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Don't mess with these divas unless you're prepared for a big hit of hip-hop and soul.
Monday May 04, 2009.     By Jeff D. Min
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Born out of the rich musical backdrop known as Chicago's South Side, Spq-Her (pronounced Speak Her) has emerged as a powerful voice in Chicago hip-hop. Consisting of WiZdom and Stephstaa, Spq-Her has fused together R&B, soul, jazz, funk and hip-hop into a melting pot of rhythms worthy of the golden-era comparisons. But for as much as the duo have extracted from past inspirations, the two soul divas have made a name for themselves by seamlessly navigating the progressive movement of the local underground hip-hop scene.

Spq-Her's debut album, Defenderz, is a cosmic journey through self-expression, narrated with an elevated lyrical consciousness reminiscent of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. The album's lyrical content is matched equally by local beat aficionados Fifth Element, Rashid Hadee, Raw Power, Frankie Blaze and Kenny Keys-making the journey abstract in sound but organic in nature. Last year their hard work paid off as they won the BomBay Sapphire Soul Search sponsored by 106.3 FM, and most recently URB recognized them as emerging artists in its "Next 1000" list. 2009 looks to be even more productive as they plan on touring to support their new album, which they describe as a "Bruce Leroy Green and Sho'nuff fight." Centerstage caught up with WiZdom and Stephstaa to talk about the new album, and how life brought them to this point.

Where were you ladies born, and how did your community contribute to your musical tastes?
WiZdom: I was born and raised on Chicago's South Side. It's interesting, when we travel people always make assumptions about the South Side; they are connecting with something they saw on TV or heard on the news. My family was a musical family and my cousins and I would prepare routines to perform at granny's house because we knew someone would get on the piano or start singing, especially after sharing the endless stories of previous holidays. That family community contributes to my musical taste because my family embraced talent and provided a space for my first sold-out concert.

StephStaa: Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago as well. Being born without a silver spoon in mouth made me walk through life with so much appreciation. The community I was raised in didn't have much; as a child I lived in a large apartment complex called Gemino Milgate. And we had block parties during every summer; I performed one year at the age of 8 or 9 and I remember saying to myself, "I'm gonna be a big star one day". I have been on that power kick ever since. My mother played soulful music all the time. When I used to go outside and play, kids would be breakdancing/pop-locking and I would mimic a Lisa Lisa Cult Jam song! Music is my life!

What's your musical background, as far as formal training goes?
WiZdom: Not to be stereotypical, but my first training was in the church. The man that forced me to own my soprano voice was Mr. Brian Johnson. However, it wasn't until I went to college that I had an opportunity to work with some phenomenal artists. During this time, the most impactful experience was singing in a choir for BeBe Winans in Atlanta under the direction of Gary Hines (Sounds of Blackness). More recently, when Spq-Her won the Soul Searching Contest, we had the opportunity to work with the world-renowned Lyndia Johnson, Vocal Coach and CEO of Sterling Voice Coaching.

StephStaa: I never had training. My sister Rena had a radio with a tape deck and she would record songs from the radio. We would all play around with the radio and discovered we could record our voices, so I would record me singing a song off the radio. My siblings told me I sounded like people on the radio. After that I kept practicing without the radio and singing in my apartment hallway to test my range with an echo effect. Like WiZdom mentioned, we won Soul 106.3 FM's contest October 2008, one of our prizes was vocal lessons with Lyndia Johnson, who I highly recommend to any vocalist. Knowledge is power indeed!

When and how did you meet?
WiZdom: We met numerous times in our past, but we didn't officially become friends until December '04. We were at the Hothouse and connected via artistry and mutual friends. It's been friendship, godmotherhood, and business ever since.

StephStaa: Yeah, The Most High has been trying to cross our paths for a while! It all came full circle 12.31.2004! We been planning the "take over" ever since! And what is so dope and different about us is that we're best friends!

So was Sqp-Her an official name right off the bat or did you ladies go through an evolution to get to where you're at now?
WiZdom: Of course we did! We have truly experienced a beautiful struggle. I can remember when we first started to work together and we were writing like our lives depended on it. Sunil Honeycutt believed in us so much that he invested in our limitless recordings at so and so's studio. We would record to wee hours in the morning only to turn around and perform in back-to-back shows. We are grateful for those experiences, but we knew that we needed to experience more. Then we got addicted to the MySpace hype and opportunities started flying in from Canada, London, Brazil, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. We learned that if we invested in ourselves, folks would appreciate our hustle and listen to our music and connect with it.

StephStaa: We use to come up with all kinds of names for ourselves before Spq-Her, because as soon as we started sistership, we started doing shows. Keep in mind we were both active on the solo tip, so shows would pop up and we would support each other; people adored us and wanted to know our name. WiZdom discovered Spq-Her; it became permanent like naming a baby!

Tell me a little bit about the album. I know you worked with an amazing cast of producers.
WiZdom: Yes, yes y'all and it don't stop, Spq-Her will never ever stop. Our album is hip-hop soul. Now, don't get it twisted...when we say hip-hop, we mean the true culture and the elements of hip-hop. I actually was hazed into hip-hop by my partner in grind, Stephstaa and the Alien8ighted Crew, and I loved the drums and samples from songs that I was raised on. We worked with Kenny Keys, Fifth Element, Rashid Hadee, Raw Power, and Frankie Blaze. Recording this album felt like a little girl learning how to jump double dutch. Trying to get into the rope and making all types of moves once we got in and doing things differently to our own rhythm.

StephStaa: Indeed, the producers WiZdom mentioned are super hot and so underrated. We bring soulful/hip-hop flavor but our style is limitless! I love it when we vibe with live instrumentation! Expect to hear various sound and melodies from SPQ-Her!

Your music has so much Chicago Soul to it. What are some things about Chicago that inspire you? And I'm not necessarily talking about positive things either.
WiZdom: Our love for Chicago is unconditional. It can hurt you, love you, and forget about you...but you still love it no matter what. Real talk, our city is the birthplace to many famous and non-famous musical geniuses. However, Chicago artists don't have that type of camaraderie that other cities have. When we learn how to appreciate each other, then we will be appreciated.

StephStaa: I totally agree with WiZdom...word up!

You've been getting some nice pub thrown your way, URB Next 1000 for example. What's the contrast been like when you step outside of Chicago?
WiZdom: It's funny that you ask this question because our experiences outside of Chicago have been nothing but a birthing. We can go to cities where the audiences are singing our songs verbatim. Folks are like, "where y'all been?!?" That's real and refreshing!

StephStaa: That pub has been a true blessing, it's all about grinding continuously and networking! You can't get anywhere in life if you don't do something you never done before! For radio and publication to notice us is such a relief, it means our hard work is not in vain. We have done the regional/national tour thing out of our own pockets, sleeping on a friends couch/floor and in motels. Then to show up at a venue to perform and folks appreciate and love us, it's so rewarding!

Your music has a strong sense of female empowerment. What's your reaction to the negative portrayal of women in hip-hop today?
WiZdom: Any type of negative portrayal of women is detrimental to young ladies. Females that allow individuals to degrade them are just as responsible to the negative images in music. We have to be accountable for ourselves.

StephStaa: My reaction is that we still have a lot of work to do as women, those in the music business and those who are on the verge to enter it. If we lead instead of follow that issue will be abolished. That's why it's so important that Spq-Her take over the music industry, we're more than the melodies we convey!

You seem to be taking it a bit easy as far as touring goes, is this in preparation for a new project? WiZdom: The new project is like the Bruce Leroy Green and Sho'nuff fight. Like this fight, we have discovered our strength. We have received some good feedback about the essence of Spq-Her and we are discovering some new things about our voice, our style and our sound. Also, our experience with Ms. Lyndia Johnson taught us so much about our vocal instrument and we want to be intentional about using our voice properly so the sound is timeless.

StephStaa: Next time we tour it will be on an international level! We've been writing and conceptualizing our second LP, scouting indie/major labels and connecting with DJs all over the globe! So yes, expect the unexpected from Spq-Her.

What else can we expect from Spq-Her?
WiZdom: Spq-Her has their hands in everything: music, fashion, education, politics. We are currently planning to invade the overseas market and deliver our music to those that have been waiting patiently. We will continue to tour throughout the summer and make some radio appearances. Right now, we are working on finishing our sophomore album.

StephStaa: ALL POSITIVE THANGZ! ALL SUCCESSFUL THANGZ! Continue to connect with us on: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and SonicBids.


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