Classic Dirty Harriet: Rah Digga Interview

Critically praised album, Dirty Harriet in 2000. Critically praised album, Classic in 2010.

Two for Two.

16 years of kicking shine snatching verses and guest appearances rocking right next to the messiah of shine snatching verses and guest appearances, Busta Rhymes (as part of the Flipmode Squad), never ever sounding secondary or over matched in comparison.

Lyrically, Rah Digga’s record is flawless.

There aren’t many Emcees who’ve commanded the microphone; commanded respect like the Newark, New Jersey native. Male and Female. There aren’t many Emcees who can withstand a ten year gap between releases and still move a crowd off tracks dropped over a decade ago. Male and Female.

On Thursday night, in front of a jam-packed audience in Brooklyn’s SouthPaw performance venue, Rah Digga did just that -- raucously overseeing the sea of flip cams and point-and-shoots, incomparable Emcee skills front and center.

It was a clinic, really. It was Classic Dirty Harriet. spoke with Digga following her headlining “Ladies First” performance (sponsored by Forever Fresh and Brooklyn Bodega) and discussed how rhymes are still necessary for longevity, the “Cowboys” studio session with The Fugees, how Q-Tip saved her life, and more.

BB: Hip-Hop has been competitive since the beginning. It’s competitive at it’s core. And I don’t know if there are a lot Emcees that approach rhyming from a competitive perspective the same way anymore. For me, the first time I was introduced to you was on “Cowboys” [off The Fugees album, The Score]. And I think about “Cowboys” and I think about Dirty Harriet and I think about Classic which just dropped last year, and I think about your entire career in Flipmode rapping next to Busta Rhymes and I don’t have a situation in my head where you’ve lost on the mic rhyming next to anyone else, or when you’ve come up short lyrically. And then I look at you tonight, literally rocking the crowd on some Emcee-shit, which doesn’t really exist in the same way anymore. It seemed so innate as if it was second nature.

RD: How does that happen?

BB: Yeah.

RD: Well, I’ve been doing this for a long long time and my biggest influences were KRS-One and the Juice Crew, Kool G Rap. Kool G Rap taught me how to rhyme. KRS-One taught me the delivery. Rakim [is how] I adapted that whole serious tone. So, a culmination of all of those artists combined really formulated the “Rah Digga” that you know today. And it seems to standout in 2011 because Emcees just don’t rock like that. They just don’t make my kind really too tough [anymore]. Or they’re there [and] they just don’t get that exposure. It was different in my era because that’s all Hip-Hop was. You couldn’t be corny. KRS-One might bum rush you off the stage.

BB: Like he did to PM Dawn

RD: Exactly! So, I feel like now -- I don’t know at what point the flood gates opened and allowed all this corniness in and all the lyricists kind of got put into this little "Backpack [Rap]" bunch or whatever -- but, I mean, I do what I do. I’m not going to waver from that and I will spend the rest of my life campaigning that lyrics do matter.

BB: “Sad story. / Even the awards done dropped the category. / These rap bitches corny.” Those are weighty bars.

RD: It’s true. You know, one of the things that people say a lot is, we want to blame the labels for not signing the females. And we know what labels want to do with the chicks: they want to glamour everybody out and make them show off their bodies. We know this to be the case about labels, but in the same token, females got to step it up too. I don’t believe in giving girls passes just because they’re girls. I hate when I hear, “She’s dope for a female.” What exactly does that mean? Does that mean she’s [actually] corny? Does that mean she would be corny if she was a dude? I don’t get that phrase. They’re getting a pass because they are a girl? I just feel like a dope Emcee is a dope Emcee. A wack Emcee is a wack Emcee. Either you’re dope or you’re not dope and it shouldn’t matter if you’re a dude or a chick. I don’t believe in, “Oh, her verse was hot. Give her a break.” I think you’re either dope or you’re wack.

BB: But that doesn’t seem to be the rule for anybody anymore. Guys or girls. Now it’s like if you’ve got the right producer and you’ve got the right hook, then the in between doesn’t as make as much of a difference.

RD: I don’t believe that. I tell everybody that, at the end of the day lyrics matter. If you want to have longevity in this career, you have to be fresh too. You can be a superstar but people don’t become superstars [without being fresh first]. Jay-Z had to be fresh first. Nas had to be fresh first. Eminem had to be fresh first. Lil Wayne had to be fresh first. I feel like all of these iconic figures in Hip-Hop, they had to be fresh first. And as music transitioned and their circles transitioned -- they experimented and did other things musically -- I feel like it always boils down to lyrics. If you expect to be around five, ten, twenty years from now, you still have to be fresh. I feel like those artists that find that hit record that just takes over real fast, they also disappear real fast if they’re not fresh. When you become that artist, you’re only as good as you’re last record. You can have that hit record at that moment and get shows as long as that song is on the radio. Or you can be an artist like myself and still get the crowd rocking off an album I dropped eleven years ago.

BB: It was evident tonight. Cats were literally rocking along to Dirty Harriet.

RD: That’s right.

BB: Does it feel good?

RD: I love it. It makes me feel good that I made that impact on people and I know people always expect lyrics out of me. For whatever reason, the bar of rhyming is just way up here for me. I can’t do all of these happy go lucky songs and experiment. People will be mad at me for doing stuff like that.

BB: But you understand that, right? You understand what you represent. All of what you said two paragraphs, three paragraphs ago is exactly [the reason].

RD: I know. I know. I do.

BB: I want to ask you this acknowledging everything you just said about [how] you don’t look at [emceeing] from a gender based perspective, but I’ve always wondered you’re response to this statement: If Rah Digga isn’t the greatest female Emcee, then she’s the closest one.

RD: Are you asking me if I agree with that statement?

BB: How do you feel about that statement?

RD: I agree. I agree. I feel like there is no female from my generation that still rhymes like I rhyme, I’m sorry.

BB: Ending this where we started, and again, thank you for your time. There aren’t a lot of times that I get a chance to talk to someone I’ve thought about since I was 14 years old. And again, it all started for me with “Cowboys.” What was so dope about “Cowboys” was that it was like “Brooklyn’s Finest” on the female tip.

RD: That was "Jersey’s Finest!" [Laughs]

BB: Yeah! It was “Jersey’s Finest”, that’s exactly what it was! It was “Brick City’s Finest!” I was born in Beth Israel Hospital!

RD: Wow, me too. [Laughs] I think everyone from Newark was born in Beth Israel! [Laughs]

BB: Word up! And I think about the back and forth between you and [Lauryn Hill].

RD: We were doing it.

BB: What was that [studio] session like?


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