If you know rap music you know the name Antoinette. During Hip-Hop’s golden era Antoinette was dubbed by many “The Female Rakim” for her raw lyrics and slick delivery. The Bronx emcee preferred to go by another moniker, “The Gangstress.” Antoinette released two albums, 1989’s “Who’s the Boss?” and 1990’s “Burnin’ at 20 Below” before completely walking away from rap.
Now the Gangstress is back, this time with a book titled “All That Glitters: From Attitude to Gratitude.” The book explains why Antoinette walked away from rap and chronicles her battles with sexual abuse, domestic violence, and more than one tumultuous relationship. Antoinette’s story is one of perseverance that she believes will help others who are struggling in similar situations.
The Real Hip-Hop had the extreme pleasure of talking to Antoinette about her rap career, the origins of her battle with MC Lyte, what she’s done since stepping away from Hip-Hop, and her new book, All That Glitters.
TRHH: Why’d you decide to write a book at this point in your life?
Antoinette: The truth of the matter is, I’ve wanted to write a book for a minute. I’ve been through a lot of things in my life and I wanted to use my story as a catalyst to facilitate conversations and to eventually help others on their journey to self-love. I wanted to encourage them to let them know that whatever it is they’re going through I’ve already been through and you can still make it and come out on top. My story was in the making for many years. The time was now because the opportunity presented itself.
There were times where I sat down in front of my computer and I wanted to write. I started writing like, “chapter one” and life would just happen. I’d get so busy that chapter one was two paragraphs long and I didn’t get to it for two or three months. I met a guy, he actually is the founder of the Hip Hop Hands Foundation. His name is Lucio Dutch. He reached out to me and said, “Listen, are you interested in doing your memoir?” I said, “Oh, absolutely, I’ve been trying to do it for a while.” Hooking up with him, he actually kept me on a timeline so I was able to get it done. Everything happens at the right time when it’s supposed to. Maybe if I had written it three or four years ago the ending wouldn’t have been the same.
TRHH: Explain the title “All That Glitters.”
Antoinette: When people walk in a room quite often they’re sized up just based on their appearance. People don’t realize what it takes sometimes for people to get there or how they’re feeling inside internally. I’m just saying that on the surface you can’t judge a book by its cover, because everything that glitters is not gold. Everybody knows that saying. Things aren’t always what they seem.
TRHH: And in the book you explain how that pertains to you?
Antoinette: The way it pertains to me is the book depicts my childhood through now. When people saw Antoinette aka The Gangstress, they didn’t know that they were looking at somebody who was suffering from low self-esteem in a sense. The way that I saw myself was different than the way everybody else saw me. Because of the way that I saw myself I settled for things, I went through some things, and I made decisions predicated on how I felt, hence my life story. I’m talking about relationships and things that were out of my control too also influenced and led to my self-image. My great-grandmother had to raise me given the circumstances of my mother and father. The music industry, which I had a passion for and loved so much when I got into it, it dealt me a bad hand too. All the way across the board when it seemed like it was looking up something came and knocked me right back down.
People wouldn’t even think that I’ve been through half the stuff I’ve been through. I suffered in a domestically abusive relationship. People would say, “Not Antoinette the Gangstress,” Yes, it happens. I just want to be completely transparent and be that voice to people who won’t open their mouth. I’m not ashamed of the things I’ve been through. I made the decisions and the decisions I’ve made I had to deal with certain things because of them. There were some things that just happened to me that I had no control over, but all of those things I personally believe happened for a reason. The reason is for me to help others at the end of the day.
TRHH: As a parent, how important is it to instill self-esteem in your children early on?
Antoinette: As a parent it’s extremely important. What’s sad though is when you have a parent that’s broken they can only give what they have. So, it’s about people really starting to look in the mirror and loving what they see, change the things and the flaws that they feel they would like to change about them, but understanding that nobody is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with you. What people do to you is not indicative of who you are, but who they are. When you have parents that feel that way, understand that, and truly love themselves, then they can instill self-love in a child. Because you can only give what you got.
TRHH: I want to ask a couple of music questions and come back to the book. Going back to the beginning, how did you end up on Hurby Luv Bug’s album with “I Got an Attitude” and “Hit ‘Em With This”?
Antoinette: “I Got an Attitude” “Hit ‘Em With This” and “Unfinished Business” were the three songs that Hurby produced. I Got an Attitude and Hit ‘Em With This were actually on his compilation album, “Hurby’s Machine.” I Got an Attitude was the first single off of his album. What happened was I was working with a guy named Fat Doug. I was in the twelfth grade and we made a demo tape, I Got an Attitude. He took it to this guy named Jay Ellis who in turn took it over to Next Plateau Records and Eddie O’Loughlin. The story as to how I came about working with Hurby really came by way of Jay Ellis. He took my demo over to let Eddie hear it and Hurby happened to be in the next room and heard it. He was like, “Who is that? I want her on my album.” He heard my demo tape in September and I was the first single that dropped in November. It happened just like that. It was like a dream come true. Back then it was unheard of. People were shopping for deals for months and years. For me it happened just that quickly.
TRHH: Why didn’t you become a part of his clique?
Antoinette: He didn’t manage me and I was already with Jay Ellis, so that’s another part of the story. At 18-years old being very naïve I was coerced into singing a contract that really wasn’t in my favor. Unknowingly, I basically signed my life away. I couldn’t be with Hurby full-time or be a part of their clique because I was signed to Jay.
TRHH: Is that something that you’ve legally rectified over the years?
Antoinette: No, I walked away from it. I walked away from my contract twenty something years ago. I just got fed up when I started to realize that the people around me were making more money off of me than I was making off of myself. I decided to go get an education.
TRHH: You’re an accountant, right?
TRHH: Talk about that. How did you decide to take that route?
Antoinette: Of course, the whole story is in the book. It’s just that when I went to school I never, ever thought of becoming an accountant. It was not my dream, it was not my passion, nothing. I was actually a pre-med student. I went through some terrible times and I ended up having to quit school and the job that I had at the time. I had to do a do-over with my life. In doing that I started working for a company. When I started working for the company I was in the accounting department. I had all these credits in anatomy, physiology, and biological chemistry, but I said since I’m doing accounting I’ll just get a degree in accounting. So, I went back to school and got my degree in accounting and when I graduated I got an offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the biggest accounting firms in the country. I started there, so that’s really how my career in accounting started.
TRHH: Take me back to when you dropped your first album “Who’s the Boss?” What did it feel like to have an album out during a time that’s now called the golden era, doing shows, and seeing your videos on TV?
Antoinette: Well actually, it felt really good. I was in high school. I remember the first night that my song was on the radio. Back then we had some stations that weren’t mainstream. It wasn’t BLS, it wasn’t Hot 97 — it was like small stations that people listened to on Wednesday night and DJ Q was spinning records. I’m listening to it one evening, and I can’t remember the name of the show itself, and I heard I Got an Attitude. The first time I heard it was I was like, “Oh, I did it! Now I’m official!” That’s how I felt. I went to school the next day and people were like, “I heard your song, I heard your song!” so now I’m happy. It really felt good to be a part of that time, but what was funny was when I walked away I didn’t even know I mattered.
People don’t believe it when I say it because your perspective is your reality. I’m in a bad situation. I’m getting ripped off. To me it’s like, I’m in an industry that I love and it doesn’t love me back. What do I even matter here? That was my mindset. But coming back now and speaking to my peers now and people who love Hip-Hop, I understand the footprint that I left when I walked away. And hindsight is 20/20 of course. If I would have known exactly how people felt about me, and my peers, maybe I would have stayed and I would have fought.
TRHH: Well, everything happens for a reason.
Antoinette: Yes, that’s so true.
TRHH: A few years ago, I interviewed MC Lyte and she said that Milk and Giz hyped her up to diss you. She also said that any battle between female emcees is never about them, it’s usually about the men that surround them. Was that the case for you during that battle?
Antoinette: Well, the truth of the matter is I was shocked. It’s funny because MC Lyte and I just spoke this week. We were talking about it. The first time I found out what happened was a couple of months ago when I was watching a YouTube clip of an interview with MC Lyte and she was saying that something happened with Hurby and Milk and Giz and they wanted him to create a diss record against their song. They were driving back from Boston and heard my song on the radio and thought that my song was a diss song against them, which made no sense. Because I Got an Attitude has nothing to do with Milk or Giz. It made no reference to them.
The way that I was back then, the way I used to rap, and what I was used to as far as battling, if I’m going to say something Im’ma call a name. I don’t do subliminal stuff. You know I’m coming for you if I’m coming. It was just very interesting, but that’s what they used to hype her up and say, “Listen, this girl is dissing us. You gotta get her,” and that’s what she told me, too. My whole camp was shocked just to answer your question. I wasn’t put up to anything because it wasn’t about her. I was feeling good. It was about me. It was about me finally achieving a dream. To say that I was looking forward to this thing, it came from left field for me. It’s like, why? Why would somebody even want to do this?
TRHH: How gratifying is it that you guys can be cool now?
Antoinette: It’s good that we can be cool. I think by us coming together we set an example for the younger people as well. Because Hip-Hop, even the battles, that’s all it was – it was some words, it was some rhymes, and you moved on. These days I think it gets more physical and definitely more personal. I don’t know all the stories and I don’t know who did what, but when you look at it we have to start coming together. We need to help the young people coming up after us and be examples for them.
TRHH: You detail the domestic violence that you endured in All That Glitters; was it difficult for you to share that part of your life with the world?
Antoinette: It wasn’t difficult because writing the book for me was also relief. It helped a lot for me to really truly see myself, and understand why certain things were happening in my life. It wasn’t hard for me to release that to the world. Besides, there are so many women out there that are going through it, and interestingly enough, there are men, too. Domestic violence is not necessarily gender specific, it’s just that more women suffer at the hands of it than men. Then you have the silent sufferers who are the children. When you’re a parent, especially when you’re a mother, everything that you go through your babies go through with you. They’re looking at you, they care about you. A lot of times people don’t think about that. I just want to be a voice to say stand up and say that you can make it to give them strength. In the back of my book I’ve listed all of the domestic violence hotlines – one for each state. So that when they say, “how or where do I start?” It starts with a phone call, but you have to make that first step. I want to let them know that they can get out of it and even I suffered through it. A lot of people in certain positions are ashamed to say “me too.”
TRHH: Tell me about Evolution and Youth Empowerment.
Antoinette: So, Evolution is my umbrella and that’s “Stop just existing and LIVE.” That’s the umbrella that I’m going to use for my empowerment series. I will be doing workshops. I’m in the process of writing workbooks for those workshops, where I can go around and empower not just women, but people — definitely teens and the youth. I recently spoke at a junior high school in upstate New York to 750 kids. My goal is to impact them now because although I can’t re-raise a grown person, if I can instill something in a young one that will last them for their rest of their life, and inspire them to be the best that they can be, then I’ve accomplished a goal there.
TRHH: Will we hear new music from Antoinette?
Antoinette: Absolutely, yes! Prior to this phone call I was actually in the other room working on some new music. I’m currently working with DJ Scratch. I sent him a track back today and I’m waiting to hear from him. We’re working. Right now, on my Instagram page, @_whostheboss_, if you go on there and scroll down I have two things on there that are more recent. The first thing is “Stand Up” and that’s a song against domestic violence. If you scroll down there is a picture of me with a crown and a briefcase that says “The Gangstress” so you know that that’s harder. It’s a snippet of something that Scratch did with me.
TRHH: Why should people go out and get All That Glitters?
Antoinette: People should go out and get All That Glitters because they will most likely see themselves in there. More importantly, the reason why I want people to get it is because I want it to be the catalyst that makes them ask the question “Who am I?” I want it to be the book they read that takes them on a journey to self-love. As they watch my story unfold, and I say “watch” because when you read you see — I wrote it in such a way that you could be there, it’s like I’m sitting in the room with you telling my story, it’s not a difficult read at all and that was intentional, I want people to want to come out and actually see me in different places. Let’s talk about it. It’s bigger than just me. My book is not just about me, it’s about us. It’s about everybody that’s been through or going through anything that I’ve already been through. I’m letting you know that you can make it.