Are Women Saving New York Rap?

The New York rap scene is bubbling thanks to women. We sat down with Lola Brooke, Maiya The Don, Scar Lip, and Kenzo B to discuss their careers, the future of hip-hop, and more.

Complex Original/Rasaan Wyzard

“Women [are] saving music, that’s a fact,” Brooklyn rapper Maiya The Don says decidedly from her elevated swivel chair. She’s sitting in Studio 3 of Complex’s office with Scar Lip, Lola Brooke, and Kenzo B—an assortment of Brooklyn and Bronx rappers who reflect what New York City sounds like right now. The women-led rap wave coming out of the city today is a combination of bombastic bars mixed with witty punchlines, creative hooks, and uncontainable energy that is often replicated, but never duplicated.

They are all aware of each other’s existence, and some have already formed relationships (Lola, Maiya, and Scar Lip took a photograph together at Hot 97’s Summer Jam this year), but they have never come together as a collective to discuss the state of New York rap and their place in it. The lack of complete familiarity with one another made introductions necessary, but once the conversation got underway, it felt like the chemistry was natural between them. Maiya and Lola bonded instantly after Maiya revealed that she would listen to “Don’t Play With It” to hone her own rapping before the track went viral. And Scar gave Kenzo her flowers for being pivotal to the BX drill scene, a compliment that the rest of the women co-signed. The passion exuding from each artist felt palpable in the room, as each woman beamed when another would talk about their proudest moments.

“Even if we wasn't together in this room individually, we would've been special regardless,” Brooke says. “Now that we are together, it's a bigger moment for sure, but we all have individual moments and now that we're together, that sets the tone.

New York being a dominant rap city is nothing new. Powerhouse women like Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Remy Ma have led the scene and set a solid foundation. This emerging generation of New York superstars is powerful, with the potential to get New York back to its number one spot, and each artist is doing it their own way. "This group is special because we all come from different backgrounds," Scar Lip adds with authority. "Everybody got different stories, different struggles."

Lola Brooke and Maiya The Don are making their own brand of traditional Brooklyn rap, with a mix of boom bap and BK drill inspirations. Scar Lip is a product of the Bronx and emulates her idol DMX in her demeanor and ferocious lyrical style, while Kenzo B is one of the pioneering women in the BX drill scene, getting her first major break when she was only 17 years old in 2021 with “Bump It.” And while Ice Spice wasn't present at the shoot, she's also helping push New York rap, crossing over into other genres and collaborating with Taylor Swift and PinkPantheress, and landing major placements on the Barbie soundtrack. 

“I just feel like the females right now in New York are making way more noise than the guys, so that's really just it,” Kenzo says. “The females are the ones who are coming with different sounds and different vibes and stuff. And we do more collabs than males, too.”

In a rare group conversation, we sat down with Lola Brooke, Scar Lip, Maiya The Don, and Kenzo B for a roundtable discussion on how women are saving music, what they’ve learned from each other, and how this group will keep the city on top going forward.

Are women saving New York rap?

Kenzo B: Yes.

Lola Brooke: Women are saving music, period.

Maiya The Don: Women saving music. That's a fact.

Scar Lip: Women, we give birth to people. We started life. What you think? We didn't start this? We do. Without women, how would there be male rappers? How would it be male rappers if it ain't come out of us? Not disrespecting male rappers. I love you. Please don't come against me, but we do. 

KB: I just feel like the females right now in New York are making way more noise than the guys, so that's really just it. The females are the ones who's coming with different sounds and different vibes and stuff. And we do more collabs than males, too.

SL: We just so unapologetic. All of us on this stage is so unique and we deserve this, and if any niggas mad, what the fuck could they do about it? We talented. God blessed us with this talent. Come on, Lola.

LB: Yes. Don't play with us. Do not play with us, so back the fuck up.

New York and hip-hop have also not been as welcoming to women, historically. Do you think that things are starting to change for the better in that regard, especially as women are running the scene?

MTD: Yeah, I feel like before women were kind of used as an accessory. That's why Eve was with Ruff Ryders and they had [Lil] Kim with Junior M.A.F.I.A., and they had Amil with Rocafella. And it's like just a bunch of pretty girls, but now it's like they stepped out and they did what they had to do to be like, "Look, we could do it. Make it sexy, make it cute, keep it fly," and now here we are. It's much more welcoming.

SL: Because people need to understand, they didn't even allow women to vote. Women are now dominating in every way. They say we can't do this. We can't do that. We are different in every way. We are aggressive. We are nice. We sweet, charming, warming. We every place. At the end of the day, they didn't want us in. Now we in and we here. 

LB: They have no choice but to let us in, so I feel like that. They ain't let us in.

KB: We kicking doors down.

Whose careers did you all study when honing your craft?

LB: It's a lot. I started off with 50 [Cent], [Lil] Wayne, Meek [Mill]. [Lil] Kim, Foxy [Brown], Nicki [Minaj]. I tap into Michael Jackson every now and then. I tap into Beyoncé every now and then, as well as Janet [Jackson]. I'm like a student and I'm OK with being a student in the game, and I'm just watching. I'm just trying to make sure that I polish my craft as much as I can.

SL: DMX. I came up in a different [way], I write poems and stuff. I didn't start just rapping. I started with poetry. I was inspired by DMX growing up. I would listen to DMX because I felt like he was relatable. If you hear my music, it comes out angry and like that because I could express myself through my music. And DMX was a big inspiration. That was the number one. I listened to a few cats here and there, like a couple of shorties, but the one person I liked out of the women was Lauryn Hill, that's a queen.

I embody that queen. She could talk about love. She could rap, but then she could talk praise the Lord. That's Lauryn Hill. She touches your soul. When I was a little girl, I looked at the TV, I said, "She look like me." Motherfuckers look at niggas and want to look like that nigga. I look at Lauryn, I say, "She look just like me. It's OK to look like this."

MTD: When I decided I was going to rap for real, I listened to my favorite albums front to back and just was writing notes. What made this a good album? What's making this good music? How does it make me feel? So like Jay-Z, Rick Ross. [Ross is] like my favorite person ever. He make me feel expensive. You could be riding a 2001 Toyota Corolla and he going to make that feel like a Maybach. You know?

That's just real inspirational. I love that feel. Even Invasion of Privacy, that's my favorite album. I love that album. Shit like that. Missy [Elliott], tapping into different sounds and cadences. Because I listen to different people for different things and I pull from everyone. Anything I hear, I'm like, "Mmm." I like to say that I'm inspired by most. 

I like to take everything like, even Lola, when I first started rap, I made a playlist. Real shit. I made a playlist of a bunch of songs to send the producers. Like, "This is what I want to sound like” and “Don't Play With It” was on it, and this is probably a year before it went viral.

LB: What?

MTD: Yeah, facts. I got texts to my phone between me and my manager like, "Yo, this is hard. What the fuck?" Swear to God. 

KB: Feel like my situation was a little bit different. I love music. I love listening to music and stuff, but I was more inspired to be a rapper by my older brother. I think I wrote my first few bars when I was seven years old and it was about a bowl of cereal, more or less, but my brothers were amping it OD.

I was inspired by that because my brother was already doing music. He was going to the studio. He just started his career like that. He wanted to build and stuff, and he was just coming home playing my mom music and stuff, and one day we was just like, "We going to try it." So we did it.

Despite all of you having these multidimensional sounds, I feel like you've touched drill somehow. Would you consider yourselves drill artists?

MTD: I'm not a drill rapper.

SL: I ain't no drill rapper. I did the drill. I tapped into drill. I'm many styles, if you see my freestyles, it is many styles. I just did a drill song to show niggas, "Oh, I can do drill, too, but I can also rap." Feel me? I could do multiple things. Ain't nothing wrong with it.

KB: I feel like everybody's tapping in with the drill wave because, number one… I feel like I can speak for everybody, but correct me if I'm wrong. We all know that was a way to get lit. Like that's the easiest way because people who really can't rap for real is getting lit with a drill [beat], so that's how I looked at it when I started. I was like, "It's a whole bunch of people getting clout, getting deals, getting money and they can't rap for real," and then I'm looking like, "All right, I really rap and this is the least of my worries making a drill song." You feel me?

So then I did it and then it went how I expected it to go, and then that was like, I feel like what separates me from being just a drill artist and an artist is that when my fans are starting to tell me they getting tired of the drill shit, I have other shit to offer them. I have other sounds to give them. You feel me? I'm not just stuck in that box, so that's how I feel. I feel like that's the same for everybody in here.

MTD: Right. I'm not drill rapper. I never liked a drill song. I feel like “Tefly” got drill elements just cause the drums and the 808 that's in it, but I'm not rapping in that style. It's nothing wrong with drill, though.

SL: It's just sad because the [artists] that's dissing [with drill], they dissing and it's like, that’s [why drill is like this] now. It's like what you got next? Let me give you a beat. Could you rap over that? You dissing, but it's like, come on, bro.

KB: It's not the dissing part that's the problem. It's not being able to do anything else except dissing that's the problem.

You've each had that moment where you were able to land this meteoric hit and then ride that into creating a career. But once you got into the industry, did any aspects of fame disappoint you?

KB: I feel like the gimmicks and the fake shit, I'm just not into that at all. I'm not. That's the only thing that turned me off about the industry. I feel like a lot of shit is fake. A lot of shit goes on behind closed doors that as a fan you would never see, but as an artist, you really get the tea on it, so that's what I don't like.

What do you think, Maiya?

MTD: I think the politics are very political. I just want to make music, but it's political. Everybody is in it for themselves, which I understand, but I think I'm still getting used to it, and I'm just really focused on remaining myself, being true to who I am, and just being humble. Just remember what I'm doing it for, so I don't even really pay attention to the bullshit. I push that shit to my manager. 

LB: I feel like people just use you a lot. A lot of people behind the scenes. They can tell you it's this, but the whole time it's that, and I just be like, "Yo, why you ain't just be real about that?" You feel me? It's always “What could I get from you” and not an equal exchange.

KB: I feel like that shit is like everybody you meet got an agenda, whether it's intentional or not. Somebody could be genuine as fuck, and they just know you're their rapper friend that go out every weekend, and now they feel entitled to going out with you and being on your guest list.

SL: Then the motherfuckers want to take your place and shit. Like, "Hold on, shorty. What's this about?" 

LB: Family be the biggest thing for me. I felt like if I could just be rich without the fame, I would definitely pick that because you first get your feet in the door, and then all eyes are on you to do things, and you got so much hate coming from your family. The entitlements be so crazy, and then you looking at it like, "I don't mind helping you, but I got to help me first."

KB: I would just like to say, you know how they be like, "Yo, people get money and change"? It's like that.I feel like having money just exposes all the opportunists, and all the leeches and shit, munchers and shit in your life, and that's when you just got to choose. It's either, "I want to keep making my bag or I want to let this person be the downfall of me."

LB: But then again you got to remember not to get in your head because there are some people around you that's actually genuine, and then you'll catch yourself distancing yourself from people that really love you because you don't know which way to go, so you got to be careful with that shit, too.

So looking ahead now, what's something that you're really excited about coming up and what's something that is giving you anxiety or that you may be nervous about in the future? 

LB: I'm looking forward to just health. Health is a big thing for me. I just want to make sure I can stay healthy to be wealthy. Make sure my family is straight and I could keep the ball rolling. I could keep continuing to be as creative as I possibly can, and there's nothing in the way to stop me. Without health, there's nothing to get done. There's no chores if there's no health, for sure. So that's the big thing for me for the future.

What about something you’re anxious or scared about?

LB: That part is over. The anxiety and being scared comes because of doubts, and when you finally get your feet in it's like, "Listen. I'm here." So all that goes out the window, that doesn't matter no more because now even if you are scared, these people don't think you scared. So what you going to do? You going to let them down because you going to let yourself down, so you got to keep going.

Scar, what about you?

SL: I'm about to sign my deal. A big deal, by the way.

But I'm just nervous because it's like, I've been rapping for a minute, but on my own and it's like now I'm about to. I feel like when you sign, you in the industry now, so that's giving me anxiety.

LB: Well, you already in. You already in before the deal. You get to say that, before the deal.

SL: And now I get to see, I'm about to do amazing things. I got a great team, a great support system now, and I'm just excited, but just nervous because just like Lola said, no doubt. I'm scared to fail. 

LB: And that's the biggest problem. You can't be scared to fail because we all fail.

SL: I don't think I'm going to fail. Some niggas can't afford it. Some people's life is on the line. I feel like my life is on the line with this shit, and it got to happen for me.

Maiya, what about you?

MTD: I think I'm excited to drop more music. I'm still a baby. I've been doing this for three days, but just dropping more music, perfecting my craft, hopefully putting out a project. That's how I deal, too. You know what I'm saying? And yeah, just make myself proud, because that's the most important thing is that I'm proud of myself.

And Kenzo?

KB: Mindset. I'm excited to drop more music. I got a project coming out soon, so yeah, I just dropped a single, so I'm excited about that, too, but I do have anxiety about upcoming performances. That's the only thing.

LB: Why? You got so much stage presence. You shred it.

KB: I have stage fright in real life, like for real, but I don't know why.

LB: But how do you feel on the stage?

SL: Do you feel it after it's over?

KB: It depends. It depends on the crowd. I feel like the crowd got to make me feel comfortable on the stage.

LB: Nah, but you got it though. I remember I used to feel the same way, and I was told like, "If you believe in yourself because everybody else believes in you, then when they stop [believing in you], [you’re] going to stop [believing too]. But you got this because you top two, and not two.

What’s next for New York rap?

MTD: Bro, hip-hop is back.

KB: I was about to say, I feel like this is the time where all the non-rappers are not going to live in this because it's some shit going on right now. Everybody's going through their transition. Like I said with drill, everybody got deals. It's not the deal part. So now it's like, "What do everybody have next to offer?" Niggas not tolerating the music that we was dropping last year around this time.

They expecting new shit from us, so I feel like it is either a lot of people going to start falling off or a lot of people going to start elevating and developing as real artists type of vibes.

SL: There's no more room for the fake no more. Real music is back. New York is back. Remember, I told them? Listen. I did tell them to get out. I feel like after I told them to get out, they got out. So let's be real, and now it's like we about to have a field day in this shit because now we back and that other shit they was doing, there's no room. It's our time now.

MTD: Yeah. I feel like music definitely starting to get a little bit better.

LB: Yeah, it's starting, for sure. [There was] no substance. Like you got to keep the substance in because that's what keep the world around.

What about you, Maiya? What do you think is next for New York City rap?

Hopefully, me.

Photographer: Rasaan Wyzard
Stylist: Christine Nicholson; Devon Milan for Maiya The Don
Hair: Ursula Stephen; Jalene Rodriguez for Maiya The Don
Makeup: Tiffany Luccio; Khadidra Mclarty for Lola Brooke
Market Assistant: Joyce Onuorah 

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