HYPE Magazine Interviews The ‘First Lady Of Hip Hop’ Leslie Kasumba

This year Castle Lite has unlocked the likes of Post Malone, Meek Mill, Riky Rick, Cassper Nyovest, Rouge, The Big Hash, Moozlie and so many more as headline acts who will be leading the pack at the TicketPro Dome on the 17th & 18th June. This upcoming 2-day experience will also host a number of hip hip sub-culture activities such has Cold Table Talks, Sway Cold Cyphers, Sneakers, Fashion and more. Of course “Hip Hop” will be the main theme of celebration at #CastleLiteUnlocks and when we got the opportunity to interview the legendary Leslie Kasumba, who is also known as the “First Lady Of Hip Hop”, we were excited ask her questions about female representation with hip hop culture, the growth of hip hop culture, The Cold Table Talks and so much more… Thank you Leslie! We appreciate you. Enjoy!

You’ve been very vocal in advocating for women’s presence and contribution in the hip hop space, and their recognition thereof. What do you think of the current hip hop industry specifically in Africa and South Africa? 

Hmm, this is interesting… So, I never became an advocate for women in hip hop and their presence, neither did I get into hip hop because I was asked by anyone. Growing up my sisters and I always listened to hip hop. When I joined YFM I made the decision, even before to make sure I was doing something that made a difference and for me that meant promoting what I was surrounded by which was the hip hop culture and also it was a place I saw people from different African countries like myself in SA being able to find a home. So hip hop played a role in my life on a personal level then when I got onto YFM I think they were surprised that it was my interest and possibly often irritated too!  So I said all that to say I never set out to be an advocate for women in hip hop – but I think my presence and perhaps growing influence in hip hop put me in that position and its one I take seriously, because like in most other fields around the world from presidents to the Forbes lists of the wealthiest people to scientists we don’t have enough women compared to our male counterparts, and that has to change. So, if you ask me the current state of women in hip-hop in Africa or South Africa, well that’s easy. Hip hop is a reflection of what’s going on in the world, and while we are seeing names come up and women starting to do well, comparatively it isn’t enough. Comparatively more needs to be done and comparatively it’s not for a lack of support or talent it’s for the fact that it’s taking a lot longer to see the tides change. The fact that I can name the women in hip hop in SA or Africa that are celebrated on my hands, or the fact that I can name the number of female presidents too – really says a lot. You can’t take hip-hop in isolation its strength has always been how it reflects the various stories of various communities around the world.

Word. Do you think the hip hop space has evolved as far as women are concerned? 

Yes, definitely you can now name names or here more rotation or headlines from media or even see women get endorsed, it’s not at the level comparatively to me but the change is so evident without a doubt.

Would you say that brands such as Castle Lite are doing enough to help change the industry to a space that recognizes women in the space? and What more should they be doing?

Yes, I do because as a corporate how do you show that you are invested – you invest. Them putting money into #HipHopHerStory, them including women in the Unlocked Series, them creating a space for these conversations is so important and shows an interest. I do imagine that they have a lot more coming through where women in hip-hop are involved. But their authentic support of the culture and articulating and helping to create as a solution to the problem with regards to female representation goes a long way. Add to the fact that they haven’t asked any of the women involved to be ANYTHING but themselves and tell their own stories that I truly respect.

And do you think brands such as Castle Lite are doing enough to help change the industry to a space that takes artists seriously and actually helps catapult their careers? 

Are you kidding? Yes definitely. I mean even if I were to take out the Unlocked Series to date.  It’s such a big deal what is happening on the 17th and 18th June, that is literally the entire hip hop culture all its elements over a 2-day festival. If you love any aspect of the hip hop culture you will feel at home. Literally… So, from the perspective of showing how alive the hip hop culture is in SA more than just the music aspect – but the culture that is huge. And the fact that artists have a stage when you speak about careers – this sort of stage is priceless for any artist. If you go back to #HipHopHerStory, for example, Ms Supa was included in the line-up (first female cover on hype) after years of silence she is now releasing again. Hats due to HHH.

You mentioned the #HipHopHerStory last year and you played a hosting role, what do events like that do for women in the industry? How effective are they? Can we look forward to a “Her Story” in 2019? 

It’s given women in hip hop a movement they can get behind #HipHopHerStory more than anything gave women that narrative that their story exists within hip hop… It created a movement. When Gigi put her show together in May – she literally had women in hip hop jump on board and the Hashtag resurfaced again. Things change in your heart and mind before they change in life, similarly, movements start as a state of mind before they have real impact and Change. I definitely look forward to HHH 2019…

What do you think bringing international artists from the US does for the local hip hop industry other than bringing an international musical experience? 

The world in one place and if you see now with Summer Jam for example or Coachella – you saw David at Summer Jam, and Burna Boy at Coachella, the experience of music is one. There is now one audience due to the growth of the internet. So, having SA hip hop artists share the stage with international simply proves that the markets are shared. Just like in my Burna and David example. You can’t segment markets anymore the audiences are smarter. I mean I imagine on your playlist you listen to a mix of SA and international? I guess that says it all…

We know that the media plays a huge role in making people familiar and aware of artists in the industry. What more do you think the media (radio, print, digital) can do to bring a sense of equality in the hip hop space and help to mobilize people towards supporting women in the hip hop game? 

Well, this question should be turned back to Hype – you guys are the biggest SA hip-hop magazine if not only – so you are better positioned to answer what more needs to be done?…. And I feel that can be translated into other media as per your question.

Trust! So, The Cold Table Convos will be happening at this year’s Castle Lite Unlocks. Can you share what they’re that about, what can people expect and what is the one thing you hope people will take away from the Cold Table Convos if they forget anything else? 

Well, I think hearing different people’s perspectives around certain topics, their challenges and just getting to where they are will really make a difference. I feel like it’s easy to see an artist perform and do well but the nitty-gritty of the industry and the detail and things you can get to know and understand in a 100% organic platform will make all the difference. Great minds in hip hop rubbing ideas and thoughts together that is classic material.

We hope that The Cold Table Convos will be addressing topics like depression in the industry. How important is to be having these conversations and changing the perception that hip hop is just about bars, weed, sex, girls and living lavishly – and that, with all of that comes real situations and experiences such as depression and anxiety? 

This is a great question and so real… I feel the importance of this is because as we know we have suffered a huge blow to the industry due to depression, and even know there are many people within the industry that are dealing with a lot – some have shared it others haven’t because the world, says be quiet about this and you are on your own. It’s my hope that through these honest conversations that people who are fans of the culture who perhaps deal with depression and anxiety will know they aren’t alone; know they aren’t weird and should get the help. When I think of it even from economics people need to be educated that when you get your first big cheque – don’t think of how you will spend it to show people what you have, think of how you will reinvest it to grow yourself, that’s what the greats do they reinvest money into their work so they can grow. Hip-hop always needs to affect culture and is an effect of culture so it being at the centre or facilitating these sorts of conversations are so key…

So, Lee who are some of the local artists you’ve been following and look forward to their success?

[Laughs] This is a way of asking my top 5 without asking it. [Laughs] I have a policy of generally not answering because I feel as though everyone that is doing something should be celebrated and I actually am in general a fan of the culture as a whole – where SA hip hop has gone is proof that it’s in the top 5 in the world as a collective SA hip hop Culture.

Finally, what more can we expect from you as far as the hip hop space is concerned?

I have an interesting project which I will share when the time is right, but right now catch me in the #HipHopHerStory space with Castle Lite

If you haven’t gotten your #CastleLiteUnlocks tickets yet make sure you do right here.