Don’t let that baby face fool you; JenRO is ready to battle anyone who thinks females can’t rap. This petite powerhouse runs her own successful entertainment label and happens to be coming to Atlanta next month for part of Labor Day’s Pride festivities. JenRO opened up to David Atlanta about her forthcoming album, how she channels experiences through her music and why mainstream artists should be chasing her.
You’ve been in the game for over a decade. Tell our readers a bit about who JenRO is.
I’m just a cool, laid back (til I get on stage), female hip hop artist living this carefree life in the hip-hop game. Most people know me as JenRO, the lesbian rapper, and that I am but I’m an entrepreneur at heart and besides living my life as an artist, I also oversee my own successful entertainment label RO Records.
I’ve always been a writer & activist since a young age. I’m involved in a lot of film work, behind the scenes and in front of the camera. I’m big on helping the community and fighting for change but I really love hangin’ with the homies and bringing folks together for a good time.
On Unreleased and Uncensored Vol. 1, you drop real personal lyrics over Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”. Is this your most personal track?
“Closet” was definitely a personal reflection on my time as a youth coming out. I have a few personal songs on each album. One of them is from my album, My Window titled “Eclipse”. I wrote that song about my best friend who passed away from drugs at a young age.
Do you have any new music in the works?
Right now, I’m finalizing up my latest album Street Light that should be dropping this fall. So far I have featured Amanda Perez and some other really cool artists. I’m also planning a few music videos for this album that will follow release.
Who has influenced JenRO (past and present)?
So many to name but in a few limited words these legends have influenced me small and large: Snoop Dog- my laid back west legend with longevity. Curtis Mayfield- real original street game. Da Brat- dope female artist. Too $hort- says what he wants, keeps it nasty. 2pac- Influential west coast artist who kept it real. Fillmore Slim- Laced me game and taught me that life is about choices. E40- from Vallejo my old hometown that it worldwide with real game and knowledge. James Brown- got me on my good foot. Heidi Fleiss- female entrepreneur who took risks. Nas- my illmatic lyricist storyteller. Immortal Technique- one of the most empowering lyrics for change, Messy Marv- Bay street game, I like to work out to. Bob Marley- grew up listening to him, keeps me balanced. Mother & Father – taught me to humble and thankful for what I got. Russell Simmons- taught me to “do me” and push for the best and success. Adalia Rose- beautiful young child that stays happy no matter what. David Bach- told me to “pay myself first”.
Is mainstream success a goal with JenRO?
Honestly, I think it is so sad to see artists come and go in the mainstream so quick. One day you are somebody and the next year you’re trash. I’d rather keep my longevity as a successful indie artist with control, than to be a one-hit wonder that hasn’t even completed a full album and get dusted under the rug after one song. I’ve pushed more units than some mainstream artists I know without the disappointment. I’m not saying I would turn down the right contract, but I’m smarter today to just sign anything that would put me in debt.
Hip-Hop has been blasted as anti-gay and anti-woman, what’s it like to be an out female hip-hop performer?
Well, being that I’ve always had a ‘I don’t give a shhh’ attitude since a youngsta, I guess I still don’t give a shhh what people think of me.
I’ve created results and built a wide, diverse audience that proves that it doesn’t matter if I’m a woman or I’m gay. Put me in the booth or on stage next to the some artist that tries to diss and I will prove their beliefs wrong as a female emcee.
I’ve been in the game long enough, when there weren’t many out artists at all. It was a small group of folks and we all knew about each other. It was more controversial back then. Now it is pretty common to see a lesbian artist somewhere performing but the same folks who love girl on girl action, can be the same folks that hate to see a lesbian artist succeed. Overall, the negativity from haters has built me stronger; my music and fans keep me going.
I love who I am as an out artist, no matter what. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Life is like film, we develop positive from the negatives’.
Do you feel there are some in the industry who don’t take your music seriously because you’re out?
There is always danger when you’re unique in the game. Most are afraid to be different but I’ve always been different growing up, in school, and everywhere else.
First, people have to remember that I’m an artist, writer, and performer. My sexuality is one part of me, but it doesn’t justify my quality of music. Everyone has their opinion with music and artists they prefer, some like Jay-Z others want Lil Wayne. Some want Drake, others want 2pac. You can’t please everyone, so I’m here for who ever wants to support my music. . . gay or not. Dangerous can sometimes be exciting and I’m all about taking risks.
How have your experiences influenced your music?
My experiences have definitely molded my music. I found a way to reflect on my experiences and environment and shape them with my words and feelings. What I write about doesn’t have to be happening right now in my life, it could be about my past or about my future, it could be about a story on close friend or about a situation that someone may be going through.
I painted my own picture in life and chose to paint a positive one. In my song, “Mona Lisa” on my new album Street Light, I talk about how I started my life on a rough path in my youth and painted a new one with my music.
Do artists like Jay-Z who has come out in support of marriage equality and the recent coming out of Frank Ocean make things better?
Visibility matters! Any supporters with major names and a voice in the world who support equality, makes things better. People are so quick to follow trends and anything on television. If Lil’ Wayne can get straight men to wear boots with the fur and leopard tights, Jay-Z can get a person to think twice about their view on gay marriage. It is so important to have major role models speak out on justice for LGBT, it opens doors for the voiceless.
After watching the 2006 documentary Pick up the Mic there is a distinction between those who want to be known for more than their sexuality, do you think artistry and sexuality are inextricably linked?
I think that every artist has a right to choose whether they want to be out or not. But I don’t see myself being closeted in my music and be out in my life. I feel like it would not be honest to hide my sexuality in my music. You don’t have to talk about sex to be out in your music but if I want to say that I’m in love, why not say with a woman? But as Miss Money mentioned in the documentary, ‘I’m an artist that happens to be gay’. In my own personal experience, I choose to be out because I feel like we need open artists that aren’t afraid to be out. There’s youth and people in the closet who look up to me because I’m their outlet and they’re not alone.
Any plans to perform in Atlanta?
I love performing in Atlanta!
The first time I performed in ATL was 2004 in Decatur. I’ve hit up a few spots in ATL at the Wet Bar / Club Primal and did the battle there with host Eveleyn Lozada. I think I may be performing at Pride this year.
Update: JenRo will be performing September 1st as part of the Pride Festivities.
What should people expect from a JenRO show?
I love to make a true connection with my audience when I perform. I sign CD’s, posters, and chat with my fans. Depending on the type of show and age, you could expect anything from great beats that will keep you moving to more personal stories and empowering rhymes. Sometimes you may want to expect the unexpected from eccentric dancers to girls in wet t shirts or perhaps a workshop and interview with performance. All shows are different depending on the spot.
Any advice for fans?
Just ‘do you’ in life, be humble but strive for the best. Life is too short!
Get all the latest news on JenRO’s forthcoming album and Atlanta show by following her on Twitter, Facebook and her website.