A member of the endangered species of "femcees" in hip hop, Kay Bey, a.k.a. "Da Buttonpusha," runs JPB Productions, plucking subterranean MCs out of neighborhoods and developing them in her homegrown basement studio in Beltzhoover. She currently produces or is involved in three Pittsburgh Community Television programs and is starting a monthly Shadow Lounge event called the Hip Hop Buffet series. She also cleans butts.
You're sometimes the only woman booked on an all-male card. Do you get lonely?
All the time. There are other MCs that I love, like Angel Eye. Sistas like I-Asia who used to flow back in the day, and Medina, who was down with Misfits in the Attic. There's Joy Brown, Renaissance, Surreal. There's a lot of female MCs, but the problem is we don't really have a stage. You don't take too many risks when you put a male MC on stage: We know what we gonna get from these brothers. But when a sister gets up there, you don't know what kind of a response you gonna get, so a lot of people don't wanna take that risk. I'm gonna change that.
Do you ever wish you had women to mentor you?
All the time. It's amazing, because there were and there are. I can't find them. There's one sister by the name of E-Os. I went to high school at Schenley with this sister. Cats was feeling her style, but they kept her in that typical female position. One thing about the female game in this town: It's either you're Afrocentric, gangsta or you're a hoochie mama. I'm none. I ain't Afrocentric, I ain't gangsta, and I damn sure ain't no hoochie mama. I am hip hop. Pure and simple.
So how do you support all of this?
I go to work everyday. I clean people's butts right now. I'm a home health aide. But [hip hop] is what I love to do. I finally learned to work just enough, y'know -- that's my job. This [hip hop] is my work. That's so I can eat and feed my 14-year-old son.
How does single motherhood challenge what you do?
Sometimes when you're eager to teach your child the essence of work and sacrifice, they may think you're forgetting them. So the hardest challenge is to let him know "You are still number one to me." Aubrée is my everything. He is the real reason why I'm doing this. I want him to know what hard work is when you start with nothing. It's different to work hard at a job. You know you're getting a check at the end of two weeks. This is not guaranteed. Secondly, I want him to overstand how to believe in yourself when no one does -- not even your mama, not your brother. My brother has never been to one of my shows yet. He's gonna be coming soon in a minute!
It seems "positive" rap like "Self-Destruction" was once effective. How effective is it today?
I don't even think it's the rap. It's the marketing. Back in the day, we didn't have the marketing tools that we have now. As much as I try to reach people my age, we got to get with these babies -- not high school, I'm talking second, third [grade]. We need to put it in their ABC songs. They're learning at much younger ages to be violent, for whatever reason. We have to be careful about every image we show them -- every single one. The only one I can have an influence on is hip hop, so that's my attention.
Not that there's ever been equity, but it seems like there were so many more female MCs back in the day. What happened?
There was! You had Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Finesse and Synquis, Trouble MC. They might not have stayed for a long period of time but they kept coming. Then what occurred was ... Lil Kim. She changed the perception of what a female MC should be. She told us that we now had to be sexy; that we now had to go out here and bone and not care about letting money be our motivator. Before then we were just MCing! All those who came after her, your Foxy Browns, even Missy had to get sexy. It took us 15 years backward.
I'm a hip-hoppah. But the problem is, there's not hip hop being displayed on TV. There's rap being displayed on TV. People don't overstand the difference. Rap music is what's gonna make you money; hip hop is what's gonna make sense. People don't wanna make sense; they wanna make money. I'm trying to combine the two.