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Watch: How Women Shaped Bay Area Hip-Hop With D-Ray, Dime and CMG

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Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history, with new content dropping all throughout 2023.

Much has been said about the post-Nicki Minaj tidal wave of chart-topping female rappers, but the truth is that women have been essential to hip-hop since its birth.

Fifty years ago, on August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc spun records at a Bronx back-to-school party that became known as the genesis of hip-hop culture. But a lesser-known detail of this origin story is that Kool Herc’s sister Cindy Campbell organized the party, and hand-drew and passed out flyers to spread the word, making her hip-hop’s first promoter.

As hip-hop entered the mainstream in the ’80s, female rappers, DJs, graffiti writers, dancers and photographers perfected their crafts, laying the foundation for a global culture that flourished in the following decades. But their stories have often gone untold. Historically, women have been pitted against each other, cut out of crucial deals and punished for speaking out about their experiences. And because of the pressure to be a ride-or-die chick, or the cool girl who can hang with the guys, many of their stories are only recently starting to emerge.

That’s why, as part of our coverage celebrating Bay Area hip-hop history, we’ve made it a priority to highlight the women who’ve helped make this region a center of originality and independence. At Dregs One’s recent History of the Bay Day Party at the Midway in San Francisco, I had the honor of moderating a panel with three of these influential women: Carla “CMG” Green of The Conscious Daughters; graffiti artist and EastSide Arts Alliance visual arts director Dime, also of the collective Few and Far Women; and D-Ray, the Thizz Nation photographer who documented the hyphy movement’s rise and later served as the West Coast editor of Ozone Magazine.

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Watch the full conversation above, and read an edited excerpt from our interview below.

A white, female journalist in her 30s interviews a Latina artist in her 40s, a Black rapper in her 50s and a mixed-race photographer in her 40s.
From left to right: KQED Arts & Culture’s Nastia Voynovskaya, graffiti artist Dime, The Conscious Daughters’ CMG and photographer D-Ray at Dregs One’s History of the Bay Day Party at the Midway in San Francisco on July 9, 2023. (Milly Millions @millavellz )

Nastia Voynovskaya: My first question is for you, Carla. For a long time, there has been this narrative that there can only be one queen of rap. But as The Conscious Daughters were coming up in the ’90s, making hit singles and touring the country, you were also building a sisterhood of Bay Area rappers that included Suga-T and Mystic. Tell us about those days and the camaraderie among female artists.

Carla Green: You know, it was just a good time back in the ’90s. I remember those days when we used to hit the club and we had those cyphers, and at the same time we were all coming up together. The Luniz, Digital Underground, Conscious Daughters, Forte, San Quinn, Souls of Mischief, E-40 and The Click. It was like the melting pot of the up-and-coming rappers of the ’90s, and we were all really good friends. So every time we would go out, even though Suga-T would be with The Click, but she would hang out with us because we were the only two girls, right? So this has been my sister now at this point for over 30-some years.

I met Mystic at a club also. You know, we all started hanging out together because we were the women who were at these venues, at these clubs, gettin’ on these mics, getting in these cyphers. And so it’s very unique. You know, you go to New York, you don’t see that kind of stuff in New York. I mean, I know that the ladies know each other, but I don’t think they have a sisterhood — like we would literally spend holidays and stuff together. We know each other’s families and kids.

Dime, I want to hear from you. Graffiti can be this hyper-competitive, male-dominated scene. You started in it when you were just 12 years old. What were your early experiences like in graffiti? And what led you to eventually becoming a founding member of Few and Far? 

Dime: It was so fun. We were kids, like literally kids. I grew up in East Oakland, down the street from the train yard. There was no art school around. The streets were our classrooms, the yards were our classrooms. I was really fortunate — the foundation of my values as a woman writer really came from painting with my brother and really close friends and family. That taught me respect is number one.

So as I wanted to really make a name for myself and I wanted to go bigger and learn my style and do my own shit, I really set values for myself as a woman artist and I wanted to follow that. It was always painting my own shit. It was always drawing my own style. It was always never letting nobody fill in my stuff, and really doing my own stunts. Really getting chased and fucking climbing buildings and shit. It was an adrenaline rush. And I was right there with the fellas doing what I had to do.

I was lucky, I was a tomboy too. So that kind of helped me be a little under, because as women in this field we’re faced with so much shit on the street. We got the people living on the tracks, to the women working on the tracks, to the pimps that are constantly harassing us for painting, to the cops that are harassing us for painting.

And I really wanted to gain my own shit from myself. You know, I didn’t want nobody to say, “Oh, that’s so-and-so’s girlfriend.” I was never going to be so-and-so’s anything. So that was really a way that I wanted to carry myself as an artist. And that’s how I survived, finding my own haven in my secret backyard.

D-Ray, you’ve been a bit more behind the scenes. In fact, you told me you don’t really do interviews, so it’s a rare treat to have you on this stage. You came up with Thizz Nation when the hyphy movement was taking off, and you were the woman in that boys’ club. What was that experience like?

D-Ray: Coming up with Thizz Nation was very challenging in the beginning. It was multiple personalities. But lucky them, I grew up with all boys, was able to take that and just be their sister, and so it was really a family. So the highlights, I mean, to be honest with you, is just being able to watch the boys grow, just seeing every state, every city just love them, like show them real energy of, “I love what you guys are doing. I love this movement.” You know, go to other states and they’re doing sideshows. It’s what, 24 years later and people are still excited to go do hyphy shit, you know what I mean? Hyphy was an energy, and the boys had it.

And when Dre had this dream to do that with the boys, and we followed through with the dream of Dre after he passed away, it was a beautiful thing because it was the whole Bay. It was everybody. I was the only female in the actual machine running it. So did I feel awkward? No. Nobody messed with me. My brothers never let nothing bad happen to me. I’ll say this, I won’t say who, but I’ve socked two dudes in the chest for being disrespectful.

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