The world of Hip Hop has its own particular story. There are the stories of triumph, and the stories of struggle. Stories, which remain untold, and ones we will never know. We hear about the BIG NAMES! We remember those famed faces, captured and crafted, by the media. The most renowned, lyrical phrasing never escapes our minds. And yet, there are still those hidden stories, of Hip Hop! Forget about the scandals, the negative press, and the prominent stories, attributed to the Hip Hop industry, for now! This time around, we get the chance to focus on those legends, who were there from the very beginning! They may not have fully profited from the industry of Hip Hop, the major corporations, and others. Nevertheless, they were there. They saw it all! And, for that, their story deserves to be told!
Taking a trip back down memory’s Hip Hop lane, the very energy and Spirit of Hip Hop, in itself, is a Black American, musical art form. Of course, it was created in the Bronx, New York. However, let us never forget about its Deep South, migratory roots! Those roots, which have their base in Black American, Church-based culture; as such is where authentic, Black American music and culture, was produced. Let’s not forget about its predecessors of Blues, Ragtime, and the numerous Black American, musical genres, which made their way from the Deep South, up to northern, U.S. territory, during the Great Migration period. Yes! That time when Black American families left to escape Southern, racial hostilities for better opportunities, and a new life. Remember one thing! They took the cultural and musical traditions with them, to Northern landscapes-using what they already had, to recreate, the new! The making of Hip Hop is not separate from that her/history! It is important that such be known.
“It was the drive and the determination of the Mercedes Ladies to pave a way for females in an all male arena dominated of male emcees and deejay crews in the Bronx. We knew it would be tough , and we were willing to take that dive; and we did.”Sheri Sher-Member of First All-Women’s DJ Hip Hop Group, “Mercedes Ladies“
So, now that such is clarified, let’s ask one question. Where were the women of this culture of people, in the production of this essence called. . .Hip Hop? Where were they? Mainstream commentary will make them invisible. Sure. They will highlight those who managed to find their space in a male-dominated system. Nevertheless, where were those hidden talents and crafts of Black American women, whose descendants made that travel from the Deep South? How did that wisdom, triumph, and talent of their foremothers, stay with them, in order to produce a musical form, copied throughout the entire world? And lastly, how are their stories, journeys, and means of surviving in these United States of America, expressed in Hip Hop? Now, this is where we must get to. This is the conversation, which is needed! And for one woman, one of the pioneers for women in the Hip Hop game, that conversation is being, held. In 2020 she made headlines when she became vocal about the abuses of women in the Hip Hop industry. Now, entering into 2021, she is ready for the revival of her very name, image, and presence in the Hip Hop game! She made Hip Hop Herstory, as one of the Ladies of Mercedes-the first all-female DJ Hip Hop group! We speak of none other than living legend. . .
Lauren Kaye Clark: When we speak about Hip Hop, and the power of the word, how do you observe this wellness factor? How do the words of Hip Hop bring healing within urban, Black American communities in the United States of America?
SHERI SHER: Hip Hop was not just a powerful word, it was the beginning of a culture based off of urban communities’ music, beats, language, expression, swag, and fashion. The wellness factor was being able to speak freely about your hood, the downfalls, and the struggle of being accepted by society, over break beats. The part of healing within urban communities in the United States was the power of your voice being heard and respected through music all over the world. The Bronx was not silenced no more.
Lauren Kaye Clark: In your book, Mercedes Ladies: A Novel, you mention the first recorded group of women rappers, Sequence, and their origins from the South. What does this state about the acknowledgement of Hip Hop’s roots, its birthing from Blues culture, and Hip Hop’s connection to that Deep South, Black American atmosphere?
SHERI SHER: Sylvia Robinson started the Sugar Hill label , in which she signed the Sugar hill gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. She discovered Sequence, which was a singing group from South Carolina; signed them to her label, and moved them to New York. They were the first female group to release a rap record off of Sugar Hill Records. So, actually, they brought New York Hip Hop to the South. Most people that was from New York, their families originated from the South. My mom was from Tallahassee, Florida and moved to New York to become a singer. So, it always was some connection from New York to the South through blood lines.
Lauren Kaye Clark: Based on your career, and experience, how did the feminine presence of Black American women DJs and MCs, nourish the texture and timber to Hip Hop? How did it realign our communities to their feminine essence?
SHERI SHER: It was the drive and the determination of the “Mercedes Ladies” to pave a way for females in an all male arena dominated of male emcees and deejay crews in the Bronx. We knew it would be tough , and we were willing to take that dive; and we did. You had females to name a few like Sha Rock, MC Smiley, Lisa Lee. That was dope ass female rappers, but they were female rappers of different male crews, like Grand Wizard Theodore and the L Brothers, Funky Four etc… Mercedes Ladies wanted to make a statement through our skills of emceeing and deejaying to form the first all Dee Jay and Emcee Crew representing the Bronx; which led to woman who wanted to follow that trend of forming all female crews.
You had females like Sha Rock, who was the first female emcee to hit the mic. She was apart of the Funky Four; her lyrical style and flow was hands down. Then you had MC Smiley, who was the female emcee for the L Brothers. It were female crews like Sisters Disco, that represented Uptown DJ Breakout, and other female crews that were mere support for the male emcee and deejay crews they were representing from their hood.
Lauren Kaye Clark: Within your book, you speak about this period of respect for women within our communities. In the Afterforward of the book, you mention this level of respect by Black American men in the hood, who would offer to carry your Mother’s groceries, and such. Even in the midst of criminality, talk to us more about this kind of reverence for the woman image, in our communities.
SHERI SHER: During those times, despite what the world thought about the men in the hood as being criminal and disrespectful, it was a bond within our hood to protect and look out for each other. The men respected mothers, grandmothers, sisters, woman in general. Whatever they was into, if they seen someone mother needed help from carrying groceries or needing something from the store. They would go out their way to make sure the women in the hood or lived on their block was protected no matter what. If it was beef on the blocks, nothing went down until the women and children were upstairs and the block was clear. Beyond what the belief was about our men from the neighbor hoods, they displayed nothing but respect to the women, and it was very rare for you to hear a male call a female out of her name.
Lauren Kaye Clark: When you entered into the industry, at what point did you observe a dramatic shift in how our women were being devalued in Hip Hop?
SHERI SHER: I would say when Hip Hop starting making money is when I started seeing a change. It wasn’t about yours skills as a female rapper, it was more about selling your looks. Being it was no mystery that sex sells, when it come to women. So more women had to present themselves as more sexual and sensual in the Hip Hop game to sell. They had to be what other females would love to look like and what men wanted. So the lyrics had to be more sexual and bold in order to be accepted into the game to make money. Most were controlled by men, when it came to their career, as to what they should look like and talk about.
Lauren Kaye Clark: During those times of stress, how do you go into that quiet place of safety? How does your lyrical style and flow assists with this?
SHERI SHER: Through many trials and tribulations it truly was a struggle, trying to figure out who I am and my purpose. Going through so many valleys of life, in which you have no control over-like being raised by a single parent of 11 siblings, or no father there to guide you as a young woman-you go through life having to figure things out. My escape was Hip Hop, I took to the streets, but fell in love with Hip Hop. It was hard for my mom raising me and my siblings. So, we often lived from pillow to post, literally. I took to the streets to escape from the pressures at home. Back then as a young Black female from the hood, you really didn’t have any role models. Back then where I came from, the only role models we witness were on TV (shows like Good Times or women betrayed as slaves, prostitutes , pregnant, or on drugs). In the home our moms struggled to make ends meets, and always having to appear strong for the family. So growing up this way, helped me to be strong and keep moving no matter what. I learned instead of being angry at the world, and the way I had to grow up. I embraced my struggles to be creative. My creativity is to bless the world and show them if I survived it with no guidance or instruction you can do it, too. So, I release my stress now after years of trying to figure everything out. I pray and speak positivity into my Soul. I think of more things and ideas to come with-whether through music or writing. I learned to forgive others and myself in order to release the virus from my Soul. I’ve learned to love myself without feeling selfish. I create, embrace, and look forward to the great things the Universe has for me; listen to the voice from within, that comes from my maker; that tells me whom I am, where I come from, and the strength to keep on pushing through. Surround myself with great energy and know how to walk away from negativity. Never let no one tell me what I can or can not do, they have no power over my journey, nor my purpose. My creativity, writing, designing, and my lyrical talents are all part of my healing from stress; knowing my story is going to be a blessing to someone else.
I started focusing on my dreams and goals, that were in my heart from a teenager. My grind was real. Mercedes Ladies developed something. We were hood famous, and had no clue where it was going. I didn’t want my hard struggles and work to be done in vain. I had to get up and get back on track. I knew my journey was truly for a purpose. I wrote the book, Mercedes Ladies: Herstory for others to understand the true meaning of Hip Hop, where it came from; the journey it took of blood, sweat, and tears from these streets just for us as females and growing up in poverty. I began to write a script from my book, because, again, it should be a film based off the first female emcees and deejays, who helped paved a way, which became a billion dollars industry. Set trends all over the world ; the root of our culture hip hop, especially for females. I didn’t want to be known as a victim; I am victor!
Lauren Kaye Clark: What are things you have done to overcome the trauma you have experienced in the music industry? How have you grown from this experience?
SHERI SHER: To overcome the trauma I have experienced in the music industry, was to let go of fear and take my power back.
Lauren Kaye Clark: If you could give advice to the masses of young girls within our community, who desire to go into the music industry, what would you say to them?
“That power that was felt when Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah , MC Lyte, Eve, hell even when we were hitting the mic back then is gone. I know in life things have to evolve, and monetary gain plays a big part; they have to feed their family… guess the demand for women to be sexual and sensual when speaking, for the male population’s sake, out weighed for the strong women with empowerment messages to uplift women of color overtook that era.”Sheri Sher
SHERI SHER: Do not be afraid to be themselves, and let no one dictate their path. That would make them feel lost and empty. Embrace who you are, and you will know who you are by the way you feel in whatever you choose to do. If you can feel peace, power, and happiness from within, then you know you are on the right path. Know that fear only stops you from being the greatest you were meant to be. What you put out into the universe is what you will get back. No one has power over you but your Creator. Trust….
Lauren Kaye Clark: When we talk about the issues of sexual assault in Black American, urban communities, we often speak about it from the position of male antagonists. However, in what way have women in our community, been complicit and indirectly supported violence against their Sisters?
SHERI SHER: Some women in our culture tend to agree and support the men values on certain topics to be accepted, which leaves women of color to remain silenced in fear of back lash and no support or resources in our communities. I speak from experience and not from theory. I have seen it through me finally having the courage to speak my truth. . . So, its not just society or our men that do not support our truth. Its sad to say, and report, but some of our sisters leave us out there, as well.
Lauren Kaye Clark: If you could select 3 colors, describing Hip Hop, when you initially came out on the Hip Hop scene, what would they be?
Sheri Sher: Red, Black, and Green
Lauren Kaye Clark: Imagine yourself sitting alone, drinking a cup of coffee or tea. You have found solace with yourself. You are at peace. You are in a Spirit of calm. What does Hip Hop look like for you today? What is the vibe? What is the aura? If you could change it for the better, what would it look like?
SHERI SHER: Today, for me, Hip Hop seems lost, confused, and divided. Not talking about the music that being put out, its just the vibe. I say this because of too many of our soldiers are loosing their lives, and being unable to leave a legacy for the next generation. Lives are being cut too short and division is at its highest peak. If I could change it for the better, it would be different styles of music. Everyone has their lane and owning it without the fear of someone else trying to run them off the road. Freedom of being your true self without feeling you have to be someone else in order to be heard or respected. Letting Hip Hop be what it was meant to be, a blessing for our hoods and community to raise, and have control of what was ours. Like something (or someone) came and stole our riches-that were meant for our culture to build empires for generations to live off of for the rest of their lives-without having to struggle, or be a modern-day slave.
“The feminine essence represents creation, one who the Lord put here to create human being through a seed planted in her womb. Poetry is placed within her Being, with no boundaries or limits on her abilities.”Sheri Sher
Lauren Kaye Clark: When we reflect on the success of Lauryn Hill, and the feminine image of Hip Hop, do you feel that many MCs have deviated from that aura?
SHERI SHER: Absolutely! Nothing seems genuine anymore. Its like that movie Stepford wives, just clones of each other. People are scared to be their authentic self; feeling they won’t be accepted in the game, or in this society of social media. That power that was felt when Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Eve. Hell, even when we were hitting the mic back then, it was still gone. I know in life things have to evolve, and monetary gain plays a big part; they have to feed their families… Guess the demand for women to be sexual and sensual, when speaking for the male population’s sake, outweighed strong women with empowerment messages to uplift women of color.
Lauren Kaye Clark: As you sit back and reflect on the economic aspect of Hip Hop, where do you see Black American women in this? Do we have equal access to the resources and opportunities? Are we able to make a suitable living from it? What needs to change?
SHERI SHER: I have hope for our Black women. I see things are beginning to change as far as making money and Hip Hop is starting to be dominated by women; which I applaud. The fact I see more woman out there hitting the mic. The change has to be where as the women dominate the game now, more have to be more aware of the business side of it. Start taking control of their careers and understand that society will try to create division among them because they are getting too powerful. This is one of the main things in the industry for years was to keep the woman divided by making them compete among each other; like, there’s only one slot for a female rapper to be on top.
Lauren Kaye Clark: If Hip Hop were a painting, what would she be? What colors would you use on the canvass? Designs? Styles? How would you sculpt her? What is the feminine essence of creativity that you would use? How would you craft her?
SHERI SHER: A woman with a mic in her hand, standing tall, eyes looking right at you, with the big shrimps earrings, jeans with the white line on the sides, a purple sweatshirt with valcro, velvet letters on the front with her name across the breast, platform colored shoes and hair with the Afro puffs or Afro, and the baby hair slick down the sides. Background yellow, and a hue of red, looking at the picture her presence will be felt and the story from the mic and her style will speak for itself, by looking into her eyes. Fierce!!!!
Lauren Kaye Clark: On a Biblical sense, the word was first created in the Garden. Gardens are havens for the feminine essence. How would you craft the feminine essence of our culture, and the role of our particular poetry in Hip Hop? What is different about Black American poetry, and how do you see it repeated in Hip Hop?
SHERI SHER: The feminine essence represents creation, one who the Lord put here to create human being through a seed, planted in her womb. Poetry is placed within her Being, with no boundaries or limits on her abilities. Hip Hop/poetry inspires other women to take action to ignite change and take a stand for the forum we all share. This is how I see it in Hip Hop..
And so we have it, from this LIVING LEGEND, herself! There is so much more, when it comes to navigating through this unique testimony. Nevertheless, it is one filled with a wealth of knowledge. Her life, in addition to other Sistas’, who changed the game, should be studied for present, and future women MCs. In fact, there should be a blueprint, a safeguarding of the very name of Hip Hop. Too many paid a heavy price, in order to get it to its international scene! Too many-those we know and those unknown-made heavy sacrifices in the creation of this art! Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen! HIP HOP should not be taken lightly! Its gate keeping, and who decides to perform it (and receive honor within it), should not be taken with a frivolous nature! You have women such as SHERI SHER, whose life’s work has made that very clear!
Moving into the New Year, we are moved to assess what is left to accomplish! Making our check-off list, and ensuring that we kept our promises to ourselves! However, what’s more promising is the manner in how women such as SHERI SHER are still moving forward, and making moves in the industry. Its a phenomenal touch! Lastly, it goes to show just how age is irrelevant, when it comes to talent. Mainstream has depicted the frivolous nature of age! However, it should not even matter! When it comes to performances of WORDS, it is only the execution of ART, which matters! For such as a time as this, the authentic poetry of vibrant, YOUNG LADIES, is worth more, than any expensive, MERCEDES RIDE!
Sheri Sher is an American Hip Hop pioneer, best known as a founding member of the first all-female Hip Hop group “Mercedes Ladies,” which formed in 1979. It gained respect in the industry, alongside some of Hip Hop’s most prominent representatives and revered icons.
In 2008, Sheri demonstrated more of her multifaceted gifts when she authored her first novel, Mercedes Ladies. The page-turner is described as “a gritty, riveting true-life novel based on real adventures of the first all-female MC and DJ crew in Hip Hop history.” Cornell University selected the novel for placement in their rare books and manuscripts archive vault. Further signifying her book’s importance, excerpts from the novel have been quoted in Hip Hop history lectures around the world.
Sheri has been featured in several documentaries including “5 Sides of a Coin” by Paul Kell, broadcasted on Starz cable channels, and referenced in the Ava Duvernay–produced BET documentary “My Mic Sounds Nice,” in which legend rapper, author, producer Chuck D discusses the contributions the “Mercedes Ladies” has made to Hip Hop. In 2000 the Mercedes Ladies received the Hip Hop Heritage Award from icast.com. The group was also nominated for induction into Hip Hop History.
As a Hip Hop music genre authority, Sheri’s voice has been featured in influential magazines such as VIBE, VIBE VIXEN, STRESS, and The Source. Internationally Sheri has appeared in Japan’s Riddim Magazine and on BBC television. She’s featured in several books including “All About Hip Hop,” Volumes I & II by David Toupees; VIBE’s Hip Hop Divas book “First Ladies” by Cristina Veran; and “Yes Yes Ya’ll” by Charlie Ahearn.
Currently Sheri is working on writing a screenplay, launching her clothing line “The Era”- based on the Fly Girl era-and is continuing to make appearances, and commentary, as a distinguished figure in Hip Hop.
For more information on SHERI SHER, you may go to the following:
For the link to Sheri Sher’s Book, Mercedes Ladies, you may click on the link, below: