I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Rah Digga or, as the hip-hop world knows her, the first lady of the Flipmode Squad. You’ve heard her rap, but have you really heard her speak? She brings her sound hardcore, but talking to her you’d find the woman called Rah Digga is surprisingly pleasant and engaging.
The phone is ringing off the hook at Rah’s house.
You must be pretty busy.
Well, since I’m home now, people are calling. My friends I love and grew up with and supported me to the very end I now don’t see or speak to because I’m so busy. Work is work, baby.
Gotta get the word out.
No doubt. (laughs)
How was it to finally drop the solo album?
Whoa! Exhale! (laughs) It was like finally. I felt like it’s about damn time. When I walked into the first store and saw it on the shelf, that was my first phrase. I exhaled first and then I thought, ‘It’s about damn time.’
When did you start recording it?
There really wasn’t a set time because I’m one of those people that just stay recording songs regardless, so it was literally from the time they opened the budget until they mastered it, I was recording. I would say March or April of ’99 I started, and then up until, well, it was supposed to be out in November and then after that, once we didn’t make that date, Elektra was generous enough to give me more budget money to just update the songs. My mastering date came in February.
Is that how the hidden tracks came about?
Oh! Let me tell you about the hidden tracks. My mastering date is February 28th. It is Saturday, February 26th and I enter the studio on that day at 2 p.m. I don’t leave the studio until Monday, at 4 p.m. on Monday, the day of mastering. And that is how the bonus tracks came about. When they first allowed me to do a little more recording, it was so strict that I could only work with top-notch beats. “Break Fool” came out of that, and once that song went down everyone got real gassed and excited and was like, ‘Hey, she on a roll. We gotta let her record some more.’ I did number eighteen (“Clap Your Hands”) like Saturday night and it got mixed on Sunday while I recorded “Handle Your B I”. So we were a little worried about the mixed down version because we were in the middle of mastering and it had to still get mixed and mastered. Thank the lord, but this song didn’t need any edits and didn’t have a single curse word, which I wasn’t even aware of, so it didn’t have any curses and a clean version didn’t need to be made for it. Then an hour after the session, Busta came flying into the mastering session going, ‘It’s done. It doesn’t have a clean version. It’s clean!’ So that is the story with that.
How do you record? Do you bring some beats home and write to them or do you just set up shop in the studio and run tape?
I don’t bring them home. They are actually laid down in the studio. I pick them in the studio and I go in and lay them down right there.
[We pause for a minute while Rah’s baby girl comes into the room. Rah asks for a kiss and whispers gently, “I haven’t seen my baby all this week.”]
That has to be tough to deal with because now you can’t spend as much time with her as you’d like.
Yeah, but she is kind of used to it now. She used to cry when I’d walk out the door, and now she’s like, ‘See you when I see you.’ (laughs)
When you go in and work on a track, is there a message that you want to get out or does the beat influence the direction?
The beat influences the structure of the song, but the content is anything that has happened from the last time I’ve wrote a rhyme and this time, whether it’s something I’ve saw on the news and read in a magazine. It’s anything that I observe going on in the world. I think that is why people get the sense that I’m so real and they relate to what I’m saying. Anything that is going on, I just transform it into song.
Where did the Rah Digga style come from?
My lyrical influences came from back in the day. Kool G. Rap and Rakim were like the two rappers that I used to listen to, and I would think, ‘This is what a dope mc sounds like,’ and I would say, ‘If I’m going to be a dope mc, then my rhymes need to sound like this.’ So I picked up the art of punch lining from Kool G. Rap and the serious more conscious side of me came from Rakim.
What was your first performance?
I couldn’t even begin to remember. I used to do so many open mic talent show type scenarios. I think my first live performance was, well, I did some talent shows when I was in seventh grade, but there was this club in East Orange [New Jersey] called Sir Richards and I performed there. I just got up and kicked some rhymes and stuff, but it wasn’t like an official show. It was more or less open mic. I didn’t become a master of performing until I was down with the Flipmode. I did various shows before Flipmode though, like when I was in my eighth month of pregnancy where Q-Tip was the host and he saw me and brought me to Elektra. Like I was doing shows before that forever, but as far as concert and arenas or the whole ‘You’ve got to move a crowd of people who don’t know who you are’ didn’t come until after I got down with the Flipmode.
When did you first think, ‘Damn, I can make a living at this?’
Well, when I left college, after my first year, I decided to take it serious. I had always been rhyming since the seventh grade, but when I got home from school and seen that Queen Latifah who was from around the way had a record out, it put it in my head that I could make a living off of this.
A lot of people don’t have enough balls to take that chance.
You’ve gotta have a solid background. You’ve got to have a solid support group or you can’t do it. You can’t do it and have to pay the rent. You have to be prepared to lose all before you gain anything. I was fortunate because I could stay with my parents who weren’t like ‘You wasted our college money.’ They didn’t kick me out of the house. Literally, I got to float the way I wanted to float and still have a place to stay every night.
I know Q-Tip and Busta were boys, but how did it all work out that you were brought into the Flipmode Squad?
Q-Tip lost the production deal that I had signed to originally, so I was in limbo at Elektra, and from that point I signed to Flipmode entertainment. I believe that Q-Tip went to Busta, ‘Hey, look, this girl is dope and I don’t want her career to go down the drain with my deal.’ And I had a baby too, so everybody was in my corner.
Q-Tip is like the granddaddy of the new school of rappers.
I know. He literally saved my life, because I got my signing bonus the same week I had my baby, so I didn’t have to go back to work or on welfare.
And Q-Tip put Busta out there with “The Scenario”.
Uh-huh. He definitely gets his props.
I was gonna toss out a couple of songs and get what comes to mind first.
How about we start with “Lessons Of The Day”?
That is a true story, but it’s not a true story. It’s a story about three brothers, they’re not my brothers, and the story was modeled after real people who I consider brothers to me. It is one of those paragraphs you see at the end of a movie where it says, ‘This is nonfiction and certain names and events have been changed.’ [laughs] I’ve made them general enough so that when people can listen to them and can be like, ‘I’ve got a friend like that.’ It was just an eye opener for people to acknowledge what is going on to the men in our community.
Those are the kinds of songs that people like most because they see a little of themselves in it.
What about “Do The Ladies Run This”?
That was supposed to be just this long slue of female rappers in it. It was supposed to be my version of “The Scenerio”, but of course everybody’s schedules couldn’t get together. But I wanted to get some ladies that were new and fresh faces to the industry, like I didn’t want Foxy, Kim, or Da Brat because they’ve already got their shine. I wanted this to be the new wave of female mc’s coming up.
What about “The Imperial”?
It sounded like somebody made the beat out of a garbage can, and that was supposed to be a fun-loving album cut that Busta participated on. The beat was so grunge and when I first picked the beat I had no intentions to make it a single. I didn’t see it as a crowd mover; I saw an opportunity to just spit rhymes. Once I came up with the hook, everybody’s lightbulbs began to go off and were like, ‘Hey, I think this has some potential,’ so we threw it out to the corporate heads and low and behold it became a single. But I was a little hesitant to have Busta Rhymes on my first single because none of the Flipmodians got enough shines on the Flipmode album. It was always like ‘Busta Rhymes and the Flipmode Squad.’ Everybody was having a serious identity crisis. I want to establish my own identity, and so at that point I actually did a solo version of it which was going to be the single. We ended up running with the Busta version and the other version is just for your underground listening pleasure.
How about “Straight Spittin'”?
That was one of the first beats I got for the album. I wanted to do something new, but I didn’t know what to do with the beat because it was like sneezing and spitting, so I wanted to do something with the sneeze, but I didn’t know what. Once I got into the studio and started writing to it, I didn’t know how to incorporate a hook or the sneeze so I just started writing rhymes. So I was like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t need a hook.’ The song just ended up being two or three minutes deep and didn’t have a hook.
What about “Fuck Y’all Niggas”?
Well, I felt that the album up to that point was real serious and was like ‘I’m gonna kick your ass’ type rhymes, and there was really nothing fun or party happening, so me and Young Z put our heads together. But I really just felt that I needed something fun and party for the people that are not hip-hop purists to relate to.
What about “Harriet Thugman”?
On “Harriet Thugman” I wanted to make the connection of this lowdown and dirty mc and Harriet Tubman. That was to show that I have an intellectual and positive side. My songs are pretty nonviolent and I don’t condone violence. I guess the use of profanities and my tone of voice my come across as hardcore. I wanted people to see that I’m actually positive and I’m not desecrating the memory of Harriet Tubman
[As Rah is finishing what she is saying, her daughter enters and asks, “Left my pizza in the park?”]
My baby is so surprising. When I come home, she always seems like she has grown so older and smarter.
Are you going to be away from her for the summer for a tour or shows?
Yeah. There is talk of a tour with Black Rob and Ghostface. I’ve heard speculation about that maybe starting at the end of May.
Do you get a chance to come home at all or see your daughter?
I’m actually thinking I’m gonna end up taking her on the road with me. See, my parents are so good that I have to argue with them to take her somewhere with me. She’s not even my child anymore; she’s their child too. That is one of the things that makes it easier for me. I know female mc’s with kids and it’s hard. Not to depreciate the importance, fathers can come and go because the kids can be with their mommies, but when you are a mommy it’s so much harder. There are just certain things mommies have to be there for. I can’t be there all the time like a normal mommy and I hope someday that she can understand it.
+ charlie craine