One of the quirkiest personalities to have graced Bongo’s airwaves, Vanessa Mdee was born in Tanzania and grew up in France and the United States. This cosmopolitan sensibility has made her a singular figure in Bongo’s radiosphere. Every weekday evening, from 7 – 10pm, Ms. Mdee brings the Hip Hop panache of a New Yorker, the geeky sophistication of a Parisian and the street-smartness of an Arushan, to her prime time show on 102.6 Choice FM’s The HitList. Her self-belief and, one might say youthful hubris, inspired her, at 19, to win MTV VJ Search, drop out of law school and become one of the foremost presenters in the region for MTV, being involved in such high profile shows like ‘The Fix with Fix’, the MAMAs and Samba Fever: The Road to the Carnival in Brazil. At only 22, Ms. Mdee is armed with the confidence of a veteran. An astute student of music, she promises to transform Tanzania’s airwaves for years to come.
When did you fall in love with Hip Hop
I fell in love with Hip Hop when I first heard Michael Jackson have a guy rhyme on his song. I was…five years old and I remember, ‘Jam Jam/Here comes the man/Hot dam/The big boy stands,’ you know what I mean? It was a stupid rhyme…but I still have the video tape. My brother, who is a few years older than me, would rap to it. He’d have his hat turned back and he would rap to this, ‘Jam Jam/Here comes the man.’ And I was like, ‘what is that, you know?’ It was different. Michael Jackson had a high pitched voice, singing, and then you had this guy come on and rap. I was like, ‘damn! That sounds good.’ But, I don’t even know his name…Whoever did that rhyme, he is not necessarily the best rapper in the world, but he is my first introduction to a [Hip Hop] rhyme. So, therefore, I fell in love with Hip Hop when I first heard it. And ever since, it’s…become an acquired taste…This acquired taste has turned into my love for Kanye, my love for Jay…and their growth…It’s just that ability to put words together…to have them flow…All rappers are poets!
Her Top Five
You remember Lauryn from the Fugees? She was that girl who held her own with the guys. And you were like, ‘damn! Who is she?’ Lbougie! You know? And then she came out with her solo album. I was like, ‘this girl is talented.’ This is why. You could still hear LBougie in her music [but now] you could hear the passion, you could hear the growth…you could hear her vulnerability. And it was an all-rounded, greatly produced album. Because she wasn’t afraid to say the things that people didn’t want her to say […] She was seeing a man who was controversial, she spoke about love, she spoke about war, she spoke about the industry, she spoke about all these things that girls didn’t talk about. And you know, she wasn’t no Lil’ Kim. I love Kim and she also held her own when she was with…Junior M.A.F.I.A. But she lacked class…She felt like she had to have this whole X-rated [persona] to be cool. No! Lauryn was poetic. And, you know, every time I listen to that album. I feel her. I cry sometimes because it is so real. And it leads into my second favorite album…
Lauryn Hill – MTV Unplugged No. 2.0
This was just before she went a little kookoo. I remember my friend Sizwe, he is a VJ, asking Wyclef, ‘what’s going on?’ And ‘Clef turned to the camera and he said to everyone, ‘Please pray for Lauryn. Because she needs help. I’ve tried to reach out to her,’ and he starts speaking to the camera, he says, ‘if you are listening to this Lauryn, please pick up your phone and call me. You need help.’ He actually says she is bipolar and she needs help…I have these random rants on Twitter where I am like, ‘let’s find Lauryn!’ Because I miss her so much and she is super-talented…She is a great MC. So, yeah, MTV unplugged…Amazing!
Kanye West – College Dropout
There was that one song, ‘All Falls Down’ feat Syleena Johnson, it came out when I was in college. And the second verse goes, ‘she’s so self conscious/she has no idea what she’s doing in college…the concept of school seems so securrre,’ he speaks about everything that I was going through, you know? ‘That major that she majored in don’t make no money/But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny’ I was there and I was like…’oh my God, he is talking about me!’ I was, like, ‘damn!'[…] I went out and bought the whole album and I listened to it. And you know what Kanye did for me? Kanye did what other artists weren’t doing for me at the time. Kanye was fearless, he still is. He was fearless but he is…such a creative genius. And it doesn’t take much listening, you know, he doesn’t try and put you in a place where, you are, like, ‘Ohhh! I feel shattered’ [in a mock exhausted voice]. No! he is just talking about all these things that people are afraid to talk about and he is putting it out there. I don’t know…the emotion, he was just so hungry, he had just come out of an accident where he had almost lost his life, and he sampled music that he loved from back in the day…the production was stuupid. And Kanye had been in the game for a while but this was the breakout and he was like, ‘you know what? I am running with this.’ And this is what I think that everyone should do once…You know, opportunities, they don’t create themselves. You have to create them and Kanye created an opportunity for himself and he ran with it. Opportunity came in the form of a mishappening. He was in an accident. It almost took his life. But you know what, through the wire, he sang.
John Mayer is a very soulful white boy. And he has some guts. And, okay, you’ve heard of the recent scandal, where he speaks about not wanting to ever associate himself with black women, which I am not too happy about. But John Mayer speaks to my heart. You know sometimes…I switch on my Ipod and, without thinking, I go straight to John Mayer’s Continuum, and click on song number…’Gravity‘ That’s just John Mayer. I want to listen to him and I can’t explain it. That’s what he does to me.
Super-dope album. Pharell Williams was a total geek…It sounds like one of those [records] him and his friends did when they were high. They were, like, ‘you know what? We have nothing to do. We are gonna make music. And if we strike a gold-mine, hey, we are so fucking lucky.’ And they did. And they will never make an album like that [again]. Never. Because they had no girls. They weren’t getting no pussy. So they were inspired. So they dreamt about having girls. And they dreamt about having money and cars and whatever…That’s what I love about ‘In Search Of.’ It’s such a fun album that [Pharell] decided to make with his best friends.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid You need to go out there listen to her stuff…She’s signed to Bad Boy, and you know what the fate of Bad Boy is, everyone who’s signed [to them] is either dropped or album record sales [makes a sound that resembles a plane nosediving] or Diddy just steals your shot. But the thing is, she does her own production. So she is an amazing 24 year old…who is from a small town. So I think she was forced to inspire herself…so she is light years ahead of all of us and her music is amazing.
I am also listening to Theophilus London who has an amazing mixtape that everyone should check it out. I am also listening to Wiz Khalifa who [also] has a mixtape out right now which everyone should cop. I am also listening to B.O.B, I absolutely love them! The Adventures of Bobby Ray, an amazing album. I also just got the Drake album. You know why Drake does so well? You wanna know? Drake does so well because he doesn’t wanna sound like anyone else. He wants to sound like him[self]. Everyone wants to sound like Drake now. Drake came with his own sound. And the thing about Drake is, he is not just an MC or a rapper, he is a musician. He is an artist in the sense that he can sing, he can rap…he can also hear things. He is a Musician. You know other rappers have one or the other. When you have both, you take over the world…Drake held it down because he…found his niche and he stuck to it. So this goes out to everyone: if you are an artist…or whatever it is that you do, find your niche and stick to it.
(Photo: Vanessa Mdee)