Crackin' Nutz 

Women MCs struggle for a place of their own amid the misogyny and violence of gangsta rap.

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CMG insists that the thrust of the Daughters' music is the same as it was in 1993: socially relevant commentary delivered in the most pissed-off tone possible. If anything, she and Special One are throwing harder punches. Paris notes that the thirtysomething gal perspective is badly needed in hip-hop: "As hip-hop grows and matures, and the fans get real-life responsibilities and become politically invested, they're gonna want something that reflects where they are in life." But Special One demurs. "Well, we're trying to make some more hyphy shit -- you know, energy music for the young crowd," she says, recognizing that, at the end of the day, the two rappers have to appeal to an audience two decades younger than they are.

If the primary consumers of gangsta rap are males in their teens and early twenties, then it will be doubly difficult for the Daughters to let their femininity shine through on The Nutcracker Suite. While CMG and Special One insist they've taken several measures to update their sound and remain competitive -- adding gloss from Fred Funk, Ric Roc, and Paris -- it's evident that they'll have to embody the time-honored female MC stereotype: no-nonsense gangsta bitches you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. After all, if you're not partaking of the earth-goddess Lauryn Hill hustle, you've already lost a sizable chunk of your mainstream audience. That's not who the Daughters are, anyway, and if they suddenly traded their OG image in for a capoeira-headwrap shtick, they'd alienate themselves from Guerrilla Funk's "revolutionary mobb" crew, which includes artists like Public Enemy, MC Ren, and T-Kash. In other words, Conscious Daughters have to find a way to keep the mobb audience on lock without devolving into badass caricature.

It's either that or the sexpot role. In a medium intent on shoehorning women into one of two roles -- the hardcore gangstress or the leather-bikini slut -- Dean of UMA Productions argues that it's hard for women to "slap you up and love you at the same time."

Eight months ago, if you called up Jamaica Kellom you'd hear a forlorn voice on the answering machine greeting: "I ain't pickin' up my phone right now, but y'all know I'm looking for somebody to be in my life. And you know if it's you, so leave a message." You wouldn't expect to hear the same sweet voice spitting lines like I leave dimples in niggas' temples rippin' through their tissue/Fuckin' with me is suicide, you're begging me to push you on her brother Jinicydle's debut gangsta rap album.

But Jamaica, who raps under the name Mak Diddy, embraces such contradictions. She came up as a school talent-show gospel and R&B singer -- that's the soft side, says Coujo, her producer -- but eventually turned to gangsta rap instead, because street poets such as Yukmouth, Keak da Sneak, and Killa Tay were rapping about the stuff she was living.

The worst thing you can say to Jamaica is that she's "soft," which, in hip-hop speak, is synonymous with "sucka." "It's basically like saying you're a weak rapper, and that you can't hang with the fellas," she says. The MC idolizes Snoop Dogg's former protégée, Da Brat, because she relates to her gangsta persona better than "girlier" female rappers, or perhaps better than girly-girls in general. Jamaica's other fount of inspiration is her brother, Jinicydle, who made his name rapping about how he's gonna put yo' ass on the curb and knock yo' ass toothless over a low, sexy bass beat riddled with the crackle of gunfire. She even has the word "Fam" tattooed on her left forearm, showing the world that "If you mess with anyone in my family, you gotta fuck with me first."

Jamaica grew up in a subsidized housing complex in Bayview called Commer Court, aka Choppa City, which sits at the top of a street lined with weathered blue-and-white clapboard houses. If you look out the window of her apartment, you'll see a swath of road that tapers into a shipyard, where the PG&E power plant stands like a middle finger pointed at the sky. Sandwiched between them are rows of projects. On the other side of Choppa City, a couple solitary trees are the last signs of life before a hill clotted with witchgrass and spiny thistle. It's a place where the good guys are perilously close to the bad guys, and nobody is ever sure if the next person to get shot will be his brother, or the guy downstairs.

Choppa City's mean streets don't seem like the most appropriate place for an eighteen-year-old who loves Harry Potter books and writes rhymes the way many teens write diary entries. Hard as they are, Mak Diddy's lyrics also reveal the ambivalence and fear associated with the gangsta persona that's been cultivated for her. As she sings on the hook of her track "Death Wish," I'm losing my mind/It's like these niggas want me to die/They shot at me the first time/It was fortunate that they missed/But I can't stay out these streets/It's like I got a death wish.

In fact, two weeks before she recorded the song, some guys shot at her while she was waiting to catch a bus in her neighborhood. Jamaica herself is certainly hard to miss: oversize Phillies jersey, pants baggy enough to hide in, baby dreads glinting cherry-black in the sun.

"The beef has gotten so bad around here that they're starting to shoot at girls, too," says her producer, Isaac, who was shot in the chest last Christmas.

Jamaica's musical career began at Matthew Zion Baptist Church on San Bruno Avenue, where she spends four nights of the week at choir rehearsal or Bible study. "I'm sticking to the church thing, because, well, I don't necessarily live in a good environment," she demurs. The contrast between street life and church life is what glues the church together. Pastor Washington, acting as a surrogate father for the congregation of aunts, mothers, grandmothers, girls in denim jumpers, and boys in Timberland shoes, reads children's report cards out loud at services, embarrasses them with praise, and gabs about who's supposedly dating who.


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