Photo: Prince Williams / Contributor via Getty Images
  /  08.07.2023

Yolanda Whitaker, better known by her stage name Yo-Yo, is one of the most recognized female emcees to come out of the West Coast. She is happy to celebrate hip hop and is also a champion of today’s female rappers.

Born in Compton and raised in South Central, the Grammy-winning lyricist is not only a respected living legend but also a trailblazer for women emcees. Although systemic racism exists throughout the United States, growing up in what has been considered one of Los Angeles’ most dangerous areas exposed her to unjust scenarios within her community, which impacted her raw rap style. Moreover, Yo-Yo always knew from a young age that she wanted to be on a stage.

“I always knew I wanted to be a rapper, but as a young kid, I didn’t think I’d become an artist. It started with poetry, and I was proficient in English. I just loved music. I was an entertainer,” she told REVOLT in this exclusive interview.

When she was a teenager in high school, her flow and empowering style caught the attention of N.W.A’s Ice Cube. Yo-Yo became his protégé and signed with Interscope when she turned 18. The budding emcee was introduced to the public when she made her debut on the Friday actor’s first solo project, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, in 1990 after he left N.W.A, according to HotNewHipHop. It was at this moment she realized music could change her life.

“I think when I realized was when I started working with Ice Cube. I was like, ‘Wow, this could be something,’” she shared. “I think one of my most memorable moments was when we did the Apollo because there was some beef with the East Coast and West Coast. Cube had just left N.W.A, and we did two shows at the Apollo, and they threw money on the stage. It was jam-packed. The energy was so electric — I mean, I could see it as if it was today and that was over 34 years ago.”

The following year, Cube was featured on her song “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo” from her first album, Make Way for the Motherlode, before she made her mark in the industry with the release of her second project, Black Pearl. The budding star was an artist that exuded confidence and made music to encourage women. She went on to drop three more projects before successfully branching off into Hollywood to become an actor with a recurring role on the hit show “Martin,” along with other gigs in TV and film.

Yo-Yo is happy that hip hop is celebrating 50 years since initially, it was regarded as only a fad. As someone who was a trendsetter in the genre, she believes rap music did a great job of being a voice for the voiceless.

“The older you get in music; people say, ‘Receive your flowers.’ I think the love, it says a lot… I feel the love. It’s a different kind of love. [The fans] know I love them, and they know I appreciate the love,” the philanthropist said. “It feels good to me, and I like taking pictures. I like showing the fans and the people that come out to support me that I love them too, and I appreciate them, so it feels good to get that love because it just charges my battery. I go back into my shell, and I just put my head down, and just stay working again, and then I come back out, and get some more love.”

She continued, “It makes me feel good, the fact that those who came before me in the industry are getting their flowers and their recognition. We always talk about bridging gaps, whether it’s politically or work-wise, and I think the fact those who came before us are getting recognized, and now we get a chance, we get to work with the new generation… It’s all wonderful.”

When discussing the new wave of female emcees, Yo-Yo revealed she’s proud of the progression she’s witnessed within the industry, which has been called a “boys’ club” by many. The trailblazer is happy to see women advocating for themselves. As a girl’s girl, she only wants to see the ladies win — instead of being leeched off by the people they work with. “I think this generation is more fearless, they take less s**t, they say what they want, and they get it,” the industry vet elaborated. “If I ever worry about them, it’s that I hope no one takes advantage of them and their naiveness in certain situations because you don’t know until you learn and you go through it. I think they’re handling themselves pretty well.”

“To hear [Megan Thee Stallion] talk about she was fighting for her money and all that work she did, I was sad about that because I’m like, ‘Damn, they’re going through the same s**t we went through.’ It’s just sad to see this cycle continue when you’re like, ‘Damn, music has made so much money — pay the people what you owe them, so they can be successful, too.’ The same respect you give men, you have to give it to the women,” Yo-Yo continued.

There have been many discussions about today’s female lyricists being oversexualized compared to their predecessors. Some believe the artists’ talent should be the focus and enough to catapult them to a bigger platform, while others deem it the industry’s new recipe requiring women be able to exude sex appeal. Yo-Yo feels no one should fit a particular mold, but added that if you want to be a sexy entertainer, do it in moderation because there’s a certain level of responsibility when you’re being watched worldwide.

“It’s [sexiness], entertainment, it’s freedom and it’s confidence, too. At the same time, for me… because I’m older now, it’s a difference if you have class with it and you’re an entertainer when you do it. Some of them are just ratchet, and nasty, and it just looks bad for the culture, but it’s up to them. It’s their journey. It doesn’t put a bad taste in my mouth about it because I’m still trying to get a twerk lesson,” she said smiling.

“I just think when I was coming up, I didn’t realize how powerful music was. I was 17 years old being interviewed everyday, ‘Do you think you’re a role model?’ There is a contribution you have to give. They’ll learn that down the road if their careers take them that far to see what impact they’re really making. You just want to realize that. Young Black girls, if I could tell them something, it would be, ‘Hey, those kids are watching, and they’re impressed by you, so if you can give them something, please do. It’s necessary. All of the successful people that come out of the hood or out of our communities, we look up to you. Kids look up to you and they depend on you. They’ll listen to you before they listen to their parents,'” she added.

The multifaceted artist also noted she does wish the West Coast had more representation. Yo-Yo opened up about how the region’s rappers infiltrated the genre with hardcore lyrics that shed light on what was happening in LA and America’s backyard, which woke up the nation.

“We need more West Coast representation. I think some of our biggest contributions is the fact that we pushed across these barrier lines. We were fighting so many political entities, the police departments and the mayors. There was so much corruption coming out of our town, so just the fact that our voice can be heard. After Ice Cube and N.W.A came out with ‘F**k Tha Police,’ it really shook things up. People really started paying attention to all of the havoc we were faced with,” she explained. “Toddy Tee had [the] ‘Batteram’ song. They were coming into our cribs, not ours particularly, but in community homes with tanker trucks, so I think we have a lot more history, and we need to get our s**t together, so we can make the history books.”

If you want to keep up with Yo-Yo, it’s not very hard since she has multiple deals in the works and is on a few platforms. She has a cooking show called “Downright Delicious with Yo-Yo” on aspireTV that airs every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, in addition to being the new host of “BET Her Live!” The icon is also one of the artists on “Hip Hop Treasures” on A&E with LL Cool J, Ice T, and Cipha Sounds. Plus, she is playing the role of “Duchess”on Disney‘s new show “Saturdays” and can be heard on “Café Mocha Radio Show” with broadcaster Angelique Perrin and comedian Loni Love every weekend in over 41 markets.



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