featured interview

Rita J Dreams and aspirations It's been a long time coming for Miss Jackson and her debut album. At last, after several push- and setbacks, Rita J is proud to announce its release date. November 3, 'Artist Workshop' will drop off All Natural Inc.

Your album 'Artist Workshop' has been a long time coming, we remember the release date was announced in 2007, now we're late 2009, what went down?

Well, there were many delays that I really can't speak upon because I really don't know to what extent or why they happened. I was told by the label time after time that my album would be released, a date would be set but every time that date came around, it was pushed backed. So more material was added, omitted, remixed etc... I was told that I needed more songs, the album didn't make this or that date for its release, technological changes, analogue vs. digital, vinyl vs. mp3's, etc. I got caught up in the transition of how records are made and distributed, so that delayed the album as well. Trying to figure everything out the 'new' way has been the latest challenge. We're in a digital age now, so I'm exploring different ways of going about things.

To what extent did it frustrate you?

I invested a lot of time and energy into the project and I felt as if it wouldn't ever have a fair chance. I couldn't keep up with the intended release dates, with family and friends anticipating the release, asking me questions, I never could be confident in its release date. It felt like a broken record. Also, it frustrated me because the material was becoming older to me and I was becoming sort of a different person and I wanted to close that chapter and move on and I feel like I let it hold up my progress a bit. I'm the type of person that likes to finish what I start and I had little control over a lot of the process.

How could I effectively plan around uncertainty and delays? How long could I wait before I just took another approach? I contemplated how I could accomplish this goal of mine many times, and kept the faith, this is my first solo album and I am very excited, yet nervous. I took its presentation very seriously. I treated the album as if it were my newborn baby; I was very overprotective and sensitive. I was very touchy about things, in wanting to get things right. I expected the release to happen long before now and there has already been a two year gap from when the mixtape was released, but I am certain that everything happens at its appropriate time.

The album was already released in Japan.

In 2007, so it was even more frustrating because I live in the US and was ecstatic for it to be released in Japan but have been anticipating its release and feedback here in the States. For many of my performances locally, I would be without merchandise or any type of material to promote and/or sell and I had material recorded. It was frustrating to tell people to check for me without any material or release date? I can't fully express how frustrated I was about all of this but have acquired patience and determination from the whole situation. Everything has its proper place and time, and now it's my time. I'm not regretful for anything that has happened in the past, I'm just finally happy, excited and relieved to announce its official release.

I am proud and have always been confident in my music and in my work. All I want is to share my music with the world. I have done a lot of patient waiting. At last, 'Artist Workshop' will finally be released on Nov.3, 2009, and it will be available digitally as well as in CD form. I plan to have a few listening parties around the release, in Chicago and Atlanta definitely.

In between this long gap did the album change a bit?

For the most part the album stayed the same, the title never changed, the concept never changed. The artwork changed a few times, I decided on a photo of me for the artwork because I wanted people to be able to place a face with the music. The songs were pretty much written and finished early on and remained the same lyrically, some of the beats were updated, replaced, remixed.

You already mentioned the mixtape, 'Ms Jackson', how important was that for you to get it out to the public, to get a feedback?

The mixtape kinda happened at the last minute, there was yet another album delay, so the mixtape was born. It was decided upon to get people familiar with my work, and to create a buzz, then release the album. There was older and new material on the mixtape. The feedback was phenomenal.

The title 'Artist Workshop' refers to the time you were sitting in your room, writing rhymes. How would a 'writing day' look like?

I would get up in the morning or afternoon, turn on my stereo if I hadn't left it on all night long, listen to some of my favourite tunes and play the beats that I was working on, vibe, write, take a break, watch TV, eat, write, practice, write. Not in that exact order, but something of that nature usually happened. It wasn't exactly easy or took me a short amount of time to write rhymes so it would be a challenge for me to last and finish a complete song.

I am also a perfectionist. I like to knock things out while they're fresh, I don't really revisit rhymes, so if I don't finish them then they might get tossed to the side, the energy that comes through me at the time of creation is golden and I try to keep it there before I start mixing and messing it all up with different vibes and topics.

I remember those days being challenging but I was very focused, I had a little more free time on my hands back then. I was dealing with growing up and growing pains. It was a very creative period for me.

Was that mostly during your college years?

I wrote poems mostly in college. I wrote the most after moving back home from graduating college. I'd say from 2001-2004 I wrote the most.

Are you still writing a lot in your room?

I do write in my room or wherever I'm at, typically in the comfort of my own home, and being alone is preferred.

In what way has your workshop become an e-workshop?

I'd have to say that my workshop was lacking major funds; I was without a computer up until this year! I would occasionally receive or send beats, vocals via the internet, but not so much, activity on the net was scarce. I'm just now getting a taste of musical convenience. I'm a little rusty on my computer skills but it has been fantastic!! I'm excited to brush up on my skills and learn some new skills!

Have you also been giving emcee-workshops to kids?

Yes, I have participated in workshops, school events, where the focus is on children and the importance of arts in education. As a matter of fact I'm participating in a couple of youth events coming up next month!

'If I'm dreaming, don't wake me', how important is dreaming for a young rap artist? How can dreams come through?

Dreams are important for everyone to have and follow. Dreams are visions of infinite possibilities and are very important to nurture, they are portals to the future. Dreams can come through or true when you acknowledge the truth and the infinite possibilities represented in your psyche and spirit. You create your own dreams and even while you're sleeping you're unconsciously thinking about what could happen and you have to follow through on your dreams and aspirations in 'real life' to live your destiny.

'I got dreams and aspirations', what are some your boldest dreams as far as MC'ing is

I would like to positively influence and empower women and young girls in hip-hop. I would like to be respected amongst my peers. I would like to be appreciated in the industry and help with the much needed balance in hip-hop. I would like to challenge the current mindset people have about the culture and where it's headed. I would like to break barriers. I want to teach and inspire others. I would like to represent the female emcee that no one has ever seen or heard before, I have big plans in store, but I can't reveal all of my secrets!

In the meantime you're rapping: 'give me the mic and a beat and I'm rich'. Do you think that when you would become rich (not necessarily out of rapping itself) you would turn into another kind of rapper, that the hunger and motivation would disappear, that you would stop being a rebel?

Nope, because money doesn't motivate me one way or the other to create. I have been without substantial amounts of money for so long that I have become more appreciative for what I have and don't have. Even when the checks do start rolling in, I'm sure I'll be humbled and prepared to do good and be smart with the money and not be driven by money alone. I'd like to buy myself something nice every now and then. Money is great, but money isn't everything. I know who I am. Everyone wants to be recognized and compensated for their efforts and contributions, I have worked with little or nothing, and to accumulate wealth just means that I will have the access to fund my projects with ease. I would enjoy some new equipment and to be able to live my desired lifestyle and continue making music but I wouldn't lose any hunger or determination with having more money. If anything, it puts me in position to give back and help others.

'All I really need is inspiration'.where do you mostly get your inspiration?

I grab my inspiration from artists who have come before me and many things outside of hip-hop that affect me like various genres of music, film, literature, politics, crime, science, economics, theatre, fashion, videos, art, children, photography, etc. I gather my thoughts and perspectives from what I see and experience and then those ideas are jotted down on paper. No tricks, or rituals, just beats and rhymes. I usually write to a particular beat. Sometimes I'll think of something while I'm out and jot it down, but I'm usually sitting with the beat for hours while writing.

Sick and tired of being nice', do you sometimes feel the urge to make more battling/braggadocios lyrics with hard production, a bit like Heather B for instance, instead of the lush, funky, jazz beats you're dealing with now, instead of rhyming about dreams, aspirations and love?

No, I have my days. I do what I feel and what the music tells me. When the music speaks, I can better channel my energy. I've never really been a battle emcee, it's not the same as it used to be, it's become pretty weak, lame and degrading to be honest and I have to do what feels good and challenges me. I express many different moods and sides to my personality. I can come off hard, but I don't want to overdo it and put myself in the 'bust your balls, I'm trying so hard to be super tough and macho'-category. It doesn't match who I am as a person, and there are a bunch of posers in the game as it is. My music is a reflection of me. I try to work with my natural feminine/masculine balance. I'm a woman first. I don't feel like I should follow rap's braggadocios rules all of the time, I do what I like for the time being. I love different styles of rap and only doing one type of style is boring. I think that all emcees should switch it up every now and then.

Who were some of your fav female mc's; Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Salt N Peppa, Antoinette, Boss, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah, Heather B, Lil Kim, Lauryn Hill.

I'd have to say MC Lyte and Queen Latifah had the biggest influence on me. Salt N Peppa were fun and stylish, Lauryn Hill changed the game in so many ways, she was what young girls needed to see, to hear from, so I was very excited when Lauryn was active. I was always fond of Lil Kim's delivery. I have love and respect for all female emcees because I know the struggle. As a youth I really wanted to look up to someone, to model myself after someone that represented me. Someone I could relate to. Since there weren't that many female emcees coming out while I was growing up, I accepted and enjoyed them all for what they contributed to the music industry.

In fact it surprises me there were so many, who were pretty famous at the same time, and released a record in a time when hip-hop wasn't all that big .nowadays we only have a handful of female rappers. Is it harder these days to make it as a woman in the rap industry?

I believe that on many different levels it was harder back then and it's harder now too. Back in the day females were a part of the culture and it was fresh, fun and interesting. Now it's more about image and what clothing you're wearing or not wearing, and it seems to be focused mostly on pleasing a man desires and not on being a skilled emcee. Most labels don't believe in female emcees and don't think they can sell records and/or compete with their male counterparts. Lauryn Hill kinda set an example that we as women are too difficult to please and are too emotional and too much to deal with, etc....

I think people are scared, intimidated and underestimate women because the majority of the industry is run and supported by males. They obviously don't think we have the power to change or influence people's minds like they do. I think hip-hop back in the day there was an undeniable talent that women possessed, it was new and exciting and not overly sexualized. You saw examples of women that were equally talented if not more than men. But now the industry and media is totally focused on image and sales, and not skill, quality and creativity. There is a lack of the proper creativity needed to produce and create good music, therefore there is a void of female emcees because women are highly creative creatures and are natural nurturers, and so the female voice is abandoned, discouraged and/or non-existent.

Have you personally encountered a lot of difficulties?

I have encountered discrimination and underestimation from people of both genders, seems like all of the time. It's almost like no one wants to hear from a female emcee or they're fronting like they don't or maybe they have forgotten how a real queen rocks. People seem to have low expectations and are surprised when I get on the mic. I have been overlooked just because of my size and people's judgements based on my appearance and demeanour. I have never gone without facing challenges, obstacles or discrimination in my life. I don't let it get the best of me when people don't support or believe in me, I keep pushing and moving forward. I do let people know what I'm about and just show and prove, but I can't let it prevent me from completing my mission.

The fact that there are only male emcees featured on the album? Is that also a way of saying you can deal with men? You can make it on your own in a men's world?

No, its just that I know more male emcees than female emcees, I have been moving around for a while now and I have come to meet dozens of female emcees, but at the time of recording my album I chose certain individuals to work with, people that I knew personally. There will be many more collabos with female emcees on the next album, for sure. I can hop on a track with a man and get the job done too! I like working with dope emcees period. I'm all female, so for a good balance why not add a few male voices to the mix?

What's the first rap album you bought?

Honestly I don't remember, but I know it was a cassette tape.

What are some of the last albums you uploaded unto your iPod?

Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic', Raekwon - 'Only Built for Cuban Linx II', Buckshot & KRS-One - 'Survival Skills'.

What's next for Rita J?

Stay tuned for 'Artist Workshop', a digital mixtape, an EP, I'll also be starring in an upcoming independent film called 'Pathways', videos, and more collaborative projects and performances.

Shout outs?

Chicago, Atlanta, All Natural Inc. and all of the Rita J. supporters!!! One Love


POSTED 09|01|2009
conducted by cpf

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