After selling over half a million albums, winning countless awards and gaining a status as one of the best ever, most rappers in their late 30s tend to go into semi-retirement. Rah Digga is not most rappers.
It may be six years since she left the Flipmode Squad, three years since she put out an album and probably too long since she made any headlines, but currently Ms Rashia Fisher is working harder than ever. As if being one of the best female MCs of all time and a key member of one of hip-hop’s most successful collectives were not enough, Digga is currently balancing being a mother, a philanthropist and a full time MC, as she explains:
“I'm up early in the day, ready to take my 16 year old daughter to school in the mornings. During the day, I'm driving around Newark doing work for my New Jersey Dance Network and the stage production I'm working on. And at night I go spend some time in the studio. I stay busy!”
Rare is the rapper that finds their workload grows bigger after they consciously take a step out of the limelight. For Digga though, the move away from the mainstream was not due to any diminished appetite for work, it was to let go of one chapter of her life. The start of this period came in 2007 when she publicly announced she was no longer a member of Flipmode Squad. Coming not long after Digga featured on the smash hit "Touch it (Remix)" alongside Busta Rhymes, she discussed what appeared a brave decision:
“For me, leaving the Flipmode Squad was about me trying to be known for something more. Every time you'd hear my name it would be followed with “…of Flipmode”. I just felt that I wanted to be known for something else. I will of course always be associated with Flipmode and I'm proud of that, but I just felt that part of me was over. I still get on with Busta, Spliffstar and the rest. I just wanted to be alone to be Rah Digga.”
After leaving Flipmode, a series of releases on independent labels showed Rah Digga was still doing her thing. Her critically acclaimed album Classic in 2010 spawned hard hitting joints like ‘This Aint No Lil Kid Rap’, but it is the new dance project in Newark which has gained most of her own, and the public's attention recently:
“I have only drawn attention to the work I'm doing now to try and raise money and awareness. But really I'm doing nothing different to what I've been doing most of my life. I have always been going to homeless shelters around the city. I’ve never done it for publicity. I just do it because that’s me. Now, for this cause, publicity can help, so I’m all for drawing attention to it. But really it’s nothing different from what I’ve always been doing.”
Quite simply, Rah Digga is looking to help the youth of Newark. After a particularly horrific year which saw a spate of teenage murders and a particular incident close to home, she decided to do something about it:
“People see Chicago as the murder capital of America but when you compare the amount of people dying there – a place with around two million people – to Newark, where there are around 200,000 people – Newark is just as messed up if not worse.'The sad thing is that most of these murders involve young people; teenagers. One of my daughter’s friends was killed simply because she took a ride home with her cousin and some people wanted him dead. And because she was with him, she got shot too. These people, they don’t care. So that’s the reason I am not out touring nowadays, so I can be there for my daughter. A little thing like getting in a car with the wrong person leaves an innocent teenage girl dead. After things like this happened, I just asked myself, what can I do to help?"
The New Jersey Dance Network was developed initially with permission to renovate abandoned buildings around Newark, transformed into safe centres for locals to express themselves positively. In addition, Digga began work on a modern version of 80s classic movie "Breakin". Digga expects the new musical "Breakin in the Brix" should hit the stage in 2014 and have members of the NJ Dance Network in its cast:
“In New Jersey, all the kids love to dance. It is just something that they all seem to be into and something that can bring them together, away from the hood. With the stage show, it is literally the pinnacle of my dream to see these kids do something that they can live off, make a career from. If we could get this to Broadway…that is my dream.”
The philanthropic nature of this work has drawn suggestions Digga should run for office and become a part of those that govern the area she is trying to help. So is this likely?
“I did think about it but I thought it may stop me from being me. Being in that position, I may have to hold back certain things and I don’t want to do that. In the position I am in right now, there are certain things I can say or do that I wouldn’t be able to if I was in power.”
And as mother of a 16 year old daughter in the social media age, does she feel there is greater responsibility to act as a role model?
“When I was younger and she was a child, I could leave her with my parents and think nothing of it. But now she is older, I feel I have to be more on board because I am wise to the world she is living in. It has definitely changed me, I don’t just go out and spit some raw-ish without thinking about what she would think about it.”
It is her feelings on subjects such as the twerking phenomena and the perception of current female artists that has brought out the MC in Digga more recently. Still proving to be one of the best lyricists around, she addresses these subjects on tracks like "New Hoes", a take on Kanye's New Slaves.
"When I heard that Juicy J was offering a $50,000 scholarship in a twerking competition, I just felt ‘man, this has gone too far’. I mean this isn’t some fun backyard dance. This is a very sexual, provocative dance that for some reason we are encouraging young girls to do. So I just had to say something about it.I have nothing against any of the female rappers today. But I just look around and think ‘who is doing anything different’? Iggy Azalea has come through, but to me, she’s just another version of what Nicki Minaj gives us. Back in the day you had me, MC Lyte, Lil Kim, Lauryn Hill – all different from one and another. You don’t get that anymore. It's a problem with hip-hop as a whole to be honest. Too many songs are about money and shaking ass. I blame us, as the artists. We are the ones giving in to record label demands. When the money is offered it is hard to say no I guess.”
There is however one artist who "hits the mark"....
“I LOVE Drake, I really do. Rah Digga the MC loves Drake and Rashia Fisher the woman loves Drake. He’s my baby!” The switch in style on the Hood House EP may surprise some, but Digga has always been a fan:
“I’m born and raised in New Jersey and here, house music is the most popular. I have always loved house music. Growing up I probably listened to it even more than hip-hop. So with it becoming so popular worldwide now, it was natural for me to rhyme on it.”
The workload may be heavy with the Hood House EP due out later this year and a new mixtape and rap album to follow in 2014, but Digga is not looking to relent any time soon. And it is this kind of passion that has seen the girl from Jersey go so far and still yet looking to go further. “I am always in the studio and I will always be helping people. That’s just me.''
''You can follow me on twitter, facebook and instagram - @TheRealRahDigga to see what I am up to. Otherwise, I solemnly swear to stay true to what hip-hop is about, staying lyrical.''
“And I’m still THE REALEST MOTHER-F***ER Y’ALL EVER SAW!”
'I Heard You Say'
For more information on how to help Rah Digga with her charity work go to: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1241968034/the-nj-dance-network-presents-hood-house-so-jersey
You can hear & buy her music at http://rahdiggamusic.bandcamp.com
Credit Jazz Gill