Blues & Soul/February 3rd 1998
The Broklyn-based female rapper on mentor Teddy Riley..her debut album "My Melody"..single-parenthood and bisexuality. Jeff Lorenz drops in on a neighbour
THERE are advantages to living in New York. Everything and everyone is instantly acessible. In fact living in the part of Brooklyn that I do, I find myself surrounded by a colourful melting pot of artists, musicans, writers, singers, actors and of course, rappers. Case in point, Queen Pen. When I initially called her record company to arrange an interview I discovered that the Teddy Riley protegée best known for her rap on BLACKstreet's "No Diggity", was on a franatic promotion schedule that had her hitting both coasts and Europe with only a day or two on home in between. Short of flying out of L.A. to talk to her, it looked more and more probable that I'd be chatting to her on the phone. Okay but generally pretty impossible of capturing those little looks in response to certain quesstions wich say more than words ever could.
Y'know what I mean.
"Shame" I told her publicist, "as we both live in New York. Incidentally, where in New York does she live?"
"Where in Brooklyn?"
It was then I discovered Ms Pen, aka Lynise Walters, lived in my neighbourhood, literally a ten minutes walk from my pad. So, on a surprisingly warm January afternoon, I found myself making a short trek from Prospect Heights in to Crown Heights. Now normally I never really do interviews on people's homes. They usually take place at record companies, hotels or recording studios. I liked the fact that Queen Pen was open enough to invite a journalist she'd never met before into her flat. It augered well. I hoped it meant I wouldn't get the usual clichéd answers. Ihad a good feeling about Queen Pen. Her debut album, "My Melody", whilst filled with a happy match of rocket-fuelled Riley beats and commercial, recognisable samples is also an honest, no holds barred affair, on wich Pen tells it like it is, from the trails and tribulations of growing up in New York's street life to a shockingly honest account of her bisexuality on "Girlfriend" a remake of sorts of Me'Shell NdegeO'Cello's "Boyfriend" (Me'Shell is also featured). Let's face it, in a homophobic arena such as rap, where numerous female rappers prefer to be lipstick lesbians, perpetuating the illusion of being straight, so as not to harm record sales, whilst all the time remaining in the closet, Pen's honestly to be applauded.
The door to her apartment was ajar. A young lady outside, in the corridor, emtying trash, gave me the okay to go in. Inside, my eyes immediately fell upon a huge four poster bed and a mass of LCD beaming hi-fi equipment in and adjoining room from the dining room. Unsure as to whether I should sit or stand or where should I go, I hovered around for a few seconds, not wishing to take liberties in someone's home. A young boy, possibly seven or eight (later I deiscovered it was Queen Pen's son, Christian) entered and peered at my curiously. Then I saw Queen Pen, quickly scrambling out of one room, wearing only a bra and a pair of red shorts, with a small wrap around her head, from wich her trademark bright red hair sprouted. I think it was my look here that said a thousand words!
"Oh my God, excuse me!" she offered somewhat embarrassed. "I'll be with you in a minute. Take a seat." She returned a few seconds later wearing a T-shirt and ready to talk.
"I've known Teddy for years, from hanging out in New York and Virginia. But I never approached him about a record deal" she explained in her thick, round-the-way Brooklyn accent. "He always had big parties on the 4th of July and we had mutual friends in common, so we'd see each other around. One day, finally I decided to try him. I said, 'Look, I'm not tryin' to come on to your or nothin' but I know I can rap'. He asked me if I had a tape. I said no, so he asked me to come in the studio. When he heard me, he said, 'Look there's nothin' much I can do for you now because I don't have my label deal yet, but I'm gonna come back for you'. I was like, 'Yeah, alright, whatever'. I didn't think anything would come of it.
Pen returned to New York, somewhat depressed, to continue working on demos, perform at showcases and try to secure that elusive record deal.
"I was working with the producer Easy Mo Bee and doing showcases every week in the city at this place called AKA in the village, just hoping there was an A&R guy there. It's funny all the people I did showcases with like Smooth Da Hustler and Foxy (Brown), all ended up with a record deal. But at the time it was madly frustrating because I knew I had talent. This is my pasion in life and I just needed to get that break but I didn't know how. It's hard not to give up. I'm a street girl and I can survive but I had to start looking at my options. One thing I didn't want to do was do a job for 35 years or whatever that I had no interest in. That would be the worst."
Fortunately, fate, as it has a habit of doing, intervened. Teddy Riley stayed true to his word and after finalizing label details went about trying to track the lady down.
"I was never really aware of how big 'No Diggity' was until I started hearing it everywhere" Pen recalled. "Everyone was telling it me it was such a big record but it never really hit me. Then when I went overseas that really tripped me out. How enthusiastic they are towards the music. I mean in some places they were asking me for a piece of my hai! It was crazy. One thing I did see, though, was that every major city still has a ghetto. There are peaople starving and struggling to make ends meet wherever you go in the world."
And so one who has done her fair share of struggling, Queen Pen relates whole heartedly.
"Having a kid and struggling hasn't been easy but America owes me my reparations, topay me off from the holocaust. Jewish people get it and they owe it to African Americans for our holocaust in the middle passage. They can't complain about giving me welfare. I took public assistance. I admit I did things that I shouldn't have done to make ends meet like hustling drugs but I never sold my ass. I never sold my body. Now I can look back on life truly see that God works in mysterious ways becasue everything I've gone through has helped get to where I am now. I also know it's important for me to talk to people. Who are maybe going through what I went through or to try and stop them from doing what I did. I realise that some kids will look at entertainers before they'll look at their mother or father. It's sad but it means I have a responsibility."
Having hustled in the street ans then gone on to help make a mulit-platinum album with BLACKstreet, Queen Pen is able to draw interesting similarities between the music business and street business.
"One thing I know about this music industry is that it ain't nothin' but a hustle game, like when I hustlin' in the street. They just put a different name on it but the record companies pimp their artists and take all the money."
I must admit to being somewhat surprised to discover that Queen Pen had chosen to stay in Brooklyn, rather than move down to Virginia, wich certainly would be a mellower environment in wich to raise children.
"I have a place down there becasue I recorded my album down there at Teddy's studio. It's good to get away but if I moved down there I think I'd miss New York too much. People say it's a nice place to raise kids but I think people can raise a child anywhere; it's really about how you raise them in your house. How you as a parent raise your children and what you teach them. I know that my son can listen to hip-hop music and he won't go out there and try and imitate what they're talking about because I've sat down with him and explaining that those are just some things that people want to express in their music but it doesn't mean you have to do that. He knows what#'s wrong and right so when he gets around all these different kids when he goes to school he'll know how to act."
The cut on the album wich I'm sure will give Queen Pen's son food for though in later years and wich is currently a hot topic of conversation in hip-hop circles is "Girlfriend", the aforementioned duet between Queen Pen and Me'Shell NdgeO'Cello. Don't you dare say anything about dykes with the mics!
"Yeah that's a big thing now" started Pen the controversy. So how did Teddy Riley take it?
"I told him, 'I wanna do a song about girls'. He said, 'what you mean like dissin' them'. I said 'no, just talking about girls, about lesbian relationships. It's goin' on now, it's reality and fuck it, I wanna do it'. He said if I was sure I wanted to do it from my heart then he'd have no problem with it.
"The challenge for me was to sit down adn to try and do it as tastefully as I could. I didn't want to make it perverted like this freak type of thing, like 'oh, I'll eat you out!' A relationship is a relationship, whether it's a man and woman or two woman, you go through the same things...the same emotions. A lot of artists in the industry have told me, 'Yo, that song is hot'. It's just reality. That's why I think it's so important for the public to know the entertainer, know my personality and know me. By all means look at the videos but judge me by my honesty and my heart and see what I'm being honest about myself and appreciate that."
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