November 17, 2010

Rah Digga - Dirty Harriet (April 4, 2000)

A few posts ago, I briefly touched on how Busta Rhymes organized his surrogate family after the breakup (on television, no less) of his original crew, Leaders Of The New School.  The Flipmode Squad was comprised of folks who Busta seemed to trust unconditionally, or at least seemed to trust they would immediately fall back whenever their generous leader took to the mic.  Rampage, Lord Have Mercy, Spliff Star, and Baby Sham all found themselves as second-class citizens in the hip hop game, only making guest appearances whenever Busta could fit it into his schedule.  This setup sucked especially for Rampage, as he already had an actual solo career when the Flipmode Squad idea came to fruition. 

Today's post is about the only member of the Squad who was an exception to that rule.

New Jersey native Rashia Fisher was already a hip hop veteran of sorts before Busta Rhymes discovered her working the afternoon shift at a Shell station.  She was a member of the underground crew The Outsidaz, who were slowly building a name for themselves in our chosen genre: Rashia, who rhymes under the alias Rah Digga, even appeared alongside her coworkers Pacewon and Young Zee as they performed opposite the motherfucking Fugees (also New Jersey natives) on their "Cowboys", which appeared on The Score, which, as we all know, sold eighty-seven gazillion copies worldwide.  Busta invited her into the Flipmode Squad as their lone female member, with the promise of a solo career bundled in the package.

Rah Digga soon took her spot as the second most popular member of the Squad, although how much of that was because of her skills behind the mic and how much was because she was a woman is hard to distinguish.  Regardless of that fact, Digga soon became the voice you looked forward to hearing on Squad posse cuts, with her gruff delivery (she studied the flows of KRS-One and Rakim when she decided to give this rap thing a shot) acting in sharp contrast to her photogenic looks. 

After several standout bars on the Flipmode Squad crew album The Imperial, Rah Digga set about recording her debut solo project, Dirty Harriet, which is not the best name to call yourself when you want people to buy your record, but whatever.  Unlike her coworker Rampage, however, Digga had enough pull (and possibly more of a budget) to secure instrumentals from such ringers as Nottz, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier, all of whom supplied their host with some rugged heat for Rashia to demolish in her attempt to prove herself as one of the best female emcees in the game.

Did she succeed?  For the most part, yes.

This rap album intro was all over the place. Spliff Star and Rampage the Last Boy Scout, two of Rah Digga's comrades in the Flipmode Squad, show their love for our host, Spliff by spitting a verse, while Rampage by simply yelling into the microphone, urging everyone to listen to Dirty Harriet while proclaiming that Rashia is destined to become the leader of an underground movement of all female emcees. Or something. It was nice of both of them to come through for their friend, anyway.

It was kind of strange that Rah Digga didn't make an appearance on her own introductory track, though, so she rectifies that misstep by providing a quick one-verse wonder that serves as her own prologue. Over this Busta Rhymes kitchen-sink beat, Rashia takes to the mic as though it was an extension of her arm, quickly proving why she is the second best rapper in the Flipmode Squad (behind Busta himself). I suppose her take on Harriet Tubman's name is a nod to the whole “underground movement” thing Rampage mentioned earlier, but to me, it just sounds like a poor idea. Decent track, though.

Rah Digga's shit is “tight, down to the coochie”? That might strike some as providing too much information, but for the rest of you who haven't given up on this write-up yet, you should know that Rashia doesn't go the overly sexual route: this is basically her version of grabbing her dick and establishing dominance. Her rhymes on here are actually “Tight”, but Mr. Walt (of Da Beatminerz) provides some experimental instrumentation that takes a bit of getting used to. Our host sounds right at home on both “Tight” and “Harriet Thugman”, two songs that are as far removed from each other as humanly possible, so her skills of adaptation are put to good use. Her performance is actually enough to overpower the beat, so that's something.

This song is definitely a keeper, even with its lame-ass hook. Pete Rock brings his dusty drums and his glorious horn samples to the Dirty Harriet party, and Rah flows effortlessly, like water in a stream, or like your piss after downing ten straight shots of Patron. Peter Q. Rockefeller lends some boom bap to the project, a sound that not even Busta Rhymes himself has bothered with for several years, giving Rah Digga some very necessary street cred within our chosen genre (because it's not as though Rampage could ever get the Soul Brother #1 to give him a dollar, much less a beat). This was pretty nice.

Rashia dedicates a song to working with her fellow female emcees who were also on the come-up at the time Dirty Harriet dropped. Sonja Blade, who took her name from the Mortal Kombat character and hasn't been heard from in the past ten fucking years, turns in an okay contribution, but this song, which ultimately isn't that great, is dominated by Barbershop's Eve and Digga, who steps in for a final verse that blows everyone else out of the water, as she rightfully should. I appreciate the show of solidarity in a musical genre controlled by men, but when it comes down to it, the music just simply needs to be good for people to care about who's saying what.

Busta steps behind the microphone to help Rashia sell some records on this song, which is heavily influenced by, of all things, Musical Youth's “Pass The Dutchie”. (To me, it seems obvious that this was a leftover title track from the Flipmode Squad group album, but I digress.) Although this is clearly a bid for mainstream acceptance (DJ Shok's instrumental is a poppy confection, and our host mentions a “bunch of Rah Digga shirts on some big-bodied chicks”, so she is definitely trying to include everybody), it still sounds pretty catchy today. Trevor even uses his entire solo verse to near practically every bar with the phrase “like y'all”, so Digga even gets to win by default. I'm a bit confused about this song, though: this album version is actually a remix, as the original features the same Shok beat but no appearance from Busta, as Rashia fills in the holes with different verses. But “Imperial” isn't referred to as a remix on Dirty Harriet. If any of you two have information about this, let me know in the comments section below.

The chorus on here is laughably bad, and Busta's beat is the worst kind of generic, but Rashia proves that she can spit with the best of them, although it's doubtful that you would ever hear a guy talk about pulling out a chick's tampon with his teeth, as Digga claims kinda-sorta happened to her. That's about as unsanitary as a reference to Silkk Tha Shocker, which also occurs on “Curtains”. Maybe you should just skip to the next song, unless you really want to hear her kid mimicking some of Mommy's lyrics at the very end.

Listen to this Nottz instrumental and fucking tell me that it doesn't sound like one of Busta's rejects. It's pretty sad that there were (apparently) many critics who dismissed Rah Digga because she “rhymes like a dude” just because she doesn't talk about sex all the time (although, like every other rap artist ever, it does pop up on more than a few occasions: it simply isn't her only course of action), because those same critics obviously (a) aren't paying attention to her actual lyrics, and (b) simply want her to show some skin, because she is pretty cute. “Showdown” isn't the best showcase for her talents, but she takes the time to rip the shit out of the beat before losing interest and moving on to the next track.

Digga brings out her original crew, Tha Outsidaz, for a showcase on which she hardly appears, although she earns a quick laugh early on by declaring that this song “is a story...but not really a's just some freestyle shit”, which this most certainly is. The group, which includes artists such as Pacewon, Slang Ton, and Young Zee, among others who I don't remember (the group also used to count Eminem among their ranks at one point), bounce off the walls (and each other) impressively, representing their home state of New Jersey beautifully. The members of the Outsidaz may not be able to carry solo albums as successfully, but this freestyle session works well on its own.

This song, which was one of Dirty Harriet's singles, was recorded and released back when Rockwilder was, inexplicably, one of the top producers in hip hop, even though all of his songs sounded the fucking same. This is one of his catchier efforts, although you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at sales figures alone. Digga enters the club without leaving her integrity at the coat check, takes a couple of shots, and decides to have some fun. She says absolutely nothing of importance on “Break Fool”, but she sounds good while doing it, and this performance is a hell of a lot better than her acting was in Thirteen Ghosts.

This is a sequel to a track that appeared on Flipmode Squad's The Imperial, although this track is a solo song and not a group effort. The Nottz instrumental is creepy and unnerving to listen to at first, but it does sound unique, and you get used to it after a while, which is a phrase that I never thought I would write when discussing a beat that works in sound effects of people literally spitting.

It was too much for me to hope that this song was the inspiration for the Kenan Thompson skit on Saturday Night Live, right? Right.

Carl Thomas bucks his usual trend of crooning on mostly terrible love rap in order to sing the hook on a mostly terrible regular rap. Digga flat-out refuses to obey her overlords at the label, providing listeners with two verses of braggadocio broken up periodically by an unnecessary R&B hook that does not sound cool. The Redman sound bite only makes me wonder why he wasn't approached to appear on Dirty Harriet, since he is the ultimate New Jersey representative and all (but then again, it's not as though Bruce Springsteen appears on here, either). This was mostly awful.

This wouldn't be a Flipmode Squad project without a group collaboration included somewhere. Nottz provides an alright instrumental for everyone to spit over, and after passing the mic back and forth over the course of the first “verse”, everyone involved gets a handful of bars to call their own. This was one of the better crew efforts I've heard from Busta's merry band of seat fillers, so I'll give it a pass. (Side note: there are actually seven artists performing on this song, making this probably the only time that Lord Have Mercy ever worked alongside his eventual replacement, Roc Marciano.) The interlude at the end, which features both Rah Digga and Trevor actually singing, is somewhat of a prelude to the next song, and it only needs to play in full just the one time.

This battle of the sexes, which is especially curious since Young Zee is Rah Digga's baby's father (I'm not sure if they're still in a relationship, though), is the same song that appears on The Outsiderz EP Night Life, albeit with a different beat. The song itself is corny, as all songs in this sub-genre tend to be, but our host and her co-star, both of whom were collaborators on the underappreciated Fugees gem “Cowboys”, manage to make this entertaining enough. It isn't very good, but you probably won't want to skip past it when it appears on your iPod.

DJ Premier helps round out Dirty Harriet by sliding some extra boom bap in Rah Digga's direction. In return, she sends over three hot verses describing the lives of her three (fictional?) brothers and the lessons she has drawn from the mistakes they have made. Primo's beat isn't as typical as most of his work, and because of that it still sounds great today, and Digga rocks over it with ease, handling the opportunity with both grace and skill. She then pops up during the outro to promote the second Flipmode Squad album (which still hasn't happened), to thank listeners for buying her album, and to curse out anybody who still thinks that she doesn't write her own rhymes. This was a pretty good way to end the evening.

Rah Digga also mentions the presence of two additional bonus tracks during her outro. Neither one of them has an official title, so I'm going to use the handles I found on Wikipedia.

It's probably a good thing that this was left off of the original program, as it ventures too closely to shitty Busta Rhymes material for comfort. Digga plays along, game as she always has been, but I don't know what she was trying to accomplish on here. The DJ Scratch beat isn't appealing to any demographic, and you'll just want to skip past this as soon as fucking possible.

My iTunes titled this song “Everybody”, but the Interweb likes to refer to it as “Clap Your Hands”, so whatever. Producer Megahertz, who had one minor hit with Puff Daddy's “Bad Boy For Life” and then went the Rockwilder path, making all of his songs sound exactly the same, takes the “halfway decent” route on here, with an alright instrumental for Rashia to spit over. The format is a bit awkward, as it comes across like she's interviewing herself, and it's really annoying, but she does well enough for herself, so this particular bonus track isn't a complete waste of your time.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although there are a few moments where it could go either way, ultimately Rah Digga's debut Dirty Harriet is pretty good. She doesn't seem to succumb to the trappings of most female artists (read: she doesn't talk about her tits and ass...not often, anyway), which allows her to focus on the essence of most hip hop: straight-up spitting random boasts and establishing dominance. The instrumental backing, although from multiple sources, sounds mostly cohesive, and the few guests scattered throughout Dirty Harriet all help to boost Rashia's own performances, proving that she really should have had a higher profile after this project dropped. Oh well, even if she never gets the acclaim that she deserves, at least we got one really good album from the lone woman in the Flipmode Squad, who is a better overall rapper than most anybody in that crew.

BUY OR BURN? I think you should buy this one. Rah Digga has a presence behind the microphone that shouldn't be denied, and most of the music is pretty good, too.

BEST TRACKS: “Lessons Of Today”; “What They Call Me”; “Imperial”; “Break Fool”; “Tight”; “The Last Word”; “Just For You”

I was digging through my boxes the other day and found a promotional disc released by Elektra called Dirty Underground Beatz, an EP of sorts that was intended to promote Dirty Harriet. I have no idea how that was supposed to promote anything, since I found it in a used CD store and it has a 'promo only' sticker on it, but it includes the dirty versions of “Imperial” and a remix to “Tight”, which uses the same Mr. Walt beat but features guest verses from Pharoahe Monch (of all people) and Rashia's Flipmode coworker Lord Have Mercy. Not only does this remix include a very interesting guest list, it actually works much better than the album version, and I really liked the album version, so you should check it out.




  1. No shit, like the day after this review was posted, HipHopDX put the Tight Remix up on the main page for their quote-unquote "throwback thursdays."


  2. djbosscrewwreckaNovember 18, 2010

    Like the review - this is a fairly good album overall. Rah Digga shows she's a good emcee here, and she can hold her own. She doesn't deserve to be classed as a "female emcee", (not saying this review does it) which seems to be a patronising term implying that although she's a woman she can actually rap.
    On a different note, you're covering a lot of albums in this women's theme, but you only gave "Takin' Mine" by Heather B a burn! It's better than most of the stuff here - how about a revisit?!

  3. rah digga is my aunt. i loved this post. great read

  4. Great review. Rah Digga is one of my favorite rappers and this album was brilliant. I was hoping that you would do a review of Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes album: 'Supernova'. Its one of my favorite albums; the songs are incredibly good and she was a great lyricist.