When contemplating the historical past of girls in hip-hop, some pioneering names will at all times stand out. There’s Debbie D, a member of DJ Marley Marl’s Juice Crew; Pebblee Poo, who joined DJ Kool Herc’s Herculoids; and Lisa Lee, who was in Afrika Bambaataa’s Common Zulu Nation. Then there’s Sha-Rock, thought of the first outstanding feminine MC; Mercedes Girls, the first all-female group in hip-hop; Roxanne Shanté, the formidable battle rapper. However as in lots of components of the music trade, these girls were advised they’re good for a woman: a patronising framework that’s considered one of the core causes girls are disregarded of the historical past of the genres they helped revolutionise.
In the UK in 1983, two extra younger girls were additionally about to be underestimated. MC Remedee (Debbie Pryce) and Susie Q (Susan Banfield) were simply getting began as Cookie Crew, impressed by what was occurring in the New York music scene. Cookie Crew pre-dated other outstanding girls in UK hip-hop reminiscent of She Rockers and Wee Papa Lady Rappers, to not point out Monie Love, who would go on to settle in New York in 1988 to large success. As considered one of the first feminine hip-hop teams in the UK, they were additionally amongst the first to battle the hurdles girls confronted in the style; continually in comparison with adjoining male rappers, pressured to show themselves regardless of their evident success, and continually pushed in numerous, and sometimes contradictory, instructions.
“We began listening to hip-hop as a result of Debbie would go to New York along with her household in the early 80s, document the radio on a cassette tape and convey it again for us to take heed to,” Banfield explains. “We might take heed to it at residence, and it was superb to us.”
The pair would spend time in the park close to the place they grew up with their crew of associates, curler skating and enjoying double Dutch – as soon as they began writing, this was the preferrred place to check the waters with their rhymes. “Malcolm McLaren did this documentary in a spot in Covent Backyard the place breakers [breakdancers] used to hang around,” she recollects. “We began to attach the dots with all the things that was occurring in the hip-hop scene. There were graffiti artists down there, there were breakers, and there were rappers – everybody began to attempt a bit of one thing.”
This included Banfield and Pryce, who were writing raps, not realising that there weren’t actually other women doing the similar factor regionally. “We had no clue as a result of we noticed American women doing it. We were listening to feminine rappers like Sha-Rock, Lisa Lee and Debbie D and we were influenced by them. There were loads of rappers on the market [in the UK] at the time, all male, however we did see Michelle Devitt also referred to as Thriller MC of Household Quest. We noticed her rapping on stage; she was freestyling and he or she blew us away – the first feminine rapper that we had seen from England.”
It was at this level in 1985 that they heard a few rap competitors being run by a younger Tim Westwood, with prize cash and a recording contract up for grabs. “The boys that we used to hold with were saying, ‘You can win this!’ And so our associates pressured us to go down there, and we put our title down for the first week. We noticed all the rappers that were collaborating after which thought, OK, we’ll return subsequent weekend and take our title off the record, as a result of that is trying actually laborious and we’re undecided. However the night time got here and we thought: We’re simply gonna go on the market and do it as a result of it doesn’t matter. I keep in mind the stage being so large that they needed to carry Debbie up on to it! We rapped over Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Pressure’s Planet Rock, and it was quick. It was so quick!”
“Principally, we killed it,” Pryce provides with a smile. “We might see all the guys from Battersea who got here with us, who were our assist community. The group was simply going loopy. After they made the announcement on the night time that we gained, it was like our ft didn’t contact the floor. It was a whole blur, nevertheless it was sheer pleasure. We went away feeling like champions and after that, the world was our lobster.”
They took the prize cash however not the contract. “It’s job we didn’t take it, as a result of it in all probability would have been a large number,” Pryce notes. “We went for a gathering and I simply keep in mind popping out not sure. We knew nothing about the enterprise. We simply wished to hang around and construct our popularity on the scene. Thank God we didn’t signal – however we did get a trophy!”
Cookie Crew were requested to do a present with Afrika Bambaataa, who was touring with DJ Purple Alert and Lisa Lee, somebody that Pryce and Banfield appeared as much as from the begin. “We acquired to be on that present with other folks from Covent Backyard. That to me, out of all the things we’ve executed – and we’ve carried out at Wembley, we’ve supported Bobby Brown, we’ve lived in New York, we’ve labored with many alternative rappers – doing that present, and Lisa Lee being in the viewers, was the most nerve-racking factor I feel I’ve ever, ever executed,” recollects Banfield. “We did a rehearsal the place she was sitting in the auditorium watching us and he or she advised us off for one, trying nervous; two, standing nonetheless; and three, not giving it sufficient. So, we went away actually aggravated with ourselves, went residence, practised, got here again, and got here again appropriate.”
In 1988, Cookie Crew had an sudden UK No 5 hit with Rok Da Home, created by manufacturing staff Beatmasters, who they were partnered with at the suggestion of Westwood. Whereas it led to the duo signing with London Data and going worldwide, it’s a part of their historical past that they’ve difficult emotions about.
“Rok Da Home was form of like an accident,” Debbie explains. “Beatmasters put collectively this backing monitor, we went away and wrote a rap to it. The monitor had extra of a hip-hop base however after they blended it and so they performed with it, it by some means was this house-sounding monitor.”
“I feel they began enjoying it in the golf equipment,” Susie ponders. “We were very adamant for them to not affiliate us with the monitor. That they had possession of it and we stated, No matter you wish to do with it, it’s yours. It’s not ours.”
After having some success on the dancefloors of London, the monitor made its method to Mark Moore from S’Categorical. He took it to Rhythm King Data, they beloved it, and from there their profession took off in new and sudden methods.
“It simply escalated and escalated,” Pryce says. “Radio 1 used to do the chart rundown each week and so they’d telephone up the artists reside and have a dialog and discuss the document. We went reside on air and principally stated, We don’t like the document, it’s not us. We were trustworthy. However the document nonetheless did its factor and it grew to become this monitor that we simply couldn’t do away with. It’s not a document that we are happy with however I’m grateful for it. Trying again, we might have in all probability handled it a bit extra strategically, however we were simply a few women from south London – we beloved hip-hop.”
After signing with London Data, Cookie Crew took on the US, and shortly they were working with the likes of Stetsasonic and Gang Starr. However by all of this, they caught to their fact, and to their British identification, and did all they may to signify the burgeoning scene at residence. Songs from their debut album Born This Manner make direct reference to their residence city and to their journey (“We’ve acquired a message to all who stated we couldn’t do it / check out us now, take your phrases and chew it”); Black is the Phrase captures their satisfaction of their Black British identification and From the South is a homage to their residence.
“We’ve at all times stayed true to our roots as a result of we were very patriotic about London, and about south London significantly,” Pryce says. “All the narratives on the tracks are based mostly round our experiences, though the supply may need had that American tone, as a result of that was our reference level. Our topic issues were very, very British. When we were in New York, we were very happy with being British. We additionally felt that we were educating them about what was going on outdoors the US. Lots of the folks we met didn’t realise that there were truly Black folks in England as a result of not many individuals had passports again then and so they weren’t travelling. We were educating them on who we were, being British, however British Caribbean too.”
“Our references got here from our mother and father, and our mother and father were the Windrush period,” Banfield explains. “Hip-hop in a method launched us to what was occurring in America nevertheless it didn’t introduce us to wider points we confronted as Black folks. For instance, we spent loads of our time doing anti-apartheid gigs. We spent loads of time ensuring that we were concerned with any gig to do with liberating Nelson Mandela as a lot as we might. We boycotted sure issues, we were concerned in all the things doable that could possibly be towards Margaret Thatcher. We’ve at all times had that aspect of us.”
The music trade in the US wasn’t precisely supportive of such severe messaging, particularly by girls, in order that they needed to have extra of a lightweight contact in talking out publicly. Of their subsequent album Fade to Black, tracks like The Powers of Constructive Pondering and A Phrase to the Acutely aware laid naked their ideas and emotions on important problems with the day, together with the incarceration of Mandela, the causes of racism and oppression, and gun management. “These form of tracks wouldn’t have been chosen as singles – we did them to fulfill us,” Pryce says.
At residence, focus had at all times been on lyrical dexterity and movement however in the US, picture was overtaking by way of significance. “Each time they tried to speak to us about songs,” notes Banfield, “I feel they revered what we were attempting to do however deep down, they wished us to be one thing else. We didn’t come from that; we got here from a really tomboyish picture and so for us to try to be like Salt-N-Pepa, it wasn’t going to work and I feel that it was our demise in the finish. Feminine rappers were getting an increasing number of sexual, and we were going an increasing number of the other method – we might by no means compete.”
“And we weren’t keen to compromise,” Pryce provides. “We beloved Lil’ Kim and we beloved Salt-N-Pepa, however that wasn’t our method.”
“Feminine rappers are all about the lyrics and delivering and exhibiting that they’re higher than the guys,” says Banfield about the UK scene. “We felt like that when we first began in 1985, our entire level was to be higher than the boys. As a result of they were the ones that were in style. Why were they extra in style than us? We weren’t about to go and pimp ourselves out and present a little bit of cleavage on stage; we wished to indicate lyrically that we might stand subsequent to you and maintain our personal. I feel that feminine rappers in the UK nonetheless have that very same mentality and it’s undoubtedly a British factor of: Neglect about what you’re seeing right here, take heed to what’s popping out of my mouth first.”
I ask Pryce and Banfield what it could be like if Cookie Crew were working at the moment. They each snicker, remarking that it could be straightforward to get one thing on the market however the laborious half can be them truly getting spherical to doing it. Hip-hop is in a wholesome place, each agree, and the girls in the scene particularly are doing them and other pioneers proud. “It’s simply free, it appears to be like good and it’s genuine,” Banfield says, on at the moment’s panorama. “That’s what I like about it – I see it simply getting higher and higher.”