The modern day global network of connected resources we commonly refer to as “the internet” (and occasionally as “a series of tubes”) has a wide variety of information both useful and useless, but it took more than a couple of searches to get the 411 on Angelica ‘Nefertiti’ Strong. I’ve had a copy of Nefertiti’s “L.I.F.E. (Living In Fear of Extinction)” for over 20 years now, and while that doesn’t pre-date my time as a hip-hop writer, it does pre-date a time when there was a Google search engine (that came along in 1998).
There’s an unfortunate amount of hip-hop history that has yet to be entered from the early to mid-90’s, because even those of us who lived through it and used the internet didn’t have a checklist that said “Nobody has made a bio on Nefertiti yet. Somebody should get on that.” Everybody just focused on what they were into, although some archives did try to collect hip-hop resources as a whole.
Anyway after about a dozen searches I can tell you a few facts about Ms. Strong worth knowing. She was born in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles at a young age, and developed her poetical skills on the scene to the point she got noticed and signed to PolyGram/Mercury. It’s claimed that her debut album “L.I.F.E.” sold over 500,000 copies – and we’ll get to reviewing it in a moment – but some may remember her acting career more than her musical one. Her most memorable role may have been Alma in the Mario Van Peebles directed movie “Panther,” where she lays down the law to the growing Black Panther Party that women need to have a role equal to the men.
Nefertiti’s career in front of the camera eventually transitioned to a role behind the lens, and her stay in L.A. eventually transitioned to residence in Brooklyn. The music career is largely forgotten except for brief notes in various bios, but what struck me as I was doing my research for this review was that Strong is a stomach cancer survivor, which was noteworthy enough for a feature in the New York Daily News, which itself makes just the slightest mention of her rap career. I actually had to check and double check just to make sure the rapper Nefertiti was the “Lance Armstrong of stomach cancer,” but the most telling sign of all was the photo of her in the Daily article. The face is undoubtedly the same as the one on the back cover of “L.I.F.E.,” although chemotherapy and radiation had taken their toll.
I can’t find any information about how she’s doing since the Daily’s story on her in 2012, though I’m hopeful that the lack of a “R.I.P.” in my many searches means she’s still in remission and doing well. I found a Facebook profile that could be hers (with three mutual friends) but it’s not my business to pry into her personal life, so I won’t share it here. I was convinced enough it was her when said friends were all emcees. Now that I know she’s been all over the U.S., blessed with success above and beyond her music career, and that she’s even making a difference for fellow cancer sufferers and survivors I feel properly equipped to talk about the blip in her life (and mine) that “L.I.F.E.” has become. I’ve added more information in 2014 than was available on her in 1994, so if the day comes where someone has to write the obituary, all of the elements have been tied together in one knot. Let’s all pray that day isn’t for a long time to come.
The thing that struck me right away listening to “L.I.F.E.” was that the version of “Miss Amutha Nature” on the album was not the one I remembered from MTV/BET back in the day. The album version produced by DJ Pooh certainly has that early 1990’s West coast music video remix, which features jazzy piano breaks and gives the somewhat militant Nefertiti a softer and more accessible edge. It doesn’t completely blunt her edge though: “Not from the sewer but straight out the gutter/that’s right you heard what I said, I didn’t stutter.” Et tu Das EFX? She also has a message for her foes: “This planet ain’t big enough for you and me both, so I guess somebody gotta get whacked.” Ouch!
“Miss Amutha Nature” was also featured on a Mercury Records compilation called “Dred in the Head” – probably a promo showcasing their current roster of artists at the time. Pooh plays a prominent role there as well, producing Threat’s “Let the Dogs Loose.” The three seem to have a lot of ties as Threat is credited as a writer on her song “Don’t Drink the Water,” and Pooh again hooks up the West coast funk as the lyrics get spit with her typical bravado.
“Many females wanna be me, sister Nefertiti
Don’t, take no mess from no creed nor sex
So, be out my face with that mumbo jumbo bullshit
you comin to me, with
Cause I can sense a serpent from a mile, so I just
put on my big black boots and start stompin
Cause I can play that crazy bitch, with a uzi clip
And that’s just to let you know, that you can’t fuck with
my style, so don’t even try, I’m the queen of my tribe…”
Even though Threat might have penned the rhymes, Nefertiti makes it all her own with conspiracy theory raps like “who you think you foolin with that phony Constitution/tell it to a child that don’t know no better” and ominous warnings about the ozone layer shrinking. Though she was repping California at the time, there are East coast connections throughout the CD. Diamond D and the YAGGFU Front produce “Family Tree,” D handles the dance friendly and uptempo “Come Down Baby” all by himself, and the late Guru (Keith Elam) produces and cameos on “No Nonsense.”
Guru: “Suckers, just don’t get the picture
We’ll hit you up quick, and the crew is nuff sick
So stick to, stick to the point pass the blunt
cause chumps are ridin on the joint
Murderers they come in all shapes and sizes
Evil fools meet doom, as my crime booms loudest
How’s this, for wreckin shop, cause you should stop”
As a result “L.I.F.E.” actually becomes a slice of life from the hip-hop scene of 1994 from the East to the West, painting a picture with broad and vivid strokes transporting you like a time machine to days gone by – even if you weren’t around for those halcyon hip-hop days. Random tracks like the A.J. & Chucky produced “Walkin’ Da L.I.F.E.” give you the sound and style of the times almost perfectly. They also produce “Visions of Nefertiti,” the album’s only other single, where Nefertiti somewhat accurately states “I guess I’ll bust another rhyme/I’m way before my time/my lyrics causing you to synchronize your mind.” The Rakim sample ties it all together.
So did “L.I.F.E.” actually go on to sell the 500,000 units at least one Nefertiti bio suggests? I’d certainly hope so, but female hip-hop artists have at times (unfairly) been a tough sell, although Nefertiti kicks lyrics as hard and quick as any of her male contemporaries then or now. The fact this album is missing the better version of “Miss Amutha Nature” seems like it would hurt, but buyers of the tape or CD were probably not aware of that fact until long after removing the shrinkwrap. It’s not as though the video for the song advertised it as a remix. Nefertiti’s positive but uncompromising (some might argue militant) hip-hop comes through on tracks like the Pooh produced “My Soul Good” and suggests she may have a bigger audience now among those who discover this forgotten gem than she did way back then.
“Some wanna stop my livin, I know I make ’em mad
Everlastin, so good, trouble I had
Facin a blast from the past I lower the last
No ability to sleep on me I’m everlastin
So I soldier up intellect I’m goin for the throat
Note for note, in every word I wrote”