At Red Bull Music Festival Atlanta, the dance floors of DJ OHSO's Bounce Dat party were alive with scores of wriggling, twerking, popping bodies of women, femmes, and queer people of color.
OHSO's stage had already been graced by scene-stealing performers including Molly Brazy, Queen Key, and Saucy Santana (with their Chanel crossbody bag). Crime Mob's star duo Diamond and Princess were scheduled to go on around 1 AM or so. The lights dimmed over the thinned-out room, and the crowd returned as if they'd received a bat signal. Soon, the dance floor was packed body to body. Fans were prematurely shouting Diamond and Princess' iconic lyrics to "Knuck If U Buck" and readying their iPhones for instant capture.
So when Diamond and Princess finally came out — poised, calm, and ready for action — it was like watching two stars in their element. Their demeanor suggested that they knew they belonged right there: in their hometown, with the women, femmes, and QTPOC who've taken shots and gone apeshit to "Stilettos," "Knuck If U Buck," "Rock Yo Hips," "I'll Beat Yo Azz," and more of their fight-song classics for years.
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It's been 15 years since the duo first emerged as rappers straight out of high school. As the lone female members of the six-piece Crime Mob collective, Diamond and Princess immediately stood out, and not only because of their colorful wigs and provocative style. Their star power was bolstered by the fact that their bars were full of rowdy, unmatched creativity, delivered with deliriously hyper energy.
And since their multiplatinum 2004 debut with Crime Mob, that energy has not wavered in the slightest. Onstage, they are still women who come in the club shaking their dreads in front of screaming masses. (Princess took shots of Hennessy and tapped her throat to make sure they went down, holding her own as the jumping crowd looked on in woozy awe.)
PAPER caught up with the duo after their hometown set to talk their reunion, their new EP Vagina Power, what it takes to be legendary, and how they are passing the torch to a new generation of women.
It was so cool seeing you perform — you both totally owned that stage. Have you always known you were iconic, even from the beginning of making your earliest and most famous songs?
Princess: I don't think anybody really knew it was going to take off like that, especially early on, because we were so young and we were just doing what we loved. It was more like a hobby at first. It was an outlet for us because we were basically in middle school and every day we would see a food fight or a fight at the gym or something, and we were just the modern-day reporters, going back home, running to the studio and reliving that energy.
Diamond: Oh no, we were just having fun. I mean we were hoping. We would get great feedback from our friends and they would burn CDs for their friends' friends. We were doing house parties we weren't even old enough to perform in clubs. So, we knew our peers liked it but for the whole world, let alone 16 years later to still love it? No idea.
You do have such electric energy together. Have you always had such chemistry or has it been something that's developed over the 15 years more organically?
Princess: It has always been an energetic vibe with all of us. I think that was just how we were raised and the music that we listened to growing up with Lil Jon, Pastor Troy and a lot of other crunk artists. It's just in our blood and I think it's in our kids' blood now. When we perform, I know for me, it doesn't matter if my head is hurting, if I'm cramping or whatever. Once the mic is in my hand, and the music is on, the show has to go on.
Diamond: Then, too, we have been doing our own things as individuals. I know for me and Princess our first performance together again, we would do shows for homecomings, birthday bashes, for radio stations and cities. After we appeared on Solange's album and for her to have us come out in March for her Met Gala [afterparty] that was our first time performing together again in a while. It's crazy talking about chemistry because she could literally do a one-two step, I don't even have to look at her I can feel it and finish the three-four and vice versa. Like she said, with the energy of the crowd, it pulls something out of us. As soon as we grace the stage, all that confidence and freedom comes back. That same energy is like we were having a school fight, but everybody is on one wave — all in sync, all at once. Nothing like it.
Princess (foreground) and Diamond (background) perform at OHSO's Bounce Dat party during Red Bull's Atlanta music festival.
So now, 15 years later, you released your Vagina Power EP as a duo. How did that come about?
Princess: When we released [first single] "Right at the Function," produced by K Major, people took to the song and were asking for more and we realized this year with our 15 year anniversary so we wanted to give more to our fans. Me and Diamond got in the studio and created more songs. The basis of Vagina Power is pretty much just females being able to come into their own right, whatever that is. Breaking down the stereotypes and honoring the women that came before us. Anything guys can do, we can do better. I'm just saying. [laughs] We were playing around with that name it kind of just stuck after we left the Solange Met Gala. Now, we got all the guys putting their V's up. We did an interview with Breakfast Club and we got [co-host] Charlemagne putting his V's up, and everybody is like "put your V's up, put your V's up!" So if you respect the power, put your V's up.
Diamond: Yes. And that's just a taste of what's to come. We are trying to get back in the studio with the group and the goal is to have an album out with Crime Mob by early next year.
Rap has come a long way in terms of there being more women represented on the whole, but there are still many areas of improvement needed. What are some things you've seen change in your 15 years in the game? What still needs to change?
Princess: I would say the biggest changes would be women being heard now. Before, labels were afraid to invest in female artists. They didn't think the return would be great enough versus the investment, and they thought that it would take too much to break a woman into the mainstream. People were skeptical about the upkeep of maintaining a female artist, or even booking shows with an all-women lineup. Now that's like the norm. You have the legacy artists from Lil Kim to Shawnna still releasing music and going on the road. You have new artists who are younger and up-and-coming and they can do a whole tour themselves and hold their own. So that's a good thing. Of course with social media, it's given everybody the power to put their career in their own hands and doing their own marketing and putting themselves out there. This is like the time where artists have the most power and the most say so, so that's good.
Diamond: Also, what has changed is that now you can be a mother with a baby and still have a life and a career after. As a mom, your priorities change. Your music isn't your baby; it's your baby that comes first. I think now with us being mothers and us being in the middle of that young generation and that old generation and seeing that there is life after. Have a label, have a fashion line, have a cosmetic line, it doesn't end. Life isn't over, you can do it all. I think a lot of times that has happened in the past with dope female artists who went away to start families. Like Princess said, back then a lot of labels were concerned that they wouldn't see the return, or they were feeling like it's a liability. I like to tell women sometimes you get around guys who are intimidated by the power we possess, so they try to divide and conquer, and that plays a part as well. Staying true to yourself and not feeling like "oh, I got to sleep with this person to get a track" — but also, if that's your thing, then own that shit, but if not, stay firm and true to who you are, and let your work speak for itself.
In terms of your legacy, are you in a place now of mentoring other women coming into rap? Also, what do you think it takes to be truly legendary these days?
Diamond: Absolutely, we've definitely been involved in mentoring women. We thought it would be therapeutic for them but it was actually more therapeutic for me. We grew up with our fans and our friends and we all go through changes in life as women and to be able to be out there and be vulnerable and say, "Hey, this is the mistake that I made maybe you should try something different," is really healing and amazing.
"We have our battle scars, but we're here still telling our story, so that makes us legendary." — Princess of Crime Mob
Princess: I think as legacy artists, it took a minute to even really have the thought stick of us being that. For a long time we were considered one-hit wonders and people didn't know our backstory, the legalities and stuff we had to go through at a young age. To stand the tests of those times and to come back and still be together, we kind of proved to the world we were bigger than just one song. We are platinum status on multiple songs, we've come into the industry at a time when everyone from the South had something to say and something to prove. We were the youngest people out there when Tip [T.I.] was getting started and [Lil] Jon was getting started and Luda and all of these independent labels were getting started. We were kind of learning and navigating the game without people telling us. We were just learning through life. I feel like we have our battle scars, but we're here still telling our story, so that makes us legendary.
Your authenticity as artists is also what's carried you this far. Social media, while a necessary evil for promoting your work, makes it easy to present as something you aren't. What do you say to young artists caught between presenting one thing versus just being themselves?
Diamond: It can be overwhelming at times, at least for me. I'm Brittany, I live my life as Brittany, and I clock in and tap into Diamond when I need to tap into Diamond. It's still a part of me, but I don't carry myself everyday as Diamond. I carry myself everyday as Brittany. With that in mind, I know that making music is bigger than us and I think that we have a responsibility. Knowing we had a blueprint, we had the Eves and the Lil Kims before us, there were rules and regulations that we went by. Now it is our job to make sure that we lead by example for the new generation: [setting] rules and regulations of how to carry yourself, how to think, how to move. It's a blessing, but it's a lot of responsibility. Everyone is watching, we kind of dealt with that type of anxiety, at least me at a young age: you gotta be on point, everybody's watching.
Now it's a little bit more loose, but we had to tone it down back in the day. We were told we were too hood, or that our tattoos and colorful hair was too much, but now it's acceptable. So I think for me, the key really is in just being able to be myself everyday. Being myself is still acceptable, 15 years later, so I can't lose. Don't get sidetracked and try to come up with another formula. Get your business together, get your publishing together, own your songs, focus on the music, and be consistent. There are so many people in the world, somebody is gonna fuck with you and what you have to say if you're true to you. Just stay doing you, and it's going to continue to open up more doors to expand your brand, but really, you'll just expand as an individual, as a whole.
Photography: Sergio Martinez / Red Bull Content Pool