August 18, 2016 | 1:31 PM
by Ural Garrett
Exploring the deep rabbit hole of ’90s alternative West Coast Hip Hop eventually means finding out about The Good Life Cafe and how it birthed everything fromFreestyle Fellowship to Project Blowed. At the time, anything coming from that Leimert Park-based movement was the total opposite of the obviously more commercially popular gangster rap. More noticeably, it was a lot friendlier toward women wanting to rock the mic. There isn’t a better example than groups like Figure of Speech (featuring a very young Ava Duvernay) and S.I.N. The latter duo found minor local success with “The Power Of The P” before member Medusa started to enjoy some solo success.
She’s also become one of the most consistent female MCs in the West despite being so low-key.
Between dozens of releases from then to now, some pretty low-key acting roles and community activism, Medusa manages to pop up everywhere in Los Angeles. She’s also gotten serious respect within the industry working with the likes of Teena Marie and MC Lyte. Battle rap fans during that era may have seen Medusa compete a few times as well. As a matter of fact, one particular battle made Kevin Fitzgerald’s cult classic documentaryFreestyle: The Art of Rhyme. Those who really understand the city’s scene just can’t miss her, especially adult underground Hip Hop fans over the age of 40. And yes, the City of Angeles has a booming market for it.
Taking a Sunday stroll through Leimert Park’s marketplace with Medusa, she shakes hands and gets props from everywhere. Local Rastafari, OGs and citizens hanging out in what many call the last black cultural hub of the city are showing mad respect. Clearly enough, this is her turf.
“I Started Back At The Good Life Cafe & Back Then, There Was A Distinct Difference Between Mainstream & Underground.”
HipHopDX: I remember watching for the first time on that one episode of Moesha.
Medusa: Oh wow! When I played Lady Lunatic. I was on one the whole episode. Youngsters that watched that show, they know me from there. Grown folks saw a movie called Stranger Inside. It’s really dope that I can touch a couple of generations through acting and music.
DX: As we both know, Moesha was set in Leimert Park and featured parts inspired by The Good Life Cafe and even Freestyle Fellowship. During the ’90s in Los Angeles, it was known as the antithesis to mainstream gangster rap.
Medusa: I started back at The Good Life Cafe and back then, there was a distinct difference between mainstream and underground. Back then, you didn’t mind being underground and it was almost like a graduation. If you were hot in the underground, were in the streets and giving yourself to every event, you were going to get it. There were active young labels out here that were snatching folks real quick and fast. Folks were coming out as far as Atlanta and New York looking for talent. They were coming to the underground for it. Then mainstream gangster rap was looking for a different flavor too so they would slide through The Good Life and check out the vibe. We’d make you want to grab your pen and get your chops together. Back in the 90s, there was raw Hip Hop. There was gangster rap and then this underground that you had to validate yourself through first. If you loved Hip Hop, you dealt in all lanes.
DX: “Power Of The P” alongside your cousin Koko as S.I.N is regarded as a West Coast underground Hip Hop classic.
Medusa:”Power Of The P” was huge and it was our introduction. No one will ever forget that song. There has been songs kind of like it since then. I think one of the highlights during that time was when we got to perform that and a few other tracks with Meshell Ndegeocello at The Roxy.
DX: The first time I saw you perform was at the United In Peace Ride that Tony Mohammed put together out here a few years ago. I had no idea your fanbase was pretty solid and they knew all the words to your songs. Considering you don’t have a significant social media presence, how exactly were you able to even build that.
Medusa: I’m a poet as well. I have a live band. That’s something that’s adult. In the ’90s and up till now, that’s been considered a grown thing. So, when I would perform, I would do grown Hip Hop. For a woman like that, your mother, grandmother or auntie will come to my show. Then I go to high schools and I perform. I go to the children’s detention center, perform and do workshops there. Now you know me as a spitter. I get to vibe with them in a different way. You got 16, 17, 18-year-olds at my show and they run into their auntie they haven’t seen in months. That’s generations I’m bringing together. That is my fanbase. It’s a marvel when people see it. I give to all the communities and all my folks. My fanbase is very vast. I do these cultural fairs, you’re going to not only see grown folks but a balance of everything. Everybody has a Medusa song. What keeps me rolling is that I have a vast fanbase that spans many generations.
Medusa Remembers Being Teena Marie’s Favorite RapperDX: How has that translated into making a living as a rapper?
Medusa: That’s a rough one. Over the years, I’ve written music for films. In addition to that, I’ve thrown events for years. I always have product on me. I learned with social exposure, that’s all that it is. I can send you to my website all day long, but are you going to buy music on my website or are you going to wait till my show, see me face to face get a hug and buy one from me personally. That’s what people look forward to. That’s what I look forward to. I’m old school. When it’s digital, it feels a little impersonal. Yeah, I have social media and I fuck with it. But, it’s nothing like a hand-to-hand or face-to-face.
DX: Those distinct contrasts between mainstream and underground have changed. It’s most definitely blurred. Has that affected you?
Medusa: It’s perfect because I’ve been doing what they’ve been doing now. So it’s nothing for me. It’s nothing for these cats who have worked with majors now to come to me and say let’s do your shit. I have avenues in places like Canada and Europe as well that I’m able to take advantage of. I did a joint with Speech from Arrested Development that went gold in Japan. So, people know me in Japan, but I’ve never been there.
DX: I remember you had the “The Mackin’ Game” track on Teena Marie’s Cash Money album La Dona with MC Lyte.
Medusa: Teena Marie was at my show at Fais Do Do. I was doing “This Pussy Is A Gangsta,” she got up on stage and sang with me. We played vocally back and forth with the song. She told me I was her favorite rapper. What? I grew up mimicking her voice on her albums. Are you serious? She invites me to her house and that’s how we developed that song. We sat for hours, she played the piano for me, told me stories about Rick James that I shouldn’t have heard. But, God rest her soul. That was an incredible experience for me. Doing shows with Roy Ayers is incredible for me. I grew up with those rich sounds. You’re telling me I’m your favorite rapper because you understand me. A lot of older cats can’t follow the younger stuff.
DX: There’s been lots of talk regarding Leimert Park losing its identity due to gentrification. Something you’ve been very vocal about. Does seeing young emcees like VerBS and the support behind Bananas give you hope?
Medusa: Yeah. It gives me hope that you can still be a nerd and be cool and accepted. In the ’80s or ’90s, he would have been seen as quirky. Now, we need that because there are quirky cats out there that need someone to represent them. They need to see their reflection too. We don’t all bang. It’s about changing the structure of Hip Hop to where everything is allowed to have light. Everything deserves light in Hip Hop. They’ve been leading us to one facet of who we are when we’re so much more. Music is so much more. When you look at all the greats like a Roy Ayers or Prince, they were everywhere based on things like age and what their experience was. As you grow as an artist, you’re supposed to express all of those things so I can relate. The honesty is what makes a gifted artist and VerBS is honest with who he is. I dig that and it’s necessary. There are so many pretenders out there because they don’t want to own their shit. They don’t want to be who they’re raised to be.
Why Couldn’t The West Coast Churn Out A Commercially Successful Female Rapper?DX: When you talk about women in Hip Hop, there’s never been a real breakout star from the West Coast on a commercial level. Sure, there were almost moments with Yo-Yo and Lady of Rage. However, the biggest-selling female emcees have always come from either the East Coast or The South.
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THE 33RD "OG RADIOTRON" PEACE IN THE STREETS FESTIVAL Summer Jam Concert Will Feature Some Of West Coast HipHop Rap Pioneers, Legendary, Veteran, New Generation MCs / Rappers On Saturday August 27th @ Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park L.A.