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.