Dear Culture

Nadirah Simmons crowns the queens of hip-hop

Episode 75

Women of hip-hop are examined through the eyes of Gen Z author Nadirah Simmon’s in her debut book, “First Things First: Hip Hop Ladies Who Changed the Game”. Simmons, who grew up immersed in rap culture in New Jersey and Philadelphia, set out to create a unique look at the historical impact of female MCs like Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, and more. She analyzes their impact on fashion, TV, film, and even comedy. Simmons says her book is for those who want to know more than just the surface-level history or controversy the media tends to focus on.


[00:00:00] Panama Jackson: You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

[00:00:09] What’s going on everybody? Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast for, by, and about the culture here at theGrio Black Podcast Network. I’m your host, Panama Jackson, and today we have a guest who has a book coming out that I’m very excited for people to hear about, very excited for people to see. See and get their hands on our guest today is the editor in chief of the gumbo.

[00:00:30] And I want to make sure I get this right. A hip-hop social club, a media platform for and by Black women. She’s a writer and the author now of a book called “First Things First Hip-hop Ladies Who Changed the Game”. Welcome to Dear Culture, Nadirah Simmons.

[00:00:47] Nadirah Simmons: Hey, I’m excited to be here. Also. I love your background.

[00:00:50] Whenever I watch the episodes, I’m like, Panama is a good setup. I need to. I’m not home and I’m like, I need to get something like that at home.

[00:00:57] Panama Jackson: Appreciate it. I, if you can’t even like pan up just because of where I’m sitting, but I have like a picture of the Five Heartbeats back there, Biggie, James Baldwin.

[00:01:06] I got all kinds of other stuff. You have a book coming out, uh, which seems part memoir, part, uh, informational part. Joy part. Like it’s all these different things. It’s the gumbo. I mean, funny enough, like it’s called the gumbo. So, you know, tell us about what inspired you to write first things first hip-hop ladies who changed the game.

[00:01:32] Nadirah Simmons: I’m such a big fan of history. I love knowing things. I love learning things. I also love teaching people things. So one of the You know, one of the reasons behind starting The Gumbos, I really wanted there to be an archive and a place where people could go to find information about women in hip-hop as a whole that they might not have heard of or that they might not know about.

[00:01:53] And when the opportunity came to write a book, I was like, you know what, I’m going to take this idea first, not to rank anyone or try to say who is the best or who is the most important, but to really give people a foundation for understanding the lineage, um, through which, we’ve gotten to this point, who is the, who are the women responsible in the fashion game kind of for what we have today, who are the women who have, you know, paved the way in TV and film and, you know, have set the foundation for what we have today and all of those things within hip-hop and how they really have an impact on, you know, what we’re seeing now.

[00:02:26] Panama Jackson: How did you decide to structure this book? And the reason I’m asking is for, for two reasons. One, it’s written so you have like an a short essay in in in each one of where you explain you know why you are writing about the particular individual like like, yeah, say April Walker from Rocca Wear yeah, it’s broken up in the TV. TV, film, fashion, music, print like. So it’s fascinating because like you said it’s not like these first like ranking people but like these first uh, these first people to do these certain things, but it’s not like a traditional book.

[00:02:59] It gives me a lot of Shea Serrano, like, like hip-hop and other hip-hop and other things or basketball and other things like where, which I, and I love Shea, I’m a huge fan. That’s why I enjoyed this, the way this book is structured because it’s like, well, here’s my thoughts, but here’s these other things about my thoughts and here, these other things about these other things about my thoughts.

[00:03:18] Like, how did you decide to structure, like, when did you decide, you know what, I’m gonna do the book this way, and how did you get to that point?

[00:03:24] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah, I definitely think in the beginning, as I was writing the book and my editor can attest to this, I was very anxious because I was trying to fit every single piece of information about every woman ever into the book.

[00:03:36] And it got to the point where, one, that’s not, that’s literally not possible. My editor had to be like, Nadirah, shout out to Sean Desmond. He’s like, that’s not going to work. He’s like, also, at some point, this book is going to go to print and something’s gonna happen. He’s like something could happen the day after which lots of stuff literally did. He’s like you’re gonna have to live with and be comfortable with the fact that hey, this book is what it is and you’re not gonna include everything. So once I kind of got out of that phase that I was in for like the first two three months I was really able to just write from a place of joy and writing from that place and being inspired by Shea and also knowing that a lot of my memories of hip-hop are connected to very specific and, you know, personal moments.

[00:04:14] And also knowing a lot of the things that I remember about history and about the world are connected to more personal moments. Or maybe if I learned something in class at Rutgers or, you know, I’m from Jersey, riding around New Jersey with my grandfather and like. I’m pointing out all these important places.

[00:04:28] So thinking about that and knowing the way that I connect with and remember information, I was like, I want to make this a little bit more fun. I don’t want someone to feel like they’re reading a Wikipedia page. And also to that point, how can I offer a different perspective than what’s already out there?

[00:04:42] Because a lot of these women in this book. You can, you can find stuff on and you can get kind of a little bit of an idea of what they’ve done or even a bio, but I didn’t want to just run down kind of the same information. I wanted people to look at the information in a different way and really feel inspired by what they’ve done and have a little laugh along the way.

[00:04:59] I love, I love having fun. So I was like, we got to, we got hip-hop is fun. There’s so much that comes with it. That can be very upsetting and not fun. And for me, I want it to celebrate that joy.

[00:05:10] Panama Jackson: So let me ask this before you get to the book, what’s your. What’s your like relationship to hip-hop? Like I see in the book your parents were hip-hop heads, or they, in the music, your father was into hip-hop fashion, had a, like, you’re like kind of born into it, so.

[00:05:26] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah.

[00:05:27] Panama Jackson: I see your first album you bought was Brandy’s Aphrodisiac, so I still remember the first album that, the first CD that I got too, but, so what is like, where do you come into hip-hop?

[00:05:37] Like, how do you view yourself in the hip-hop landscape, so to speak?

[00:05:40] Nadirah Simmons: Oh, I feel like coming into hip-hop is so funny, and I’ve told this story to so many people, but my dad, he used to tell me, I was like two or three years old, he had a red Nissan Altima, and I would be in the back, and I would rap Imaginary Players by Jay Z, and I knew all the words, he was like, that’s when I knew you were gonna be talking a lot, he was like, but also, like, you really, he was like, you were rocking with it, you would just be back there, bobbing your hair really, really hard, a baby, he was like, and you would just be rapping.

[00:06:07] So I think kind of that from the beginning, it just feels like it’s always been around me. And then, you know, being from South Jersey and having family from Philadelphia and going to Philadelphia all the time. And, you know, hearing Philadelphia soul and kind of connecting the samples when I’m with my grandfather to the songs I was hearing with my dad.

[00:06:24] Going with my dad to some of those showrooms to pick out clothes and my uncle owning a barbershop and hearing the hip-hop debates in the barbershop and sometimes being like, oh wait, I know that. And I have a thought. So I feel like it’s always. And even to the point, you know, working in TV, like I love television.

[00:06:41] I love late night. I love seeing the different performances. I also, my mom would do my hair on Sundays. We will watch living single like queen Latifah to me, my initial introduction, even though I knew she was a rapper and I would listen to her with my parents when I was consuming her, that was Khadijah and that was her in all of these movies.

[00:06:58] So it was just so much that I feel like has always been connected. And that’s why I wanted to write the book in that way is to show all of those different segments because. It’s not just the music when I say not just the music is not to diminish it because I love the music There’s just so much that makes hip-hop what it is.

[00:07:14] And I feel like that’s really a true representation of all of me

[00:07:19] Panama Jackson: So you wrapping the words to Jay z’s Imaginary Player is wild, crazy? To me. So that’s one of my favorite songs like so I But I’m just imagining my kid spitting You know, I spit the hottest shit. You need it. I got it. Shit down South.

[00:07:41] Master P bought it and bought it. We’re probably have to edit some of those that I just said out, but I am just envisioning turning around and chill. Chill.

[00:07:52] Nadirah Simmons: No, I did rap the clean version. I know I did because one day it came on when I was a little bit older and I accidentally wrapped the dirty version.

[00:07:59] My dad was like, no, hold on. Remember don’t say that so that’s the only reason I know I was I was chilling when I was a little younger But when I was six, I was like, oops, my bad. I’m supposed to say that

[00:08:09] Panama Jackson: That’s funny That’s that as soon as you said that I just went through the whole list of lyrics I started at the beginning and I’m like, this is wild Okay, so who are you like who are your favorite rappers?

[00:08:21] Nadirah Simmons: Oh my god, Beanie Sigel, Jay Z, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott. Those are like my

[00:08:28] Panama Jackson: Beans, huh? Beans is the first one you said too, huh?

[00:08:31] Nadirah Simmons: Yes, that is, yeah, I love, I love State Property. I think those dudes are extremely important and some of the best lyrically and who knows what, what more we could have gotten, you know?

[00:08:43] I definitely, I feel very strongly about them as a South Jerseyan from Philadelphia suburb, um. Lil’ Kim, I just think is beyond impactful. I feel like we talk about her so much and sometimes people are like, Oh yeah, like Kim’s like a legend. But I’m like, no, like Kim is the blueprint, her flow, her delivery.

[00:09:02] I just think that she is

[00:09:10] And not a rapper, but I love Mary J. Blige, like the influence, the impact.

[00:09:14] Panama Jackson: Oh, we’re going to talk about Mary. We’re going to get to Mary. We got a whole, we got, yeah. When I got to the chapter on Mary, I’m like, okay, we’re going to talk about Mary. Yeah. Okay. It’s funny. I think you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed or ever talked to when I asked them that question with beans.

[00:09:30] Not only was in the list, but was the first person named like, like the first, the top of my name was Beanie Siegel. Cause I imagine you had to answer this question many times. Um, okay. Interesting. And it’s funny. You mentioned a little Kim. Do you think we’re starting to like get better at acknowledging both the role that women have played in hip-hop and also how much, I don’t know how else to say this without being just straight about it.

[00:09:56] How much damage hip-hop has done to women. In general, or like the culture of hip-hop and its relationship with women. Are we doing better now? Like, do you think?

[00:10:07] Nadirah Simmons: We are doing, I can say we are doing better than I think we were doing when I was younger. I remember, and this is the great thing about my parents, is when we would listen to certain songs or watch certain videos or people would talk about people in a certain way.

[00:10:21] They would always give me the age appropriate context and understanding and be like, that’s not cool. Like, that line that he rapped. We not having that and what they said about that girl in that video like that’s not okay And here’s why it’s not okay. And here’s what’s not acceptable. So I think with all that in mind I remember growing up and seeing so much Yeah, like people just would talk crazy about whether it’s a video vixen or someone’s lyric in a song If it was a woman and I think where I’m at now like in my late 20s I am seeing that celebration, but I also think there’s so much more that can be done cause it’s a system like there, there’s so much that, that makes up hip-hop.

[00:11:00] And when you have labels and you have people in power, I mean, look at, look at everything that we’re seeing now with people coming up, coming out and speaking up about what they’ve endured. I feel like there’s so much more to be done to dismantle kind of this code of silence, because for me, one of the most important things as a woman in any space is to feel safe.

[00:11:18] And I talked about that in the Cindy Campbell chapter with that party. Um, There’s still more work to be done and even in acknowledging it’s great that women feel, you know, comfortable and they can do a lot of things that they might not have been able to do 10, 10, 15 years ago. I think that that prioritization of safety for me and removing this code of silence, there’s, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

[00:11:42] Panama Jackson: Yeah, I love that. Like social media, you know, for all of its faults. Also is great for the amplification, like giving everybody a voice and it’s made it so that all of these women in particular who have these stories to tell, get an opportunity to tell them. Yeah. Now, obviously there are people who like Drew Dixon probably doesn’t feel like her story was, was able to get out there the way that she wanted it to like the powers that they were definitely pushing against her being able to do that.

[00:12:12] But it’s much more difficult to stop that stuff from getting out nowadays, right? Like, if you are somebody for whom hip-hop has done damage for you, you can speak on that, and there’s an audience for that. Just like you can speak about the wonderful things that have happened because of it, or all these other things.

[00:12:27] Um, kind of a double edged sword, to some degree. Which, actually, I’m gonna go ahead and ask this question. Hit me. I’m gonna go ahead and ask this question because this speaks, this speaks to like the Lil’ Kim of it all. He was a Lil’ Kim fan, right? Like I had hardcore, like I was a teenage boy. Love, love Lil’ Kim.

[00:12:46] Think Biggie’s the greatest rapper of all time kind of thing. So, you know, I’m, I wonder if because of social media now, and I’m gonna make this, this strange, not parallel, but strange. Tangent to Sexxy Red, right? So

[00:13:04] Nadirah Simmons: Love Sexxy Red.

[00:13:06] Panama Jackson: I’m glad. I’m glad. Cause that’s gonna make this an interesting, interesting convo point.

[00:13:10] So Lil’ Kim comes out, we’re all, the way we speak about her now is much different than the way that we used to, right? We used to, like, for all the love that we give to Lil’ Kim now for being a pioneer in sexual agency and being able to control her own narrative and tell her story like, that wasn’t really the case in the 90s, like, it was we could appreciate that, but she caught a lot of flack you even mention that in the book, like, she caught a lot of heat early on for how free and liberated she seemed to be lyrically. Whereas now this kind of like, when people don’t do that, you like, dang, you ain’t going to talk about sex. Like, like I’m a huge fan of no name. That ain’t where her album is about. Right? Like sundial ain’t about that at all. Right. It’s kind of, you know, it’s different. So you, you hear that it’s so, it’s so much more common to hear the Lil’ Kim strain, uh, the Lil’ Kim legacy that it is.

[00:13:59] And I teach a class at Howard. Like I teach a class on, on writing at Howard. And I use pop culture and hip-hop a lot. Sexxy Red comes up all the time in all my classes, always does. Where, where does the sexy era, the Sexxy Red era of hip-hop sit for you? Like, I love who she is. I don’t love the music, I’ma be honest.

[00:14:16] Like, I don’t, I don’t view her as a talented rapper in the sense of the way that I’m used to listening to rappers. But I love that people love her because it’s like, she shows up and she does her thing and it’s like, but she’s divisive, kind of like how Soulja Boy was divisive in 06 when he comes out, right?

[00:14:30] People think Soulja Boy killed hip-hop. Now people always look for scapegoats, now it’s like Sexxy Red, like what is this trash out here that you hear people talking about, like

[00:14:38] Sexxy Red: I’ma be broke, I got my money then I’ll bring I know I’m the shit and I don’t give a fuck

[00:14:43] what you think.

[00:14:44] Panama Jackson: Like how do we reconcile those two, that, that space of a, some of like Like a Sexxy Red having so much space in hip-hop at this point, to the point that she’s As big of a conversation as like the Nikki’s and Megan’s now?

[00:14:58] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah, yeah. It is very difficult. I love Sexxy Red. I follow her on Instagram and I talk to my friends about this a lot when I go through her comments and I see the stuff that people say. It is It makes my blood boil in a different kind of way and I try not to let the internet get me annoyed because I’m like, you know, it’s not real.

[00:15:18] It’s real but it’s not. Like, just close out this app. The one thing I think has to be done, I don’t know how, but I think there needs to be a little bit more of, I don’t want to say camaraderie, because everyone is, I know people beef, but there is a lot of support, I would say, across the line. And if, you know, you’ll see like a Young Miami, like listening to a sexy rapper and her story, but I really.

[00:15:43] Again, back to those systems and I don’t know what it would take, but just support, even if it’s not music that you love, which again, I love Sexxy Red. I think Shake Yo Dreads is such a great song. It’s great when you’re out and you hear it. Um, but I think a lot of times people feel like they can talk to, talk about, or Say things to these particular people because they don’t feel like they are protected back to that that point of protection.

[00:16:11] It’s like, I can do whatever. And you see what someone gets like a Nikki cosign or if they get, you know, the big, the goat male rapper cosign, whoever it is, then it’s kind of like, Oh, like, we’re gonna ease up a little bit and not not say as much, which I mean, sometimes even um, Yeah. Even in the case of Megan, I’m like, dang, y’all are still going.

[00:16:30] But I think it’s kind of, yeah, yeah, I think it’s. In that line of support, because when I think about and even when you, you brought up Lil’ Kim, I remember talking to my parents like she’s great. And they were like, people were not rocking with that at first. Like, that’s how I had the context for that.

[00:16:46] And I was able to go and research after the fact, but when I would be flipping through those like hardcore, uh, books and flipping through Il Nana and all of that in, in the house. And, you know, I would show my parents like, Hey, like, who’s this person? I’m going through the liner notes. Like, what’s this? And they gave me context for understanding that people were not rocking.

[00:17:03] With as a whole, what she was doing and what I don’t want to happen and it’s not revisionist. It’s not a historical or maybe it is, but we kind of get to this point where back to that social media. Now, 10, 15, 20 years later, we want to post her in this outfit and say, Oh, like she broke the mold. I really want.

[00:17:22] There to be context for who these women are, what they contributed, whether you like it or not, and space for them to speak and to share their voice. I always bring up Lil’ Kim on Rolanda, on Rolanda Watts show, and just seeing her sit there and everybody, like everybody’s coming at her with the exception of like one or two people in the audience, and she took it.

[00:17:41] Rolanda Watts: I can’t wait to hear what your mother thinks about your sexy videos and the sexy lyrics and some people would say not sexy, but just downright raw and explicit. Why do you choose that type of music? And does it sell? Is there an attraction? Obviously, I think there.

[00:17:55] Lil’ Kim: Um, well, it’s that it was like, uh, it was chosen for me, but it was just something that, you know, I knew how to do and I wrote about it from my, you know, from my past life.

[00:18:06] Nadirah Simmons: And because I love her so much, I get emotional talking about her, but because she took that, there’s so much that women in hip-hop today are able to do that. They don’t even realize sometimes I think is because of a lot of what Lil’ Kim took.

[00:18:18] And when I, when I say that, I mean, I just want there to be the space for more women to be heard and to be listened to because. People should be allowed to rap whatever they want. If that is their music, if that is their vibe, if that is their style, cool. If you don’t like it, that’s also cool. But making sure that they’re safe and protected so that now no one feels like, well, she raps about sex too much.

[00:18:38] I’m going to go in her comments. I’m going to talk about her crazy or I’m going to dox her. I’m going to do this. Like people do some crazy stuff. And I think we really have to figure out. And I, I truly don’t know what that is. I rack my brain about that a lot. When I see people talking crazy about her or any other woman, I’m like, how can we just make sure they’re not like.

[00:18:55] They’re not just out here open to this crazy, even if you criticize them to the point that it feels kind of what I saw with Lil’ Kim, like seems dehumanizing and demeaning and belittling. And I truly don’t know where that that is or how that starts, but I know the end is them getting to exist however they want.

[00:19:13] And whether someone likes it or not, it does not mean we’re trying to make this woman feel like she’s less than because she chooses to rap about whatever she does.

[00:19:21] Panama Jackson: Yeah, no, that’s real. All right, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we have more with Nadirah Simmons, author of First Things First.

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[00:20:32] Panama Jackson: All right, we’re back here at Dear Culture. I’m here with Nadirah Simmons, author of First Things First, uh, Hip-hop Ladies Who Changed the Game, which is a fun, interesting, uh, book about not ranked first, just women in hip-hop who were the first thing to do XYZ.

[00:20:48] And this goes into kind of like the next question I was going to ask you, which is you know where this book fits into like the landscape of hip-hop books There’s a bunch of books now. Yes that are like centering women and women’s space in hip-hop It’s like Clover hopes the mother load Kathy Enderly she had you know, God save the Queen.

[00:21:06] She’s also writing I actually don’t know when it’s coming out if it has a little book about him Is it already out?

[00:21:12] Nadirah Simmons: Not yet. No, I don’t think so. Right. I mean, I’m clocking it though.

[00:21:16] Panama Jackson: Right. Like I can’t wait to read that book. Cause I love the book that she wrote about Aaliyah, right? Where it was, you know, like the, the, the storytelling, you know, I reached out to her to tell us like, I love the way that you wrote this story and I can’t wait to read this book while Lil’ Kim, where do you see this book fitting in the landscape of like, of hip-hop books and especially those that speak to women specifically.

[00:21:38] And the importance and significance of women’s contributions.

[00:21:42] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of even just to the point of building upon lineage, you just named writers whose work I admire so much. So this is an additional thing kind of within that legacy. I want it to be something where people can come to again, not just for information, but for inspiration, because you know, my biggest thing, like I said, when writing the book is that I felt so much joy in reading about a lot of these women and their impact and, you know, what they, they did and the dreams that they had was, was very inspiring for me.

[00:22:12] And I think. What I want the book to do is I want people to get the information and leave the book more educated than they may have been on a particular woman. But I also want them to read the book and feel like, okay, there’s really a space for me to do whatever I want within whatever space I want. So there’s a chapter in the book about Courtney Sloan.

[00:22:31] She went to my alma mater, Rutgers. Shout out to her. But she was designing furniture for a lot of these rappers and doing interior design for their houses and doing the offices, um, doing the Vibe office. And Just learning about that and knowing that there really is a lane and a place for you anywhere.

[00:22:47] And particularly with women, especially because we’re seeing so much more celebration of women, but there’s, of course, still more that can be done. And just knowing that their legacies are being highlighted. I want that to be what people get from it. I want you to read this and say, dang, I really learned something new that I had no idea about.

[00:23:05] And also because I learned that I feel like I can do whatever it is I want to do in whatever space.

[00:23:13] Panama Jackson: Who is this book for?

[00:23:15] Nadirah Simmons: This book is for anyone who wants to learn more about women in hip-hop, and I know that sounds super generic, but a lot of times. And I’m, I’m an internet kid. I’m, I’ve grown up on the internet, but a lot of times you’ll see people like tweet pictures of these women.

[00:23:29] They’re like, Oh, today’s the 25th anniversary. And it’s just a photo and Oh, like, look at this outfit. And this rapper’s wearing the same outfit. And it’s just, it’s great. You get great engagement. You can retweet, you get likes. We’re like, Oh, this is awesome. But it’s so. Devoid of context and understanding, and I want this book to really fill that gap for people because sometimes we see information, but again, we’re not really processing and understanding information.

[00:23:53] So I want it to be for those people who really want to learn more and also want to be inspired by again, all that women have done in hip-hop, but really want people to learn because sometimes it was like, Oh, quick fact, quick photo, quick clipping of this. And I’m like, We need more context for these things.

[00:24:10] Panama Jackson: You know, how did you decide how you were going to write about every person that you wanted to write about? Was it them? Or was it the story and then it would happen to be

[00:24:17] about them?

[00:24:18] Nadirah Simmons: I read a lot of books, a lot of articles and watched a lot of documentaries so I would go to my childhood library every day and I would spend like days kind of at the beginning of the week just watching things and reading things and checking out different books and I would just sit there, take a break for lunch or go to the bathroom, whatever.

[00:24:36] And then near the end of the week, I would kind of just get to writing and just would see what would come. I think the biggest thing that I wanted to do is not tell the same story. Um, there are so many great books out there that tell stories about women and hip-hop in a great way. And they’ve already done the work.

[00:24:54] And for me, I’m like, how can I contribute to the conversation in a way that hasn’t already been done? So when I’m researching and reading about these women, I’m looking at the different stories or, you know, different moments that haven’t really either haven’t really been pulled out or just. It’s never really made all about this one thing.

[00:25:11] And yes, Missy, we talk about, you know, her, the, the future Afrofuturism. And with Kim, we talk about the fashion and those things are so grand. And I’m like, okay, this has to be a part of it. But how can I take those stories and how can I take those, you know, those pieces of information and deliver them to you in a way that you may not have experienced before.

[00:25:31] So whether I’m breaking down the Missy stuff in a particular way, or I’m structuring the chapter, like it’s. And like, you, you are in college and I’m giving you a syllabus on the inside and giving you kind of reference points for what you should get. Lil’ Kim was so hard because again, I love her. I think she’s so amazing.

[00:25:49] She’s a pioneer. I can’t say it enough. How can I talk about, we’ve talked about her fashion and her impact in so many ways. How can I talk about her in a way that hasn’t been done, but also really helped somebody understand. Why it’s important and choosing to do that text message conversation is literally because This is, that’s how I would explain it to someone who has no frame of reference for who she is or why her impact is so important and why she’s more than these little comparison tweets that y’all like to do, look at her hair and look at this, she’s the blueprint, like, yeah, she is.

[00:26:23] And like, it’s, it’s a, it’s a whole thing. There’s a whole, there’s a lot that y’all need to know when it comes to that. So that’s really how I tried to structure it as I would just research and read about the different women. I also knew I wanted the section. So, you know, just trying to pick out the stories that made the most sense.

[00:26:39] And there were a lot of chapters. I had a chapter on battle rap. I used to watch battle rap queen of the ring every single night at Rutgers when I should have been studying, still got my grades though, but that chapter wasn’t making sense. And it wasn’t coming out well because I wasn’t writing about it in a way that felt, new and authentic and entertaining and interesting. It just felt like, all right, I’m giving this rundown of women in battle rap. And now it’s 20 pages. And I still don’t feel like I pulled the person in. I just feel like I’m just telling you a lot. So that’s really what I wanted to do with all of those chapters, but it was hard.

[00:27:12] Panama Jackson: But yeah, there’s this entire text thread that you have in here that you created about explaining Lil’ Kim as the blueprint for like, modern women in rap. Like I’m looking at it right now. It’s if I tell you she’s the blueprint for the modern woman in rap, do you feel like that’s accurate? And then this entire thing that flows off of that, where you kind of go into all these discussions about all these other women who rap and, and, and it’s really cool.

[00:27:38] Like, it’s really cool and fascinating. That’s, that’s one reason why I enjoyed this book. It’s because like, I like when, when, uh, yeah. Um, when something is not just, uh, straightforward, like you find creative ways to do it. So you even mentioned like the, the creating, um, what’d you say? Creating like a syllabus for, uh, for Missy, yeah, about Afrofuturism and stuff like that.

[00:28:03] So in each chapter in here, and I alluded to it earlier, there’s like a, the, the addendum to each chapter is some curious, interesting way to discuss the women who are being talked about in the chapter, like with Queen Latifah’s chapter, there’s all these different ways that Queen Latifah is like important in all these other, all these other areas, which I actually wrote an article about once and I think about how we need to give Queen Latifah her flowers because I think she probably has, I think I wrote an article once about her and Common having the greatest hip-hop careers of all time.

[00:28:38] Because of how much they’ve been able to do because of hip-hop. Um, But like you wrote, you mentioned writing a syllabus about, you know, for Missy’s chapter by Afrofuturism and, you know, there’s a, there’s a, obviously there’s a chapter by Nicki Minaj in here, uh, and her monster verse and you kind of go like, like bar, like bar by bar a little bit and breaking down how Nicki got Kanye and Jay.

[00:29:12] So all this stuff is really cool. Like it’s very creative. I enjoy creative ways of storytelling and getting points across. So I think you did a really good job.

[00:29:20] Nadirah Simmons: Thank you.

[00:29:20] Panama Jackson: Um, The Angie Martinez. So you have a chapter by Angie Martinez who obviously is essential to hip-hop storytelling and I learned a lot about her story.

[00:29:31] In there, you talk about like famous interviews that she did. And we gotta talk about this Mary J. Blige one. So, and we’re gonna get to Mary because I love Mary.

[00:29:42] Nadirah Simmons: I love her.

[00:29:44] Panama Jackson: So, I had forgotten that, that Mary had went on to Angie Martinez to talk about the Burger King commercial backlash.

[00:29:52] Radio Interview: Now, Mary, can we talk about this, this chicken commercial?

[00:29:57] It never was a chicken commercial. It was about a sandwich, and I was singing about the ingredients in the sandwich. That’s what I thought it was.

[00:30:05] Panama Jackson: I have to caveat this with, I love that Burger King commercial, right? I, I, I still sing. What’s in the new crispy chicken wrap? Fresh lettuce. Like, I love that so much.

[00:30:21] Because it’s so ridiculous.

[00:30:24] Burger King Commercial: Mary? Crispy chicken. Fresh lettuce. Three cheeses. Fresh rice and rice. Tasty. And

[00:30:38] Panama Jackson: I think that over time, people can get the joy out of it. Like, I see it passed around on social media. Like, I know at the time, I remember at the time, we were all like, what is this woman thinking about? She out here shucking for chicken. Like this, this is what we doing and we, you know, we kind of forget people are people.

[00:30:52] Um, I was so happy to see that because I don’t think people talk about the Burger King commercial enough. And I know Mary probably never wants to talk about it. Yes, I’m sure. But I just want to say, I’m glad it was in your book. I was so excited to see that. I was like, people don’t talk about this enough.

[00:31:10] It was so great in retrospect for like the shenanigans aspect. And I know for Mary, I mean, she’s been just fine anyway. Um, so I just wanted to say thank you for putting that in there because I revisited a joyous time in my, I wrote an article about that years ago. I was just like, and I have to find it cause I’m probably, I don’t think I enjoyed, I enjoyed it.

[00:31:32] I don’t think I was as generous to it as I would be nowadays where I would write an article talking about how much happiness this brings to me and that I appreciate Mary for being willing to have fun.

[00:31:45] Nadirah Simmons: Exactly. Yeah. And that’s why, I mean, I remember it and I remember how crazy and bad it was. And I, I mean, my parents are big Mary J Blige fans.

[00:31:57] So like Mary was standing on the table with a microphone.

[00:32:01] Yeah. She’s someone that outside of like Lady B because it’s South Jersey radio, South Philly radio. That’s probably like the voice I heard the second most. I mean, after my parents, of course, it’s like Lady B and then Mary J is just always, always listening to them.

[00:32:16] And I was just like, dang, like looking back on it now, of course, you know, you have a different perspective. I’m just like, Mary has literally poured out her soul or this music for so long. And just like the idea of grace and the safety that I think Angie gave her, there’s nobody else that probably would have.

[00:32:35] Gotten her to come up anywhere and feel comfortable talking about it and that just made me like their sisterhood that they have. I’m like, this is something I want to highlight even in the midst of that moment that everyone was like, oh, I don’t know what’s going on. Like, I love that element of sisterhood in that story.

[00:32:49] And just a testament to Angie being. So great is who else is going to get that conversation and get it to be as real and get Mary to be as real and honest and authentic. Like she really just laid it all out there in a way that it’s rare to see her do. Um, so I really appreciated that.

[00:33:06] Panama Jackson: What was your favorite chapter to write?

[00:33:07] Do you have one?

[00:33:09] Nadirah Simmons: Oh my gosh, I feel like it changes every single day. I think the Big Les one is one of my favorites because I loved, I just love reading about her, learning about her. I love the crossword puzzle at the end, so that is really fun. Mary was also one of my favorites because she’s another one of my GOATs, so I just Like I love, I love Mary so much.

[00:33:33] That was a really fun one to write. The Roxanne Shante chapter. That was my favorite one to write just because I got to Kind of give the, the understanding for the Roxanne Roxanne, uh, biopic and you know how that’s the first of its kind and how important it is, but then to throw in these women that you might not know about and just make like these, not fake, let’s hope somebody wants to make them real, but to really give you like, hey, this is a story that also could be told and should be told about, you know, Mercedes ladies and all these different women you don’t know about.

[00:34:03] So that was a really fun one to do because I kind of got to, I got to still teach and You know, introduce people to different women, but also really historicized in a way that was really fun.

[00:34:14] Panama Jackson: Yeah, one thing I want to commend you for in this book as well is that I don’t know if it’s in every single chapter So my memory might might be failing me, but in almost every chapter that I can remember like vividly at this point while you’re talking about these things There’s like a call back to some essay or podcast.

[00:34:32] It’s like, it’s not, there’s like some academic, here’s why this is important, but it, it calls back to something, right? Like, I know you mentioned like NPR is louder than a riot podcast, Sid Madden, you know, you, you got, there’s all of this, like, here’s what’s going on. Here’s how it was taken, why it was taken seriously, why it’s important and all of that.

[00:34:54] And like, even in the Mary chapter, I know you talk, like the tree Valenzie has an art, an article, an essay about. About hip-hop about Mary J. Blige and hip-hop soul So I can appreciate that like it, you know it It’s not just here’s my thoughts on this. Here’s context, the bigger picture thing. And I, I think that’s commendable, um, in terms of people getting something out of it because there’s more things to go take a look at too.

[00:35:17] You’re like, oh, this is interesting. I gotta ask, by every Mary conversation, you have a, you have like a playlist of Mary J, Mary J songs in here. What’s, what’s, what’s Mary’s best album?

[00:35:33] Nadirah Simmons: You said it with a straight face too. Oh my gosh.

[00:35:36] Panama Jackson: Yeah, I got Mary hot takes all day long, but

[00:35:41] Nadirah Simmons: Her best see I don’t want to end up saying what my favorite is.

[00:35:46] Panama Jackson: I mean, maybe maybe to you her best is your favorite

[00:35:49] Nadirah Simmons: Okay, my life is just yeah.

[00:35:53] Yeah.

[00:35:53] Panama Jackson: I mean, I think that’s probably the standard answer Yeah, if people don’t say my life you’re like, huh, my life is not it for you, huh?

[00:36:02] Like why like why is it not I’m be I gotta be honest. I’m one of them people who Like what’s the 411 my life share my world is kind of like my triumvirate of albums Okay, I’ve written about those three. Yeah, I don’t even know how many albums I can’t even name most of the albums after that point not that I don’t enjoy Mary it’s just that those albums are so significant in my personal life like Share my world comes out in 97 when I turned 18 in 97 Like that album still resonate so much with me and my life is my life Obviously every every young lady I knew at that time just swore that my life was the album but even though nobody had experienced none of the stuff she was talking about at that point. We’re all early teens, but yeah, you know briefly talk to me about the cover for this for this book.

[00:36:56] Nadirah Simmons: I think we wanted to, so shout out to Monet, uh, Alyssa, she did the cover art.

[00:37:01] My team found, I know, I knew I really wanted to have a Black woman do the cover art for the book. So, you know, when you look at the book, I really wanted to highlight the different women in a way that reflects their chapters, but also they’re really colorful and bright. And I think 12, my, um, publishers, they were so good about making sure.

[00:37:23] We want to make sure this is a book that when you open it up, like you’re sitting and reading it like this really like, oh shoot, like this, this really stands out. So yeah, we just, it was really hard. Cause you’re like, I want to include every single person on like this book jacket, but I picked, you know, 10 people that I just really feel like are so important and so influential.

[00:37:45] And it doesn’t mean that anyone else who’s, you know, not on the cover is, is not, but. Yeah, I remember when I first got it, I like, audibly screamed out loud because I was very, just very happy with it. I feel like everyone was just drawn so perfectly.

[00:37:59] Panama Jackson: I’m assuming when I go into a bookstore, whichever one I go into, like, this will stand out amongst every cover that, that, that could be seen out there.

[00:38:08] All right. We’re going to take one more break. When we come back. We’re going to do some of my favorite segments here at their culture. So stay tuned. All right. We’re back here in Dear Culture with Nadirah Simmons author of “First Things First Hip-hop Ladies Who Changed the Game” and aside from being an author.

[00:38:29] She is the editor in chief of the gumbo. Uh, please tell us about the gumbo.

[00:38:35] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah, I founded the gumbo in 2018. It was kind of a product of me, one, wanting to do what I did in the book, but to really archive histories of, you know, women in hip-hop and particularly because, you know, when I was at Rutgers, I initially wanted to be a journalist and I kind of was like, you know, got internships in TV, I was like, this is the path I want to go in.

[00:38:56] But I saw so many of my friends and women who looked like me who were so great, either not getting jobs in the field of, you know, hip-hop journalism, or they’re getting opportunities, but they were unpaid. And I was like, how are we not getting the opportunities to write about the thing that is literally like of and from, you know, our culture, it comes from the Bronx and it comes from these different communities.

[00:39:17] I’m just, I’m a little confused about that. So I, I took a year’s. Years worth of my late show checks and I saved up so I could create this platform to, one, pay the women to talk about the women that they wanted to talk about or anything that they wanted to talk about, but also to create this platform and this space.

[00:39:34] Whether we’re having conversations online. We had a digital dinner with April Walker. We’re having our sample Sunday, uh, events that we do where you can come and you can just feel safe. There’s no politics. There’s no, hey, we can’t write about this, or you can’t talk about this person. I really want. I wanted women to get paid to, to celebrate the, the culture that they are of and have contributed to.

[00:39:57] And I also want it to be a space to highlight the people that you might not know.

[00:40:01] Panama Jackson: I have actually a funny story for you. So when I, I went to a panel that you were on at NABJ with hip-hop Caucus and

[00:40:10] Nadirah Simmons: I was like, yo, it was not coming.

[00:40:13] Panama Jackson: I was in the audience at that panel, uh, with Dawn Richard and Brittany and, and, and both who I’ve actually had on a podcast too.

[00:40:22] So I’ve actually done, I brought hip-hop caucus on here to talk, to talk with them. And it’s funny because at the time that it was in NABJ in Birmingham, which is August of 2023. The documentary ladies first hadn’t dropped yet, which you were in. Yes, but you made a reference at the panel. Like you weren’t sure what was going to be in the, in the documentary, if you were in it or not.

[00:40:47] Did you know at that point that your scenes were in it? I did, but I could say, okay, because it’s funny. I had already seen the doc, right? I had gotten a sense, an early version of it. So when you said that, I was like, What you said was something like, well, I don’t know, you know, maybe me. So like, maybe it’s in there.

[00:41:03] Maybe it’s not. I was like, huh? What if she’s seen this or not? Like, I wonder if she knows she’s all up and through this documentary, because that was actually my introduction to you was seeing the advanced, the, the advanced version of ladies first. Um, which is part of why I went to go, I was like, Oh, she’s very interesting.

[00:41:18] Let me go see this panel where, and I’ll, and you know, I know Brittany. So I was like, let me go check this out. Anyway, just funny, funny story

[00:41:26] about

[00:41:30] now

[00:41:30] we’re going to do some of my favorite segments here at Dear Culture. So we ask every one of our guests to do a Blackfession, which is a confession about your Blackness. Something people might be surprised to know about you. Because you are Black. Do you have a Blackfession?

[00:41:45] Nadirah Simmons: I do. I have two. I don’t know if you’ll be surprised.

[00:41:48] Okay. The first one is I am a very big Steely Dan fan. Like, die hard. But I also feel like a lot of Black people love Steely Dan. So I don’t know if that’s why. Yeah. So that’s one. And my second one is I’ve seen every episode of Matlock. That’s like my favorite show.

[00:42:08] Panama Jackson: So I, I love Matlock. Uh, I was, uh, I was one of those people who watched, like, I think it was like in the heat of the Night would come on before Matlock.

[00:42:19] So I was like, in my mind they arrest him on In the Heat of the Night and then Matlock puts him in jail and they knew this is, but okay.

[00:42:26] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah, but I think that’s every In the Heat of the Night, Murder She Wrote, oh, what’s the one? Diagnosis, murder? Like, I love all of those. Those are. That’s my bag of TV shows.

[00:42:37] Okay.

[00:42:37] Panama Jackson: So the Steely Dan one, I, uh, so because of hip-hop, I know Steely Dan really well, right? Because of all the, all the songs that have sampled Steely Dan songs. Like one of my favorite songs by De La Soul is I Know, which samples Steely Dan’s Peg. So like, you know, I, from there, Steely Dan can do no wrong.

[00:42:58] I just found out recently though. I don’t know if you know this, maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But for those that don’t know that. The two of the, the two members of Steely Dan were originally in a group with Chevy Chase when they were all went to college together at Bard College, but Chevy Chase got kicked out of school and went to be success of the other two members from Steely Dan.

[00:43:23] So, I guess I have to fact check that. I saw a video about this recently and I was like,

[00:43:30] Nadirah Simmons: What? Yeah. Wow. Oh my gosh.

[00:43:34] Panama Jackson: I’m gonna have to fact check that on Wikipedia. But yeah, um, so to counteract our Blackfessions, we also do Blackamendations , which is a recommendation about something by foreign about Black people.

[00:43:49] Do you have a Blackamendation for me?

[00:43:51] Nadirah Simmons: Yes, I mean, the easiest one is the book, By, For, By, For, By, and About Black People. So yes, first things first, hip-hop ladies who change the game, please go wherever you like to buy your books, cop that, support. But I also want people to support their other local libraries.

[00:44:10] I know they’re not for, by, and about, you know, there’s

[00:44:14] Panama Jackson: A lot of people reading works for me.

[00:44:16] Nadirah Simmons: Yes. I really want people to go to their local libraries and support the local libraries because there are just so many books in there filled with so much knowledge, um, by us and about us and. I think sometimes we kind of forget that those libraries exist.

[00:44:30] I love that library guy online who’s been like going viral and telling people to get their library cards. But the amount of knowledge that I’ve gotten about myself and about my people from those weekly library trips that my mother took me on, I just. Um, go, go to your, your local library and pull something out.

[00:44:47] If there’s a indie bookstore that’s Black owned, please go and support them because we need these places and we need these hard copies of knowledge because everyone, we want to get into digital space, which is great. If you want to get the audio book, ebook, I support that too. I just love that we can have physical like pieces of knowledge and when it comes to us.

[00:45:06] I know, and we know far too often that if no one talks about us or writes about us, our history gets completely like, like it’s hard for me to figure out where my family comes from or trace myself back past a certain point because stuff is not documented. Stuff is not record recorded. So when we are writing and recording things, please go check them out.

[00:45:24] Go buy the book, just really support that stuff because if we don’t, I just don’t want us to get to a space we’re seeing so many journalism companies and so many entities lay people off and you know, writers not having the capacity or the ability to write and I don’t want us to lose. Um, I don’t want us to lose our books.

[00:45:41] Panama Jackson: That’s real. I like that. That’s real. Thank you. Um, thank you for being here. Thank you for talking to us about the book. Thank you for writing the book. I’m a big fan of books about hip-hop like I just like I have tons like anything about hip-hop that comes out. I typically get Just because I yeah, I mean, I’m a hip-hop head, right?

[00:46:05] Like I’m one of them people hip-hop raised me type people and You know, especially because I’m from down south so it was a little different from you all up north, right? Like it was the entryways and the trying to get the info was a little different Like I didn’t grow up with block parties around like we kind of had to be more intentional and active to get into it. So I’m always appreciative of anything that speaks to the history Of hip-hop.

[00:46:28] Like I romanticize New York in the nineties. Right. I romanticize all that stuff. Right. So yeah, I mean, it’s easy to do, right. It just seems like this magical time where like everybody was rapping on corners and all of a sudden, you know, whatever. Um, so tell people where they can find out, find more about you, find you on social media, when they can get the book where like break it down.

[00:46:53] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah. So you can find me on Instagram and Twitter. I know it’s X, but like. Nobody is calling it that. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at Hi. So it’s H I N A D I R A H and tweet me. I’m usually very responsive on there even though Twitter is changing. I don’t know what, I don’t know what’s happening over there.

[00:47:11] But yes, you can definitely find me on there or, um, on my website, hinadirah. com. Send me a little email and I’m always good about being on my emails. You can get the book again, wherever you’d like to purchase your book. So if you want to go to Barnes and Noble, you can get it. There’s an independent bookstore near you that you want to support.

[00:47:27] I’m always for that. So please go there, but wherever you usually get your books, first things first, you’ll be able to, to. Order it, please support and thank you for having me. I, I have literally listened to the show. I love the episode with Preston from, um, Oh my God. What is the Martha’s Vineyard? When is it coming back?

[00:47:45] On Bravo. From Summer House. Yeah, that was such a great conversation. Cause I go to Oak Bluffs every summer and I don’t think I saw them last summer. I don’t think they were there yet, but. Just seeing the conversations around them, I’m like, they’re just in the house, like, vibing. Like, what, what is the problem?

[00:47:59] Like, they’re not, they’re not doing, they’re literally not doing anything. And there’s no way to really do anything crazy on that. Yeah, so, I love that episode. Thank you very much for that.

[00:48:11] Panama Jackson: Yeah, that was a good conversation. Preston’s a good dude. It was good. Known him for a while, but that combo was interesting.

[00:48:15] And especially having, I don’t go to Oak Bluff every summer, but going, having been up there and spent time up there several times. And like, thinking about that, where they are, and then thinking about the conversations happening, it’s like, yo, this show was so contained to that house. Like, it wasn’t like they were destroying, running through the streets.

[00:48:35] No, no. It was so interesting. It was such an interesting, uh.

[00:48:38] Nadirah Simmons: Yeah, tell the board and Oak Bluffs to, it seems like they’ve, but like, relax. Like, it’s fine. Nobody’s stomping on Dorothy West’s house.

[00:48:47] Panama Jackson: Speaking of Dorothy West, theGrio Black Podcast Network is about to drop its first scripted audio drama. And it’s about none other than Dorothy West.

[00:48:56] It’s a six part drama called Harlem and Moscow, and it’s a true story about the Harlem Renaissance and the Soviet Union. And Dorothy West was on that historic trip. It’s an amazing story and a part of Black history most people just don’t know. In addition to the play, we have the official companion podcast, Harlem and Moscow Red Flags, and I’m one of the hosts, where a bunch of us discuss everything that happened in the play.

[00:49:20] And listen to me, it is a lot. So don’t miss Harlem and Moscow and the companion podcast, Harlem and Moscow Red Flags, premiering March 28th. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts. And thank you to everybody for listening to Dear Culture, which is an original podcast of theGrio Black Podcast Network.

[00:49:40] It is produced by Sasha Armstrong, edited by Geoffrey Trudeau, and Regina Griffin is our director of podcasts. Again, my name is Panama Jackson. Thank you for listening. Have a Black one.