With huge artists like Drake and Beyoncé recently releasing albums highlighting more dance and house music, we’ve seen a new focus on the genre, specifically mixing hip-hop with it — but they are far from the first. Philly’s Queen Jo has been mixing house and hip-hop to perfection for almost 10 years, delivering fierce lyrics over dance tracks, and now with the release of her new project Bananas she’s back to get our behinds on the dance floor to her ladies-first anthems. I was lucky enough to have the West Philly representor sit down and tell me about the new project, how she got started, and her amazing work for artists in the city.
Josh Leidy: Your style is very unique, can you tell me who some of your influences were?
Queen Jo: My father was a huge hip-hop fan, like rolled-up pant leg and all! Hahaha. So he was the first real influence on me rapping. By the time I was eight I had all of Big Pun’s first album and Ready to Die memorized. And my mom used to have us clean on Saturday and she would always play house music, so my love for house started there. I also had an uncle named Michael who always used to pump me up and tell me I was a diva, hahaha. He would say you, and maybe some people would think it was an insult, but he would tell me I was beautiful like a drag queen, I was young and fierce and not being considered the pretty one, that was my sister, it really meant everything to me.
My musical influences are obvious to me: my top four are Mary J, Lil Kim, Missy, and Kelis. All of these ladies had an impact on hip-hop that wasn’t the norm at the time. They were all groundbreaking and I love love love that. They made me feel comfortable being an alternative Black girl. These women can rap about anything and did it in such creative ways, and didn’t feel the need to be put in any certain box.
JL: You’re a fixture in the nightlife scene here in Philly, how did you get involved in hosting so many events, was that always a goal?
QJ: I originally wanted to be a reporter, I went to school for journalism and Poli Sci. I worked at NBC for two years and didn’t like it at all. I did have a couple of stories come out, but I just didn’t enjoy it. So once I left that I was trying to figure out what I was gonna do. I always loved the nightlife since college and I was like I need to figure out how to make money doing what I love. I know a lot of people think I started hosting with Matthew Law, but I was actually hosting parties in college with DJ Damage. But even when I was hosting, I was still rapping on the regular. And that’s when I put together my first project.
JL: That was Some Women Are From Mars?
QJ: No, actually my first record was called Cleopatra’s Rapture. It’s not on any streaming service. I should probably put it up. But, yeah that was my first project and I actually recorded that in The Roots’ studio. Back then I got asked all the time, “Who wrote this?” and I hated that. Like, I wrote it. That always annoyed me, so many folks assume women don’t write, but I did and I want folks to know that.
From that first project, I got on Firefly Fest. That’s where I really got the performance bug. It’s weird: when I’m nervous, I perform better. So being thrown into that situation, I just react really well. But after that whole experience, the person I was dealing with at the time was also working with me but said I was not his top priority artist-wise, so I said fuck it, I’ll do it myself. From that, I started this band called Jo Darling with Sam Live. We worked on a bunch of tracks together, and around that time is when I changed my name to Queen Jo. I was the leader of the band Jo Darling so it made sense, plus anytime someone wanted to address me they had to address the queen!
Unfortunately, the band broke up when our producer moved to LA. But I just kept pushing, working with Matt had me close with IllVibe Collective so I started working with them and got real close with Sonny James and Hezikiah. So I worked on a lot of music with them. They did the majority of my beats for Some Woman Are From Mars and Broad Street Bella.