Rah Digga Breaks Down Motherhood’s Influence on Her Rap Career
“Whenever I was tired or wanted to give up, she was the motivation to keep going,” Rah Digga tells me over the phone. She’s seem to be beaming during our conversation, a back-and-forth centered around her relationship with her daughter, Sativa. “If I don’t do this,” Rah intones, “what am I gonna do? How am I gonna take care of her?”
To hear so much urgency in the voice of a bona fide legend is disarming in the best way. Rah Digga is to hip-hop as birds chirping is to spring. In much the same way, motherhood is to Rah Digga as she is to hip-hop. Remember, Rah was eight months pregnant the same week she was signed by Q-Tip and headlined a Lyricist Lounge show at New York’s venerable haunt, SOBs.
“Well, my mind was definitely: ‘I need to have a deal by the time this baby gets here,’” Rah recalls with a laugh. “‘Hopefully, the signing bonus will get here before she gets here, ‘cause this is gonna be a struggle!’” The bonus did come, and so did the launch of her career and the release of her 2000 classic, Dirty Harriet, but amid the success in those early years, there was palpable fear.
“At first, I was concerned with the timing, like, ‘Oh my goodness, how am I possibly gonna launch a rap career with a newborn baby?’” she says. “Thank God I had the support of both my parents. We were all in the house together, so it didn’t really halt any progress.” She also credits her daughter’s father as being crucial to her work-motherhood balance. “Her father, he’s great,” she boasts. “He definitely was very instrumental in her life. He played just as much of a role as I did.”
Emceeing played a role in her parenting style as well. We know Rah Digga as one of the most methodical writers in hip-hop history. One pass through Dirty Harriet and it’s apparent Rah pores over every syllable. That same thoughtfulness and dedication carried over to her raising her daughter into a wise young woman.
“I think I treated parenthood the same way I treated my music,” Rah muses. “When I write rhymes, I’m always reading it over and over again. I’m proofreading, I’m rewriting, and I pretty much did the same thing with my daughter. I kinda drilled things over and over again to her, to the point where now when she talks, she literally sounds just like me. She can echo every lesson I’ve ever given her.”
With that, living the touring artist life also influenced her parenting strategies. Mostly, Rah endearingly admits, it made her a bit of a pushover. “I used to feel bad when I had to punish her because I wasn’t home enough,” she explains. “I didn’t want her memories of me to be she’s in trouble when Mommy gets home and Mommy’s not home all the time.”
That’s not to say Rah Digga was absent. Any and every event she could bring her daughter to, Sativa was present. From radio interviews to press shoots, to appearing on Dirty Harriet standout “Curtains,” Rah involved her daughter in her career as much as possible. “She’s really a hip-hop baby,” Rah jeers, assuring me that by three years of age, Sativa could recite all of Dirty Harriet and a few Busta Rhymes joints. Through their bonding, Rah’s daughter also kept her firmly planted in reality.
“I think she’s the main reason I’ve always stayed grounded,” Rah explains. “In all of the years and all the hustling and bustling that I’ve had to do, I’ve always had her with me. There’s countless pics of me with this baby in my arms at any radio interview. Anything I could physically bring her to, she was there.”
Staying grounded also meant skipping the, as Rah called it, “rapper splurge” phase. Today, we see so many young artists cashing their advance checks before they know what an advance really means. With the added responsibility of providing for her daughter, Rah never splurged on extravagant, flashy items. Instead, with the help of her business manager, she began making investments in 1999, which, according to Rah, are still paying dividends today.
“I had her literally right before I got the money,” she explains. “My vision was so clear about what are the important things in life. When you’re carefree, when you’re young and you don’t have those responsibilities, you think, ‘Oh! This is gonna last forever, I can spend it. I’m gonna get it back.’
“When you have a kid, you’re always thinking, ‘I gotta put this aside in case something happens to me.’ What really put me on alert was 9/11. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’m literally taking planes every day for a living. Shit can get really real at any moment. Is my child gonna be okay? Is someone gonna be able to take care of her the way I would?’ So I’ve always made sure that I was responsible with my spending.”
But this relationship is deeper than reciting lyrics and money management. Being a mother inspires Rah Digga to live the healthiest life possible. Rah recalls the early days of her career, how endless the radio and press runs would be, going until two or three in the morning, just for her to get up at six and fly to another city for more of the same. Meals would be skipped, bodies would ache, but the show would go on and Rah credits her “next-level form of energy” for her always punchy live performance.
“Now, I’m more conscious of my health and my body,” she attests. “I look at a lot of my photos from when I was living that lifestyle as opposed to now, and I just look so much healthier and less tired 20 years later than I did back then. I actually do more shows and stay on the road now than ever, since I’ve officially crossed the ‘legend threshold,’ if you will. Now I’m just really about health first. I just learned over the years that hip-hop is great, I love the culture, but it’s certainly not worth dying for.”
That lesson, of course, comes courtesy of her daughter. To be an all-star mother and an all-star artist, you have to take care of yourself. Even when the media tells women that they can either be mothers or entertainers but not both, Rah Digga is proof that is not the case. “I think there’s nothing more beautiful than pregnant women, and especially being pregnant and still being on your grind, being on top of your game,” Rah tells me. “To me, that’s the ultimate role model.”
“I think with #MeToo and #TimesUp, people are finally giving women the respect and the kudos they deserve,” she continues. “When you see someone like Cardi B still doing shows and staying true to her form, whether you agree or disagree that it’s a good look, it still empowers the next woman that’s pregnant that feels like she has to put her life on hold because she’s having a baby.”
From 2000 all the way to 2018 and beyond, this has been Rah Digga’s message: Women can do anything. To the women who are holding it down for their families and feel like no one truly appreciates the work they’re doing, Rah has this to say: “You are appreciated, you make the world go ‘round, keep doing you, and never give up on your dreams.”
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