By Alan Cho
Respect as an emcee is earned and held in a grip soaked in cristal and blood. The hip-hop game requires certain prerequisites–flaunting the right gear, the bling and an origin scraped off the mean streets of the inner city. So when three college-educated white women from the suburbs in Long Island decide to take the stage and spit rhymes, the fight for respect becomes a bit more daunting. Forgoing gold chains and spinning hubcaps, they earn the respect of the hip-hop community on their own terms.
“We’re not really trying to make a mockery of hip-hop or we’re not trying to get out there and be in costumes and not be who we are,” assures Robin “DJ Sprout” Goodmark of Northern State during a walk along the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City. “That’s like the underlying principle of Northern State, this is us and this is how we do it. We made a pact from early on that we’re really not going to compromise.”
In just a few years, DJ Sprout, along with emcees Julie “Hesta Prynn” Potash and Correne “Guniea Love” Spero, have gained the adoration of Rolling Stone and the Village Voice with props from such hip-hop stalwarts as ?uestlove, Cypress Hill’s producer Muggs and Pete Rock–all on the back of a four track demo. While most emcees masturbate their street cred and list off material possessions as if rapping to their accountants, Northern State takes the higher ground. Known for their whip-smart lyrics, they slip references to Sylvia Plath, Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer prize novel, Kavalier and Clay among pop culture shout-outs to skorts (skirt shorts) and Beverly Hills 90210. Combined with their infectious energy, Northern State has gained a devout following. Of course, being who they are and where they came from, brings out the hatas. Their critics latch on to their sex, dismissing them as female Beastie Boys.
“Obviously we understand the comparison. To deny it would be completely ridiculous,” defends Sprout. “I’m glad that if anybody’s getting compared to them, it’s us. We played the Vodoo Festival in New Orleans and got to chill with them [the Beastie Boys] a little bit backstage. They seem to be totally supportive of the concept and seem to really like it. It’s a real dream come true. There’s no beef.”
In an industry more comfortable with its women gyrating in music videos or orgasmically moaning, Northern State are a rarity. But in a culture inundated with sex, images of scantily clad women used to sell music and even dishwasher detergent, Sprout and gang are prepared to take on the system.
“Sexism, at this point, is so accepted. It’s such a part of our culture,” Sprout says. “It’s everywhere–in pop culture and on television, it’s intense. As 20 year- old women living in New York City, everywhere we go, we’re always shocked and amazed at the state of the world. It’s everything–it’s sexism, racism, socio-economic, political–it’s everything. This shit is fucked up. It’s scary, it’s a really scary time.”
Strong women who refuse to be objectified or dominated, the transition into the limelight hasn’t been completely smooth. Falling under the umbrella of a large label like Sony, Northern State find themselves vulnerable to the mechanics of the industry, including photo shoots.
“It’s hard to look at yourself in a magazine. But then at the same time, I gotta own that,” muses Sprout. “People ask me a lot, they’ll say ‘do you consider yourself a feminist band and in what way?’ Part of it is just existing. Seriously, it’s waking up in the morning and saying ‘I’m in Northern State, I’m like a white female rapper, I get on the stage with a microphone and like emcee, this is what I do.’”