Though it was only a little more than a decade ago, in 1999 the United States existed in a wholly different world than it does today. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the way we live on a daily basis, and Hurricane Katrina highlighted the jagged racial divide that still exists in this country. At that point, Barack Obama might have been the only person who believed that he would be the nation’s first African-American President.
Rah Digga’s last official album, Dirty Harriet, dropped in 1999. The last time hip-hop fans heard from the first lady of Flipmode, none of these things had happened, to say nothing of the sea change that occurred in hip-hop. Dirty Harriet predates Kanye West and Lil Wayne, and came out the same year as Eminem’s Slim Shady LP.
If a sea change occurred in society, the 10 years that passed in the rap game is literally eons. Artists become irrelevant startlingly quick, consigned to the dustbin of history. In an industry where one misstep is often fatal, the fact that Rah Digga is returning after a decade with her sophomore album, the existence of Classic, set for release Sept. 14, is highly unlikely. When Everything Is a Story, an entire shelved album, is factored in, the reemergence of Rah Digga is nothing short of a miracle.
In 2010, who is Rah Digga?
Rah Digga is the boom-bap messiah in 2010. It’s been a long time since Dirty Harriet, and there were a lot of typical industry problems with Everything Is a Story, but I’m back again, with Classic.
How did things come together for the new album?
It started out as me just collecting random beats from Nottz, as I've been doing over the years. We talked about doing an EP until one of the label reps that I've nicknamed GNL -- guy named Lucas -- insisted that I do a whole album with Nottz. At first I fought it, so they said, "OK, just do 10 and we'll pick the best six out of that.” Once I got to 10 songs, it was obvious that I was sitting on the female Illmatic.
Did you have any reservations about going back into the studio?
I've never stopped recording, even if sometimes it’s just for my own listening pleasure. I love making music, but I will never sign to another major again no matter how sweet the deal is.
How have you evolved as a solo artist in the time between albums?
I have evolved outside of being more than just a rapper. I'm directing videos, editing the video, engineering the session, among other things, and it's nice to know this go round everything is all on my terms from conception to delivery.
Do you consider yourself to have full artistic ownership of this album? How were you able to ensure that this would happen?
I would have never released another album if a label had to dictate the music. I ran with this situation because all they expected from me was tough music. There are no cameos, no R&B hooks, and no contrived club bangers. It’s just the good old-fashioned rhyming that people loved about Dirty Harriet.
Looking back, given the stylistic differences between Dirty Harriet and Classic and Everything Is a Story, are you happy that Classic will be your official sophomore effort?
Dirty Harriet was Rah Digga fresh out of Lyricist Lounge, and Classic is like the 10-year high school reunion. I'm ecstatic that this is the sophomore album. Since Nottz did half the production on Dirty Harriet, there’s already know what to expect. Everything Is a Story is a classic, but it’s in the “lost album” genre. It's my "famous celebrity" album full of cameos. It was cool for that time period. The idea was to get with whatever was hot at that moment.
Did you immediately know that you wanted Nottz to produce?
I originally wanted to use every producer from Dirty Harriet. Nottz was the first producer I worked with for that, and that's where I started for Classic. Really, I never left. The original title was The Big Ten. Ten songs, 10 years later, in 2010.
You titled your new album Classic not as a boast, but to say that it’s a nod to classic hip-hop. What do you consider to be the elements of classic hip-hop?
Classic hip-hop is beats, rhymes and DJs cutting. Anything else is just diluting the form.
How does your first single, “This Ain’t No Lil’ Kid Rap,” showcase these elements?
I wasn't concerned with radio-friendly when I made that record. I made it for my fans who have grown with me who are older now and needed a change from the cookie-cutter hip-hop. I don't make Kidz Bop music.
With this song, are you saying that hip-hop should grow up? Are you looking to carve out a particular audience for your music?
I'm not looking for any new audience; I'm just looking to satisfy my original one. Hip-hop is for everybody old and young, but there are different types of music for different types of people. My nieces and nephews aren't breaking down lyrics and analyzing punch lines, and I don't speak ebonics fluent enough to follow most of their music, so I have to stick with what I know.
There seems to be a growing gulf between “hip-hop music” and “popular music based on hip-hop.” What do you hear being sold as hip-hop that is just pop? How do you separate culture and commerce?
If your album sounds the same as the next person recycling the same "popular" people, chances are it will get dated. If I can pop it in 10 years later, like Illmatic or Reasonable Doubt, and it still sounds good lyrically, then you’re speaking my language.
What does the immediate future hold? What can you tell me about the mixtape you have in the works?
It will be Nottz instrumentals along with original production as well as already-released works with producers like Dilla, RZA, 9th Wonder, S1 and Pete Rock. Other than that and the album, we’ll have to see what unfolds.