"A lot of men call me a man-basher, but I consider those the guys who really need to listen to me instead of being angry at me," says Qing Qi (pronounced King Key), taking a break behind her desk in the small office of Horizons Unlimited, a nonprofit that offers job training and support groups to under-served San Francisco youth.
In rap and in life, Qing Qi doesn't censor herself. With her combed-out Afro, giant hoop earrings and visible neck tattoo, she comes to her day job as she is—and gets respect for it. As senior program coordinator, she oversees a cohort of 34 teens, supporting them through job searches, school and life's ups and downs. In fact, nine years ago, Qing Qi was one of these kids: she came to Horizons after becoming pregnant at 14, and she credits the nonprofit for helping her find stability for herself and her son.
Raised in East Palo Alto and based in Oakland, Qing Qi recently rose to local acclaim with her outspoken January mixtape, If a N-ggah Ain't Sh-t, Play This for his B-tch (IANASPTFHB), a 14-track manifesto that airs out resentments about the state of hetero dating in 2018, calling out guys who rely on women for financial support without picking up the slack—emotionally, sexually, domestically or elsewhere.
"When I came up with the idea, I was thinking of my friends," she says. "The three closest women in my life were with trifflin' ass dudes, and it made me so mad because men are not necessary. Men are an option. You don't need a man to be happy."
"And then when my boyfriend got out of jail and I realized he's a f-ck n-gga," she adds, raising her voice in a playfully threatening way, "I had all the passion to put behind the content."
TLC might have made an anthem about these kinds of men with "No Scrubs" in 1999, but Qing Qi's mixtape is a whole dissertation: "Running they lips like they trying to be rich/But the work ethic trash, can't get it without a b-tch," she fires off on "F-ckn-ggahs." (PartzUnknown, best known for his work with SOB x RBE, produced the track.) Throughout IANASPTFHB, Qing Qi tackles the subject of male entitlement with irreverent humor; with features from her girl squad, Pu Tang, the mixtape is full of wisecracks rarely shared outside of the intimacy of gossip sessions with friends.
"I think we're really relatable, and I think that's missing," she says of her crew. "And we all are hella different. At my video shoot, two of our Pu Tang members were walking around with bulletproof vests on; three of them were wearing heels."
Off the strength of IANASPTFHB, Qing Qi's career has been taking off in recent months: she provided main support for "Tomboy" rapper Princess Nokia when she headlined 1015 Folsom's 4/20 party. Qing Qi's show calendar doesn't seem to have slowed down since then: this Friday, May 18, she opens for Sacramento's Stunna Girl at Brick and Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco, and the following week, she'll perform at Carnaval San Francisco.
The topics Qing Qi raps about rarely get air time in the traditionally masculine space of hip-hop. But with her new role as co-host of That's My Word, local rap blog Thizzler's YouTube talk show, Qing Qi brings much-needed balance to the platform's dude-centric content. She's not the typically meek female sidekick one might find on The Breakfast Club and other hip-hop talk shows. A few minutes into an episode featuring Philthy Rich, for example, Rich casually comments that his brother doesn't like women "who talk too much." "Damn, well, it's gonna be a rough interview, then," Qing Qi retorts without skipping a beat. The tension lasts only for a second, but her subtle cringe is a familiar sight for women who have felt undermined by male colleagues.
Coming from the world of social justice nonprofits, where women are often a majority in the workplace, Qing Qi says that hosting That's My Word was a culture shock at first, but that contending with men's biases is something she's come to expect in entertainment. "This is just a test of what's to come as an artist," she says with resolve. "I know there are going to be a lot more situations where men are going to talk down to me, or assume I don't know anything, or antagonize me. I know I just gotta be saucy."