After all these years, women in hip-hop still don’t get their props. Though the likes of Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown have laced their walls with gold and platinum over the last two decades, they continue to be dismissed by many as mere footnotes in hip-hop’s legacy. The situation is even worse for their foremothers, as most of the girls poppin’ their lip gloss with Lil’ Mama have never even heard of pioneering female MCs and DJs like Lady B, Lisa Lee, Sha Rock, Sequence and Debbie Dee. Also blazing the B-girl trail were The Mercedes Ladies, the first all-female MC and DJ crew. Like their peers, Sheri Sher, Ever Def, Zena Z, Tracey T, DJ Baby D, RD Smiley, MC Smiley and DJ La Spank dealt with the shiftless, shady, jealous ways of the male-dominated game, never achieving critical or commercial success for their seminal role in the birth of hip-hop. In the captivating, highly enjoyable novel “Mercedes Ladies,” founding member Sheri Sher tells their story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent in this fictionalized account, but make no mistake – the book, Sheri Sher’s first, is based on a true story.
Think Mary Wilson’s “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme” set to the beat of New York’s streets.
Over the course of 268 pages, Sheri Sher’s writing is lively and conversational, painting vivid, Technicolor images of a late ‘70s and early ‘80s New York that bubbled with the sounds of disco and its new life as the soundtrack for the burgeoning hip-hop generation. The story has all of the high drama you’d expect from the almost-Cinderella stories of young girls with big dreams – on top of the stresses of home life, group conflicts, slick-talking managers, shifty music-business types and shade-throwing haters all took their toll on the ladies and their quest for that elusive musical breakthrough. Sheri Sher – or “Shelly Shel” as she is named in the book – has to be commended for her intimate writing style, as on more than one occasion I gasped or wanted to cuss somebody out because of the blows these girls were being dealt. They got up every time they got knocked down, but that brass ring was always a rhyme away.
The most maddening moment: The girls go into the studio and cut a hot song with a music man on the rise, only to have it snatched out from under them and handed to an R&B chick. Those of us who own the Vibe book “Hip Hop Divas” and read the passage on The Mercedes Ladies can only assume that in real life the song was “Yes You Can-Can” (a reworking of the Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can”), the mogul was Russell Simmons and the singer was Alyson Williams. They were featured on backgrounds for Donald D and DJ Hollywood’s “Don’s Groove,” but the group never saw a proper single released under their name. Such trials give you a real sense of what these sisters were up against and why so many of them are frustrated with the current state of women in hip-hop. Since the book was just published this year, Sheri Sher’s take on the business is up to the minute, complete with musings on Remy Ma’s current legal woes and the endless cycle of women “letting” the men in charge use them, abuse them and dictate their self worth. Sheri Sher is calling her sisters to action through her story and her commentary, and every word she speaks is pure truth.
Coming from a true hip-hop pioneer, “Mercedes Ladies” is a work that anyone who’s a fan of hip-hop should experience. Even if your interest in the style is fleeting, this book will make you want to dig deeper and look into the world of beats and bra straps beyond “Push It” and “No Time.” More importantly, it dispels the myth that hip-hop is rooted in wanton violence and sexuality. It was quite the contrary, as Sheri Sher points out that the neighborhood jams that were her window into the game gave kids on the block an escape from the madness. You can tell from the passion behind her words that she can’t understand why the game ever changed.
There’s no better way to understand a story that’s still being written than to explore where it started, and this book does its part in filling that void. A noteworthy accomplishment on every level, “Mercedes Ladies” is essential reading.