JB the First Lady | On Empowering First Nations Through Hip Hop

Posted by Beth Hong & filed under People to Watch.

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JB the First Lady from the First Ladyz Crew inspires her community with her rhymes and music. In 2011, she was nominated for the Aboriginal Female Entertainer of the Year and Best Rap/Hip Hop album for the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Awards (http://aboriginalpeopleschoice.com/artists/jb-the-first-lady/).

Tell us a bit about the crew! How many people are in it?

There’s 11 girls and we all come from different nations. We’re all First Nations. Our nations are very different. In BC alone, there’s 36 different languages. So the cultures, and the singing and dancing and the ceremonies are totally different from each territory.

Are they all from BC?

We’re all based out of Vancouver but all of our different nations are all throughout BC and also back east as well.

How did it start? How did you girls get together?

Me and my sister, Vanessa Webster, we went to a workshop and it was all about graffiti. In the graffiti workshop, we talked a lot about hip hop crews and graffiti crews. Me and my sister wanted to see a group of young first nations women come together. An all girl crew, not only through graffiti but with singing, rapping, deejaying and break dancing. We’ve never seen that before.

We started a little graffiti crew called First Ladyz crew. One week started to get older and we noticed that there’s other women working on their own projects through making CDs and everything, and with myself, I became an emcee as well. After that, I brought everyone together and made a collective.

We all came together in 2008 and we wanted to make it really official. What First Ladyz Crew [is], is a collective of women doing hip-hop and the genre that they want to do, whether it’s graffiti or emceeing. We all do our independent projects but we all come together as a collective to support one another because women in hip-hop is pretty hard. There’s not many of us women in hip-hop so we wanted to be a support network for each other.

You go by JB the First Lady. What does JB stand for?

It was from a nickname “JerBear”. It’s from when I was younger! [Laughs] So I go by JB. “First lady” is [because] I always have to go first at every performance because no one else wants to. So, I’m always like “Okay, I’ll go first!” I beat box and there’s not too many lady beat boxers out there, so I’m probably the first First Nations girl who beat boxes.

We wanted to take back our name. That’s what colonization tried to do to our families, take away our names. In West Coast societies, our names are passed down by generation and we wanted to take that back. You see women who are “the first lady” like the president, or the queen, so we wanted to be proud [as the First Ladyz].

When was your first contact with hip hop? How did you get involved with it?

I moved to Vancouver when I was in grade nine or 10, so 2000 to 2001. We [had] moved all across Canada and when we came to Vancouver, it was culture-shock because non-Native people really showcased that “hey, you’re native” and really labelled me and my sister with negative stereotypes.

My mom always brought us to friendship centres in the native community and we saw this amazing show called Tribal Wisdom. That’s where we saw Ostwelve, Kinnie Starr and Skeena Reece. They were so proud to be native. We were like wow! This is so cool! I was 14 or 15 and I felt like I had a sense of belonging in a place where I felt culture-shock where I didn’t feel like I fit in or belong.

Then I got in contact with this group called Kaya, Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association, and someone in the youth groups were like, “You have rhymes! You have rhymes!” The same youth organization started a studio and started to put out mixed tapes. I was able to have access to this free studio that I would never have had contact with and put together a song. Ever since then, I’ve been working on my craft and it’s brought a lot of other artists [together]. This is how most of us met, was through this organization called KAYA.

What do you want audiences to take away from your performance?

It’s exciting times that we live in. Aboriginal people, we didn’t have a voice so we weren’t allowed to gather. We weren’t allowed to practice our ceremonies or sing our songs. [There was] the Indian Act in the early 1900s. To see Aboriginal women on stage being able to express themselves in the way that they want to and to share their stories, it’s really exciting. We weren’t able to do that 50 years ago.

What I want people to see is, is to walk away with a unique story that hasn’t been able to be told, and it’s a new story that is being heard. We have a very unique story to tell.

I want people to walk away feeling good about themselves and hearing new perspectives. In hip-hop, you get one or a few perspectives of the male story. And that’s great. But it’s time for women in hip-hop to share their perspectives on life and their own stories.

Do your performances tell your story?

Definitely. With the First Ladyz Crew, we are all about sharing our experiences through our music, negative and positive. When you come to our show, it’s powerful and you get lots of different messages from the universal creator.

A lot of our music talks about manifesting and encouraging people to find their own gifts and where they come from. Another aspect of it is being proud of where you come from, who you are, your ceremonies, and your culture.

First Ladyz Crew is a fresh new perspective to hip hop. Hip Hop needs us as far as hearing our stories, because of the past injustices and the history of Canada.

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JB the First Lady

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