Sometimes being a nightlife writer feels like getting stranded on Techno Dude Island. Not always cuuute. So when I got wind that the classic Sisterz of the Underground hip-hop party crew was hitting the Bay for a huge 10-year anniversary celebration Sat/31 including a party at Public Works and a day of tech workshops and empowerment talks at CellSpace, I jumped on the chance for a breath of fresh female air and an indepth talk with folks who inspired me back in the day to try a few dance floor moves I probably shouldn't have.
SOTU founder Sarah "Smalls" McCann, creative director Traci P, and organizer Crykit moved away from the Bay a little while ago (and the groundbreaking in-school hip-hop education program they started, Def Ed, is currently in hibernation mode), but the international Sisterz of the Underground network they helped establish is still thriving and inspiring women to discover and transmit the roots of hip-hop dance, art, music, creativity, and culture. The 10th anniversary party reflects that all-encompassing approach with live music from Kid Sister, DJ Shortee, Green B, Jeanine da Feen, and tons more, plus a 1-on-1 dance battle, art and vendor fair, live painting, nail booth... It'll be a much-needed femme attack in this age of War on Women, hip-hop style acrimony, and the mainstreaming of street spirit.
I communicated with the trio over email in anticipation of their return, and got not only the trademark Sisterz blend of energy, outspokenness, and positivity, but some juicy tidbits about Bay hip-hop history, the current state of rap and dance, and the ladies' current doings as well. Check it.
SISTERZ OF THE UNDERGROUND 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Sat/31 at Public Works and CellSpace
Details and tickets: sisterzunderground.eventbrite.com
Facebook Invite is here.
SFBG It's been a minute since you've been on my radar. Can you introduce yourself and tell us what's going on with y'all now?
TRACI P I moved to Las Vegas a little over a year and a half ago after an almost decade stint in San Francisco throwing events and creative directing the Sisterz of the Underground. Currently I am the managing partner of RAW Entertainment (www.raw-e.com) which is both a booking agency and event production company based here in Sin City. I book for a variety of artists, like BReal of Cypress Hill, two-time DMC champ DJ SHIFTEE, and NYC club and fashion DJ Roxy Cottontail. Aside from artist bookings I continue to produce local events here in Vegas as well as a monthly in San Francisco called Femme Fatale at John Colins, every second Thursday -- it features an all-female lineup and highlights music, fashion, and art. The next one is Thu., April 12, and will feature live painting, a guest performer and a dubstep DJ line-up including Lotus Drops, Sculltrain and Smashletooth. I also write music interviews for Thrasher Magazine, mostly about hip-hop and rap artists.
SARAH "SMALLS" MCCANN I'm the founder of SOTU and also a B-girl in the Extra Credit Kru. After years of being in the Bay and running SOTU and Def Ed, our hip-hop education program, I moved down to Los Angeles at the end of 2006. Since then, most of my experience has been selling events at various venues including House of Blues Hollywood and Jillian's Universal. Currently, I'm the marketing sales manager at Pacific Park, the amusement park at the Santa Monica pier while also being a partner in Clique Events Society and a board member for the tour and travel marketing association of Southern California.
On the side of all of that, I also run an entertainment company with my husband, B-boy Machine, called Hit the Floor Productions (www.hitthefloorproductions.com), help direct our in-house dance company, West Bound, and manage Bboy Machine as an artist. When I'm not busy being the business guru that I am, I'm still just a hip-hop head and a die-hard B-girl with Extra Credit Kru! However at this present moment, I'm not breaking as i'm almost 8 months pregnant with my first child!
CRYKIT Hey hey! I'm Michelle, aka Crykit, aka Miss Crix :) I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, moved to the Bay Area in 2000, LA in 2010, and currently in Las Vegas since 2011. I started DJing, popping, and breaking in 2002. The rave scene of 98-02 is really where it all began for me. For the last eight years B-girling has been my main focus. I've been a member of Extra Credit Kru since day one and with this crew of amazing talented inspiring ladies we've taught in schools and studios, entered hundreds of battles, performed at some pretty epic events, been featured in music videos and short films, traveled nationally and internationally
When I moved to LA I manifested what originally was an idea for a hip fashion line with the perfect balance of masculine and feminine HAPPY MEDIUM, into a dancy DJ duo that encompasses everything from dance to art to fashion to music. My partner in crime is a funky stylin' B-girl I met back in the Bay: Faye aka 13 Moons. (She is DJing the 1-on-1 female dance battle at our Public Works party.)
SFBG You must have a lot of memories of SOTU -- how did it all come together and what stands out for you most from the past decade?
TRACI P Sarah's the founder, but I can tell you a bit about how I started with the collective. I moved to San Francisco when I was 19 after leaving UC Davis. Having decided to take an alternate educational path towards my ultimate goal of working in the music industry, I decided to intern at as many record companies and entertainment-oriented entities I could. This included Bomb Hip Hop, Look Records, Live Up Records, and Quannum Records. A boyfriend of mine at the time introduced me to Sarah. I loved the idea of women in the music industry and hip-hop, and felt an overwhelming sense of welcome and support in the collective. I pushed Sarah to let me do whatever she needed and learn more about how she produced events and operated. I started coming in everyday. I had such a respect for her vision, dedication, and the energy she put into making this collective so visible and tangible for women all around the globe. From then on she became a mentor to me. Both she and the Sisterz of the Underground changed my life forever.
SMALLS Well, this is always a long answer for me, as even though I'm pregnant with my first child, I always saw SOTU as my real first child. This all started back in 2000 when I was approached by the owner of the Justice League (now the Independent) about doing a hip-hop event at the venue. I was super inspired by two females in my life at that time: Arouz, a female graff artist, and Inchant, a female MC. i thought it would be super dope to produce an all-female hip-hop event that included all elements of hip-hop (MCing, breaking, graffiti, DJing, beatboxing, etc.). I spent about a month scouting talent from all over and found B-girls from UC Berkeley, Syndel from old dominion, and many more. I asked Medusa to be the headliner and threw a show on January 18, 2001 called Sisterz of the Underground.
The show had over 600 attendees and was a huge success! After the show, everyone was asking me who is Sisterz of the Underground... Well, I was in college at the time and didn't really have any plans for who or what was SOTU. I decided to ask the girls involved if they were interested in forming a collective where women could comfortably express themselves, come together to share, and put on shows.
After a few more successful shows in the Bay, I decided to organize a group of us to teach at a young women's conference. At this time, we really didn't know what we were doing, but we knew we had something to share. From that conference, we were contacted by two all girl groups to come and teach at their center. Well, the year was filled with many shows and many workshops and soon we were voted "Best Hip-Hop Monthly of the Year" in the Guardian and we created a hip-hop education program called Def Ed. Def Ed became such a success and grew into a program that was eventually serving over 3,000 youth a year and existing in 6 counties of the Bay Area.
It's hard to pinpoint my favorite point of SOTU, but I have to say that my life wouldn't be the same without it and i would not be the woman that I am without all of my Sisterz that I have met along the way.
CRYKIT I first found out about SOTU at an all girl weekly dance practice at Dance Mission around 2002. There I felt supported in learning all about the culture and its elements. I would sketch in a black book, create stencils, DJ parties, pop, break, freestyle in the car on battle road trips, hahaha. It just sort of became a part of me, a lifestyle. I'm so grateful to have had a collective of such eclectic, empowering, talented women to grow as an artist with, to jump in a cypher with, to create a mix tape with… And most of these women are like super hero goddesses LOL.. Nurses, firefighters, neuroscientists, designers, massage therapists, business owners... the list goes on and on.
My favorite story I guess would be connecting with and building friendships with girls from other countries like Sweden, Germany, and India through SOTU! It's so cool the network and community has spread globally.
SFBG The lineup for this party at Public Works is absolutely insane! It really brings together some true female talent. With female MCs like Nicki, Azealia Banks, and Iggy Azalea all over, do you have any thoughts about the state of females in hip-hop right now?
TRACI P Thank you first off for the compliment, that’s endearing! As far as the state of females in hip-hop, I would like to start by saying that hip-hop in general is in a state of transition as is the music industry as a whole. As the landscape of popular music shifts more and more to being influenced by electronic music, I think that hip-hop as well is starting to play into this trend. Nicki Minaj is a great rapper but some of her songs are SO far from rap or even hip hop. "Starships," enough said. Iggy Azalea has got a lot of style and I am interested to see where she goes but I am not so confident in her skills as a lyricist.
Then there are one hitters like Kreayshawn whose success can be attributed to the beat of ‘Gucci Gucci’ being along a electronic-dubstep style as well as her look being right for the time. There is less and less attention paid to substance and more to image and look. Half of these girls can’t even perform live and are in a sense disposable because they have no stage presence. Just a pretty face with flashly clothes and jewelry. Then you have these record labels and agencies making it worse because the industry is so in the toilet that the SECOND they smell a lick of talent, they come along, swoop them up, charge ridiculous amounts of money to promoters, the artist never fully develops before being fed to the sharks, and ultimately fails!
But then you have girls like KID SISTER and MIA who steady hold it down. They have their own style and do a good job of incorporating current trends as well as keeping true to themselves and having a voice instead of being a puppet. I’m forever a student, however, and am interested in what’s to come in the music industry.
And the female DJ should also not be forgotten. As is evident in our line-up we respect all elements of hip-hop and the DJ is no exception. I feel as though the past few years have given rise to a great window of opportunity for female DJs and we’ve seen more and more emerge and tear it up! Living in Vegas I see a lot of plastic behind the decks but there are truly real women who can throw it down and rock a party and/or battle just as good as men, La Femme Deadly Venom for one, Pam the Funkstress, Spinderella, we have our own Crykit in Vegas killing clubs with style. It makes me happy to see this.
SMALLS To be honest, I think hip-hop overall is ever changing and growing with different niches and styles that come through. As for females in hip-hop, we've definitely come a long way and are continuing to get out there and do our thing. If you look at the different eras of hip-hop, you'll see how many female MCs were legends in their own right: MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante, Lil Kim, Raw Digga, Bahamadia, Nicki Minaj, the list goes on and on. I also think that female DJs have come along way and are continuing to show that they can rock just as hard or even harder than some male DJs. The thing that's always been an issue for us women, or at least for me as a B-girl, was not wanting to be viewed as "just dope for a girl." We want to be viewed as dope overall for our skill and not having anything to do with the fact that we may be a different sex.
CRYKIT I would like to hear better lyrical content in hip hop overall right now. I'm not really moved by too many female MCs at the moment. Wishing Missy Elliot did more, I feel like she can be true to herself but also bring it in at a commercial level. One thing I love about her is she always had real dancers in her videos.. she understands hip-hop as a whole and a community with all elements on display. I'm excited to bring Kid Sister to Public Works, I love her versatility, she sounds fresh on electro house tracks as well as hip-hop.
SFBG I feel like hip-hop in general in the Bay Area, while still lively, is slipping below the radar, on the down swing of a cycle -- any thoughts about that?
TRACI P Hip-hop in the Bay is most def on a decline. It was once a mecca but is no longer a hub for new and exciting artists, unfortunately. I have a lot of friends in the rap and hip-hop industry here in the Bay Area whom I would NEVER discredit or whose music I would never put down but as a whole, but I haven’t seen much that’s exceptionally great coming from this sector of California as far as hip-hop is concerned. I would say that the RAP is still there but the hip hop is falling off. I would also like to take this time to say RIP to Special One of Conscious Daughters who hip-hop lost late last year.
SMALLS Unfortunately I don't live up there anymore, but I have heard that the hip-hop scene has sort of died. Well, i can tell you that it's not only in the Bay... it's the same thing in LA. I remember places like the Justice League where you knew you were always going to find a sick hip-hop show whether it was Black Star or Wu-Tang and in LA going to Project Blowed every week. Now, you're lucky if you can find a club that doesn't have a dress code and won't yell at the B-boys and B-girls for starting a cypher. I think this is one of the many reasons that we've tried to keep SOTU alive and always try to incorporate the true meaning of hip hop behind our events!
CRYKIT I would say the hip hop dance scene is still thriving in the Bay Area! There's a lot of talented dancers from the Bay in videos, TV, movies. And currently there's classes offered at studios like City Dance taught by dancers who have been in the scene for a long time and have learned from the OGs and originators. There are battles almost every weekend filled with high schoolers and up… So in that arena it is still thriving and is a genuine mecca for dancers.
SFBG I love that you're having workshops during the day at CellSpace that cover both female empowerment and technical skills. Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to turn the reunion into a true community event?
TRACI P Community is very important to us and key to the idea of empowerment. Obviously the nighttime events are geared toward adults, but we recognize the importance the youth has in shaping the world as a whole -- and it’s always been important for us to reach out to the youth through hip-hop. We also founded a hip-hop education program called Def Ed years back, it is unfortunately no longer active, but we taught at many sites around the Bay and still have strong access to many of the kids around the area, it’s important that we maintain that connection.
Also, there is a lot more to the culture of hip-hop than just what you see on a stage or in a music video, the aspects of art, dance, production, and fashion are equally important. At a time when everything seems so fabricated it’s essential that people be exposed to the roots of music and the culture. It is our mission to teach and empower in any way possible. By having females host these workshops, you never know who might be inspired, because it’s not every day women are so praised in such a male dominated arena such as hip hop.
SMALLS This is easy: SOTU has always been about community, education, growth, expression, and hip-hop. This event marks more than 10 years strong as a female hip-hop collective and tying in all of these aspects was truly important to us. There's no point in just putting on an event to make money (at least for us)....we wanted to produce an event that included the youth and our amazing sisterz sharing their knowledge along with a night time event to remember. We figured having workshops, battles, showcases, vendors, art galleries and all of the various things we are including in this event would show was SOTU has always been about -- true hip-hop expression in an open environment that welcomes anyone and everyone!
Crykit SOTU events have always been community-based, that's where we all began. I love that a part of the celebration is at Cellspace because that's where we established our breaking practice eight years ago actually, almost a decade we've been working with them. It's a piece of Bay Area dance history, and our practice is the longest-running established regular practice in the city of San Francisco. It's always important to include the youth. We love the spirit, freedom, and creativity they bring!
SFBG Can I get a current top 5 from each of you?
MIA, "Bad Girls"
Slaughterhouse, "Hammer Dance"
Schoolboy Q, "Hands on the Wheel"
Joey Bada$$, "Survival Tactics"
J. Cole, "can’t get enough’’
1. B.Bravo "Swing My Way" remix
2. Flying Lotus/ Thundercat "$200 TB"
3. Trina "Red Bottoms"
4. Mark Ronson "Animal" remix
5. Rye Rye & M.I.A "Sunshine"
If I can twist this and get you my current top 5 reasons for still being a true hip hop head:
1. The feeling I get at a live show when everyone has their hands pumping in the air
2. The feeling I get jumping into a hot cypher where the DJ is killin' it and everyone wants to get in
3. The feeling i get seeing the little girls of Extra Credit Kru enter a battle with us OGs
4. The feeling I get watching my hubby, B-boy machine, smoke someone on the dance floor
5. The feeling I get knowing that no matter how commercial hip-hop has become, that there's still so many folks doing it right in the community