If you’ve been paying any attention to hip-hop’s ever-blossoming independent scene, you’ve come across a particular femcee from Virginia named Kula Voncille. Her nickname is “Queen Kong” – certainly a fitting name for a lyricist that puts together music and concepts with primal instinct. Her YouTube and Soundcloud pages are buzzing, with tracks like “Keep It Queen”, “Little Brown Girl”, and her famous Biggie tribute, “The 10 Parent Commandments” (an honest lyrical exercise about parenthood, set to the beat of “The 10 Crack Commandments”). I recently got a chance to kick it with the up-and-coming fire-spitter, to talk about her life as a mother, student, employee…and hip-hop artist.
Hip-Hop Forum: Let’s start with location, location, location. Virginia is great in hip-hop history, bringing us some of the most influential artists in the game. What things do you take away from the state that gave us Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Pharrell, N.E.R.D., The Clipse, Skillz, and others?
Kula Voncille: It’s funny. One of the main things I hear is that you have to leave VA to make it in VA. You won’t get on in VA because VA don’t support VA. You literally have to go to NYC, LA, Atlanta, or somewhere else to even get a buzz, then come back. I hate to believe it because I see so much great talent right here in VA.
Plus, we’re literally the midpoint on the east coast between the north and the south. You would think that being on the path would make good reason to develop as a talent hot spot, but I guess not. With VA having so many dope artists, it’s disheartening that we feel we gotta go elsewhere to make a statement.
Hip-Hop Forum: What has been your experience with the business, or the “ugly” side of the music industry?
Kula Voncille: It’s only ugly if you don’t know, because that’s how you get burned. I can handle it. I call it being “two-brained”. I taught myself to be two-brained when handling the business. I cut off all the fun-loving, creative stuff, and go strictly analytical.
The business, the brand, is most important, so I make sure I work on my business everyday. I learn something everyday. Read books, watch videos, anything to increase my business acumen. In my current studies in industrial technology, I’ve had classes like business marketing and consumer behavior. I didn’t expect it to be one of my greatest aides in my hip-hop music business, but it certainly has.
I’ve learned that you have to learn and develop yourself, and never trust anyone! I don’t care if they tell you the sky is blue, make sure you check. Also, as a female, you have to be overly business-minded – you have to be a little bit of a bitch to get them to respect and respond to you accordingly. Not an “angry-diva” bitch, but moreso the “no nonsense” bitch.
Hip-Hop Forum: How long have you been on the mic?
Kula Voncille: I’ve been rhyming since high school as a hobby, but before now, I hadn’t written or recorded in years. My daughter really sparked my interest in it again. I would rap on top of songs on the car, or over beats at home, and she told me, “Mommy, you’re a good rapper. You should be on the radio.” She was right. I knew that.
Hip-Hop Forum: Who did you listen to growing up? Who do you listen to now? Who are your influences?
Kula Voncille: My first vinyl was “La Di Da Di” by Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh. One of my favorites, easy. I used to rock hard with Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One. Then, I was in on the De La Soul/Jungle Brothers movement. Then, there’s Jeru Tha Damaja, Redman, Method Man.
I wasn’t a huge Jay-Z fan because his lyrics were always so one-sided. Always money, bitches, and the newest material stuff. Honestly, if Notorious B.I.G. was still alive, Jay-Z wouldn’t have the “king of NYC” title. Biggie was influential to me. I’m not a big 2Pac fan, but I’m a huge Eminem fan. A “stan” even. Then you got Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Andre 3000, T.I.
I’m a huge fan of lyrical content. If you’re witty and can put it together nice, I’m in. Not to mention Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, & MC Lyte. My favorites.
Hip-Hop Forum: How do these artists influence your style?
Kula Voncille: They’re all amazing emcees. They master the audience. Because of them, I’m very strategic when it comes to my music. I reach for my concepts. I got a song called “In A Bubble”, where I draw inspiration from the throwback movie “The Boy In The Bubble”.
In the movie, the little boy was so terminally sick, he had to be kept in a plastic bubble just to keep him alive. In my song, I went into this huge healthcare metaphor about how I’m so sick on the mic, I should be in a bubble. I like to do that occasionally. I can take take a metaphor and stretch it out the entire length of a song. That type of stuff to draw the audience in.
Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, & Kanye West – I listen to their music 5-6x, and get something different from it everytime. That’s the type of artist I strive to be.
Hip-Hop Forum: So what’s next on the schedule for Queen Kong?
Kula Voncille: My mixtape is coming out soon – “Queen Kong Mixtape 2.0”. What’s crazy about that is that the mixtape was actually done last August, but it didn’t have that perfected sound I needed to put it out. At the time, I was opening up for Slick Rick, and I felt that I needed to have something to “push” as far as product, so I kinda rushed it. It was great lyrically, but not my best. So I got the chance to ‘redo some tracks, and redo some mixing.
I also want to do more shows out of town, get new exposure. Perfect stage presence. We’re also tapping into merchandising – t-shirts, hats, custom lighters, some other dope novelty items.
Hip-Hop Forum: How difficult is family and relationship life for you, tackling so many things at this time – mother, college student, full-time employee, full-time hip-hop artist?
Kula Voncille: It’s extremely difficult. My children need so much attention right now at this stage in their development, and there’s no way I’d ever ignore the joys of motherhood. It’s crazy busy. As far as relationships, I’m understanding more and more that alot of guys can’t handle my hustle. It makes them insecure to be with a woman holding her own in a male-dominated industry.
I’m always around dudes – dudes at the studio, dudes on the business side, working with dudes on my shows – guys can’t handle it.
Hip-Hop Forum: How different is the studio experience for a femcee than that of a male artist?
Kula Voncille: It’s different, but you gotta make it work. I know if I knew some great local female producers & engineers, I wouldn’t have to worry about some of the stuff I deal with regularly. Some guys constantly flirt & hit on you, which is wack and annoying. Some of the girlfriends of the guys can’t help but interrupt studio sessions – that I pay for – for the most frivolous things because they don’t trust their boyfriends/husbands. It all takes away from my vibe, my creativity, my energy, and I know I wouldn’t have too deal with that type of shit if I had a few dope female producers/engineers close by.
I like a studio that promotes the artist’s creativity. Let’s battle in the booth – guy #1 bring his verse, next guy thinking of his fire, and I come in hard to crush the track. (I always go hardest at the dudes, just for competition’s sake.) – That’s how I want the studio to be. None of the bullshit.
Hip-Hop Forum: Before you leave us, how did you get the chance to open up for Slick Rick?
Kula Voncille: Ha ha! I knew that wouldn’t slip past you. It was an open mic contest in Petersburg, sponsored by the people at the hip-hop radio station at Virginia State. They were putting on a show and Slick Rick was the headliner. They held an open mic contest to open up for him.
I literally had to get off work, find a babysitter, and drive a hour and a half to get there. Had to go to a nearby spot too change because the contest spot didn’t have anywhere for me to change. After all that, I went in there ready to win. The other contestants were OK, but I had my eyes set on the opportunity. Plus, their energy wasn’t as prominent as my own, so that gave me a leg up. I won that night, and I opened up for Slick Rick.
Hip-Hop Forum: Kula, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for sitting down with us, talking hip-hop & life.
Kula Voncille: Thank you so much for featuring me, this was great.
– Warnell Jones is from Detroit, MI. He loves to write about music, art, social change, and life.