Walking a tightrope can be risky business, especially if you happen to be sporting high heels and a pencil skirt in the process. Since its inception hip-hop has largely been considered a man’s world. Few women have attempted to claim the “emcee” moniker and even fewer have done so with a feminine touch. Armed with a writer’s wit, and a short list of hip hop foremothers, Rita J has critically wounded the notion that an intelligent woman can’t be heard over an 808.
Raised in the talent rich pockets of Chicago’s South Side, Rita J– Rita Jackson when not on stage—was born to entertain. A trained dancer, Rita J has spent much of her life on stage often showcasing her artistic prowess in competition. Her experiences as a dancer taught her at an early age the value of hard work and passion—characteristics beneficial to any artist, and essential to an emcee.
While her own musical talents lay dormant for much of her childhood, the seeds were planted early on. The offspring of avid music listeners, Rita was raised on a sonic diet of 70’s funk, soul, and R&B. Pilfering through her father’s record collection for fun, Rita found herself captivated by the soulful croons of Bobby Womack, the rhythmic musings of groups like Slave, Shalamar, and the Bar-Kays, and the vocal and artistic depth of artists like Stevie Wonder, Patrice Rushen, Prince, and Phylis Hyman. Already a seasoned entertainer, her rich musical indoctrination further fueled her desire to seek out new forms of artistic expression. It would only be a matter of time before Rita herself would carry the mic on her own personal foray into the music industry.
Though influenced by the music of her parent’s generation, Rita eventually found solace in the music of her own. Like all other music, Rita was first introduced to Hip-Hop through her father. But as a child coming of age in what is widely considered to be the genre’s “Golden Era,” Rita turned to a faculty of emerging hip-hop greats to further advance her hip hop education. Influenced by the style, wordplay, and story-telling abilities of Nas, the cadence and vocabulary of Black Thought, the melodic delivery of Buckshot, and the hard, edgy, female perspectives of MC Lyte–Rita developed a deeper appreciation for the genre.
Realizing the opportunities afforded a dancer are often limited, Rita turned her attention elsewhere. Always a writer of sorts, she began attending poetry slams while in college. Recognizing the wealth of opportunities afforded a verbal performer, Rita expanded her artistic repertoire, performing in stage plays and even landing roles in independent films. Still music was never far away. While working on a final project for a music engineering course, Rita found herself behind the boards, mixing an album for a local hip hop group. In a less than epiphanic moment, at the urging of her collaborators, Rita opened herself up to the idea of rhyming—and she hasn’t looked back.
Since she first grabbed the mic, some 10 years back, Rita J has shared the stage with several industry notables including Digable Planets, Jungle Brothers, J-Live, and Stacy Epps. Channeling the finest attributes of her idols, and combining them with her own genius, Rita J can best be described as perfect storm of hip hop pedigree. Her grounded, earthy aesthetic appears to contradict the “take no shorts” onstage persona with impeccable tone. But where many female emcees stumble Rita remains balanced. Demonstrating both strength and sensitivity, Rita is proof positive that a woman can display both beauty and skill, without being overtly sexual or sacrificing their integrity in the process.
On Artist’s Workshop, Rita’s debut album released in 2009 on All Natural, Inc., Rita stiff-arms the rugged and risqué, instead offering an introspective look into the life of everyday people. Filled with an eclectic mix of food (Listen), fun (Body Rock) and inspiration (Dreams & Aspirations), Artist’s Workshop has proven to be one of the most accessible hip hop releases in years, earning Rita a spot in URB Magazine’s 25 Now (alongside labelmate AdAd, Indie Punk newcomers Sleigh Bells, and Neptune’s collaborators Christian Rich), along the way. “I wrote the album in my bedroom and I was surrounded by art and music…it felt like it was my workshop. I took in everything around me and put it into the album, hence the title.”
Never passing on an opportunity to affect change, Rita J lives life with a purpose. An activist both on the mic and off, Rita dedicates herself to showing hip hop in a positive light, and as her music career continues to flourish, Rita J the artist is only beginning to evolve. Her underground yet commercial appeal has landed her everything from modeling gigs, to a sponsorship deal with Skullcandy, the famed headphone manufacturer. And it’s not just the music industry that’s taking notice. Rita is catching the eye of tastemakers in the film world as well. She appears in the Sonali Aggerwal directed “What Ever Happened to Hip Hop, alongside Jean Grae, Nikki Giovanni, and hip hop icon KRS-One and she will also appear in Pathways (2010) a film directed by Eljay Williams. With a growing fan base both in the US and overseas, Rita J is quickly becoming, not just a voice, but a face of future culture. Proving there are no limitations on creativity.