With a lack of female representation in Hip-Hop’s front line, one woman has surpassed the generic life span of most performers. Having been immersed in drum patterns, melodies and sixteens for close to two decades and a member of the all female Soul Food Symphony, Tiye Phoenix is breaking the mold in whichever way she can. With The Polyrhythm Addicts’ Break Glass coming in late April, the female MC has yet another vehicle to chase her dreams.
Women MCs may have lost their right to stand on the Grammy stage, yet with a personality like Tiye Phoenix fighting the fight for not just women, but Hip-Hop period, one can but hope that the real female MC will be back wearing if not a crown, then at least a tiara sometime soon.
With a three dimensional aspect to her artistry, Tiye Phoenix talked Egyptology, her recent victory in the world of beat battling and the persona that is hidden in her closet, giving AllHipHop.com reason to believe that this Phoenix is most certainly on the rise.
AllHipHop.com: Break down the meaning of your name as that is a serious name you are carrying there, Tiye Phoenix.
Tiye Phoenix: Well Tiye is the name of an ancient Egyptian or Khimetic Pharoses, King Tut’s Grandmother. She was of Nubian descent, but she rose from humble or poor beginnings and then became Egyptian royalty through her talents and her abilities and compromises that she made, narcissistically and politically. To me, that was just such an inspiration as Tiye has so many different meanings to me nowadays, Tiye is also called weed and then with the Chocolate Thai reference to marijuana. On her tombstone, it said that she should be the “princess, the most praised, sweet in her love, filled the palace with her beauty.”
AllHipHop.com: Now your mixtape was called Black Athena, what is the relevance of Greek mythology and Egyptology to you, was this something you studied?
Tiye Phoenix: I definitely have studied Khimetic sciences, [but] not nearly as much as I plan to in the future. I plan to delve into studying the ancient sciences even more intensely just as my life progresses. That is the cornerstone of civilization as we know it and I have a natural kinship, a natural affinity for the history and the legacy of those people left behind in that time period and their contribution to world history and culture.
I called the mixtape Black Athena because that is the name of a book, a history book written by a European scholar by the name of Martin Brunard, and it is a book that addresses the fact the contribution of Egyptian and African people is deliberately removed from world history and their role in it and I thought that was kind of parallel to what is going on in Hip-Hop.
AllHipHop.com: Why do you think that?
Tiye Phoenix: Well you are inundated with the same concepts, the same types of artists, and the same music.
AllHipHop.com: What did you study at school?
Tiye Phoenix: I majored in speech communication but my minor was Black history but at a certain point I became a student of life, and you just start looking into what you are interested in, regardless of what your major and your minor is.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel that the more education you get, the more competent you are at writing?
Tiye Phoenix: Yes. Having a degree or masters is a cert and I will tell you why, knowledge is power and learning, studying are one of the primary accesses with have to knowledge and that is the key to power, so your writing is a mirror of your thoughts so how evolved can your thoughts be if you are not soaking up information. So to me, it sounds kind of ridiculous of an artist to say, “I don’t know too much,” and have that as the image they want to portray to the world. Your writing is only going to be a mirror of your intelligence.
AllHipHop.com: You have an extensive history in Hip-Hop, from working with Talib and Hi-Tek on “On My Way” and “Four Women” and Soul Food Symphony. When you look at how Hip-Hop has evolved since then, would you rather stay on the underground scene?
Tiye Phoenix: Not necessarily, I pretty much see music as a vocation as opposed to just a hobby, and it’s not for everyone. I believe that those people who love music, you know truly love it and feel that they are following a passion and pursuing the completion of a mission, you just kind of put one foot in front of the other and let the story tell itself. That is really kind of where… I mean I am not saying that I haven’t had specific outlined goals and direction, but it just has to play itself out and life plays a role in it and whatever is happening in life at the time, that reflects your relationship with your music and vice versa as your relationship with you music reflects what is going on in your life and I just kind of allow the story to tell itself.
AllHipHop.com: How did you end up with Polyrhythm Addicts?
S Tiye Phoenix: Shabaam Sahdeeq and DJ Spinna we were all signed to Rawkus at the same time, and we had known each other then, and we weren’t connected musically, as we all had our own separate agendas while we were at Rawkus. Polyrhythm Addicts released an album some years ago and I replaced the former member who was in the group. Spinna had approached me about it a little over a year ago and I had always respected them for what they do individually and it just sounded exciting for me, you know it was a platform that would allow me to be me and feel real comfortable.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel as a female that you need to align yourself with guys to get ahead?
Tiye Phoenix: It wasn’t even deliberate like that, you know I jumped at the opportunity when it was brought to me, as this was real Hip-Hop, real MCs. So to me, it was good to align my mind with other like minds and I didn’t even take into consideration that they were male so to speak. But they have all released products into the market place, so they have individual fan bases and Polyrhythm Addicts have a fan base, so when they released their debut album [Rhyme Related] in ‘99, it was around the time of what is considered the golden era of Hip-Hop; so a lot of people have that nostalgic feeling about that era and people remember Poly, so I think thy will be excited to see what evolution taking place.
AllHipHop.com: You have an alter ego, Gaze Starlett. What does she do, sing?
Tiye Phoenix: She does sing, I sing a little in Poly and as Tiye Phoenix, but it is 99% singing. It is an outlet of me to showcase the important aspects of my womanhood as I don’t really reveal too much as Tiye Phoenix.
AllHipHop.com: See that was what I didn’t get as you don’t come off pseudo macho in your role as an MC, so why the more tender alter ego?
Tiye Phoenix: Well [laughing] it gets more womanly. There are degrees of womanhood.
AllHipHop.com: So Gaze Starlett wouldn’t have been present at the MTP Awards then [laughing]?
Tiye Phoenix: Probably not, she only comes out when she is invited and on special occasions you know what I mean. And Tiye Phoenix does produce for Gaze Starlett [laughing.] There is a little bit of schizophrenia in all of this. Yeah sometimes Gaye wants to come out of the closet but it just isn’t late enough.
AllHipHop.com: How did you get involved in production as you are doing pretty well in the production world?
Tiye Phoenix: [Several] years ago, I decided to get my own equipment because a lot of people make music but they just don’t operate musical equipment. There are some popular, successful producers who don’t manipulate equipment; so I took it upon myself, you know the whole world of beat machines and drum machines, I had to be part of it and know how to execute it. I just delved into the world of MPC 2000’s specifically; I have had it now for maybe 10 years.
AllHipHop.com: There are females who produce, they may be few and far between but for a female to take it to the battling level, and did you feel you were taking big steps?
Tiye Phoenix: Well I was unaware of the fact there were battles. I mean I won a female beat battle and then I went to the Grand Championship. There were rounds every month and round seven was the female beat battle and I won that and every year all the winners, there were about nine of us get together for the grand championship and I was the only female in the battle and I won. That would be like the first female grand champion. You know beating eight men, they weren’t happy.
AllHipHop.com: Going into that situation did you ever feel you may not be taken seriously as a female, you know even as a legitimate competitor?
Tiye Phoenix: I think to be honest; it was a bit of a shock for all of them, not for me, but for them as I was a minority. The odds, the percentage was greater for a man to win as there were eight of them, but I defeated the odds. I was unaware that there were female beat battles taking place, but I was hit up by someone on Myspace.com who said I had to get involved in this battle and just to say I was ready to compete I was like to the point where I was like, “Yeah, I can do this and be confident about it.” It wasn’t so much that I feared competition, because I respect the spirit of competition, I know the value of it and how it builds character and how it motivates you; you have those pre-competition jitters which you get when you are going against the world and I just had the courage and I did it and I was like ‘wow, I won’ and with the Grand Championship battle, I worked hard.. I literally wasn’t expecting it. I almost withdrew as well.
AllHipHop.com: Why would you do that?
Tiye Phoenix: Well I had a family emergency and I was just like, “I have to call them and tell them something came up and I wasn’t able to participate,” my mind was literally somewhere else during the battle because of my family situation but I was blessed to go on ahead and no one knew it and I just had to do a poker face. I was stunned. The reason I went into the competition was because the music industry is a really close knit group of people. You can have the best beats in the world at home in your home studio, on your disc in your hard drive, beats that could turn anyone into a star. But if you don’t know the right person or are connected to that person in some way, or pounding the pavement and knocking on doors but I just said I was going to go out amongst my peers in the street and amongst credible judges and make my name that way. Eventually people may say, “Who is this woman in beat battles, beating both men and women? Okay, I need to hear her beats,” and that was why I did it. Eventually the industry has to come back to the streets whether they want to or not, they need to come back to the streets to figure out what’s hot.
AllHipHop.com: Have you had a lot of attention from this win?
Tiye Phoenix: Somewhat, I mean I haven’t got phone calls from the top rappers in the business but people, some MCs and singers have hit me up saying they want to hear stuff and I was on the Kay Slay show twice, Hot 97 and the Sirius show. He shows me a lot of love and he hit me up after I gave him a mixtape on the street and he e mailed and told me what he thought, and I respect him so much for that. That was a great experience for me.
AllHipHop.com: What are your long-term hopes for yourself in the Hip-Hop world?
Tiye Phoenix: I want to bring some life to that which is stale and women producing credible good music that as it is still in a novelty stage and that is something I want to do. Not only do I want to make my mark, I want to help redefine and evolve Hip-Hop.