Bars Over Everything: Interview With Intelligenz

“I don’t think that there’s pressure on any females to be lyrical. I don’t think anyone looks for us to be lyrical anymore.”

– Intelligenz

When it comes to contemporary hip-hop, there seems to be a definitive blueprint that’s been etched out for a sea of artists to follow. This is particularly the case for female artists. Luckily, though, we have a handful of femcees — or rather emcees — cut from the cloth of pioneers like Mc Lyte, who put bars over everything. The lovely, and talented, Intelligenz, is one such artist. Are you type that needs a cosign to subscribe to an artist? She was the winner of MC Lyte’s Next Top Female MC Competition after driving from Las Vegas to LA to battle against Femcees from all over the country. Also, she’s the first female artist signed to HiPNOTT Records, founded by [hip-hop blog G.O.A.T] Kevin Nottingham. That’s a great start. She was approached by the label after reps saw her open for the Ruler Slick Rick.

Until now, we’ve only had a handful of [official] singles to go off, but she’s currently working on her debut album, which should see the light of day soon. She recently sat with us here at AAHIPHOP to chat about her music, her career, obstacles female emcees face, and ageism in the game.

Get to know Intelligenz!

Tell me a little bit about yourself — and how you got into music.

I’d say the most significant value to me is my faith, then my family; they’re vital to me [my siblings, sisters, and brothers]. I got into music as a child; writing was kind of like my outlet. I started writing poetry and tapping into myself. I also used to draw and play with the keyboard a little bit. When I got to high school there were people in there rapping around my sophomore, and I was like, “Oh, that’s easy.”

And so we’d have little competitions, and instead of a 16, I’d come with like a 32 [laughs]. But, everybody had such a positive reaction. I had already been writing for years, but it was the first time I merged that with the beat — and I just fell in love ever since. That was it. It was almost to a point where when I did write poetry I couldn’t have music on because I couldn’t detach from the rhythm.

Tell me a little bit about the projects you’ve done so far.

I’ve just been putting out singles. I started late — like 27 — to get out there because I battled stage fright. So I spent the first couple of years just really trying to push a single called “If You Ever Doubt It,” get over stage fright, and just try to have a presence and connect with people. To be honest, at that time I was seeking validation for my talent. I mean, I’m talented but just to know if I believe in myself enough like that.

And so I was getting ready to release my album, and I learned so much more about copyright law and realized that everything that I had I couldn’t release. So I have projects that are unreleased. “I’m a Movement,” though, is my baby — and the first song that I ever put on iTunes. It (really) introduced my story, paid homage to Nas and how I look to him as a mentor from a distance, and also spoke about the actions of female hip-hop artists in the game. Also, at the time, I was married, and I wanted to pay honor and tribute to my husband because he was my number one supporter.

So there were a lot of tributes on that album. Also, I was hoping that people kind of pick up on me lyrically and my ability to construct a song as well from a writing perspective.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on Everything I Am, which is going to be my debut album, which will be released under HiPNOTT. So that’s important to me. I’m looking at potentially doing an EP to put out just to get some movement on the album before it drops, so I can give heads something to expect.

I can tell you the goal of my album, which a lot of people aren’t going to know, is that I don’t want features on it. All the writing will be done by me, including any singing parts. There won’t be anything except for maybe a singer. When it comes to rapping, I will be the only emcee that’s on the album. I don’t want to feel like that a beat has to carry me or another male emcee has to carry me. I want to stand on my own. So it will be a statement piece.

Do you feel that, as a female emcee, there are more obstacles to getting into the industry?

I’d say to be recognized as a solidified emcee, yes — and I think there was a point in time where we could blame it on the males. But, I believe that now the blueprint is to put on stilettos and the closest pair of leggings. And that’s the problem. We’re focusing more on imagery than we are on the talent. So as far as pressure, I don’t even feel the pressure from people go hard. Nobody cares about that; nobody cares about quality or consciousness.

But, I don’t think that there’s pressure on any females to be lyrical. I don’t think anyone looks for us to be lyrical anymore. They look for sex appeal. So if there’s any pressure I feel that I have, it’s the pressure to deliver something that can captivate the minds that have already been molded only to expect sexualized content from me. There’s pressure to see how can I penetrate those minds and make them appreciate music — quality music

Who have been some of your influences?

Nas number one. I feel like almost anything I write, I think if he [Nas] was in front of me, would I spit that for him? Then, Lauren Hill is everything to me. She’s the perfect combination of artistry, consciousness, risk taker, authenticity. Then artists like Jean Gray (who’s incredible of course) and Mc Lyte — she’s opened so many doors for us queens. Just people more so on the lyrical side, though.

What would you say is your goal in this industry?

My goal is to break the barrier. My goal is to be challenged; my goal is to give back to hip-hop what it gave it to me. Some songs impacted me and changed my life; some songs prevented me from mistakes, and there are songs that gave me encouragement. Some songs kept me out of the club as opposed to the ones that are only putting people in there. My goal is to give them diversity again; to make people hungry to step in the ring again — especially for women to give the other side. Today, it’s almost like the only way that we define women as breaking barriers and being totally free is to be completely naked. We forgot about the power of being a minimalist and being in the forefront. I’m kind of tired of not seeing that other representation. If you don’t want me to judge the other side for being revealing, then don’t judge me for being less revealing. Let’s just get back to the talent. My goal is to say “it’s never too late, we’ve got to follow our dreams.” My goal is to break the stigma of how we age in the industry. Maya Angelou was able to do poetry until she died, but when you put a beat behind it and call it hip hop, all of a sudden when I hit a certain age I’m no longer authorized to be able to follow that same path.

So I’m just trying to uplift people who feel like maybe they’re at a certain point in their life where they think, “Oh, I didn’t do it by this age. That’s too late.” Says who? We’re living longer than we ever have. It’s never too late!

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Stay tuned for part two of my conversation with Intelligenz. 

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns