Last month, hip-hop was celebrated in honor of both the passing of De La Soul’s Trugoy the Dove as well as the legendary trio’s discography finally making its way onto streaming services. The Webster Hall event had many heavy hitters the culture’s had to offer over the years – including both emcees and DJs – with perhaps one of the more incredible moments being Queen Latifah and Monie Love reuniting on-stage for a performance of their classic 1989 record “Ladies First.”
The moment, we now know, took the later hip-hop legend by surprise but it didn’t stop her from killing it. The British-born Love rapped every bar of the 33-year-old hit as if it was released yesterday, and Latifah reciprocated likewise. The whole thing, along with Questlove’s hip-hop tribute at the Grammys in February as well as an overall celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary in 2023, has had fans of the culture reliving some of the best it's presented since its inception a half-century ago.
That may be part of why Monie Love is still keeping hip-hop strong in her own way. Currently an afternoon host on Atlanta’s KISS 104.1, the emcee and broadcaster is also at work on a new solo musical project – her first in three decades. Already dropping the unifying song “1NE People” last November and the first single “Divine” with Skyzoo and TUFF prior to that, Love is gearing up for #LoveStruck, the effort she’s creating alongside producer Baby Paul (from Da Beatminerz).
During a recent interview with BET, Monie Love discussed recording her new project, the reuniting moment with Queen Latifah, and even took it way back to her early days of falling in love with hip-hop as a Brit, going on to record her first two LPs – the second of which (In a Word or 2) just turned 30 a few days ago – and her collaborations with Prince and Whitney Houston, which she described as life-changing. Read below.
BET: A few months ago you released your single “1NE People.” Really loved the song a lot because it’s very unifying at a time I think we need to come together more. What were your ideas behind it and how did it come together?
Monie Love: Well you just stole my shine with what I was gonna say [laughs] because it's exactly everything you just said. I felt like kind of teeter-tottering out of the initial shutdown stages of the pandemic, and in the spirit of a lot of unifying things that were happening such as Club Quarantine brought people together in a time when we could not leave our homes, keeping it in that same vein and in that same spirit. I felt like that needed to be extended and what other route could I take then to extend how I felt in the house, cooped up, not well myself.
BET: You’re also working on your new project LoveStruck. What made you want to work on a new solo work because it’s been a really long time?
Monie Love: So a good friend of mine who's actually a godfather to one of my children, Baby Paul, he's a Grammy-nominated producer and we go back a very long way in this business. He basically said to me one day, “Let me take care of the business and let me put something out.” Regardless of the fact that I've never really done any commercial releases in a very long time, I've never stopped making music and Paul, because he's my brother and a part of my family, he always knows what I'm doing artistically, even when it's not publicized.
He's like, “I'm hearing everything that you're doing with [El Da Sensei] from The Artifacts. Why don't you put something out on your own? I'm like, “Ah, I kind of like dipping and dabbling when I feel like it, and in addition to that, the performance end of my life never stops. I'm constantly still on the road, performing by myself and as part of a collective called The Alumni, which is [Special Ed, Monie Love, Chubb Rock, Kwamè, Dane Dane] and myself and we do like an ensemble.
He's like, “Do something of your own.” I'm like, I don't like the business because that's why I fell back. I don't like it a bit. The culture is what I live for, the business, not so much. “Let me take care of everything business oriented, you just be an artist and you just create,” [he said]. And I sat on it for a little while and thought about it, and then I was like, As long as I don't have to worry about any of the business aspects, fine. I'll just go in and create. So that's where it was forged.
BET: Just a few weeks ago you reunited on stage with Queen Latifah for a performance of “Ladies First.” Among all the iconic things about the De La Soul tribute, that was one of the most amazing moments. How much did that mean to you and how did that whole event make you feel?
Monie Love: Can I please tell you and make sure you write this: I was a complete emotional roller coaster that prior night. I had this discussion like [Posdnuos] and I were texting each other back and forth prior to the day of the event and I was like, I haven't known what to do with myself or where to place my feelings ever since the day that the news dropped that Dave passed. I didn't know what to do with myself because it was such a weird space and I'm sure it was for everybody in Native Tongues because immediately you get taken back to being at Calliope Studios in this coffin-like tight vibe that we had, in this hippie-everybody's in the studio, whose session is it? Who cares. We're all here. That-type vibe. And it was always like that when De La was recording – everybody's in the studio and Jungle Brothers was recording. We all used the same engineer. It was just like a commune, so immediately when this news dropped, you can't walk back to being in this commune.
When I got the date of the event that was taking place that was partly to celebrate the fact that their catalog was finally dropping [on streaming services]. Then unfortunately they had to combine it with celebrating Dave's life. Because he passed away it obviously was not anticipated, so they put the two things, wrapped it together.
I got in the morning of the event and I just checked into the hotel and tried to get some rest and gather my feelings because I knew I was going to be up and down when I showed up. I knew that it was going to be a high school reunion within hip-hop of sorts. I knew that there were going to be a ton of faces, that we would all see each other and it would have been the first time we've all seen each other – outside of Native Tongues, I knew it was going to be that. So when I got there, I was okay, and seeing people and being happy to see people and hugging and saying hello. But every single time another Native Tongue member approached me or I walked into the same room as them, it's like my entire body fell limp and I would start crying immediately. When we all saw each other we broke down.
Then when we got to the stage I gotta tell you I did not know what took over my body. I really didn't. When I got on that stage and what was happening and listening to the songs, listening to Pos delivering the songs and Maseo up there DJing and The Originals – [Tony Touch]. I haven't seen Toca in forever, we share the same birthday. For years we used to have a joint birthday party. Crazy Legs was instrumental in bonding us tight because of the culture that we all came up in. It's like I got transcended to another place and I let go of myself and I let go of my sadness and I just kind of elevated into another place.
BET: And when “Ladies First” dropped?
Monie Love: Everybody was playing catch-up. I was walking over to say something to DJ Red Alert who was standing in a huddle with Latifah and a few other people. They were having a conversation all while everybody in the crowd is vibing. So I walked over and I was gonna say something to Red, and then D-Nice put on [the next song and] all I heard was the horns to “U.N.I.T.Y.”. So I grabbed his hand like bump this conversation, whatever you guys were talking about, I don't care. I grabbed [Latifah’s] hand, pulled her to the front of the stage, and I just got hit with like a boat like this is everything. And the crowd went nuts when they saw her and heard “U.N.I.T.Y.”.
Then this man decides to put on “Ladies First.” If you see this footage, you’ll see my expression. I was like, Oh, it's over now. I feel my hands in the air. It's over. If she grabs this mic and she comes over here to deliver this verse is over. And you see my expression saying that and she came over on some, “Mami what's up?” And I was like, Don't don't ask me what's up, because it's gonna go down and that's exactly what happened.
BET: Speaking of Crazy Legs, you were a multifaceted member of hip-hop culture as both a b-girl and an emcee, and the Cookie Crew was also big in introducing you to the culture early on. Take me back to that mid-80s time and that inspiration…
Monie Love: Yeah, I mean we got hit with the bug of hip-hop culture in the mid-80s, I’d say around ‘83. So granted, we're 10 years late from what was already going on in the States, but from there onwards, we developed our own British UK and European scene in respect to what was going on in the United States that we absolutely took out of the book of hip-hop culture that had already been happening stateside. Many of my boys were actually DJs that were in DMC competitions that went on to World Supremacy competitions, which then brought them to the United States to the new music seminar at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square that happened every year. Then they get to meet other DJs like the Clark Kent’s from New York and the Joe Cooley's from L.A. and like we really were submerged into the culture for real.
So out of the crews of MCs that came up in England Cookie Crew was one of them and one of the founding foremost female groups from the U.K. and from Europe, because they're beatbox Peggy Lee is from Holland, so it encompassed not just the UK. They're from South London, I'm from South London. So they were absolutely my mentors and I came up under them. I used to go to their shows, watch how they deliver on stage, see how they handle their crowd participation and have the crowd in the palm of their hands.
BET: Moving into the 90s, In a Word or 2 [just turned 30]. It’s a super slept on album in my opinion because you had it mostly produced by Marley Marl but then Prince co-wrote and co-produced "Born to B.R.E.E.D." and the title track. Does it seem like it’s been 30 years and what were maybe some of your fondest memories of making that album?
Monie Love: Working with Marley, the dots connected because he's Cold Chillin’ [Records], he produced a lot of artists who were on the label. Then also him just being the quintessential hip-hop producer. Working with Marley Marl also introduced me to concentrated focus in recording a project. When I say that I mean that was the first time that I had ever traveled somewhere [to record]. I was staying in like upstate New York where Marley was living at the time and I was staying at a hotel near his house. I would have to drive to his house every day to record.
That was the first time that I'd have ever experienced that, ironically, the second time that I had ever experienced that was with Paisley Park and Prince where I had to fly to Minneapolis. I had to stay at a hotel next to his compound and spend the day at work recording and then leave and go back to the hotel and go to sleep and get up the next day, start the same thing over. Prince extended it and actually flew everybody including me to England because he had a string of shows there during the time. I was supposed to be helping him write the Carmen Electra album.
So after every show, we would go into the studio overnight and continue working on this album because he didn't want to stop just because he had a series of shows.
BET: In regards to Marley and that Queensbridge connection, did you ever hear rumblings about Nas [prior to Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque”]?
Monie Love: I did, but this was more so through the streets and honestly [it was] through 3rd Bass and [MC] Serch. I heard the rumblings of this kid with a chip tooth from Queens. I was on tour with 3rd Bass for a lot of shows because we were on the Big Daddy Kane tour, for instance. So it was Big Daddy Kane, Digital Underground, 3rd Bass, and it was Latifah’s whole camp. So I had heard the mild rumblings of some kid, super young kid from Queens with a chipped tooth. That was just crazy.
BET: What are some of your best memories of working with Whitney Houston on the remix for "My Name Is Not Susan" – both recording the song and shooting the video for it?
Monie Love: Recording it was fun. I was a little bit nervous because she specifically asked me herself. I expected for A&R people or the producers or whatever, but she reached out to me herself to tell me that she wants me to rhyme on this song. So it was obviously something that was discussed amongst the producers. She sent me a letter just to say, “Do your thing, girl.” So when I went in and was like, This has to be extra extra dope. And then I delivered it specifically in mind to please her like, This has got to be super dope because I want her to love it. And she did. And from there, she requested for me to be there for the video and we spent the whole day together. She could have been in her room and have me wherever I do my part, but she bonded with me the entire day. That's how she wanted to do it.
We bonded the whole day, and from there, we became fast friends. I was constantly at her compounds, constantly at the house every celebration occasion. I was at the wedding. I was at her wedding, sat right behind her, she forged a friendship. That's one thing I can say about her is like if she really feels you as an artist, and then gets to know you as a person – She really did forge real friendships with people and I noticed that not just with me.
BET: On another career highlight: What did it mean to you to be the first British woman in hip-hop to be nominated for a grammy [two for Best Rap Solo Performance]?
Monie Love: Being nominated, it meant a couple of things. To me, it was less about what it meant to me – it wasn't about my individualism necessarily. It was more about I had a chip on my shoulder because of the fact that people were trying to play hip-hop like it was a fad. We're constantly told it’s not going to last and it doesn't have a place here among the other music genres and what have you.
So for me, it was a double whammy because it was like, number one: Yes, I fell in love with hip-hop, pursued it as a career and put my life into the culture. Number two, this is a music genre that we have been continuously told is not going to last and won't be here. Put those two things together and in your face – not only do the world of other musicians feed this culture, see this music and understand how big it is. Because not only am I in this, but I'm from a whole different country. So that allows you to understand exactly how big hip-hop is. It penetrates kids from other countries big enough to the point where they pursue it, they live, eat, sleep, the culture, and arrive on the Grammy stage to be noted in it by an audience of their peers. So take that and put that in your pipe and smoke it.