding with Keys though. She go hard!

  8. Yall saying Team Keys but yall need to really go out and support this woman. Check out her mixtapes and other tracks on Youtube. Join the movement, so we can get her to the masses.

  9. ^Who cares, she can eat Nicki Minaj alive in a battle and she did. And that is what this is about. Any rapper can have a fake persona, and most do. But it's a problem when you don't deliver on lyrics. And that's what Nicki doesn't do. Kim and Foxy could rap…Nicki is wack. Do you understand the logic now, Barbie fan?So your argument fails.

  10. @ PatriceI'm just saying she went real hard on Nicki, and I still feel it wasn't necessary. But I'll give her props because she has mad skills. People want to say she's a hater, and someone just said Keys is fake, but none of them could deny her skills. That speaks volumes, and I support both artists.

  11. Okay,I asked you ladies to keep it classy, so I'm deleting some comments off of this board. No debate is EVER that serious in which women have to attack each other or use language that is BENEATH them. This ain't that kind of site. Thanks for visiting, but if you have to attack someone to get your point across, the entire staff can do without your comment.Thanks!

  12. I will go against the grain and say I actually like Nicki Minaj.I'm not sure why people get so worked about her on either side. She isn't paying my bills, and I like a couple of her songs. I guess I'm not on a team, but I can't see myself arguing for either.Keys is talented, and Nicki is a great entertainer imo.Congrats to Keys though, I wish them both success.

  13. It's Barbie B*tch!Lol, let me keep it clean out of respect for Amanda.But anyway, I love Nicki Minaj. I really don't care if people can't stand her. She's entertaining and her music is fun, not all serious and hood like this Keys chick. I relate better to Nicki, I don't know why people just can't let her have fun.She did what Keys was doing back before Young Money, and she couldn't get on. Now she switched it up, and everyone wants to work with her. Keys won't go far with that hood image, watch.Pretty, fun, and entertaining is what people want, not that hood stuff. So I'm riding with the Barbies on this one.

  14. You CANNOT claim to be one of the best female rappers in the game, and have your only foundation being pink hair, make up, skimpy clothes, and a persona that makes it appear as though you need to be in an insane asylum. YOU WILL GET CALLED OUT, which is exactly what Keys did, in the fashion that is has ALWAYS been done….FREESTYLING and battle rapping. When did hip hop get so sensitive? Switching up from what makes you who YOU are as an artist, to what labels and executives wants you to be is bogus. And in that case, I can see why she refers to herself as a barbie. Because nothing about her says authentic OR real. Fun or not I don't care. Put her in a circus or side show so all the fans can get their laughs and entertainment there. The world of hip hop is still thristy for lyricists and people out to make a difference…. Period!

  15. Wow…Delana said everything that needed to be said. When Nicki Minaj drops the gimmick, I'll support her like I did before her Young Money days. I used to be a Nicki Minaj fan, but I can't get with this new image.That is all.

  16. This whole debate about Keys and Nicki is all about personal preferences. No matter how much people say Nicki music is watered down or wack, it can be denied she has a following of fans. She didn't win those BET Awards for nothin. Keys is hella talented and she's staying true to who she is and I understand that. Its not even a real beef because Nicki not responding but does she really have to? Id say no because as stated previously she already came out hard before joining Young Money. Chick used to sell her cds out the trunk of her car so just because she screaming Barbie now doesn't mean she hasn't paid her dues to get where she is. Case and point, much success to both Keys and Nicki, burying the beef and move on

  17. Can Keys rap better than Nicki, of course! But is it Keys' time or Nicki's? Nicki's!Nicki Minaj did what she had to do to become a star in a male dominated industry. It worked for Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, and a long list of others including Beyonce', Halle Berry…etc. Sex sells, not raw talent. Now Nicki won't have longevity if she doesn't have some talent to back it up, and she does! She really can rap, sing, and do a host of other things. Didn't she graduate from a performing arts school?Sorry Spartans/Barbie Killers/Haters, she isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And sad to say, Keys won't either if she doesn't have sex appeal. It's the truth and everyone knows it.

  18. @Lily Whats strange is that if this was the 90's Keys' "hood" look wouldn't have been that uncommon. What became was that it is now the 'norm' to dress skimpy or talk about how good you are in bed. Not just with females, but all over hip-hop. I can't count how many dance crazes have come about just this year alone. And don't get me started on this skinny jeans and tight shirt bullish they got these 'thugs' wearing…But anyway Keys will have a career (by the by she already has it). Nicki will still have her career. We, the Spartans, just want our hip-hop back.

  19. Strange.. We use "sex sells" as if it's a valid reason for someone's success. We point out that switching up an image (WHO YOU ARE) is somehow ok because you now have a boat load of fans who obviously have the same convoluted perception as the person they model themselves from; but then we want to fight for respect, originality, and equality not only as a woman, but a black woman? That's twisted. As I said before, she's an entertainer, that's fine! But a role model? No thank you. One of the best female emcees to touch a mic? No thank you. To acknowledge that she may not have longevity puts this debate to rest… If you're not in it for the long haul what in the hell are you here for exactly?

  20. #TEAMKEYS #TEAMSPARTA Keys is the truth. She's loyal to her fans. I appreciate Keys being patient, stackin' her stats, and makin' good music. #PLANETBUM #STANDUP I'll follow Keys 'til the end and as she stated above, "It's far from over." "She already done infiltrated." Thank you, Keys, for bringing back Hip-Hop; for making a stand against gimmicks and commercialism. Your SPARTANS stand beside you, 300%! #GOOFF #SETitOFF Keys aka The Beast aka The Problem aka Cleo aka The Issue #SpartansStandUp #Salute #midddlefingazup

  21. I love Nicki minaj she's so dope I'm with the whole barbie movement and I think keys has talent but without the Nicki diss she wouldn't have made it to this point and lil Kim would have never even payed attention to her it's the truth I don't hate keys but I think when she says things like I'm real and I'm not looking for fame she's lying .

  22. @ Anon 12:19No, what's WACK is your classless comment. I made it clear twice on this comment section that we don't allow that type of language on our website. You can like whoever you want, but this AIN'T that type of site. At Urban Belle, we express ourselves like intelligent black women. Got it?And your comment has been deleted. I'm approving comments from now on for this article since it's seems like it's too hard for some people to have class in their comments.Thanks for visiting.

  23. LmL… Nicki Minaj a Emcee !All her pass music was remakes from Biggie & Kim..So she changed a few words.. she nice?!#Dead !Y'all need to know.. Nicki Minaj brought her beauty.. down to herBooty..She will never get the respect she's scratching for because she's a Cartoon Character.. A big joke..I mean I went through it with the Barbies already..Got #Youtube videos and all..Simply saying Why would I want to call myself a Barbie?!I still don't understand why Mattel haven't chopped n screwed her yet..The way her & LiL WayNe is polluting the earth is ridiculous !KEYS YOU GOT THIS.. GO HARD..LIL KIM CAN DO WHAT SHE WANT.. ITS BROOKLYN B*TCHES!!!!!

  24. I laugh at people on this chicks bandwagon. I don't see her hype. Nicki is a better MC by far. If you listen to what she can do, she is just more versatile than Keys. Keys wrote a spoof, which anyone can do. She basically took a beat Nicki already wrote on and said some things about Nicki Minaj. If Keys had songs, nicki could have done the same thing easily. Keys is an easy target but its like who is this chick admiring her work to rap over it. Rap over a different beat and show me something. I am not impressed with her sloppy flow. She seems more like a spoken word artist.

  25. @ Hip Hop PoliceYou're impressed by a chick who rapped "Flow tighter than a d*ck in the butt."I'm sorry, Minaj is decent, but she isn't ground breaking. I respect Keys for coming at her without being the typical slutty, sex pushing "femcee." And it stops there.Honestly, neither one of these chicks are all that great. And for you to call yourself the "Hip Hop police," you should know better. Neither one of these chicks have nothing on Jean Grae, Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, or Queen Latifah. It's this simple, Minaj has been crowned the "best" because she is the only female rapper in the game. Trina can't flow, never could, and Nicki can handle a better verse than Trina. Could she out rap Remy Ma, Kim, Eve, Foxy,Missy etc…I doubt it, but because she's what's hot now, you'll say she can. And honestly, out all of those ladies named, Minaj has taken a piece of every single one of them for her current image.I've heard her stuff, she is aight, but she's not as great as you and the rest of the fans are making her out to be. Female rap will never be what it used to be because you simple minded fans are amazed by subpar talent and purchased body parts…oh and pink weave. And the saddest part of all, none of you will let any other female rapper get any shine. With this generation, it will always be ONE female rapper at a time, meanwhile the male rappers all team up and release platinum albums in the same year, and push the slutty "rap" chicks down your dumb throats because they know you're simple enough to eat it up without asking any questions.No thank you, I'll stick to the real emcees. They may not have Lil' Wayne to back them up, but they don't feel the need to sell out for the approval of a generation composed of mainly brainless robots who all refer to themselves as barbies because being original and having self-esteem is just way too hard to do.

  26. @Anonymous (July28,2010 4:18PM)What kills me is some of you can't think about what you say because you're all a big ball of frustration. I actually followed Nickis career. This girl has been on her grind for a long time. She didn't just pop up out of nowhere as some of you seem to think.To say these chicks have nothing on Jean Grae, Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, or Queen based on whose standard. Are you only saying this because these people rapped positive lyrics or are you really basing this on skill? I am an open minded hip hop listener and can respect the craft in many different ways.There are many many qualifications that defines a skilled MC to me and Nicki is one just like the ladies you named. Realize the industry is a business too and just like if you owned a business, the goal is to be successful to get paid and expand your brand. Why be mad at Nicki for that? She has a formula and shes using it. It doesn't take away from her skills as an MC at all.To say she is the only one in the game is an understatement when you guys are bigging up this keys chick. Trina has a record. Eve has some material. Kim for whatever reason is working on mixtapes. Jean Grae, ect. It's not nicki's fault they aren't being heard like they use to be. To me they have actually just gotten lazy. Foxy has changed, Brat and Remy messed up their own careers by getting locked up.Is that Nicki's fault. Lyte and Queen been moved on lol before Nicki was even in Highschool. I believe Nicki can outrap Kim, Foxy, Eve, and Missy if she wanted to. Why not? Her word play is clever, her delivery is unpredictable, her punchlines and metaphors are witty. Plus she writes her own rhymes something most female MC's don't do. In most tracks she collabs in with dudes she steals the song so what makes you think she can't do the same to these females? I respect all of those females by the way. Keys just has more to prove in my eyes. I'm not impressed. Her flow needs serious work.Every minute its a new chick making a diss track to Nicki. Maybe if these girls would embrace and work together for a common goal instead of trying to knock someone down, there can be more than one female MC.I think that covered every question you threw at me.

  27. @ HipHop Police1st: Big ball of frustration? Nah, I really don't care enough to get frustrated about something so small. But I'm actually thinking pretty clearly, which is why I can say BOTH these ladies are subpar in their skills. 2nd: Please don't come at me like I don't follow hip hop and am somehow ignorant of Nicki Minaj's career. I followed her as well, and I can sit here today and say she is subpar as far as skills are concerned. She is not groundbreaking, nor is she the Jesus of Female Rap as you would so very much like everyone to believe. She can rap, but most female rappers that we have seen in the last 20 years could as well. So again, nothing special here. The difference is, she's not smart enough to come up with lyrics that don't have to do with sexing other chicks, screwing ballers, or her large rap slut salary. Meanwhile, Jean Grae could outrap most of your favorite rappers today (men included) and use metaphors that will leave people like you confused. But that's right, Nicki Minaj uses superior metaphors too (flow tight like a d**k in the butt) 0_OShe hasn't done anything that the newer female rappers haven't done. It's the same played formula, yet she is somehow better? Great logic.And yes, she and Trina are the ONLY female rappers that you hear anything from. Eve doesn't drop an album until next year, and mixtapes aren't commercial, so Minaj is the only one we are seeing everywhere. This was the plan, which is why she dropped so much money on her looks.But after these comments from you:"To say these chicks have nothing on Jean Grae, Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, or Queen based on whose standard. Are you only saying this because these people rapped positive lyrics or are you really basing this on skill?""I believe Nicki can outrap Kim, Foxy, Eve, and Missy if she wanted to. Why not? Her word play is clever, her delivery is unpredictable, her punchlines and metaphors are witty."Witty? lol I have no more interest in discussing the subject with you any further. Like I said, Nicki Minaj is average/subpar, and I won't diminish the legends of the others who were more talented because her fans (yourself included) consider her the female hip-hop Jesus.I just know better. And when you know better, you do better.Ya'll be easy on this comment board.

  28. ^I am so with you! Two AVERAGE rap chicks…one has a deal, and the other is trying to get on. *Yawns*Honestly, this is the problem with the rap game. You fools have labeled average rappers (Drake, Minaj) as Gods without having any reason to.Hello, they are average! Don't be mad that there are just some people out here that won't buy into the hype. The comparisons to some of the veterans just proves that the state of music is laughable. And you barbies keep referring to her "old stuff," like it was so freaking awesome. It was cool, but it didn't sound any different or better from Foxy's or Kim's stuff.But praise on…just don't expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon.

  29. Ummm…I'm sorry, WHAT verse or song did Nicki Minaj outshine someone? My Chick Bad? lol, AVERAGE.Bedrock? Terrible.Bottoms Up? AVERAGE. Any feature she has done has been average. I like her, but yall come on PLEASE STOP trying to make her out to be greater than what she is. Enjoy the music, and stop trying to downplay the better rappers. It's just silly.

  30. Interesting comments all around ladies. Thank you for you thoughts on the subject and I wish both Keys and Nicki Minaj much success. Actually, any female rapper right about now. I don't see why they all can't have success. There's really no need to throw shade at the other, is it? It's tough out here for women, rather you sing, rap or do both.With that being said, I'm closing up the comments. No need to drag this out any longer.Thanks for the support and for giving your feedback.

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