What do you call three out lesbians and devout Christians who’ve blasted onto the hip-hop scene with a bang, and have been known to occassionaly perform shirtless? The answer is Yo Majesty. Three female MCs from Tampa—Shunda K., Shon B., and Jwl B.—comprise this electro-rap group, whose debut album, succinctly titled Yo EP, has generated major buzz.
They’re doing something that few artists have been able to achieve, and that is make hip-hop fun again (remember Fresh Prince? MC Lyte? Old-skool L.L.?) without compromising substance or a distinctive identity. Think Fanny Pack (“Camel Toe”) with soul. A Fergie-esque (“My Humps”) sound that’s not annoying. Gnarls
Barkley showmanship, rooted in feminist ideologies. “We just keep it real,” says Shunda, the rowdiest and most talkative of the group. “Kids talk about sellin’ dope on the corner when they didn’t. We’re not tryin’ to make up nothin’. ”
“We’re becoming a household name,” Shunda continues, and after listening to their debut album, it’s easy to hear why. “We ain’t gonna sell out just to sell an album.” she says. “We trendsetters. We’re not conforming to this industry. They’ve gotta conform to us. There’s gonna be somebody out there who’s gonna support the Yo Majesty vision. Cause it is a vision. It’s a movement, and we’re very hands-on. It’s just us and our tour manager and our DJ.”
Their sex-positive, feminist lyrics carry the same political weight as Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues: raunchy, explicit, funny and honest. They fearlessly tackle topics ranging from female anatomy, masturbation and sexual confidence, while radiating positivity, and showing that women can simultaneously be safe and sexually adventurous. On their single, “Monkey,” they rap, “Bend over and see it/It tastes like banana split with my nuts and my chocolate/Ice cream with my cherries/No I ain’t scary on top of my big berry…I’m sayin’ to the ladies, put your hand between your thighs and rub on your monkey.”
Yo Majesty are perhaps the first openly gay hip-hop act comprised exclusively of butch women. Unlike other gay hip-hop artists, their lesbianism does not define them or their music. “What we do is not typical of gay artists,” says Shunda. “All they talkin’ about is gay people having sex. We reference our sexuality ‘cause that’s who we are, but it’s not just about that.”
When these three studs (called “sirs” in Tampa) were asked if they were ever involved romantically with each other, Shunda laughs. “Hell to the no!” she replies. Ever dated the same girl? “No,” says Shunda. “We say hoes come a dime a dozen—not that I think all women are hoes. I don’t give a damn how hard it is. You gotta respect a woman.”
Shon is the only Yo Majesty member in a committed relationship. “I have a wife. Just one woman,” she says. “My wife has been there for me through thick and thin. She was there when I didn’t have nothin.’ We never gave up on each other, and we’ve been together for 10 years.”
Jwl, like Shunda, is unattached. “I’m single, but I’m not lookin’ anymore. My relationships haven’t been all that good.” Despite this, their DJ and tour manager (both men) find themselves turning to these ladies for guidance. “It’s funny ‘cause they ask us advice with women. We just tell them to keep it real. If you like her, tell her you like her! We all just treat people the way we want to be treated,” says Shunda.
Because these ladies (specifically Jwl) have been known to go wild when performing live, it’s only fitting that they elicit similar behavior from their fans. “In San Francisco a girl got on stage and started humping Jwl,” says Shon. “She was aiight. But we kept playin.’ Jwl started humping her back. The show must go on.”
The buzz surrounding these queen bees transcends their bold lyrics and unabashed identities. All three have very distinct taste, and each adds a different flavor to the group dynamic. “We collaborate on all aspects of music,” says Shon. These ladies aren’t pandering to the masses, nor are they operating within the confines of certain non-mainstream musical genres. They do what makes them happy, and don’t care what you think, which makes them irresistibly likeable and a rarity in the music industry.
In one of their most popular songs, the catchy “Club Action,” they sing, “Bounce back and forth when you hear this/Jump up in the middle of the club and get pissed/Throw your hands up if you wanna get rich/If you feel how I feel say, ‘fuck that shit.’” “Fuck that shit,” is the hook, and it’s not to be interpreted as a proclamation of apathy. “We have a vision, and we’re gonna run it the way we run it,” says Shunda. “Me personally, I wanna know what’s goin’ on and how we’re gonna maximize the Yo Majesty Spirit. There’s not a lot of artists who are keeping it real. Anybody can rap but we try to talk about something that’s gonna inspire, encourage, even if it’s just for the 3.5 minutes.” Faith has been a driving force for these talented MCs. “God is our strength.” Says Shon. “I don’t take no shit. This is not a game.”
Take the fun elements of Akynele’s “Put it in your Mouth,” combine it with the shocking and sexually progressive elements of Peaches’ “Fuck The Pain Away,” and the eccentricity and innovation of OutKast and the positivity of artists like India.Arie or Arrested Development and you start to have some idea of what makes Yo Majesty such an revolutionary phenomenon. They will not let anyone alter their image to make them more mainstream, because they’re confident that they are marketable, large-scale—just the way they are. Leave the acrylic nails and skimpy bikinis to other artists; they’re doing things their way.
“My mission is to free people through music.” adds Jwl. “I’m a minister of music. I wanna see people happy and have a good time and that’s it.” In essence, Yo Majesty just propagates respect. They showcase their sexuality on their terms, have a fervent faith in God and their talent, and want to educate. “We’re definitely confident and we know this shit is gonna blow up,” says Shunda.