Author Kathy Iandoli Talks Prodigy Of Mobb Deep & The Plight Of Queens In Hip-Hop
(AllHipHop Features) Kathy Iandoli has come a long way. The acclaimed journalist is now a fully vested author with a new book that chronicles the important, enduring legacy of women in Hip-Hop. "God Save The Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop" is necessary reading for anyone, as it tells the stories of the ladies that have not had their tales told.
Oddly, Kathy is one of those women, having about two decades in Hip-Hop professionally. Her "pen" has written for Vibe, The Source, XXL, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Billboard magazine, Pitchfork, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Vice magazine, and AllHipHop in her earlier years. In fact, she was a part of our crew, "The Gunshow," which helped pave the way for almost every urban website that matters.
Check out this conversation between Kathy Iandoli and friend/ AHH co-founder Chuck Creekmur as they discuss her relationship with the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Jermaine Dupri’s comments about women rappers. Kathy also talks about her unfortunate, but all-too-real experiences with misogyny in rap and what can be done proactively.
AllHipHop: For those that don't know, Kathy used to work at AllHipHop many, many moons ago and you were our alternatives editor. But we shared common interests outside of hip hop and a lot of that we brought to the table. Like Tori Amos, we brought her to AllHipHop, right?
Kathy Iandoli: The cool part about it was like during that time period, cause you know, I'm one of the original "Gun Show" members, I just have to represent. But during that time, we also did a lot of the women in hip hop that were kind of bubbling but weren't quite there on the mainstream. But we brought a lot, like Lily Allen, Tory Amos, M.I.A, Rihanna.
AllHipHop: It was so fun. Cause we just did whatever we wanted.
Kathy Iandoli: But the traffic showed we were right.
AllHipHop: So, you have a new book. "God Save the Queens - The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop. It's out on Harper Collins. Well, first of all, I want to say congratulations. This is really your first book that you've written by yourself, alone, which is incredibly hard. I've been working on a book for three years. I just can't imagine so talk about, first of all, the process of writing this book. What prompted you to write it and how hard was it?
Kathy Iandoli: It's been like a decade in the making to actually get this book out. I mean when you think about it, when I actually sat down and, and officially got this book deal and I was putting everything together and you know, I'm a research nerd who just wanted to make sure it's obviously very accurate. There was nothing like it. Like anything, You know, there was a little bit of coverage of women in hip hop but a lot of the hip hop books were just really, there's a couple of pages, there's like a chapter or things like that. So to make sure that this was kind of this all-encompassing book of over four decades of women in hip hop and just being able to cover just all of the ground, but at the same time making sure that there were just, you know, an exploration of these kind of pivotal moments that were happening for women in hip hop and how they contributed to the larger just culture.
And I think I learned a lot of random things putting this book together and just how many women were in the room, how many women pioneered so much. And then, you know, it's always just kind of passed off to a guy and then, you know, he'll run with it. But putting it together, it was just one of those things where I had this realization that not only was it such a long time coming, but there's a lot we just didn't know, you know.
AllHipHop: What was the most interesting that you learned that you didn't already know?
Kathy Iandoli: Well, I had read some articles about Kool Herc with the infamous party, but I didn't know it was his sister's idea. And it was actually her party. You know, so it was Cindy's party and you know, Herc was deejaying and that night and he became a legend. But just the idea that it was essentially her party to pay for her school clothes, something like that I really wasn't aware of.
I wasn't aware of Monie Love ,when she came here from London all the dudes were trying to hit on her. Any famous rapper, Monie was their target. And it got to a point where she shaved her head and she taped her breasts down so that she could go into a room and start rapping and not have them try anything with her. So just these kinds of stories that you're just like, "Ugh, that's crazy." And a lot of the stuff, even the Lil Kim stuff, just a lot of what women had to endure. And it's just a testament to the strength of women, but particularly black women.
AllHipHop: What made you name it "God Save the Queens?
Kathy Iandoli: Well, you know, in England there's the whole "God save the queen, protect the queen at all costs, protect royalty, bless royalty." And women in Hip-Hop, are royalty. So it was just this idea of creating this title that just showed how the most unprotected women need to be protected. And also it was kind of a play on the idea of like the "Gods" and "Earths" (The Five Percent Nation) and you know the irony of the title as if to suggest that women need to be saved.
AllHipHop: So who did you talk to and what was the process?
Kathy Iandoli: I cast the widest net, who I felt I should talk to. And some people gave some really good, extensive stories and others just gave little tidbits and anecdotes. And then I also pulled from my interviews over the last two decades and shared some of that insight. I spoke to Nicki Minaj, like one of the first interviews she ever did and Lil Kim. I got Monie Love and Rah Digga, I got Debbie Dee, one of the original Us Girls from "Beat Street" to talk and tell her story.
I spoke with Bahamadia, Gangsta Boo, Mia X and Le Chat. I got Megan Thee Stallion. She closes my book. So I spoke to a lot of women and I got their takes on a lot of different things. I spoke to other women in the industry and just kind of pulled together this story. But I also spoke with Questlove, because The Roots to the Fugees and the whole story with Eve on "You Got Me" on an uncredited verse. So there's actually a really funny story about that in the book too. And I didn't want to do an encyclopedia. I mean we're in a society where we retweet, we don't read these 85,000 words that I put together. I wanted to make it also a fun read and there's kind of little anecdotes with myself, opening the chapters because I've been in this for a long time, but I'm also just a Hip-Hop fan.
AllHipHop: Even after AllHipHop we've intersected quite a bit. And you talk about a radio station incident where someone calls you the "C-word." That's almost like the worst thing you can call a woman. Do you wanna explain that situation as it opens the book
It was one of those things where at that point I had been in Hip-Hop or working in the music industry for about a decade. And it really wasn't being called the C-word by the artist that got to me. It was what happened after that. Basically, long story short I didn't agree to some sort of favor that was asked of an artist on air. Not a favor from me, but a favor to get an intern to do something. I was the director of the urban programming there. So my rule was my rule, you know, it was for the safety of an employee and I was called the "C-word." And when it happened, I ran into the office of the executive in the company.
An he was just very like well, "Who's going to respect you?" It was one those things where I've been doing this for like 10 years. What do you mean? I think that was almost worse than being called that. I've seen that person, since he called me that and we've been fine. He's not forgiven for that, but it's like whatever. But you're being told by someone who literally didn't have my tenure in the industry telling me well, "What did you expect?" That was the part where it's like, "Oh."
And it was really during that time period that I made that decision that I was going to put a book out. And one of the guys who was in the room during that whole scenario, when I was walking out, I turned to him and I said, "You're going to see this in a book one day." And he reminded me because I was fact-checking that story. So I called a couple of people who were there and I was like "Could you do a quick go over this again?" It was 10 years ago. And he's like, "You know, you walked out of that room and you turned to me and you said this is going to show up in a book one day." And I was like, well "tahh dahh..."
AllHipHop: Hip-Hop is infamously misogynistic and hard on women and actually has been kind of almost from the beginning, but it got worse after Gangster rap, let's just say it. It is what it is. You know what I mean? Regardless of the initial thought behind it with Ice Cube, and he always explained it so eloquently. Honestly respect to Cube, I've never really agreed with him, but at least he had some sense behind it. What are your thoughts on overall how Hip-Hop has treated its women?
Kathy Iandoli: Well, I think to your point with the whole success of Gangster rap, what it did was it normalized using the words b##ch and hoe. And I think once that became fun vernacular and there are women dancing in the clubs to being called it, you know, I think that's where things sort of changed. I don't necessarily think that there was any less misogyny prior, but I just think that how it was expressed was a little more normalized during that period of time. And we never really bounced back. But I think what happened was if you're talking circa 1996 when you had Lil Kim and Foxy Brown and other artists who were sexually expressive and taking ownership of just being like, "okay I'm going to, I'm going to express myself before you try to put me down for it."
But what ended up happening was the press coverage around Lil Kim and Foxy specifically during that time, they were called raunchy. They were called sluts. They were called all these things for being expressive and trying to turn around what it was that was happening within the misogyny in hip hop. And then they're being talked down for it. And if you think about Gangster rap, the one thing that was always being challenged was the gun talk. It wasn't the b##ch and hoe talk. It's like, well, how dare you, how dare you rap about violence when, when cops are constantly pulling you over and police brutality is rampant in South Central LA. How, how dare you do that?. But b##ches and hoes is fine. You know, it was misguided anger.
AllHipHop: There were pockets of resistance here and there, you know? I've always been anti-degrading women and I remember I had a moment with somebody who is in the industry, over a Dr. Dre song. "It Ain't No Fun" and I'm like, "Yo, this is the worst song ever." I'm like "if it ain't no fun...if, the homeys can't have none? That's just nasty." But one person I was cool with was a woman and she loved it. She was like, "I ain't trying to hear that, that's my song." Are women in any way guilty?
Kathy Iandoli: I wouldn't say guilty. I think it's just a matter of how you choose to separate the artists from the art. There are certain artists that have 1,000,001 reasons not to listen to their music because of who they are as people. But I'm less likely to support an artist who I know has a track record of horrible behavior yeah than I am about the content of a song at this point. Sometimes the two connect, sometimes they completely do. And other times they don't. I mean there's some artists who sing about peace and love or rap about peace and love and they're awful individuals. "I Believe I Can Fly." I can't say that like I don't have a playlist that has something a little crazy, but it is something where as a woman use you have to make that kind of decision every time you press play.
AllHipHop: This year there was this whole raging discussion when Jermaine Dupri says they are all strippers or something along those lines. Everybody collectively was like what are you talking about? Some people were like, "You're not even on the wave of Hip-Hop anymore to say that." And then other people were like, "you're man mansplaining" and things of that nature. What were your thoughts on that?
Kathy Iandoli: The internet and social media is just so dangerous because now everyone has thoughts about everything. And there's a number of times a day where I'm just like, nobody needed your hot take. You could've just kept watching television or finishing your lunch or doing something. And he just like fell into that because Jermaine Dupri has contributed a lot to Hip-Hop. He's the reason why we have Da Brat. But to make that assertion at a time where he hasn't really pushed any woman in Hip-Hop, I don't know what he was looking at, or what statistics he was checking in marketing meetings because I have yet to see the product of his extensive research. But then when he turned around and was like, "I'm gonna put all these women together," it was like..."I'm going to have a female cipher." I don't know about it.
AllHipHop: He's still working on it cause we just got an email from him the other day, well his people. You should talk to him.
Kathy Iandoli: Oh, I'd love to. I'd love to have a conversation about it. I'm just curious too, because if he's looking at this data, I want to see this data where these things come from. But there's a lot of unfounded opinions that just kind of infiltrate social media. And we're all guilty of it to a certain extent. And sometimes we will just say something and we're in an era where we don't have always the receipts to back it up. You know, when you were talking about the whole idea of conflicting opinions when it comes to songs, we would have our "Gun Show" meetings. (AllHipHop's editorial staff was lovingly called "The Gun Show") We would sit and deliberate on what every piece of material that hit AllHipHop.com. Places don't do that anymore. That's a lost art. Now. It's the content, the speed. I wish we had that kind of time period again where we can curate and you know, it would allow for a lot more well thought out opinions and a lot of well-thought-out coverage. I'm interested to see what the JD cipher is.
AllHipHop: You also worked with Prodigy of Mobb Deep extensively. I was there some of the time and Prodigy was one of my favorites. When he died, I felt like I lost a family member. I was like, "Yo, I'm crying. What's going on?" Talk about the book and your relationship.
Kathy Iandoli: I met Mobb Deep over the years, but I went out to lunch with P right around the time that he got out of prison and I was doing an interview, one of his first ones when he got out and we just vibed, we clicked. One thing about Prodigy is just, he just has the craziest sense of humor. Like he had a dry sense of humor. One of those things was his deadpan delivery with like the Queens accent and the gruff voice and he would just say things and you're just like "What?" I mean our text conversations, sometimes I still look at them cause he would send me the most ridiculous memes or he would sent me a picture of an artist wearing something then be like, "yo Kat, come get your friend."
But when we had that lunch, he said to me, "I've been thinking of doing kind of like this cookbook or some way to explain what happened to me while I was in prison." Because you know he had the SS type of sickle cell anemia, which is the worst. He was in constant pain. He had to always just maintain his health and make sure that he watched everything that went into his body. He was nervous when he went in because he was like "I don't want to die in prison from like malnutrition or from sodium intake and things like that." So he made an effort to use what he could from his commissary and from what his family would send. A lot of fans sent him stuff too and create these kinds of meals to just make sure he was all right.
But also shed some light on the prison system. I didn't know certain things. I didn't know that in order to get water in prison you have to fill jugs yourself and carry the jugs. But the easiest thing to get is orange drink and that fake sweet tea. You can walk out your door or cell and get that. But to get water you have to take a jug, you have to go up like steps and grab a jug and do all these things. And if that doesn't speak volumes, I don't know what does. A lot of inmates leave diabetic. Because all they're drinking all day is orange drink. Having kidney disease, all of those things. There's a thing called prison tea where they take the Ramen packet and pour it in water and drink it. The thing's got like 2,500 milligrams of sodium. You are drinking that three times a day.
When you see a lot of people leave prison and you're like, "Wow, they got swollen." No, that's sodium. That's not completely doing pullups. You know, P and I, we got really close through the process when the book came out. He wanted me with him. We were able to go to Harvard and Yale and all these places. And then that following year, which was 2017, he wanted to do more. We were going to do a musical that was based loosely on his life. But then also he had a lot of conflicts of opinions on what it was that he was putting out there that he felt maybe he was causing people to be violent.
There was a moment when he was in court during his trial. And they asked him if he wanted to cop a plea and he's like, "I didn't do anything." I mean, basically, you know, he had a gun under his seat and cops made it seem like he was like waving it around. They were like, "Are you sure?" And he was sitting in the courtroom and they push out a TV with a VCR and he's like, "A tear came to my eye." He was like, "They're going to play my music videos." So he got to this point toward the end of his life where he wanted to somehow just make good on all of that. You know, balance his karma. I knew something was up when he started making peace with everyone. The one that trips me out was when he and Tru Life made that peace treaty. I was like, "is he okay?" I hope he's feeling good. I mean it's great, that's like one long-standing beef that was just crazy.
But when he started making all these like peace treaties and squashing all this beef, I was like something felt weird.
We were going to do a book. His own "Decoded," cause you know, I did the research for Jay-Z's "Decoded" and he wanted me to do a book like that with him. And we were working on that and we were doing all these things and then he got on "Fallon" and we were right there. And then he wanted to do a second memoir to "My Infamous Life." It was called "The State vs Albert Prodigy Johnson."
He talked about starting the book the day that he got out of prison. I remember the day. We got these free tee shirts from Harvard. And he's like, "I would wear those every day." And that day I was wearing it I texted him and I sent him a picture. I was like, "look at what I'm wearing for the first time since we got it like almost a year ago." And no text back. And then I went on social media and I posted the picture. I knew he was in Vegas, but I was like, maybe he's like sleeping. So a couple of minutes later Questlove called and he was like, "Are you OK?" And another friend of mine called and was like "Nas posted, that Prodigy died." And then Freeway called me. I'm getting all these artists are hitting me because they knew our friendship. And then I'm getting calls from publications, "Can you do an interview?" And I said, "An interview of what, I don't know what's happening." And then come to find out that he had passed away and it was too soon. But I feel like P knew he was on a clock.
A lot of people don't live to see 40 with that horrible disease and he wanted to be an advocate for that stuff. I think that there is no coincidence that a disease that only specifically affects Black people gets the least amount of research, you know? And that was something that he wanted to really just focus on underserved research for that disease.