Intelligenz, an emcee by way of Chicago, is holding her own in music in a very interesting and exciting way. In one regard, its as if she, based on her talents and passions alone, was directly passed the torch from some of Hip Hop’s pioneering female figures, such as Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, from the very beginning of her career, but in another sense, is still eager to keep adding more stripes to her sleeve. That intrinsic self-awareness to keep pushing forward, despite what they’ve already accomplished, only comes from someone who acknowledges that he or she was born with a very special gift and has taken years of practice and patience to figure out what that truly means.
As Intelligenz points out herself, she’s blessed to have had a generation of inspirational rappers before her time who helped pave the way and teach her what is important about forging your own path within music. For this emcee, it’s less about the image and more about the message – something that truly is a fresh breath of air Hip Hop in 2016 has been desperately gasping for.
Recently signing to HiPNOTT Records, Intelligenz has an ample amount of new music being cooked up, from her forthcoming EP due out later this fall, to her next full-length project that, a la J. Cole, won’t include any features from rappers.
From serving for 6.5 years as a police officer in the Air Force to trying her hand at exploring a lucrative music career, Intelligenz has overcome some serious tragedies and hardships throughout her life, such as her rising above her troubled childhood and coping with the loss of her mother as a teenager, that has enabled her to evolve into the powerful artist she is today. While her vocal delivery at times shows all the ways in which she is tough as nails, her strength lies within her ability to add a softer, emotional and conscious side to her music, all without losing her edge. At the core of who she is as a recording artist, it really does come down to admiring the beauty of words and the poetic, artistic nature of being an emcee that Intelligenz holds so dear and seeing with an open mind how she can apply that to her music next. This is something that can not be taught or emulated, but something that shines through organically with ease when someone truly has discovered the power behind arranging words together in a genuine way that resonates with listeners after the track ends.
After winning MC Lyte’s “Next Top Female MC” competition led to a deal working with her mentor herself, Intelligenz toured for two years as part of Lyte’s Legends of Hip Hop tour and from there, it was as if it was inevitable that the rest would be history.
With a serious focus on her lyricism and working tirelessly until her vocals sync perfectly with her production choices, sometimes sitting on a beat for years, Intelligenz is set out to continue to live up to what her name suggests. She also aims to inspire a new generation of female emcees in order to navigate these uncharted waters together. If her new track is any indication, Intelligenz has a bright future ahead of her, as fueled by a humble-but-honest “I didn’t come this far to only make it this far” mantra.
How long have you been doing what you do?
I’ve been professionally pursuing music for about eight years but I’ve been writing all my life.
How did you get started?
I actually started in poetry—I used to write by myself and for myself during my childhood as an outlet. I loved all things associated with the arts from poetry to drawing, writing and then Hip Hop snuck in. I’m from Chicago but got the courage to pursue music in Las Vegas, NV.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about getting into your craft, such as when you realized this was more than just a hobby or a passion?
I realized it was more than passion when I couldn’t let it go. Though I’m originally from Chicago, when I got out of the military, I moved to Vegas with my ex-husband and fiancé at the time. He would say, ‘I see you writing like you have an album coming out, you really need to pursue this.’
The problem was I never wanted to be famous. I didn’t even want spotlight or attention but I did want to impact the culture and I had of a desire and strong curiosity to feel the reaction of what Hip Hop heads thought of my skill (or lack of).
When I first started doing open mics I could barely hold a mic. My hands would shake uncontrollably from nerves and for a long time, I couldn’t even pick up a mic so I began rapping with the stand as my crutch. People thought I had bars but I was the absolute worst on delivering them on stage. However, when the lights were gone, and I could blend, in a cypher style environment, I came to light. THAT was my stage. I felt comfortable and like I could be myself. I rap with my hands as my extended expression so removing that crutch of having to have a mic in my hand was like a breakthrough for me. People would be surprised to see me in this element but not be able to deliver on stage.
In these early moments I knew, I had to find a way to bring this confidence and this execution to the stage. It was an embarrassing road dealing with stage fright and criticism but it was necessary as it let me know how much I wanted this and so my journey began. Pushing past fears, negative feedback, nerves and my own self-doubt, my hobby turned into my profession. I was now practicing in mirrors, losing sleep, studying other performers to find what was comfortable for me. I prayed before every show, often asking permission of God for this to be my path and here I am today – completely confident in my destination and prepared for the journey.
How do you describe your sound/ what you do to people you haven’t heard before?
I describe my sound as honest, intentional and specific. I never like what the masses like just because it’s what’s moving. I’ve sat on beats for two years to see if I will still enjoy it. When I write to a beat, I want to do the producer justice and I want my audience to feel like I put in the work for it. I want the song to feel like a beautiful marriage. My flow changes depending on the energy and vibe of the subject matter and beat progression so I consider my sound diverse but always delivering a Hip Hop context that is hopefully noticed immediately.
Who are your influences? What is some advice that has stuck with you?
My influences are those who stay true to the art and culture of Hip Hop. From Nas and Lauryn Hill to Common and Da Brat representing Chicago and impacting my generation to Slick Rick, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, who were introduced to me as the greats who opened the door for them and paved the way for us all with storytelling and integrity.
Lauryn helped me become the young woman I am today. There is sincerity when you hear her voice – whether it was followed by a dope drum kick or when she’s rendering a soft melody vocally – she impacted tremendously. She was bold yet so humble. She took chances I only dreamed of to be honest with herself and in her music. She understood her gift and the responsibility that came with it, speaking so prophetically at times. Because of the value she gave her words it encouraged me to continue value the words I used.
What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?
I think more than anything I hope people react emotionally where they can relate to my content. I hope they feel the love I have for my craft. I hope that I inspire emcees to value lyrics again as words are beautiful to me. I hope they hear my love, my fight, my frustration, my sorrow – I hope they truly understand this is more than music for me and always have been. That it was my voice, even when I hid my writing. I hope I encourage at least one young lady to pursue her craft honorably and respectfully; I hope to leave my audience with the notion that bars still matter, especially when it comes from the voice of emcees that happen to be female.
Tell us a little bit about what concepts or themes reoccur in your newest release, “Round of Applause?”
The theme of “Round of Applause” came naturally. I always write honestly – as in, I write about the message that is pounding on my chest to get out. It’s like I can feel it trying to breathe. The connotation of this project was I am a female emcee, hear me roar! I was saying, yes I’m underground, no I don’t have a label deal, no I don’t have the connections just yet, no I’m not in spandex, six inch heels and my breast or ass isn’t out but guess what – YES, I’m still dope!
Now I KNOW that sounds like shade but what you really hear is me representing ME. Me giving girls like me a visual, a voice an example. I’m not against being sexy, we are women and look great doing it when it’s done with class. I remember I could choose from Lil Kim to Foxy to Eve to Rah Digga, Mia X, Missy, Da Brat, Charlie Baltimore, Left Eye (RIP), Lauryn, Queen and so many more – they key is I had choices from female emcees. Today it’s like only one blueprint works from the female emcee and that’s the over sexualized blueprint. Kudos to those who can and are killing that lane but what about the women who don’t fit nor desire to be in it? Who is our voice? And not saying you can’t live in both worlds, I just found that it appeared as if the industry was only taking applications from one type of potential employee – feel me? So “Round of Applause” began to address their hiring methods.
We have become so conditioned to only co-sign someone when they appear to have money, or are associated with those who do, that we’ve lost the beauty in being a listener today. The luxury and privilege we use to exercise to put our own individual co-sign on a new up and coming artist. This round of applause wasn’t just for me but for all emcees fighting in the game. The listener today sees we are indie but expect us to move as if we have Roc Nation or Young Money-money behind us and they really hold us accountable to that comparison. I don’t necessary blame the listener. I’m not quite sure who is to blame. I know that music shifts along with expectations and tradition. I also know as an artist, I have a responsibility to do all I can to respect the culture with as much grace and integrity as possible. Once we get back to Hip Hop and truly investing in breaking new artists with substance again – this will change.
What was your creative process like for this single?
I have to admit that “Round of Applause” was also me giving myself a pat on the back. It was kind of rhetorically stated For so long, I had self-doubt about my ability. I would listen to Nas and think damn – I’m not there yet. But in 2013 I signed a two-year management deal with MC Lyte after winning her Next Top Female MC competition, competing against girls from different states in California. After that I felt invincible. I never thought I could do something like that but I should’ve since I prayed on it. I knew there was a possibility but I struggled embracing my level of talent for fear of losing humility. After that competition, I felt like my confidence was born and I began writing; “Round of Applause” is the outcome. I would pick it up and put it down often. I wanted every lyric to be organically written. The single speaks to the industry denying the voice of female emcees – being oversaturated and the third verse pays homage to MC Lyte and the advice she gave to me.
What are you hoping to accomplish next in your career?
Since the signing and announcement of my label deal with HiPNOTT Records this past May, my next step is the creation of my EP, Feature Don’t Follow, which I’m anticipating releasing this fall.
I will collaborate with some of my favorite emcees both known and possibly unknown. My album, Everything I Am, has been a long time coming and will drop summer 2017. It will have no rap features and possibly a couple of singers.
As with every project I release, it will be 100% written and organized by me from verses to bridge to hooks – everything. I want to be evaluated as an independent artist and show that female emcees can stand on their own. I anticipate every positive and negative critique and I look forward to giving my all go harder where needed. This is an exciting time in my life right now. God willing, I would absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to make it to the 2017 BET Cypher!