Despite the increased opportunites to be heard through the microphone, the world still endures a dearth of female rappers and fans that will lend them an ear to be heard. Subtract the ones that are actually talented, and the pickens are even slimmer. But stats don’t speak for individuality achievement and Krishtine de Leon demonstrates enough core Hip-Hop in her blood to be considered going extinct anytime soon.
When she’s in the vocal booth, she transforms to Rocky Rivera–the staunch heroine from California who isn’t afraid to tell it how it is. Formerly known as EyeAsage, Rocky experiences a metaphormisis and is now currently making headway with her self-titled debut which features the cocky “MRSHMLO” and earned her a Notable Quotable for an entire song. Read along to find out how a college educated journalist, reality TV star and musician manage to wear all those feathers in her cap.
TSS: You’re no stranger to the music industry; you actually won MTV’s reality show I’m From Rolling Stone. How did that impact your direction in the Hip-Hop culture?
Rocky Rivera: I love being a journalist – I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing. I felt like winning the show was the tip of the iceberg. Journalism has put me in front of people that are considered major players in Hip-Hop, and put me in a position to critique their work, but there comes a point where people want to work on their own craft, instead of just speaking on others’. There’s only so much talking that you can do if you want to see a real change in Hip-Hop. For me, that’s seeing a female MC with substance that you could relate to. I wanted to be more accountable with my words and speak in a language that everyone, not just the scholars, could understand.
TSS: What made you change your stage name. Did you feel EyeAsage wasn’t established enough?
Rocky Rivera: Well, EyeASage was something that I came up with in college with my crew, the Rhapsodistas, and although initially I wanted to play the character “Rocky Rivera” at the tail end, I felt further from EyeASage and closer to Rocky that it just felt natural to switch. Everything about it sat better with me, that even before I announced my decision, people close to me suggested I switch too because they felt it click…plus no one can fuckin’ pronounce EyeASage, let’s face it.
Rocky Rivera: And I’m not gonna go through ANOTHER lifetime volunteering to correct people!!!
TSS: Seeing that most rappers are expected to be perceived as from the hood, ghetto and nearly every urban stereotype imaginable, how does being educated affect the message you try to portray?
Rocky Rivera: Some of the most “educated” people I know are 10th grade dropouts, and some of the most idiotic people have Master’s Degrees; schooling is not indicative of intelligence. Hip-Hop’s greats: Nas, Biggie, Pac, Jay-Z never got their high school diploma. And since California is like 48th in education, I was lucky to have made it to a State University with the kind of schooling I was exposed to my entire academic career. But it is true that college helped me understand, identity-wise, exactly what kind of message I’d be proud to say, and learn enough about my own history to find the empowerment to go ahead and say, “Fuck it, I’ma rap.” Some people aren’t lucky enough to find a reason to be proud, much less a reason to rap.
TSS: On the album, “Heart” is such a powerful song. What inspired it?
Rocky Rivera: Well, I had that beat for a minute and it was such a sentimental sample; I kinda put it off because I didn’t want to get too serious. But by the time I picked it back up again, I was literally running on fumes–and not tryna be super personal on this one. I had major writers block so my friend was just like, “No one ever made a song about women in the movement, you should do it. All the activists will be on your nuts” (Laughs). But once I switched it up from me to them, it was easy. People really like it and I’m glad I did it justice!
TSS: Yeah it was like you channeled the souls of the people. Like a historian…
Rocky Rivera: Everything about it was factual…even though it’s not necessarily MY story, it IS and it’s probably one of the most emotional songs I’ve ever written. It’s hard to summarize three [incredible] women’s lives in 48 bars!
TSS: How long have you been rapping? Was there a sense of hesistation or nervousness on your part to completely make that leap?
Rocky Rivera: I’ve been writing raps and poems in my journals since ’93. I’ve been rapping onstage since around 2002, in college. I never in my life thought that I would have a chance at this rap game, but there were so many things I wanted to say that I stopped second-guessing myself and just did it. My boys used to drink and freestyle and me and my homegirls would listen and want to join but be too afraid of the pressure in the cipher. So we started our own lil’ girl cipher adjacent, and eventually our raps and punchlines would get so crazy and out of control, that the guys would hop in and listen. Men can be so territorial with their music, that we didn’t want to feel the pressure to conform, so we made them come to us.
If there was any hesitation, it was because I wasn’t sure that I would be received well considering I f*cking hated the way women were portrayed in Hip-Hop. And I wasn’t sure I wanted any more attention as a woman than as another male mc, which is what happened in any cipher I stepped in. I just wanted my gender to be irrelevant to my message and didn’t record until I knew I could reach that point.
TSS: In Twenty-Ten, it seems the current crop of female MCs are of the sexually-tinged breed. Do you fear being overlooked? Is there no instances when sexuality is actually acceptable.
Rocky Rivera: It’s just a sign of the times. The better technology gets, the more a woman is commodified. I think sexuality is great, we as a society need to be MORE in tune with our sexuality if anything, but sexuality and exploitation are two different things. It’s when people solely rely on that shit that things become wack. Long gone are the days where people could tune into the radio and hear our voices before they saw our asses, I mean, faces. Nowadays, they want to push a product that works every time = sex. I don’t fear being overlooked, because that kind of attention is fleeting anyway.
Every girl knows that the first dude to holla is always the wackest. Why would I make those dudes my fans? What kind of conversation could we hold? But if I want to be a woman and be sexy, and feel desired, and be in control, that shouldn’t take away from my skill as an MC, which, unfortunately, is exactly how shit is set up. Ladies, be however you want to be as an MC, just make sure you doin’ it because you want to, not because you feel like you have to.
TSS: What’s a primary complex for a female rapper in 2010?
Rocky Rivera: That it’s so easy to manipulate your audience (mostly males) with your sexuality, that even if it comes natural, you have to really be conscious of it. Back then, Hip-Hop was up for grabs by anyone but nowadays, the shock value has just gone up. I mean, who can compete with Lauryn? The consumer dictates the artists in the mainstream…and people want sexy. I can’t knock Nicki Minaj though. She has great marketing.
TSS: But if you go too sexy, they complain you aren’t saying nothing.
Rocky Rivera: Exactly. Either way, they find a way to discredit you. So you just gotta do you no matter what. People be getting caught up with their “image.” I’m a very accessible, very approachable person and people can relate to that–especially women. Women are an untapped market with serious buying power! And college students! (Laughs) Either way, I’m thankful for all the support I get.