By all accounts, this should have been the breakthrough tour for Yo Majesty. And it still could be, but only if founder Shunda K manages to overcome obstacles that most artists would find insurmountable.
"Well, Jewel B is incarcerated," says Shunda of her longtime musical partner in the only Christian, lesbian, lyrically unbridled hip-hop group that matters.
So, um, what happened?
"I don't know if I should well, it's already out assault with a deadly weapon," says Shunda. "I found out like four days before the tour started. So Shunda K is doing this all by herself now. I am the group."
Exactly six months after the Tampa-based act released its underground hit Kryptonite Pussy EP with its title track's gentle admonishment that "yo poonanny better make that money" and just one week into its current tour, Shunda, her DJ Orion Garcia and dancers Apollo and Shiva found themselves going where few artists who share a label with Franz Ferdinand have gone before: Greyhound bus terminals.
"Me and my wife, we just got into a big argument and kind of split up, so she took the van," Shunda explains. "We were in Raleigh, North Carolina. We've had four or five shows since then, and we've had to bus it from each city, leaving some stuff behind because we couldn't take it on. And we couldn't rent a car because, for one, my license is suspended, and my DJ, he has a license, but when you're from out of state, you have to have a credit card, not a debit card."
Last Friday, the Lord eased up on Yo Majesty, at long last delivering unto them a rental car to tour in.
With their potent mix of crunk, punk, electro and classic hip-hop the Boston Herald likened them to a cross between Dead Prez and Princess Superstar Yo Majesty was listed by esteemed British music rag NME as one of the "Top 11 New Bands of 2008." In the same publication, Shunda said her lyrics are "so gay they will split your dick," an image many of us will now take to the grave.
There's more: The group, which was actually a trio at the time of its self-released 2006 debut EP, has since recorded with such electronica heavy-hitters as the Stanton Warriors and Basement Jaxx. And on her own, Shunda was recruited by genre-bending icon Peaches for a track called "Buck You Like a Billionaire."
It was after signing with the U.K.-based Domino Records that Yo Majesty hooked up with iconoclastic British art-funk producers Hard Feelings UK, resulting in one of the most potent rap crossover collaborations since Salt-n-Pepa and Hurby Luv Bug released "Push It." The synth part from that '80s electro precursor even makes a fleeting cameo midway through "Kryptonite Pussy."
On a more serious note, "Hit It and Quit It" appears to be a celebration of sex, before an astonishingly downbeat turn in both tempo and lyrics: "See, they don't know I got HIV," the song's narrator reveals. "I am going to give it to everybody."
Nearly a decade ago, author Walter Mosley described three plots he could not bring himself to write. The most disturbing, he figured, would involve a character who intentionally transmitted the AIDS virus. That Yo Majesty can enter into such forbidden terrain, and in such a powerful way, suggests that this is anything but the novelty act some might imagine.
And then, of course, there's the religion thing. Raised in a Christian household, Shunda recalls how her sexuality didn't go over particularly well.
"My grandmama used to preach that me being gay is an abomination and I'm going to hell," says Shunda, who was herself conflicted for years. As a teenager obsessed with Snoop Dogg ("you know, back when Snoop and Dr. Dre was rollin' together"), she wrote her first rap at age 15, envisioning it as a duet between a man and a woman. She went on to sleep with women for a number of years, then married a man. A pastor, no less.
Unsurprisingly, the marriage didn't last long. The current pastor in Shunda's life is the head of Potter's House International Fellowship, and he's gay.
"Pastor Steve!" exclaims Shunda. "Jewel B invited me to his church, and at first even with me being gay I was like, 'How the hell is he going to be gay up there preaching the word of God?' And I was kind of confused, you know? I was going through my own thing: Here I am talking about God, too, in my music and interviews, because Yo Majesty had just started blowing up. And it's just over the past year that I really became comfortable with who I am."
Likewise, Shunda says, she needs to be around "uplifted" people who are secure in themselves: "I need a strong thang, not no jellyback people."
"I always knew I was gonna take over the world like Jheri curl," she says, even though this last month has been trying. "All these different obstacles and distractions are detouring me from what's really important in the mission. And that's to get my black ass to each city and be there for the people. You know, they coming to receive something, and I gotta make sure I give it to them."