When hip-hop enthusiasts think of cities that contribute to the culture, large urban areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston come to mind. North Carolina is often overlooked, and when it’s not, attention usually goes to men: Da Baby, Stunna 4 Vegas, Lute, Mez, Deniro Farrar, G Yamazawa, J. Gunn, and others have all achieved some form of success in recent years. Before them, it was Petey Pablo—the “first to put it down for North Carolina” on his national hit, “Raise Up”—and Little Brother, the hip-hop trio that met in Durham and proved that Southern MCs could soulfully match the boom-bap aesthetic of their Northern peers.
Although their tenure was short, Little Brother’s impact on hip-hop culture still looms large. They’ve influenced the likes of Kooley High, J. Gunn, King Draft, and up-and-coming producers Professor X and Grade A Beats. Big Pooh co-manages Dreamville Records signee Lute, who’s based in Charlotte, and 9th Wonder is the visionary behind Jamla/RocNation artist Rapsody.
Rapsody, who is from Snow Hill but attended N.C. State, came up as a member of Raleigh rap group Kooley High before she was featured on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and nominated for a Grammy for 2017’s Laila’s Wisdom. She might seem like the exception to the male-dominated rule, but she’s far from alone among women holding down Triangle hip-hop.
Though the relationship between hip-hop and women has always been complicated, women have been rising to the forefront in recent years, whether as artists, producers, or music-industry movers. Here in the Triangle, they’re on the radio. They’re curating festivals, shows, and unique cultural spaces. They’re doing public relations and digital marketing. They’re capturing dope visuals, spitting fire lyrics, and crafting catchy trap hooks. Most important, some of them are doing it while mothering. This is our salute to fifteen talented women in the Triangle hip-hop scene to follow on Instagram.
Ashia Skye (@ashiaskye) K97.5’s newest radio personality started off as an intern and worked her way on-air within two years. She also hosts YouTube series, #TheComeUp, where she interviews artists like Da Baby and Stunna 4 Vegas.
Asha David (@Ashadaviid) David’s innovative curatorial skills have allowed her to create unique spaces with a hip-hop ethos in the Triangle, such as Henny and Head Shots, a creative networking event, and Durag Fest, a festival that celebrates all things Black culture.
Amanda + Olivia (@_wondatwins) The dynamic best-friend photography duo known as the Wonda Twins gracefully capture N.C.’s favorite artists in concert, promo shots, and album artwork, on the local festival scene and elsewhere, with Dreamville’s “Never Had Shit” tour and Ari Lennox.
Autumn Joi (@autumnjoilive) Autumn Joi is no rookie to radio and entertainment: She is currently a regular correspondent for TMZ and has been a featured panelist for NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. The Autumn Joi Live Show airs on K97.5 Monday through Saturday.
Casha Dees (@cashcollective) Known for her illuminating black-and-white photography, Casha has shot Triangle artists like J. Gunn and King Draft. Currently, she is a studio assistant and content creator at Kompleks Studio in Durham.
Chelsey Bentley Holts (@carolinabluebentley) Holts, the founder of Nakoma Marketing + PR and the Student Affairs Director of Marketing and Communications at NCCU, has worked for Art of Cool, Beats n Bars and, most notably, the inaugural Dreamville Fest; she’s currently on assignment at the 2019 Essence Festival.
Crystal Taylor (@TheQueenCurator) Since 2012, Taylor has been developing a reputation as the queen of underground N.C. hip-hop, curating spaces at events like Beats n Bars Festival, Yo NC Raps, The Underground Collective Beat Battle series, The Fresh Effect Panel, and That’s The Joint Open Mic. In 2016, aiming to expand visibility for Triangle artists and producers, she released the online web series Real Raps Only, followed by Respect the Producer the next year.
Chyna Vonne (@chynavonnemusic) A Fayetteville resident, Vonne has made a name for herself in the Triangle hip-hop scene as a dope lyricist with an aggressive flow. Gimmick-free and a real pit bull in a skirt, she is ready to go bar for bar with any MC, male or female.
Gemynii (@gemynii) A talented visual artist who has the ability to paint your favorite rapper, Gemynii is a “creator, connector, conjuror, curator, and sound spinna.” Whether as an artist or a DJ, her talents have been seen from The Nasher to The Pinhook, from Moogfest to Hopscotch.
Jaszie (@iam_jaszie) Fairly new to the Triangle scene, rapper Jaszie has released a number of freestyles and videos that showcase her hardcore lyrical abilities. On “BBWA,” she raps over Nas’s infamous “Oochie Wally,” remaining true to her Southern Mississippi upbringing while also paying homage to a boom-bap tempo.
Kelly Kale (@_kellykale) The Triangle is full of female heavy spitters, and Kale is one of them. Her cadence is reminiscent of New York in the nineties, with a sprinkle of Lauryn Hill circa the Fugees.
Lena Jackson (@Ljackpower) If you love Jean Grae, you’ll love Lena Jackson. Remaining true to the foundations of hip-hop, Jackson effortlessly approaches soul-sampling backdrops with intention, wisdom, and grace.
Miriam Tolbert (@MirsEmpire) K97.5 radio personality Miriam Tolbert is one of the hardest-working people in the Triangle. The creator of Carolina Waves Radio and the Carolina Waves Open Mic series (winner of the INDY’s 2018 and 2019 Best Open Mic In the Triangle), Tolbert has parlayed her brand into a presence at Art of Cool, Hopscotch, and A3C Festival, one of the largest hip-hop festivals in the world. She also manages Raleigh artists Jooselord and 3AM.
Sarah the !llstrumentalist (@sarah2ill) Representing Raleigh, with more than twenty-thousand subscribers to her YouTube channel (Sarah2ill), a lifestyle brand that caters to producers (No Quantize), and a deal with Epidemic Sound, Sarah the !llstrumentalist is one of the most innovative producers in the whole industry. After deciding her passion wasn’t making beats for artists, this legend in the making sought other ways to be a creative and earn income. Her channel includes beat tutorials, product reviews, and live performances.
ZenSoFly (@Zensofly) An eclectic spirit who exudes star quality, ZenSoFly has many talents. One of Choice FM’s (92.1) newest radio personalities, this punky, femme rap artist is also a DJ whose music blends hip-hop with an upbeat trap-pop vibe.
Correction: Miriam Tolbert created Carolina Waves Radio, not 919 Radio.
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