Monie Love Never Forgets the Women in Hip-Hop Who Came Before Her: “They Made a Road”

British rapper Monie Love released her debut album in 1990, making her part of a generation of women in hip-hop who put the genre on the map worldwide. She was only 20 at the time of her debut album, and eventually received two Grammy nominations — making history as the first British female hip-hop artist to hold that distinction.

She has since held a long career in the music industry, including as an artist and a radio personality; you can listen to her on weekdays on Atlanta’s Kiss 104.1 FM. She’s also performing at the Rock the Bells festival in New York on Aug. 5.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Love reflected on the women who paved the way for her, what it was like to come of age as a performer, and what this milestone means for someone who remembers being told the genre was just a fad. Read it all, in her own words, below.

Hip-hop came to me, as it did for a lot of kids in England, in the form of breakdancing, B-boying. We were all doing that. And as the culture continued to grow overseas, people branched off into other areas, such as MC-ing, DJ-ing, graffiti. Some remained B-boys. I was one of the people who leaned towards the MC side of things, and so myself and my friends, we’d all just gather in each other’s houses and create music. Initially, it was just for the fun. We had no idea that any of this would have a monetary sticker attached to it at some point. No. We were doing it because it was a free form of expression. We felt like we heard each other and fed each other through creating rhymes and music and putting it together. It was strictly for the fun, for the enjoyment, for the fulfillment of it, for the feeling of being able to express ourselves as kids.

“It was strictly for the fun, for the enjoyment, for the fulfillment of it.”

I think it’s important to mention that when I interjected into the culture, we were not the creators of hip-hop. The women before me are really the creators — the Roxanne Shantés, the Pebblee Poos, the Sha-Rocks, the Debbie Ds. Many women that I’m not even naming right now. They were there and they were the ones that put the blocks in place and dug what would be the pathway for people like myself to come through. Those are the people I looked towards who helped give me the bug to want to do this. Those are the women that I looked at. They inspired me, they put the battery in my back. Especially Roxanne Shanté — she came to fruition within herself and was doing damage and played a foremost part in me having the bravery to come out and announce myself by way of just performing and creating a buzz for myself in London.

Then, after I released my first album, being slapped on every magazine cover at the time was just mind-boggling. Because again, we walked into it as kids having fun and feeling like this was our vehicle to express any grievances we had. I didn’t understand it when it started happening — you need to do this magazine and that magazine. I was like, wow, really? I was like 17, 18 years old, so that was surprising.

The most enjoyable part of first having music out and being a teenager still is the touring aspect. Because the touring, again, was fun. It didn’t feel like work. It was, oh, we’re getting on a bus, we’re going to a new city, we’re getting off, we’re going to do sound check, we’re going to go back to the hotel and then go back to the venue and actually perform in front of thousands of people? This is fun. It wasn’t computing as work. I’m glad that that happened, because it allowed me to be introduced to the fun aspect and keep hold of that. Even to this day, I keep a hold of what I got in this for in the first place.

Naturally, we all want to be able to support ourselves as we turn into adults and then when we have children. For that purpose, it definitely is a good thing that hip-hop became monetized. But it’s another thing when you become so absorbed in the monetary aspect that you kind of lose sight of what you got in this for in the first place, its true core cultural aspects. I think that’s what I hold onto to make sure I stay grounded — I hold onto the fun factor of why I got in this culture in the first place, which was fun, which was freeform expression, and just a sense of fulfillment.

“Nothing new exists without its predecessor.”

The genre is like a rollercoaster — all of the twists and turns and little caverns it goes through like a train. It keeps me interested. Even if I see something that’s not necessarily my cup of tea, just the fact that it’s an aspect of hip-hop, a fragment of it, it keeps me intrigued and interested. I’m like, where’s this going to go next? I’m glad that the culture continues to flush new juices through itself, because it keeps it continuously fresh. There are always new artists adding new and different flairs, good, bad, or indifferent, just keeping it alive. All we have to do is continue to hold onto the root and the core. Because with everything new that’s happening, there’s always the tale of how it came to be. Nothing new exists without its predecessor.

That brings me back to this: for the women who came before me in hip-hop, there was no road. They got shovels and they made a road. It’s a beautiful thing for our young sisters who are out there and doing their thing to remember that when they get off stage. Remember that, and be like, I’m so grateful to be on this stage, do my show to all these masses, get the love I get from the audience, be able to create this music, be able to provide for my family, and it’s all because of the roads that were paved by the women before me. It’s a beautiful thing.

When I was coming up, I remember constantly being told that this was a fad, that it wasn’t going to last, that it was here today, gone tomorrow. And every single flier, commercial, and promo that I see for another 50th hip-hop anniversary show happening all over the country — every time I see one, I get the same feeling, like wow. They told us this wasn’t going to be here. Now look at it.

— As told to Lena Felton

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