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It’s a standard rap-video fantasy: music thumping, drinks flowing, and panties flying through the air. But at a recent hiphop showcase at Aqua nightclub on New York Avenue NE, there is bass and beer aplenty, yet not a satin G-string in sight.
The place is crowded, mostly with burly dudes waiting to get on the mike. There are a few women present, but they’re buttoned-up business types—managers and PR people holding clipboards
and passing out fliers. It seems like your average, staid industry event—until the D.C. Rap Divas stroll in.
The ladies of D.R.D., as they call themselves, are rappers Stephanie “Steph B” Brodie, Ramona “Betty Boo” Coleman, Devoya “Black Stallion” Robinson, Tina “Ms. Spice” Turner, and singer Nafisah “Fessa” Almahdi. The guys stare at them as if they’d just jumped out of a cake.
The Divas, in various stages of undress, are all wearing matching pink satin jackets. Each of the ladies had a hand in their design: Betty and Steph B picked the color, Spice and Stallion grabbed them from the mall, and Fessa sewed the group’s logo on the back. The Grease-style get-ups give the Divas the look of a sexy girl gang.
After circling the club a few times, the Divas hop onstage and start rhyming: “Rap Divas/The ladies that clap heaters/Quick to turn you on/In a thong/Or wife-beaters.” The sound and the lyrics are gritty and hard-core, the look definitely soft-core. The men in attendance are suddenly faced with a dilemma: Do they close their eyes and really concentrate on the lyrics or just watch the Divas jiggle?
Either way, appreciative head-nodding and tongue-wagging ensue. But the guys go completely wild when the Divas bring their panty-raid daydreams to life: Thongs in the group’s signature colors of pink and black start sailing into the audience in lieu of the usual fliers, stickers, and tapes.
“They were on sale for $3.99 a pair at Victoria’s Secret,” Spice says later. “They must have liked them, too, because you didn’t see any on the floor when we were finished.”
“It’s so funny with the guys,” says Steph B. “You see the same faces, but before the show and after the show, the faces are different.”
“When we first walk in, it’s like, ‘Yeah! Titties and ass!’” says Fessa. “After the show it’s like, ‘Here’s my card—let’s talk business. Can I work with you?’ We love the guys, but to all the guys that thought that they were getting over on the Divas, we laugh at them.”
“Like this,” says Stallion, adopting a demure tone and batting her eyelashes: “Hee, hee, hee.”
The Divas’ gorgeous but gangsta schtick is a classic female-rap tactic. But for every wildly successful version of the model—say, Salt-N-Pepa—there are plenty of flameouts: Witness Cookie Crew, J.J. Fad, and Oaktown’s 357.
The Divas, of course, have high hopes for themselves. They also say that the group isn’t an attempt to cash in on their sex appeal—rather, it was born out of a collective desire to call some much-needed attention to the women of the local rap scene.
“We talked about how there were so many tight females out here not getting recognized—the guys don’t have to say that,” says Brookland resident Spice, the group’s 31-year-old founder. “D.R.D. is a movement of females.”
In keeping with that womanly world view, the 3-month-old D.R.D. runs as close to an all-female operation as it can. So far, only one man has been allowed in: the Divas’ Arlington-based track master, Text Sosa—known to the Divas as “Sosa Toast.”
“Sosa Toast makes us the ladies with the most,” says Stallion.
Every week, the five women gather in the basement of Sosa’s town house for a recording session, the Divas usually sitting on a couch or in chairs, the 22-year-old Sosa planted on a milk crate with a pillow on top. The studio is small, but traffic is heavy: The tiny booth has recently held local rappers 2Face the Don and Nomaad, as well as countless other vocalists and lyricists.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Divas are there to lay down the vocals to a song called “Why (Strangest Ways).” As Spice and Stallion wait for the others to arrive, Sosa throws on a new beat custom-made for D.R.D.
Spice’s mouth drops open; Stallion’s face wrinkles up with delight. The women write a hook on the spot: “Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh/The Divas did it again!”
“What’s the number on that track?” Spice asks.
“Sixty-five,” says Sosa.
Spice scribbles in her composition book. “He always gives us homework,” she says of Sosa.
The producer first linked up with the group through Stallion, who Sosa says used to come to his biweekly open-mike party at Daedalus nightclub on Vermont Avenue NW. “We were closing out the night and she said, ‘Text, lemme get on!’ I finally said, ‘Aiight. One song,’” he recalls. “She rocked it—people actually stopped walking out and came back in.”
The next week, Stallion returned with Spice, and the pair brought the place down together. “I put ’em on, and they took over!” Sosa says. “I told them I wanted to talk business.”
The women, naturally, had a plan—but for an all-female quintet, not a duo. Fessa was already a part of the project; she and Spice had been working together with Spice’s long-running go-go group, Malenium Band (“Lady to the Front,” 12/20/2002). But the departure of a keyboard player forced Malenium into a hiatus in January, so the women started searching for others to join them in a hiphop group. Within weeks, they had approached rappers Betty Boo and Steph B, both of whom immediately jumped on board.
Sosa signed on to do their production soon after, thinking that the Divas could fill a void in the D.C. rap scene. “When was the last time you went to a Maryland, V.A., or D.C. show and saw five females rip it?” he asks. “You have these five ladies, dressed in costume, and everyone is like, ‘Who are these girls?’…And when they’re onstage and you hear that beat, you know they’re about to say something.”
Aside from the ladies’ rhyme skills, Sosa says he most admires them for presenting a united front. “They stick together,” he says. “They eat together, do shows together, come into the studio together—I love that.”
The Divas themselves, however, are quick to note that they don’t always get along. “With five females, there’s always somebody bleeding,” says Fessa. “We’re ranging in age from 18 to 31—one is just kicking puberty; the other one is in pre-menopause. Don’t get it twisted—we’re real women.”
And that’s what the Divas hope separates them from all those failed “girl groups.” “D.R.D. is important because it’s a conglomerate of women,” Fessa explains. “I may not like you personally, but we’re going forward professionally. In the industry, we can’t get over baby’s-father drama….”
“With us, it’s not none of that,” Spice says, finishing the thought. “Image is everything—we gotta have a polished image.”
So far, it seems that polish may be the right idea. Since their debut show, the Divas say, things have been taking off for them in a major way. “From February to April, it just happened,” says Stallion. “I feel like we already cashed the check—we’re just waiting for it to clear.”
The women have been working nonstop on their upcoming album, which they hope to drop this summer. And they’ve expanded the Diva concept to North Carolina, Georgia, and New York, giving other artists they admire the right to rock the puffy pink coat, too.
The Divas are also busy searching for new talent, as well as women who will work behind the scenes under the D.R.D. umbrella. In March, the group began hosting its own open-mike night at Adams Morgan’s Club Essence, and it recently received an invitation to open for Dirty South rapper David Banner when he plays in D.C. next month.
In preparation for her anticipated stardom, Steph B has already bought herself a little present. To show it off to her fellow Divas, she bends over, lifts up the back of her shirt, and reveals a slick, freshly inked tattoo: a giant star flanked by a pair of wings. As the ladies “ooh” and “ahh,” Steph flashes them a big smile.
“That’s right!” she says. “I’m a star!”
At the Divas’ most recent open-mike event, the women are nearly invisible for all the 6-footers surrounding them. The flat stage—a gray square painted on a slice of the floor by the DJ booth—also makes it hard to get a good view. But even those too far back to see can hear the women’s teasing flirtations.
“Hi, boys!” coos Fessa. “You know I gotta speak to y’all. That’s why I show up on Saturdays—for the dick!”
Betty encourages all the “big-dick” men to move to the front, then dedicates the first song to them. “Drop it to the flo’/Rap Divas don’t stop,” the women bark, simultaneously dipping down to the ground. They pull guys onstage to dance, backing it up but never missing a beat. A 20-something in a red-and-white jersey pulls a taller friend out of the way to get a closer look.
Another man, in a gray sweat suit and glasses, is even more entranced by the Divas: He pushes his way through other anxious guys to have his turn dancing.
The gals launch into “We Got What You Want,” and Steph B and Spice step into the audience to deliver rapid-fire Twista-style verses. The crowd parts to give them room. When Fessa closes the song with a wailing solo, one of the guys in the audience shouts, “That jount is off the hook!”
After the set, the man in gray, who turns out to be local rapper J.T. Roll, can’t say enough good things about the lovely ladies of D.R.D.
“It was tight,” he gushes. “They represent D.C. hiphop real well. They’re powerful like dudes—they keep it real. But I’m attracted to all of them. And I’d sleep with half of ’em.” CP