Intelligenz: Feature, Don’t Follow

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Photo courtesy of Cam Thomas

With a name like “Intelligenz” you know before you hear one lyric that you’re going to hear something of substance. Intelligenz is an emcee from Chicago, now residing in the DMV, who takes pride in delivering conscious content. Don’t mistake her femininity for a lack of ferociousness. Intelligenz’ music masterfully combines consciousness and her Christian faith without losing her aggressiveness on the mic.

In 2012 Intelligenz won MC Lyte’s Next Top Female MC Competition which led to a mentorship with arguably the greatest female emcee of all-time. A military veteran who is no stranger to discipline, Intelligenz continued to hone her craft in the studio and on the road and her hard work resulted in a deal with underground independent Hip-Hop label, HiPNOTT Records.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Intelligenz about her relationship with rap legend MC Lyte, the importance of consciousness in her music, and her upcoming project on HiPNOTT Records.

TRHH: How’d you get the name Intelligenz?

Intelligenz: I actually kind of stumbled upon it when I was in Vegas having a conversation about the state of Hip-Hop. I felt like we were getting away from the conscious state that I was familiar with Hip-Hop being in. I just said, “How come people don’t rap with more intelligence?” When I heard the name I thought it was pretty dope and I asked my friend who was there if they thought it fit and he was like, “Yeah, I think it’s you.” My first concern was does it sound arrogant and he was like, “No, it works,” so I ran with Intelligenz.

TRHH: You’re originally from Chicago and on the second verse of your new single Welcome to the Grind you use that Chicago flow. Would you say you learned the importance of the grind from growing up in Chicago?

Intelligenz: Absolutely. Not to take anything from anywhere else but I feel like Chicago is known for being able to make it through the struggle, the hustle, and that includes tragedy, poverty, and success even. The winters — It may sound a little funny but winters are harsh, especially when you’re struggling. I just think it toughens you and it definitely is a grind at all times.

TRHH: How did you make the transition from being a Military Police Officer in the Air Force to being an emcee?

Intelligenz: I’ve always written. It was just kind of my way out, I just more so kept it to myself. When I came into the military I could remember being at my first base and being at technical training school and this group of guys were around freestyling. That was my chance in a new world to branch out and say, “Here’s what I can do.” I was horrible at first freestyling [laughs]. The fellas quickly let me know that. It was pretty much battle rap style – they talked about you head to toe. They also motivated me and treated me like a little sister but when it came to that everybody went in. That’s how I got my courage to step outside the box a bit and speak up, but I was still very hidden. I didn’t necessarily pursue it. My focus was the military and giving the military 100%. At the time I was around a lot of people who wanted to pursue music and it was kind of swaying them toward some decisions that I wouldn’t necessarily make.

I enjoyed my time in the military so once I got out, I was married at the time, I would always write and write and my ex-husband said, “Why don’t you just go for this? You’re out here writing like you’re putting out an album.” I always feared the stage and the spotlight. I didn’t want celebrity, I just wanted the music. I decided, you know what, it’s time. I’ve loved this, I’ve tried this, I’ve tried a couple of open mics in the military and I enjoyed it. I appreciated the applause but I still didn’t feel comfortable on the stage. When I got out the military I decided it was now or never. Either I was going to live with regret or live with at least knowing that I tried.

TRHH: Talk about your relationship with MC Lyte and what is some of the best advice she’s given you?

Intelligenz: I think some of the best advice I’ve received from Lyte is probably some of the unspoken advice. That’s not me trying to navigate from some of the things that she has shared, which I’m willing to share, it’s just how she carries herself. I was just referencing her the other day. She moves with such a state of class and excellence. The biggest thing that I’ve learned from her just from observation is she treats every single person that she encounters like a person who is deserving as they are of respect. There is no ego, there is no arrogance, there is a certain type of kindness and positive energy that exudes off her and you can’t fake that. For me, I like to be around genuine people regardless of whatever celebrity status you feel you have or have been confirmed. It’s about how you treat people and that’s one of the things I appreciate, and how I treat others, learning from her.

Some of the best advice that she’s given me is to stay true to who I am as an artist. If I’m an emcee, be an emcee. Don’t be afraid to speak about something that’s conscious and also don’t be afraid to step out into different areas and tap into other talents that you may have. Overall be true to the craft. The biggest thing I’ve learned from her is stepping back and observing as an emcee, as a daughter, as a woman in this industry to treat everyone with respect. I can’t express that enough because I’ve seen quite a bit. It’s nice to see someone at the top of their career, at the top of their game, with longevity, still have a sense of sincerity to everyone that they encounter – it’s humbling.

TRHH: You mentioned being conscious twice. Why is it important to you, and why do you think it’s important in music to have a level of consciousness?

Intelligenz: I think because there’s power in consciousness. I don’t necessarily like to say “woke” because I think that’s a term that’s becoming exploited. I mean conscious on any level, and that includes having the right to choose music. We’re now in a place where we are so conditioned that if someone isn’t co-signed by someone who is famous we don’t even break new artists anymore. We haven’t even opened up our minds to say, “You know what, I really like that record. Nobody knows who that is, I’ve never heard of them, I’ve never seen any of their shows but I heard this song and I loved it.” On the reverse side of that is, I didn’t like that song at all, but this person just co-signed them and they’re going on tour with this person so because the industry has stamped them we have determined that the music that they put out into the world is now quality. Conscious to be able to make our own decisions, conscious to take our power back as our own consumers, the power that came with Hip-Hop as far as unity. Although there was a period where we had gangsta rap and there are things that we can always improve, we still had people like Lyte, people like Queen and U.N.I.T.Y., we had The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, we had Eve speaking about women being abused — we had variety. In that variety was consciousness. Today we just kind of have this one lane.

Consciousness is important to me because it’s a part of who I am, it’s not all of who I am but it’s an aspect of who I am, and I would like to always be honest with that. Also because I think it’s time we get back to diversification in music. That’s what I think is frustrating for a lot of listeners. We’ve maybe lost 5-to-10 years of an audience of people who felt like they lacked being fed in music. It just became here is the blueprint: club music, turn up. If you have to rewind the track today and you couldn’t pick it up the first time it’s considered a task to people. Some have been so mentally conditioned to get it the first time around and not have to evaluate what’s being said. It’s only about the beat, and while that’s nice in one aspect to want to hear great chords and great drum kits, if that’s what your music renders, at the same time words are so powerful and can last for so long, especially with them being repetitious, just like a melody. We’re just not giving our audiences that. We’re no longer giving them the variety. For me, being conscious is staying true to the music that I like to put out without being apologetic about it, even if in the beginning it takes me just a little bit longer to reach the masses. They’re out there, we just have to keep fighting for them back.

TRHH: What inspired the song Round of Applause?

Intelligenz: Round of Applause was kind of me saying I’ve been grinding for so long, nobody really knows, but it’s okay for me to pat myself on the back. It was a long time and a hard time for me accepting God’s gift. I didn’t know how to balance being confident without feeling like that confidence was a form of arrogance. As a result deep down I think I doubted my talent. When Round of Applause came around it was my way of saying, “It’s okay. Yes, I deserve this and I don’t necessarily need that validation from everyone.” Even though I’m saying I need a round of applause that round of applause begins with me inward and then outwardly next. I speak on a lot of things.

That third verse is dedicated to Lyte. I start it saying, “See Lyte gave me the light and the lesson that’s understood/When a legend lends you a message it’s a blessing for what is good.” I’m just talking about how she takes me underneath her wing, she tells me that I can be unstoppable, which is also the name of her book. In the beginning I talk about my relationship and dynamic with family – the ups and downs, the loyalty and lack of loyalty, family can be by blood, by friend, associate, extension, there’s a lot that’s in there.

TRHH: When can fans expect to hear your full-length project?

Intelligenz: I pushed it back. A lot of stuff was brewing underneath. I just came off tour with the legendary Slick Rick. There’s a lot of great things happening as a result. People are reaching out to me, I’m getting better production opportunities now. At the very latest we’re looking at April, no later than that. Just because of some of the timelines that are coming up after that. My first EP with my label HiPNOTT Records is going to be called Feature Don’t Follow.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind that title?

Intelligenz: Even going back to the comment on conscious state and everybody following one blueprint, everyone is starting to have the same sound. While it’s okay for similarities and a trend I didn’t want us to get into a place where we lose our own sense of artistry and creativity and begin to blend too much. When I have my first official album I want to be one of the first females in quite a while to put out a project where it’s only me. I’ll have a singer but as far as an emcee I will be the only person rapping. The singing parts I will be writing every hook, every verse, and organizing every melody. That also limits the opportunity of people that I respect as emcees that I would love to work for.

That’s what’s going to happen on Feature Don’t Follow. I’m saying be who you are, collaborate with people without necessarily picking up their sound. Like I said, you’ll always find similarities with emcees because most of what you’re trying to do has been done, but what I’m saying is don’t be afraid to tap into what you bring to the table. Whether that’s lyrically, swag, or creativity in how you deliver your verse. I will have featured people on this project but the goal is for us to bring our own talent to the table and not necessarily follow each other so, Feature Don’t Follow.

TRHH: What’s your ultimate goal in the music business?

Intelligenz: My ultimate goal I would say number one more than anything is to break every barrier and stereotype about what the female emcee is supposed to be. I want to bring a form of class and dignity that I feel like I had when I was growing up. It was okay to be clothed. Or if your choice is to lead with a little more sex appeal, I was also welcome even if I’m clothed. I got to choose from many different women and pick which one I wanted to be as an example. My representation and how I carry myself, I hope that other young women subscribe to it. I hope that I influence them in a positive way. I hope I lead the trail to say that it’s okay to do Hip-Hop and also speak Christ’s name.

I hope that I’m able to reach and influence other females to say that it’s okay to write, to literally have words that matter and power, and it’s okay to look something up. You do not have to subscribe to this blueprint of us being overly exposed, or six inch heels, or tights or we won’t be seen. If that’s who you are, own it. No matter what I say or the next person. But if you feel pressured and think it’s the only way to get there I hope that my path and how I’ve carried myself brings someone else a little bit of influence, positivity, and hope that’s it’s possible. That they can see my journey and say, “She did it, it’s possible.” Maybe I won’t get there to that Grammy, but I hope if somebody is watching me that they feel like for whatever their level of integrity is they feel confident enough, secure enough, ambitious enough, risky enough to jump and trust their dreams and be exactly who they are as they pursue it.

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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