Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hail the Words of Isis - An Interview with LinQue (Part 1)

Today, I'm excited to bring you guys a brand new interview with Lin Que (f.k.a. Isis). We talk about everything from Blackwatch to The (Five) Deadly Venoms to her new album. Oh, you didn't know about that? Don't worry. I got links, as always, at the end.
To start out, how did you start out hooking up with Blackwatch?
I actually had started doing things related to hip-hop a while before even meeting Lumumba and all of X-Clan. I danced a lot; I actually got into the business through dancing - I pop-locked. So I used to be in a lot of hip-hop videos; and the manager I had earlier on said, "you know what, Lin? I hit a ceiling with you. I think I'm gonna introduce you to somebody who can take you a lot farther." And he - actually the person's name was Dwayne Hayward - he was actually the person who introduced me to Professor X, Lumumba Carson. And when I met Lumbumba, he said, "ok, this is what we're about… the name of our group is called X-Clan, the movement's called Blackwatch; and basically we want to help spread the word of black pride through our music." And the rest is history from there.
So he took you on as a dancer at first, too?
No, at that point I was rhyming. And it's so funny because at that point, although I was rhyming and I was writing my own rhymes… the guy that was managing me had somebody else writing my rhymes. I was still writing on the side, but it was almost the norm for females not to be writing their own lyrics. So the great thing about X-Clan and Professor X is that gave me the opportunity to write my own lyrics, you know what I mean? Which is great, because I believe if you're emceeing - as opposed to rapping - if you're emceeing and true to hip-hop, you write your own rhymes. You know, it's not just entertainment; it's a way of life, our culture.
Although you actually write for some other people…
Well, I have in the past… written for Lyte. But the song that I wrote for Lyte was different. The song that I had for Lyte, it was one of those little, playful things. It was called "Hard Copy" and it was on her Ain't No Other album. And it was basically a sixteen-bar verse called "Hard Copy" because each emcee would attack the verse in their own way. So it wasn't so much me writing a whole song for her or anything like that… it was me, Lyte and another female emcee named Kink-EZ. So that was just something playful for me to do, as opposed to me taking on an artist and kind of creating an artist's image or whatever have you.
Ok, well then, as you were recording as Isis… or actually, first of all, where did the name Isis come from?
Well, Professor X gave me the name. Our whole ideally, or concept, at that point was teaching black youth black pride through Egyptology - letting them know that we came from kings and queens. And Isis, even though it's the Greek version of Usat (the Egyptian version of the same goddess), because that's what he felt. And I got that pretty much in the early part of me joining the Blackwatch Movement.
So how did that come together? Because having Lumumba as manager didn't necessarily make you a member of Blackwatch, I don't think. Like he had Pete Nice and Positive K, who weren't necessarily members, per se…
Right. Well, the thing is… for me it did. For me it did. Because as an artist and a writer, I began writing because in the beginning, prior to me meeting them, my rhymes were battle rhymes. Especially being in that particular timeframe, that's what it was all about. So when I joined them, I began reading books about Egyptology and I believed in what they were trying to do. So it was a perfect fit for me. It wasn't entertainment, you know what I'm saying? It wasn't about a record deal. It was a perfect fit for me, not just as a person who wants to come out and make an album, but as an artist, as a human being, and as a female emcee… to come out there and actually learn things other than sixteen bars, get on the mic, this is entertainment, let's just get on stage. It was so much bigger than a record deal.
So, how much of the music - like, the instrumental music, came out of your input? Like, I know it was produced mostly by Paradise
It was produced mostly by Paradise, but honestly on Rebel Soul, which was my first album, I had a lot of say-so in reference to the beats. Because I was very much into hip-hop, but I was also into house music.
Right, because some X-Clan stuff had a little bit of house to it, but you had a lot more.
They had the funk, that George Clinton thing. So it wasn't so much a tyranny, when it came to production. They took into consideration the type of vibe I was on and the type of music I liked. Because I was very much into house music as well.
And who did the remixes on "Hail the Words of Isis?"
Wow… the remix? I don't remember there being a remix to "Hail the Words" There was "Face the Bass"… Actually, there was - that might be Stereo MCs, from London. Actually, you know what, if you didn't mention it, I would've forgot all about that! Because, you know, they were doing so much… 4th and Broadway, you know, had 4th and Broadway in London; and we were doing so many different things with people as well, overseas; so you're absolutely right. I think that was a Stereo MCs remix.
So, after 4th and Broadway kind of closed down, and X-Clan moved, Professor X moved… what happened with all that to you other guys?
Well, this is the thing. When we left 4th and Broadway, X-Clan went to Polygram. And I think they wanted to sign one act - what they consider quote, unquote "one act" - and I actually felt I wanted to go in a different direction anyway. When I say a "different direction," I was at a certain point in my life, as a female and a female MC, to say: of course, to me, Blackwatch really was like the seed of belief and self esteem. I was like in my teens, you know? I was in my teens and was like, "ok, this was such a spiritual experience for me," and it was the beginning of me learning self esteem. But I didn't want to just limit myself to just speaking about my race. I wanted to speak about my experiences - and there were a lot of experiences I was going through at that point. Being in the industry, being a female, you know what I mean? And also being a mother, a young mother at that time… there was so much as an artists I wanted to get out.
So I actually took a break. I needed a break,because again, Blackwatch for me was not about a record deal; it was so much more than that. And I needed a break from the industry. Learning the business was very hard. I still don't like the business. I don't. It's like a necessary evil for me. One of the hardest things I had to realize was that this business was not about talent. It's about ten percent talent, and ninety percent who you know. And that, to me coming up as an artist, was like heart-wrenching to me. Like, I didn't know how good I had it until I left 4th and Broadway. 4th and Broadway was really the only record label that believed in me, believed in my vision, and saw it for what it was… and put the money behind it. I've had three album deals in my life, and you guys only heard one album from me. My last album, Godspeed, is one that I shopped myself. So when I say three album deals, I mean three major record labels.
So I had to learn the business. And who better to learn the business from, being a female emcee, than MC Lyte? And it was a weird thing because we would always see Lyte when we were on tour… we'd see Lyte sporadically here and there. So we had met before, and I guess - I can't even remember - but I guess one day, she was like, "so what are you up to now?" Because I needed a break, because it was hard for me. I was an artist; it's not just about "go to this meeting…" I'm not into that. I just rhyme, I wanna write, and I want to be in the studio and on stage, you know? But Lyte was like, "it's not just about that, Lin. If you want to be taken seriously, and if you want to be successful, then you have to learn the business." And hence Ace Entertainment and Duke the Moon - we opened up companies together. And she really helped me progress in learning all the ins and outs of the business that I didn't know, and I needed to know.
And was she involved… like I know she was involved in the East/West stuff, but was she involved in the Ruffhouse stuff at all?
Yes. Absolutely, it was prior to that. It was Duke the Moon at that point. I was like the first artist off of our management and production company. We had also Backspin, a producer who worked with Busta Rhymes and a lot of other artists and was very talented. And we had groups like Born In Hell, two brothers from Brownsville, and we had Bamboo, and we had Yardman. So we had a roster of people that we believed in and who we really wanted to help shapen that vision and also sort of protect them from the industry, because the industry is harsh. So, yes. The answer is yes, she was involved in the Ruffhouse/Columbia deal as well.
And what about the other Blackwatch artists when X-Clan moved, like Queen Mother Rage, Unique and Dashan? Had you really tried to collaborate with them again?
Actually, no I haven't. I've actually spoken with Rage recently, and I saw brother J recently when he came into town - because he's really out in LA. So we've talked about it, but we haven't really solidified it. Everybody's kinda doing stuff, and they're busy and they're all over the place. So it's definitely something that we've talked about, but something we need to solidify.
And did they ever come to you earlier? Because, I know X-Clan… they just put out their comeback album not too long ago, but they'd been talking about it and doing interviews about it for years.
Yes. It's been such a journey. Because I also have my own business. I got to a point, after my third album deal and my company not - in my eyes - not supporting me in the way that I needed to be supported as an artist. I had it. I had it with the industry. And as much as I love it - because, you know, this is my oxygen. Hip-hop is the oxygen that I breathe. But I had to say, "you know what? I'm not doing this anymore. Because it's killing me. …Literally." I know it sounds very dramatic, but it was killing me. And I got to a point where I was like, I can't do this anymore. First of all, I have a son. It's not paying my bills, and I have to live. It's not just me; I have to take care of my child. And I opened up a company called QUEB Inc. with my best friend and business colleague, Barb Sharon. We opened up a company; it's an advertising firm. We actually started in fashion design, because we always got approached for us to do some urban agenda for a big clothing line.
Was that just because you were a female rapper, or…?
Maybe. You know, a lot of these people were hanging out… because you had people like Grand Puba talking about Tommy Hilfiger gear. It's like, you know, the rappers were kind of endorsing the fashion now. So you get a lot of people in hip-hop clubs who were not just hip-hoppers. You know, fashion people. And we would get approached. And we took all these freelance jobs andeventually were like, "why don't we just open up a company?" And anything I can get paid for and be creative with, to me, is a wonderful thing; because I don't consider myself this nine-to-fiver. I've never done it. I did it maybe when I was very, very young, but it didn't work with me and for me. And as we QUEB Inc., we went form fashion design to graphic design to web design to TV commercials to video production… and we've expanded into so many different things now. It's my company that put out my music, and it's my company that manages me, and markets me, and promotes me. But we also were juggling other jobs as well, so I'm like the juggler these days.
Ok, and my last question about the Blackwatch days… what was the thinking behind the use of the term "vainglorious." Because, really, it doesn't have that positive a connotation [my little Compact Dictionary here defines "vainglory" as, "empty boasting" or "excessive vanity"].
Well, you know, that would be something unfortunately to ask Professor X. Because that was his thing. I think it was more of a paradox, as opposed to a literal thing, but he would be the best one to explain it… but as you know, he passed in 2006. But you know what's crazy is that, one thing that I like to say whenever I'm interviewed about Blackwatch, is that it was such a huge experience, not only with the people like Brother J, Queen Mother Rage, YZ, and the artists out there in the forefront. But it was a movement of young people all over the country and overseas, that were really taking pride in who they were. It really was for me - I can't really speak for others, but I think it was for them as well - what really sparked out self esteem. It started with our race, but developed into us getting in tune with who we were as people, as humans, as artists, as females, as men… whatever you want to say. But it was such a movement that I wish, actually, it was still in effect today. Because I think, with the state of hip-hop today and where it's at right now, I think that heartbeat, and that vigor that hip-hop used to have for me, is kind of missing.
But there's a lot of things in the works, that I'm not privy to speak about right now… but there's a lot of emcees right now that are on the forefront. It's not about weaning out what'sout there now, because it's not about that. When I grew up in hip-hop, what I loved about it is that we had a whole Baskin-Robbins type of vibe. You know, you had all these different flavors, and you could get into whatever you wanted to get into. And today it's like there's only one flavor - it's like going to Baskin and Robbins and they're like, "nah, we don't have that." That's it. No sprinkles? "Nah." No banana split? "Nah. Vanilla cone. That's it." Only one cone, you know?
And I think it's stunted us, as artists; and also as hip-hop listeners. It's completely limited us. And for me, there's a whole array of emcees - and when I say emcees, I spell it "e-m-c-e-e-s" - across the country, that are on the forefront of recreating this hip-hop movement and bring back… in addition to what's out there now. Not replacing it, but in addition to what's out there now. Because there's a need for all of it. I'm an artist; I believe in the whole spectrum, you know, happy-happy, joy-joy. There's an array of artists that are coming out to preserve the culture of hip-hop. And some of them are young, believe it or not. Some of them are like myself that lived it, that miss it, that loved it. And some of them are a lot of the young ones, too, that know the deal. I didn't realize that until this album came out for me, and I got to travel more, and speak to fans more, and speak to young kids more. These young kids know the difference; a lot of them do. I didn't believe that. See, I was going by the radio. I can't even listen - like for the last almost decade, I can't listen to the radio. I just can't.
Yeah, I'm the same way. It's all old tapes or underground records.
Videos? I can't even look at videos. People say, "I saw your video!" Like, oh really? What station? 'Cause I don't know! I'm not looking at these things. I can't do it; it hurts.
To be continued immediately...

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