Rapper/singer Ida Divine is troubled by the lack of females in hip-hop. "We had so many women in the '80s rapping ... Roxanne Shanté, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah," she said one afternoon as she sat in a recording studio on the outskirts of Charlotte. "But now it's funneled down to three or four. It's really not cool."
For Divine (aka LaQuana Thompson), what's even more troubling than the small number of female MCs is the lack of diversity among that group. While men dominate the hip-hop industry and cover every sub-genre from conscious to chopped-and-screwed, women seem to be limited to playing the sex-kitten role.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, Divine is determined to make her mark in the hip-hop world and on Charlotte's music scene — her way. No pink wig. No butt implants. No overly sexualized persona — just hip-hop, soul, a hint of reggae, and of course, pure talent.
Right now, the 31-year-old, Staten Island, N.Y.-bred artist, who was childhood friends with the sister of Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon, is in a good place. After years of trying to define her musical style, she's at peace.
"When I started rapping around the age of 13, [my style] was a little grimier just because I had been around Wu-Tang and fashioned myself as the 10th member ... in my head anyway," she said laughing. "But once I got out of that mind state, I realized that I could sing my messages, and it didn't have to be so grimy. I can talk about what I want to talk about in Ida Divine's way."
And she's doing just that. She's developed a style that's soulful, yet "gutter" and real — a style that fuses her love for the Wu and Lauryn Hill with her love for Nina Simone and Billie Holiday; one that reflects her mother's Jamaican heritage and her father's New York swagger.
She's caught the attention of nationally known acts like Naughty by Nature and dancehall queen Lady Saw and was tapped to open for them when they performed in Charlotte last year. She's worked in the studio with hip-hop heavyweights like Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang and up-and-comers like E. Jones from famed N.C. producer 9th Wonder's camp. She was also named "Best R&B Artist" at the 2009 Charlotte Music Awards.
Yes, Divine is in a very good place. But she knows if she wants to claim a spot among hip-hop's elite, she has to keep grinding. So she's been hard at work in the studio banging out songs for her first full-length album, a follow-up to her 2009 mixtape, The Beginnings of a Gorgeous Genius. She's generating a buzz with her latest single, the melodic hip-hop track "Grow Up." Divine still has a ways to go before she's a household name, but she's been on a steady rise over the last couple of years, and if her career continues its upward track, the sky is the limit.
Now, back to what was troubling her earlier — the lack of females in hip-hop. "It's a male-dominated industry and it's a monster," she said shaking her head. "But we have a chance to do this the right way and make history right now. Any female could be good if she just shows some creativity and makes sure that the message she's giving is positive. That's where I fit in ... I'm taking that whole spot right there and representing for the Queen City."