Born in Milwaukee, and now residing in New York SigNif is an emcee that carefully balances sharing her opinions in her music with just plain old having fun. Her sound is immersed in East Coast boom bap, while her rhymes are reminders that she’s from the Midwest. SigNif recently dropped her third full-length album on the Intelligent Dummies label titled, “Friction”.
Friction features appearances by Elzhi, Sadat X, Aldrick, Genesis Renji, Shaun Bake, and Emmy Wildwood. The album is produced by Skeff Anselm, JBM Beatz, DJ Puerto Roc, Fate, Radio Raheim, Tay Lee, D-ski the Illeagle, DJ Enygm, Tivon “Symphony” Jeffers, and Moteleola.
The Real Hip-Hop chatted with SigNif about her move from Milwaukee to New York City, her opinion on the term “femcee”, and her new album, Friction.
TRHH: Why’d you name the new album ‘Friction’?
SigNif: I named the new album Friction because to me it was just fitting given the obstacles that I had over the last 5-6 years doing Hip-Hop. I just wanted to touch on those issues that I had. I know it kind of comes off as negative when you think “friction” but I wanted to play on that title and address the issues I was having throughout the years being a female emcee, me dealing with so much opposition and people not taking me seriously. That’s kind of where the name Friction stems from.
TRHH: The opposition that you’ve dealt with seems like negative friction to me.
SigNif: Yeah, it is because still to this day it’s hard to get people to listen to the album. It’s already an obstacle for artists with no co-sign or nothing behind them so it’s like, “Why should I listen to this and on top of that you’re a female emcee so why should I give this the time of day?” A lot of times people prejudge it before they listen to it or they might look at the package and say, “Nah, I don’t think so.” So it’s like you’re met already with all this aggression. I thought the name was just fitting because there’s been so many ups and downs with me doing music. I stopped for a period of time even with this album. It’s been close to two years since I put out my last project and I was battling if I was going to continue doing music.
TRHH: So what made you keep going?
SigNif: I got a spark of energy because the top of 2013 I was invited to France to tour. The tour kicked off in the summer of 2013 and I went to France for a 5-6 city tour. It gave me a spark and made me feel like people do care and people are listening. Maybe it’s not the right crowd I thought I was trying to gauge my music to or maybe it’s not hitting the right people that I wanted to touch, but somebody is listening and somebody cares. That really gave me a spark so I started putting the project together two months before I went to France to tour. That spun the actual title track, ‘Friction’ and I wrote ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Late Night Jazz’. That was something that I went to the studio to record so we could shoot a video while I was over there.
TRHH: What was the inspiration behind ‘Late Night Jazz’?
SigNif: Shout out to Radio Raheim who produced it. I have a song called ‘Afternoon Jazz’ that I put on my first LP that I released independently called ‘The Transition’. That song has that jazzy, 90s Hip-Hop feel so it reminded me of that song. There is a second part to that where on the third verse of that song I’m paying homage to some of the jazz greats, which I did the same thing for Afternoon Jazz. It just gave me that vibe so I wanted to play into that pocket. That’s where the inspiration came for that song. I never planned to write a second part to Afternoon Jazz. It was just the perfect timing. You can almost say that Radio Raheem set the events into play by sending me the right track at the right time.
TRHH: How is Friction different from Significant Wizdom II: Atypical?
SigNif: I would say it’s kind of on the same plane in my mind, but I took a step back and actually thought about how I wanted to present this album. I wanted it to touch more people and I wanted to present it in a way that was relatable and maybe not so “in your face” so to speak. I wanted to still be user-friendly but draw people in so they could get the message. I took my time with this. The project has been done for many months. After it was done I went into how I was going to market it. I took a step back and looked at everything I did previously and decided what I wanted to do different. The sound is the same, the message is the same, but I thought about how I wanted to get it out more.
TRHH: How’d the collaboration with Elzhi, ‘Play 2 Win’ come about?
SigNif: Oh, man that was totally random. At the beginning of the process I came up with the idea to only work with female emcees and female vocalists. I wanted to show that unity that’s not shown in Hip-Hop. When women are presented in the forefront of the mainstream and underground they kind of stand alone and don’t unify with other women unless it benefits both of them. I collaborated with female vocalists but when it came to female emcees a few people that I had relationships with gave me the OK that things were going to fall into place and they didn’t. I had to kind of regroup and think about what I wanted to do.
The producer for that track, JBM (Beatz) said, “Why don’t we reach out to Elzhi?” We started a list and after the females got scratched I came up with another list with a couple of names. Elzhi was not on the list but he knew Elzhi is one of my favorite emcees. I thought there was no way it would happen. JBM nudged me in that direction. We reached out and his camp was down for it. We sent the music over, he listened to it, and came back with a verse that tied into not only what we asked him to do but it tied into my previous work so you could tell he did his research. Elzhi doesn’t give half-assed verses anyway. Everything he does is legit. For him to take that further step and say things that tied into things that I’ve done previously was like, okay. He was the most notable name on the list. I had a couple other contacts and we went back and forth but those situations didn’t come into fruition, which is okay. We didn’t really expect it and low and behold he came through and knocked the joint out and it was effortless.
TRHH: What led to your move from Milwaukee to New York?
SigNif: I was flying out a few times a year working on music. I had a little bit of an opportunity that seemed promising. I thought if all of this was happening from me flying out a few times a year and I was taking meetings and things like that, then maybe I should move so I can be there all the time. For better or worse it didn’t work out like I planned it to workout but I’m glad I made the move. Music brought me here and it’s still why I’m here today. I came on a wing and a prayer pretty much with no family and no place to stay. I ended up being homeless for a while but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
TRHH: Homeless? How did you get by?
SigNif: [Laughs] Yeah, like I said, I had no family and I had one friend here and his situation wasn’t that good. I ended up sleeping in a shelter for 3 months. It was bad, but when you’re like 21-22 you don’t care – whatever I have to do to make it. I was still doing music and what I had to do but the end result of it was I was sleeping in a shelter. It was a sacrifice and I don’t regret it.
TRHH: What inspired the song ‘You’re Beautiful’?
SigNif: That song is produced by Tay Lee. He’s a longtime collaborator. I always liked the song, “You are so beautiful to me,” and I thought it was the best song ever written because it’s the same four lines to the whole song – a lot of people don’t know that. For many years that song has been in the back of my head. When I got that beat I just kept saying, “You’re beautiful, ya, ya, you’re beautiful.” I don’t know if that seed had been planted for years and years, but when I got that beat it kind of struck a chord in me. Like, I love this song so much I need to talk about what beautiful is to me. I laid the chorus and had Aldrick sing the chorus over it before I finished the verses. When I went back and wrote the verses I thought about what beautiful was to me and what my mom told me made me beautiful. I didn’t know it was going to be such an inspirational song. I didn’t sit down and plan to write something for little girls and young women to be uplifting but that’s the way it turned out. I’m extremely happy it did. It was the beat and the sound of the track – I liked the way it felt and that’s how it flowed out.
TRHH: Where do you stand on the term “femcee” or just being labeled a female emcee?
SigNif: Actually I’m the only emcee that’s a female that doesn’t have a problem with the term. This is America, everything is gender-based. That’s the way the world works. I don’t care about a term because I’ve never been placed on a pedestal for being a female emcee. I don’t have anybody behind me and it’s just my brand and me pushing it, so when people do take the time out to listen they’re actually into it because of me. They aren’t thinking gender-based. So when they’re passing it along or writing a review they aren’t focusing on the point that I’m a female emcee. That’s why it never bothered me. I can understand why it bothers other female emcees because when they are given props people always throw that in there, “female emcee”. I actually don’t have a problem with the term though. It’s never been my main attraction. People are more focused on what I’m talking about, the show, or the lyrics. They might throw it in there that I’m a female but it’s not the headline or what they’re focusing on. I don’t feel any way about it. I know that’s what most female emcees want, they just want to be labeled as an emcee, but when I’m already getting love for being an emcee and my gender isn’t highlighted it’s already a plus for me. Plus I’m a woman first. I put that at the forefront of everything. I don’t mind it at all.
TRHH: How did you hook up with Skeff Anselm?
SigNif: Skeff was a mutual friend and it’s funny that it happened like that. Doing music and being in this industry people say, “I know so and so,” but Will our mutual friend said, “Skeff produced for Tribe and I’m going to tell him about you.” He told him and he checked out my stuff and we linked up. That’s pretty much how it went. Those stories never work out. That’s why Skeff is so important. He liked the music and he was down to be one of the producers on the project. He has so much knowledge and skill. We sat and talked for hours about him being on tour with Tribe when they first started – for a while he did the sound. It went beyond production and he ended up helping mix the whole album. This is the first time I got to take a backseat. I didn’t need to always be in the studio for the whole recording and mixing. I just focused on writing. He came in and took a lot of stuff off my shoulders. He helped me and showed me a lot of things. It’s a blessing to have him and I talk to him several times a week. We’ll be at an event and he’ll introduce me to people like, “This is Large Professor.” He’ll introduce me to people like it’s his next door neighbor or something [laughs]. It’s a blessing to have him on the team and we still have some more songs in the works.
TRHH: What do you hope to accomplish with Friction?
SigNif: I want each project to reach a little further for people that maybe have been sitting on the fence with me and aren’t sure if they should listen or people that have listened and are waiting for something to spark something in them. I want to keep reaching with each project. It’s not like I’m waiting to take over the Hip-Hop scene or be the next big thing or anything like that. I kind of want to keep it organic, even though that’s probably cliché to say right now. It’s still grassroots and I still want it to gravitate to people that say they’re looking for a little more substance or something that they can relate to. It’s something that’s homegrown and that’s what the plan was for this project.
Purchase: SigNif – Friction