If you leave a bike outside for ten years, good luck getting the pedals to turn. Chances are, if you don’t drop an album in ten years, you’re going to have a considerable amount of rust to knock off the mic. However, there’s also a pretty good chance that you’re not Rah Digga, the former Flipmodian who was able to survive backdoor politics, crappy label offers and a game that’s becoming less and less forgiving to artists dedicated to being artists.
When Digga dropped her debut album Dirty Harriet over ten years ago, it raised the bar for lyricism and called for MCs to step their game up, regardless of gender, or it would be curtains for them. Despite rising to fame as that girl in Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad, Rah Digga was becoming less and less content with her lot in the game, as she could not get label support for her singles and only found herself on big songs when it was a Busta remix. At that point, she had given up on recording for mixtapes and seemed wholly unmotivated to ever drop another album. And then just when it looked like she couldn’t remove herself any further from the game that still respected her immensely, she packed her bags, left Brick City and ended up in the Poconos out in Pennsylvania. While out there, she enrolled in film school and learned the finer points of film editing and was content to start anew.
Then she got back with Nottz, a producer from Virginia who has produced countless classics but was first known for being one of Busta Rhymes’ go-to producers. The producer and MC shared a special creative chemistry that they first showed on Dirty Harriet. When they started working again, the original plan was for the duo to record a few songs and release it digitally as an EP. That plan wouldn’t last long, as Lucas Zimmer, the A&R at Raw Koncept Records, convinced her to record an entire album. The end result is Classic, an album dropping on September 14 featuring Rah Digga’s grown-but-still-sharp lyrics over nothing but Nottz’ classic boom-bap production. Digga got back with longtime fam HipHopGame to talk about her new album, what got her back in the studio and much, much more.
It’s nice you finally have a new album dropping in Classic.
I mean, I know my fans are ecstatic. I’m just happy I can give them some artillery to debate about! (laughs) That’s all I see on Twitter, like finally Rah Digga is back, thank you! For me, it’s just another day in the life. I never really stopped recording. I mean, I stopped physically releasing stuff, but I never really stopped recording. I’m just happy people can hear what I’ve been working on all this time and know that they still got their Dirty Harriet nice and in tact.
How did Nottz convince you to do an entire album with him?
Well, I actually knew the 10 year anniversary was coming up and I thought it would be cool to release a little EP, so I was going to reach out to a few of the producers from Dirty Harriet and Nottz, being like the main one, I reached out to him and got a couple of tracks from him but the A&R at Raw Koncept, the label that his manager Daryl Sloan has, he talked to a couple of his partners and the A&R insisted that I should just do the whole album with Nottz. At first I was a little hesitant about it because I wasn’t thinking full-scale album and all of that. I just wanted to do a little EP. I can still kick everybody’s ass on the mic and once I started working with Nottz, the chemistry between us was bananas and I recorded way more than an album’s worth of material and we were going to pick the best ones for an EP and then we just ended up rolling with an album. But that’s what the A&R was saying. He really convinced me to make it a whole album and I just recorded a gang of stuff with Nottz and the next thing you know, it’s like we got ourselves a winner here. Let’s rock!
You’ve been gone too long to just put out an EP.
And that was the argument of the A&R. It has to be an album. You can not just come and toss out five, six songs and just be done with it. Like, it has to be an album. That was the A&R’s argument.
This may be one of the few times in the history of hip-hop that an A&R got something right.
Yeah. This might be my first time having a functioning A&R. Between Elektra Records and J Records, I never really had an A&R like that. This project right here, everything I recorded I recorded in Virginia but a lot of the tracks were hand-picked by the A&R. His name is Lucas. And he was saying what he thought would be hot for me. And Nottz is in the studio making the tracks and he’s in the studio with so many different artists that he made sure he was there. He was right there and put certain beats on the side for Rah Digga. It pretty much went down like that. I was in Jersey and I had the tracks that I knew I was going to be working with and once I came down to VA I just started banging them out. With Nottz, it doesn’t matter how much writing I do or if I try to come to the studio with finished songs. When I’m in the studio with him, I always end up writing a song on the spot every single time. I did that the whole way with Nottz, writing one song a day in the studio and the album was done in two weeks.
How did it change working with Nottz now as opposed to when you worked with him in the Dirty Harriet days?
I mean, really, it was pretty much the same thing. The only big difference is when Nottz worked with me on Dirty Harriet, he was traveling up here to New York and I was working in Soundtrack Studio in New York. But this album was completely recorded in Virginia in Nottz’ own studio. I think something about that home-grown, it’s almost like a sports team playing on the home court. I think it brought out the best in Nottz and I think Nottz brought out the best in me and we’re like, you know, we’re just Pinky and the Brain right now with it.
It sounds like you had fun doing this album where music didn’t sound so fun for you a few years ago.
I think a few years ago, I was more frustrated with the music industry antics and all the major label red tape stuff. That was a frustrating situation at that time. But with this particular project, there was no expectations. The A&R just wanted me to do me. This album has no cameos and there’s no R&B hooks. There’s no songs that we felt we had to make for the south and this song for the radio and this one for the club and this one for the kids and this one for the ladies. There’s none of that. This is that boom-bap, full album full of straight spitting. This is what they wanted. I was like, Oh, I can do that all day! I feel like in the space that I was in back then, there were just too many elements around me that were focused on, you know, being in the industry, per se, and all of the industry rules and the industry protocols. With this particular project, the rules are different. There’s no trying to do anything to appease anyone. Like the only person I had to please on this project was myself.
When you name an album Classic, if you’re not spitting on every song, you’re going to hear it.
Exactly. I wouldn’t have named it Classic if I didn’t think the album didn’t deserve that title. I’ll call it Classic simply because it’s not something that is, you know, trying to cater to the trends or the now sound. It is a piece of hip-hop work that I think people will be able to enjoy now, next year, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. It’s the same way you can still bump Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt in 2010 and say, Wow, those albums are classic. That’s like your best work. I feel like that’s what people are going to get from this album.
I love the direction you took on “This Ain’t No Lil’ Kid Rap” and in the video. Did you come up with the video yourself?
Since I’ve done the journals on HipHopGame, I went to the New York Film Academy for editing and directing. Now I’m doing the videos too. The video treatment was literally me rapping with a bunch of little kids dancing. That’s it. The video was supposed to be giving off the message that it gave. It was supposed to be me rhyming and the kids not paying any attention to me and dancing their asses off. It’s a straight-forward, classic hip-hop video.
Do you feel like fans are still checking for lyrics?
I feel like there’s nothing for people to analyze. It seems like the people who analyze lyrics have gone away, but as soon as someone brings lyrics like that…Unfortunately the artists who do come with lyrics don’t get as much exposure as they should but I think that people just have to be reminded like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I forgot there was chicks that really go hard.’ I think that when people hear the music I’ve made…In the beginning, before I really started putting out music and the word got out that Rah Digga was coming with an album, I saw the skepticism and fans are saying that I’m old now. I saw all that stuff but as I put out music, all of that goes away. They’re like, ‘Whatever we said before, she’s going hard.’
As far as I’m concerned, the music speaks for itself. I’ll never get into anything beyond the music, like the image or anything. For me, it’s all about the lines and whoever’s into rewinding verses, this is who this album is before. If you’re looking to practice a new dance or something, this may not be the album for you. I’ll put it like this – I don’t care who’s not listening for lyrics. If you’re into lyrics, buy my album!
Did you ever feel like you lost a step from not releasing music?
I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better. I haven’t lost any steps whatsoever. With Dirty Harriet, I was trying to prove to people that I could rhyme. With this album, I know I can rhyme. Y’all must have forgot that I’m the only chick to have done a song with Lauryn Hill. Because people haven’t heard from me in so long they might think I’m the “Party and Bullshit” girl or the “Touch It” girl or the chick from Busta Rhymes’ clique. I was going back and forth with Lauryn and I was in a rap group with Eminem and we were going hard at people. Don’t get it fucked up! (laughs) I’ve been around for a minute but in 2010, I will still bust your ass lyrically.
What made you want to only work with Nottz and not other producers?
As dope as this album is, I’m definitely going to collaborate with other producers. I’m actually coming back with another project. I’m involved with another artist and that shall remain nameless for right now. But I’m probably going to, at that point, work with other artists. I’m a huge fan of DJ Khalil. I’m a huge fan of Illmind and Black Milk. Those are the types of artists I want to work with. I got some stuff coming with 9th Wonder. If that gives you any insight as to the direction my future of body of work will entail, that’s where I’m at with it these days.
It’s nice that you still have that respect despite your absence.
I think that people know that I am a talented rhymer. I think a lot of people also understand that there are a lot of circumstances, probably beyond my control, that kind of kept me from maximizing on my artistry. You know, I think I get a slight pass for that. It took me awhile to come back out but I think once fans hear the album, they will not be mad. I think all will be forgiven.
Are you in touch with any of the Outsiderz today?
Oh yeah! I see them fools all the time! For this album, I don’t have any cameos or collaborations and I haven’t really teamed up with anybody from my previous crews because I just like, right now, I just want to make sure that I remove that “chick in a clique” stigma. I feel like at this juncture of my career, Rah Digga being the chick in the clique would just look completely wack.
And even besides that, I just wanted to give people Rah Digga. It’s been so long since people have heard actual Rah Digga songs. For the last six, seven years, people haven’t been getting anything other than 16s and 8s from me. It’s always a crew or a posse record. I wanted to make sure that people had enough whole songs from Rah Digga so they could go out and argue. I didn’t want to cheat people by giving them an album full of everybody else. I’m sure that maybe at some point in the future, I’ll do some stuff with the crews, but nothing anytime soon. I’m working on doing remixes with artists now. I knew for a fact that I wasn’t going to put anybody on the album but there’s personal favorites of mine that I’ll be doing remixes with. But I’m keeping the crew collaborations to a minimum.
Is Young Zee still doing it?
Yeah. He still rhymes. For him, he’s into real estate and things now. He does it more for a hobby at this point. Right now, even myself, nobody is doing it because they have to. We’re doing it just because we love music. At this phase in our lives, nobody is running around like, ‘Please listen to my demo. I have to get on and I have to get in the game.’ Now it’s like everybody is successful in their lives. Everybody has their own bank accounts to do whatever they want to do. It just so happens that we love music and we’re going to keep doing it.
How do you look at your first album Dirty Harriet today?
When I listen to it, I think, ‘Oh, that is so cute! Listen to little me! I was me! Oh, look at me!’ (laughs) To me, the whole album to me sounds like I’m barking at everybody. I’m like, ‘Wow, I was feisty, wasn’t I?’ To me, I’m like, ‘Aw, I was so cute’ when I listen to Dirty Harriet.
“Curtains” has always been my favorite off the album. What about you?
My favorite song off of Dirty Harriet was the bonus record, the “Handle Your B.I.” The last, last joint. I feel like that song is when I felt…And it’s so crazy because that song took a full day including the mastering. Luckily there were no curses in it so it didn’t have to be mixed. I felt that it was at that point that I proved to everybody that I could rap and that I could make a musical record. The rest of the album, I felt like I was battling but on that song, I felt like I was creating a nice, orchestrated musical composition.
Are you still releasing a mixtape to go along with Classic?
Well, I was putting together a whole mixtape to drop before the album but then I started doing a lot of traveling and I didn’t get to it. I really wanted to drop a mixtape by now since the album is coming September 14. It will still probably happen since I am still recording songs but I’ll probably just toss them out weekly or biweekly. I’ll probably just toss them out individually now instead of servicing a whole album to come out. I’ll put the mixtape out and then the album would be coming out so I think I’ll either release the songs individually or since I’m doing everything else outside of the industry protocol, maybe I’ll drop it after the mixtape! I’m already going against the industry. No collabs, no radio ads, I’m not greasing anybody’s palms. My music will get serviced to the blogs and whoever’s rocking with it is rocking with it.
You’ve been more active on Twitter recently. How do you like it?
I even said in “Warning Shots” that I wasn’t Tweeting but now I started to promote the album and now I’m addicted to it. Now I can’t stop! But I don’t really Tweet myself so much. I like to Retweet positive and negative comments and I just like to let all of my followers start debating amongst each other.
You have gotten some heat on Twitter. How do you take that side of Twitter?
I mean, I love it. I need it! To me, that’s the stuff that motivates your rhymes and your verses. If everybody’s sitting around and saying you’re the greatest and you’re the best, you’re going to fall into that and not really push yourself to deliver. But the negative comments are the things I write about in my songs. The hate is understandable. The hate that I see are from the people who have a lot of misconceptions about me. A lot of comments I read, I can tell people just have no idea who I am. They only know me from “Party and Bull” or “Touch It.” There are people on Twitter who don’t even know I had an album out. There are people who just don’t know who I am and they don’t know me for nothing other than being a girl in Busta Rhymes’ clique who never came out. I don’t care about the crackpot comments or them calling me ugly. That stuff, who cares? To me, that’s sticks and stones may break my bones but you’ll never rap fresher than me! That’s my motto!
You’ve Tweeted about being a True Blood fan. I hate vampire stuff but people have told me to get into it.
Oh, yes! I get into it. On Sundays I don’t even leave my house with True Blood and Entourage.
So it’s not Twilight?
No, it’s not Twilight. To me, Twilight is for little kids. That’s some little kid rap! True Blood is cool because it’s real. It’ll really have you thinking vampires and werewolves are real. It’s just nice. It’s like based in the south so you get the whole southern twang mixed with the hot, sexy vampire shit. It’s just a hot show.
If I think it’s wack, I’m hitting your Twitter.
Aw, man, I guarantee you will love True Blood. I’m willing to bet money that you’re going to watch one episode and go back to On Demand and start watching it from the beginning. I guarantee.
I don’t have HBO so I can never follow Entourage until it comes out on DVD. To me each season is worse than the previous one. Is it getting any better?
You know what it is? It’s still dope. I love the characters. I love all of their roles. I feel like it’s the same thing every season, but it’s like, it’s still dope. I’m actually just kind of getting caught back up with Entourage. I watched the first couple of seasons but I fell off on seasons four and five and I picked it up last season and we’re in season seven. I don’t know if I missed the dope stuff and I’m just tuning into the wack stuff. But I’m a California girl at heart and I just love their whole swag. When I watch Entourage, it makes me daydream about when I was living in California.
What character do you identify with the most on the show?
I think I am Eric. I’m like the prude. I’m the cornball homebody, old-fashioned person out of everybody in my crew.
Do you still live in Pennsylvania?
Oh, no. My crib actually had a fire. I was crashing with my parents while they rebuilt the place and to be honest, that’s kind of what led up to this whole getting back into music. I lost everything in the fire but I had my hard drive with all my music files with me. I was left with the clothes on my back and my hard drive. I think once I spent some time with my parents and was in the same room that I work “Tight” in and “Imperial” and “Straight Spittin’” and stuff, that whole vibe just kind of kicked back in. I wanted to see what was really good with some music and I started reaching out to some producers. I think when I was in PA writing, I know I was being lazy. (laughs) I wasn’t really caring because I knew I wasn’t releasing anything commercially. But there was something about coming back to the ‘hood and being in the same elements that I was in approaching Dirty Harriet kind of had me coming up with some whole other verses. It just felt like a calling.
Did you lose any of your memorabilia?
Oh yeah, everything, plaques, awards, everything. All that stuff’s gone.
Are you reordering those or are you happy with a fresh start?
I’m happy with a fresh start. My mom is upset because all the plaques were in her house and then I took them to my house. I’ll probably have to reorder the plaques to shut her up but I think the whole spirits and all of that, and I believe in that stuff, I think the fresh start was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I was living in PA at the time when I was doing those journals and I’m sure you could even hear it in my writing where I was basically like who gives a shit about music? and the industry sucks. I was commuting to film school and putting out an album was the furthest thing from my mind. The thought of even releasing new music didn’t even enter my brain until I started staying with my parents.
Your journals were a little depressing.
(laughs) I wasn’t emo! (laughs) I had the rapper emo journals! I wasn’t sitting in my room cutting myself or nothing crazy. I wasn’t out there on anti-depressants. I wasn’t doing that in PA. You know what it was? I was having fun doing everything else but music. Something about music was just like, ‘Who cares?’ When I was out there I was really done with the music. But in actuality, I was having fun with my life. I was doing stuff that I had never done before. I was visiting the gun range on a consistent basis. When you’re in Rome, do what the Romans do. I was in a place where everybody likes to shoot so I was like, ‘Let’s do it!’ I learned how to fish. I was just enjoying my life. Before that, my whole life was centered on being in the studio all day, every day. When I would go to clubs it wasn’t even to enjoy myself. It was all just work, work, work, work. Once I took that time off and got into other things and focused on being a mom and stuff like that, I was genuinely happy doing that but I think it got annoying and depressing still trying to pretend to people that I was a rapper. Talking about stuff like that was more depressing than what was actually going on in my life. As soon as the rap convo was over, I was having fun. It was all outside of the music.
And there’s no reason to worry. But you’re right though. Had it not been for that fire, there would be no Rah Digga album. I believe God makes everything happens for a reason. He got me out of the house and got me out of harm’s way. He got me in the studio with my hard drive and my laptop and thank God, I still have all my music and all my baby pictures. I had all of that stuff with me and got to the studio, which I hadn’t been to in ages. And now I’m back in the place where I originally became Rah Digga with my hard drive and now in 2010, I’m bumping that Classic album.
No more 10 year delays between albums, right?
Oh no! You guys are going to get another album soon. The collaborative album will probably happen sometime in the spring or summer of next year. And another solo venture from me will probably take place right after that.