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Through music, Ricki Monique shares a story of artistic growth

Ricki Monique
Ricki MoniqueWilliam Hawk

by Jeffrey Bissoy-Mattis

May 13, 2022

The Twin Cities’ very own Ricki Monique is a talented rapper and singer. She has quickly become one of the rising bright stars in the local space with songs like “Immortal” (ft. yourbeautifulruin) and “Cereal” (ft. MMYYKK).

One of the greatest joys of reporting on Twin Cities hip-hop is taking the time to connect with artists — truly taking the time to know them and understand their commitment and love of their craft.

It’s with this love that I sat down with Monique before the release of her debut EP Good Seeds, out today. We chopped it about her origins, how she gets camera-ready, her experience as a Black woman from the Midwest, and why she doesn’t quite feel that she’s arrived.

When did your musical journey begin? And when did you start giving it your all?

It began when I was a kid, with my dad. He used to make beats and he would be like, "Let's go bar for bar." Like, "Finish my bar, and rap with me” and be silly in that way. And then I started writing as a kid, but I never shared it or really wanted to show anybody. Honestly, 2020 was when I decided to take my music serious. I tried to push out more, put some sort of intention behind the meaning of my music, and saved up for visuals.

What was happening in your life or things that you were observing that motivated you to say, "You know what, I'm gonna do this right now?"

2018 was the year I graduated from college. I went to school for elementary school teaching. I decided to stop teaching school. And so that year into 2019, I was just working odd jobs. I just wasn't really rocking with the school system. I originally thought I would be able to make a bigger change in education. And I realized I wasn't happy, so I decided to full-force work to find my art and start creating more music. In 2019 I was going to sessions, hanging out, turning up, but I wasn't really taking that time. When the pandemic hit, I was like, "What am I doing with my life?" The pandemic gave me time to think about what I wanted to do and gave me space to explore new music and tap into my own artistry a little more.

How much have the Twin Cities influenced you as an artist, especially when you started to take it more seriously these past few years? And what does the Minneapolis sound and Ricki Monique sound like?

I'm from St. Paul. I was born, like, right down the street from Jimmy Lee. My grandpa built a house on Iglehart. He originally had a house in the Rondo neighborhood, and they got paid to move so that they could build I-94. My grandparents are from Mississippi. But my parents are teachers who always worked in North Minneapolis, so I was always there. And then we moved to Brooklyn Park, but I still was in North Minneapolis all the time. And then going to high school in Robbinsdale. It was just a lot of culture shock for me. I always went to schools in North Minneapolis. So being in all-Black schools having all Black teachers to then going to Robbinsdale where I'm the minority. And the Black kids there are very vocal about their self hatred, very vocal about Black being bad, and vocal about Black women being ugly or wrong played a really big role and hurt me in a lot of ways.

My music is really just me expressing that idea that I came from these Mississippi grandparents who built their own home, moved around the city, have experienced so many different parts of the city, picked up so many different relationships and friendships, and trauma in some ways, but been able to kind of move and heal through it. And I'd say the sound is a mixture of me also growing up listening to Erykah Badu and D'Angelo. Like, Voodoo was big in our household. My parents are older, so they loved Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. I heard all of those instruments in a household where that was prevalent, but I wanted to rap and be able to, like, fuse all of that together, and really talk about my experience. As a Black girl from the Midwest, my story is very different than somebody would hear coming from Atlanta or somebody you would hear coming from LA.

A woman frames her face with her arms
Ricki Monique
William Hawk

I hear your music as almost like an act of defiance in many ways. Like a subtle, yet not-so-subtle act of defiance.

It definitely is, especially when it comes to hip-hop. So many people act like female rap is different. Oh, there's more female rappers nowadays than there were before or you'll listen to a Nicki [Minaj] interview and they always asked her, “How do you feel about there being more female rappers now?” It's not that there's more of us now, it's that more of us are able to get into the spotlight. And so it's definitely an act of defiance, like, I want Black women's voices and stories to be heard, period. And I really want to inspire Black women to tell their story in whatever way they want.

Speaking about the spotlight, you have more than 8,000 Instagram followers, and your songs and videos have been going crazy. How do you build that momentum, step into the spotlight, and galvanize listeners?

The biggest fight has been knowing that I deserve it, or knowing that it's mine. Even after "Immortal" came out, I wasn't expecting that big of a response. But I knew it was something when SZA shared it. I was like, "Not SZA?!"  She did it on her Instagram story, and my whole team and I literally flipped out. I think after dropping that song, I even had this bout of depression, where I was like, "Do I even deserve this? Like, is this even right?” My biggest battle has been telling myself that I deserve this: concepting the music video, saving up the money for it, being in that space performing. Literally, my fight was believing that that was mine, and that I deserved it. The other fight has been believing in my city. Like, I really do believe in Minneapolis, I really do believe in the art scene here. And I believe in our ability to push each other. I'm literally here because people in Minnesota and Minneapolis love me and have shared my music. I hear so many artists and the people in Minneapolis say, "They don't care about us. They don't want to see us win, etc., etc." I had to really believe in my city. I just have to show them that I deserve to win. 

When I think about “Immortal,” the first thing that comes to mind is that you and the camera have an incredible relationship. And what really came through was your storytelling. How do you create that look, and tell these incredible stories?

I swear it's having a team. I tried to make my own music video in 2019, and crashed and burned, because I tried to do everything. I did the costume design, I created and directed it, I did the choreography, and, as you can see, the video's not out. I will say that it will never see the light of day. But that lesson taught me to build a team. Charles Fatunbi and Justin Blake really wanted to tell a story just like mine, and that's why I went to them. I said I really need this to be a story. From there, in regards to looking flawless, having my makeup folks Gabby Clark and Diamond Stower, and then Vintage Garden literally designed every costume. Maddie Rebecca is her name – the jewelry she designed and styled all my looks. I know it sounds corny like I'm plugging people, but I really would not have been able to do this without them. 

I'm extremely uncomfortable in front of the camera. That might be hard to believe, but you should see the test shots that we have. So I made sure to ask Vie Boheme, who is a performer, actress, and singer to be my director of performance. And she literally trained me two months in advance for this. So I just had to say I needed a team, ask God for it. And it literally just came to me. I literally feel like that's my secret. But in regards to knowing that I want to tell a story or the ability to tell a story, I feel like that comes from my childhood of growing up with Black teachers. And having them expose me to griots, expose me to African storytelling, expose me to the power of sharing history orally. And that's really what my whole mission and vision is.

How involved was your team in the way that you style your hair? In each scene, you had a different style. What does Black hair mean to you and what does it represent your music videos?

I actually did my own hair for the music video. That's the one thing I did. Someone else braided my hair, her name is Deja, but I put the beads in and did the styling and everything. I did my own twists. The person who I have as my stylist now seems like she's going to be doing my hair for everything. If she wants me to lean more towards quick weaves or straight hair or like wavy hair, and I was thinking I'm like, my aesthetic is more braids, more twists, more bantu knots, like, more natural stuff. I've always had a very interesting relationship with my hair. I do feel very naked and uncomfortable when my natural hair is out. And that's something healing and growing through. But when I do wear protective styles, like braids, and twists, I feel beautiful. I feel together. And that's something I need to work on. But at the same time, I'm like, “Sh*t is working for me.” I gotta a lot of sh*t right now to worry about, I don't need to be worried about my hair.

Charles was like, "Listen, I know you like to come to work crazy with your hair. Please do that for this video." He was like, "We need to see it." We actually did the shots at the park when I had the braids like a month after everything else. So, I was kind of like, "You know, bro, I'm just gonna wear these braids." And he was like, "You better do something different than just braids, you better add some sh*t." He really pushed me to style my hair. I'm happy he pushed me in that way, because I got to have more fun with my hair.

How long did it take to complete the entire video for “Immortal”?

It took a while. So me and yourbeautifulruin made the song, "Immortal," fall of 2020. And when we had made a few others we were just like, "We can't just like drop this sh*t. We need something to go with it." So in November, I met with Charle and Justin. So it was 2020. And then we actually shot in June 2021. And then as you can see, it came out in 2022. It was a pretty long process. And part of it was I had applied for a grant to see if I'd be able to pay. I didn't get the grant. So I had to literally save my own money for it. But it came very fast. The universe was like, "You said it's happening, so it's gonna happen." So it took a very long time, but it was worth the wait.

Something else I loved from the “Immortal” video is that you turned Minneapolis into a movie. It will be a legitimate artifact that we're gonna have to cherish for a very long time. I don't think I've ever seen Minneapolis depicted like that. How important is it to show where you come from?

It was a very intentional decision. After the uprising and everything, I was just like, "I don't want to focus on trauma, I don't want to focus on sadness. I want to focus on my journey." So originally, the concept was this juxtaposition of an artist who doesn't go after what they know they should and this artist that does, to show the difference in their trajectory and where they go. And I think that's something I was battling for so long. And so my intention will always be to tell my truth and actually share my story.

Who are some artists that inspire or motivate you?

I'm very inspired by NoName. I'm very inspired by Saba, like those artists who tell their story and don't give a f*ck if people understand what they're talking about or not. I don't think my city needs me to sit here and talk about death or Black death. My play will always be "Let's talk about how we can create this soft space for ourselves." How can we curate this beautiful world of our own? 

I also have to ask you about your unique relationship with other Twin Cities artists like XINA. What is it like to have another dope Black woman in your circle also pushing the music scene?

XINA is somebody who I organically connected with. She wanted me to be in her music video back in 2020. So I went with her to a cabin, and that was my first time hanging out with her. And we stayed there and shot her video. And from there, we hit it off. And so people like her, people like Essjay the Afrocentric Ratchet. My dream is to do a joint interview with all of the amazing women, who I'm friends with, who made it out of this city. And for people to say, "How did all of y'all end up making it?" And I want it to come out that the way that we made it was by sticking together and having that support.

XINA supports me in so many different ways. She's somebody that I can call and talk to about what I'm going through, and she will immediately understand what I'm saying. I'm saying with Essjay, like, our experience as as femme artists in the city, we're the same in a lot of ways. Sometimes it's hard to work with no producers, sometimes it's hard to break out and for people to actually understand what you're doing. We understand each other in that way. And so yeah, the relationship I have with XINA is a very sacred one that I am so grateful that I have because she's my reflection. She literally inspires me when she drops something and it blows up and I'm like, "We can do that." But you know, it's very much a “we win” sort of thing. And same for me when I dropped “Immortal.” That was her win, too.

Earlier you mentioned more and more female artists coming up. It's not that they weren't there, obviously, it's just that now they're recognizing their power, and they're just doing their thing. What do you think has been the catalyst for the wave of more female emcees in recent years?

I'm feeling like the platforms are opening up. Like after the callouts [of summer 2020, where women in the Twin Cities publicly shared the names of male sexual abusers] and after people in the city were kind of like, "Nah, we're not going for this. We're not going for that these people are dangerous, or the way that these publications are moving is racist." We finally have this space where these platforms are opening up to us as Black women, when before those doors were closed so hard. So I think we're putting each other on. We will share with each other if this producer is safe to work with. So come work with him, you know. We know that this platform is a good one for us. So, "Hey, come perform the song that we have together with me here." And then people see that person and say like, "Oh sh*t, would you be interested in doing a show here next time?" I think it's really just, we're kind of in that space where we're feeling safer. We're in that space where more doors are opening up for us, and we're inspiring each other and we're pushing in and pulling each other up in that way.

A woman wearing an animal print gown stands with her hands above her head
Ricki Monique's 'Good Seeds' EP artwork

I feel like right now we're going through a golden age like no other right now in Twin Cities hip-hop. Just this year I feel that I've featured 20-plus new artists in my columns. What's your hope for Twin Cities hip-hop in the future?

Honestly, my hope would be for there to be multiple genres of hip-hop celebrated and pulled up in the same space. And I think it's already happening, but you have a lot of alternative hip-hop here as well. Love me some Juice [Lord], love me some Destiny [Roberts], but they're in a very specific pocket of hip-hop. I feel like I'm another pocket of hip-hop. Darko is a completely different pocket of hip-hop, you know. So just seeing those different pockets thrive and for the people who are coming after us not have to do any of the work that we had to do, we just put them there. So that they can start with that information. Rather than people having to learn these lessons all over again, I don't want that. I really want it to be where we can put people on, and we don't have to leave. So my hope for the Twin Cities is that people can make it here, and that we can really build some sort of club for ourselves here.

What role do fans, local media, upstart media, traditional media in the cities play in making sure that you can continue doing the dope stuff that you're doing? How can we be better?

I feel like there's a couple things like one big one is not being complacent. Like, I think a big issue with Minneapolis is that people are fine with being “Minneapolis famous.” But it's, like, our publications could be national. Because we have something different here, our artists here are different than you will find anywhere else. You know, our stories here are different. So if our publications and if our platforms were thinking on that national level, they would be able to take the artists here and put them somewhere else. And we would all be making more money, every one of us. So I think a big thing would be stepping out of that complacent mindset and getting more into that wanting more and ready to hustle and ready to be gritty and not just wanting to be “Minnesota famous.” And of course, I'm always going to say more Black writers  like you and more Black people in higher-up positions. Or even just that incubation concept of helping some young person who wants to start their own platform, learn from the big dogs who have been there. For example, what if The Current were to incubate Radio Vanguard? Like, just that concept of helping people, who are newer to the game, get to a higher level.

Do you feel as if you've arrived, like you've made it? And if no, what's missing?

I don't feel like I've arrived. I feel like I've arrived to something. I had my friend send me a reel yesterday. It was like, when you're in your house, and then you realize this is what you've prayed for. I had that moment like, "Oh sh*t, I've prayed to be where I'm at right now." I'm constantly thinking about the next step. I forget that all the time. But, I think what's missing is the tour, you know, I want to live somewhere else for a while, and just experience that. I want to meet more artists to collaborate with. I have so many producers, so many artists who I know I'm going to collaborate with soon. And financially, I'm not doing the best. It looks like I am, but I'm figuring that out. What does it look like to be able to sustain your life monetarily as an artist? To full-time be able to do music, that will be amazing. What does that look like for me? And how can that happen without me selling myself? There's a lot of things that I feel are missing, but I wouldn't necessarily say they're missing. I feel like at this moment, they're not here yet. But it's coming. I can feel it coming.

Lastly, where does Ricki Monique see herself in a few years?

That question! My friend's mom asked me, “So what do you want to do with this music stuff?” And I was like, "What do you mean?” She was like, "What do you what do you see yourself doing in the long term?" And I literally said, "You know, just making the music." She's like, "Okay, but what is that going to do?" Basically, I went home and I took a nap. I was like, "You just stressed me out, I'm sleeping."

In the next three years, I have a vision wall in my room. So I'm referring to that right now. God willing, God willing, I will have my own apartment space, you know, somewhere warm, where I don't have to experience the winters here. Be able to help my mom out. Be able to create, really expand on what I'm already doing. I can't wait to grow as a writer. I can't wait to grow in my ear as a musician, and grow with yourbeautifulruin and make more amazing work. He and I are just starting. We're at our baby stage. I can't wait to be kids with him. I can't wait to be teenagers with him. In three years, I hope to have grown in my craft and to be somewhere where I'm confident as an emcee, because I'm still still gaining it. It's not here fully yet. And I hope to also be in a place where my onstage performance can reflect what you said about the storytelling piece. I would love to bring that theater and that storytelling to the stage as a part of my sets as well. So dreaming about what that looks like for me is something that I'm excited about in the next few years to see what that turns into for me.

The Good Seeds EP is out now. Stream it wherever you listen to music!

Ricki Monique opens for Dua Saleh at Fine Line Music Cafe on Friday, May 20. Tickets

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.