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Ladies First: Yo-Yo Details New Cooking Show, Activism, & Time With Ice Cube & Tupac

It never occurred to Yolanda Whitaker that her Rap career would evolve into her having her own cooking show. During the Golden Era of Hip Hop, Yo-Yo, born Yolanda Whitaker, emerged as Ice Cube’s protégé from the streets of Los Angeles with a message for the culture. Her 1991 debut, Make Way for the Motherlode, was an introduction that found the California native shaking things up with aggressive bars that outmatched the men dominating the industry. She wasn’t some minimal voice; Yo-Yo came with a message and proved that she could withstand the criticisms that come with being a woman in a male-dominated industry.

We were able to snag an incredible opportunity to chat with the celebrated femcee about her latest venture. Of course, we had to ask her about her illustrious career, further supported by her ongoing work in community activism. She spearheads the Intelligent Black Women’s Coalition (IBWC), where she mentors young girls. Her acclaimed School of Hip Hop is yet another of several ventures where Yo-Yo inspires young people to learn the ins and outs of the music business.

“I think what people don’t know is…that I care. That it matters to me. Their lives matter to me. I have a long-lasting agape love for women and children and education. And for my brothers, I really do care. Being famous doesn’t really matter to me.”

“I mean, 50 years of Hip Hop. There’s so many famous artists out there, there’s so many successful artists. But what keeps an artist alive? It has to be your gift back, it has to be your love for humanity. You have to care.”

The word “legend” is often tossed around Hip Hop for those who can amass charting success. However, Yo-Yo has done that for the culture—and more—and wears her legendary status proudly. If she isn’t being remembered for music or given President Biden’s Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, you can catch her co-hosting the Cafeì Mocha radio show. Additionally, you might remember her cameos on the 1990s classic sitcom Martin or in the Oscar-nominated John Singleton film Boyz N the Hood.

Downright Delicious with Yo-Yo is more than another cooking show hosted by a rapper. It’s a way for Yo-Yo to showcase her reality, creating dishes with her friends like Hip Hop pioneer Roxanne Shante or sharing stories at the stove with her mother and daughter. Read through our compelling interview with Yo-Yo as she details her new show, gives us some signature dishes, talks about the importance of giving back, remembers when she realized the power of music, and speaks about being in community with fellow rappers and culture builders like Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

HotNewHipHop: It’s such a pleasure to meet you! You have no idea how much I’m internally fangirling [laughs]. First, tell us all about Downright Delicious with Yo-Yo.

Yo-Yo: I mean, my happy place! So, Downright Delicious every Tuesday. Listen, it really is my happy place. It’s a place where I’ve learned to find peace, it’s my calming moment. It is my getaway moment from the stress of my life, it has been a transition for me. It has been a new beautiful journey as far as finding new recipes, discovering new ingredients that I’ve never even heard of. And to make it my own, and to cook it in my home, and to be able to create a happy place not just for me but for my family. I mean, you know, it’s been it’s been a wonderful journey for me and I’ve been cooking for a while. And I think, as you say, you cook it just, it creates its own world.

HNHH: Okay, well, with that said, you have to give us a signature Yo-Yo dish.

A couple of them! A signature Yo-Yo dish is my catfish etouffee. It is my go-to, it’s the one that people love to ask me for the recipe. Of course, being from California, we don’t get a lot of Creole food. So, this recipe came from one of my friend’s mom’s family reunion book where they had a lot of recipes. And so, I looked in it, and I made it my own, of course.

My oyster steak, which is juicy and delicious. People don’t normally put oyster sauce on their steaks. It’s very delicious. And my salmon is always good. Of course, my Mexican food! I make the biggest best burritos that you ever want to eat in your life. And my tacos are juicy and big and delicious. I make a mean lobster pasta, which is delicious. I think I make—everything I do, I do it for the taste, I do it for the flavor. So, I think everything I kind of put my hands on, everything that I pretty much cook, I think I’ve kinda owned it.

HNHH: I’m gonna have to grab that lobster pasta recipe, stat! Okay, to shift gears a little bit—this is Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary. You’ve had this expansive career in music and outside of the industry with your activism, and just giving back to the community. Who were the women around you when you were developing, and even afterward, supportive of your dreams?

You know, really, I would have to first say, my mom. My mom has been my biggest supporter, my mom has been—she’s a star in her own right. So, I think everything that she grew to know and love, she passed it on to me. The fact that—just having her by my side and making sure that I did it at my best. She could get in the living room with me and perform. You know, “You got to do it like this.” Even with the cooking show. You’re going to see her on the cooking show. After she finished, she was like, “You gotta say, ‘Downright Delicious!’ You got to go down!” So, having my mother by my side.

And when I met Congresswoman [Maxine] Waters, when they were having that big debate with Delores Tucker and Hip Hop. Having just the meeting with her, the fact that—I’ve done a lot of community service and activism work here in California, but the fact that she would have me out to events. The fact that she would never let me leave her side out of respect. I would always give her a little space. She had these servicemen working with her, and I would give her a little space. I would have my team with me. She would say, “No, come up here,” because I was her guest. When they interviewed her, they would say, “Well, can we get Congresswoman Waters, and then we’ll get Yo-Yo.” And she would say no.

“They really weren’t invested in women in the early ’90s. You had to have a guy represent you, you have to come from a guy’s camp. So, the fact that Sylvia Rhone just would pull me to the side and have girl talk with me, it inspired me.”

yo-yo
Who Is Yo-Yo? L.A.’s Femcee Rap Legend

So, watching that kind of woman power inspired me. Sylvia Rhone, you know, I was signed to Sylvia Rhone, one of the best to ever do it. I mean, just the fact that—they really weren’t invested in women in the early ’90s. You had to have a guy represent you, you have to come from a guy’s camp. So, the fact that Sylvia Rhone just would pull me to the side and have girl talk with me, it inspired me.

And working with this company, Powerhouse Productions, Sonya and Rochelle, has been inspiring to me. Because I’m an artist, but food is art. But to have that kind of woman power that strengthened me, even though I was walking into a space where it was unfamiliar to me. I felt insecure a little bit, but to have these two Black, powerful women inspiring me and motivating me, and elevating me. It just shows me that—it helps me to be who I am. It helps me build the foundation that I need to stand on. And I can’t do it alone. Nor can you.

So, I think it’s been it’s been very inspirational to me. I mean, along the journey, God has always sent me wise people, but only when I was ready could I even recognize them. I have a lot of people that have inspired me, some that didn’t get the recognition because I was too young to even acknowledge it. But I’ve had a lot of people along my path; God has always had to plan for my life.

That’s so beautiful. Thank you so much. I have two more questions, I know we’re on the countdown but I want to try to squeeze them in!

You’re fine!

You did mention coming up, and back in the day, you had to have a male cosign. Of course, we know your connection with Ice Cube and also with Tupac. And those are two very politically-minded, for the people, for the culture figures. Speak a little bit about knowing and working with them and if that also influenced your activism, with your foundation and other community work that you do.

You know, Ice Cube has always been—he always had his eye on the prize. I mean, working with him was…even looking back on our relationship. What he owned. And working with Pac and creating this beautiful friendship with Pac. Pac, he was the first male rapper that I was close to, besides Public Enemy. We had worked together on my project, but Pac, he had just, you know, being from L.A., L.A. just has its own synergy. So, Pac has this, you know how he used to always say, Martin will let you slap him in the face. He’ll turn the cheek. But Malcolm had a different approach to it. I think for him, looking at this young Black man blossom through his journey because I understood him, we had conversations about him growing up and his life, I kind of understood the power.

Da Brat & Yo-Yo On Double Standards in Rap For Women: “You Always Wanna Be F*ckable”

I think my journey in being an activist actually came from my mom. Being from L.A., you have these—there was a lot of gangs here. My mom was involved in a lot of these gang prevention programs, she became a part of them. So, I think, you know, men have played a role in my life as far as Hip Hop. But the women in my life have been more impactful because they just don’t talk about it. They be about it. No disrespect to those who I mentioned before, but I’m just saying.

I get it. I totally understand. And I’m an L.A. girl, too. [laughs]

That makes me feel at home! Because guess what? We definitely know each other.

That’s why I’m asking about community building because I’ve grown up in that space. And I’ve seen and admired women like you from L.A., and the activism I have now, a lot of it’s reflective of the women I saw come up in Hip Hop.

You know, it’s wild because when I first came out, I didn’t realize how powerful music was. I didn’t realize—I didn’t even know what I was entering myself in. And I didn’t even know what radio station or who would be listening to my music, I didn’t know anything. So, it was just like me being thrown out there. And once I got it, once I was like, “Oh, oh, I got it.” And then I realized the power, that’s when I had to shift. That’s when I went to Black Pearl. I had to shift. I said, “Wow, we really have a lot of power.” And journalists were saying, “Is Hip Hop here to stay?” And I’m now I’m like, “Sh*t, I’m realizing the power that we have.”

And so, it really shifted my energy to want to say, “Wow, the kids are listening.” I had to do something more. The Intelligent Black Woman had to stay in existence. Me creating the Yo-Yo School of Hip Hop. It mattered to me, and to me, it was the only way that I could have survived. I mean, you talk about a complete circle. Me having a cooking show and being on Disney. That could only have happened to me because of the foundation I’ve laid with the activism work with my community, knowing that they can trust me and come to me. And I will be there to protest and ride for them. You know?

yo-yo

I love that. Thank you for stepping up and taking that risk because, as I said, the generational wealth you’ve poured into even me as a youth and not even knowing who I am has inspired the activism work I do outside of my career as an adult. My last question! I ask it to every single person that I interview. Now, we all know that celebrity is an illusion. The veil of celebrity makes fans think that they know who you are. It lets you connect with them, but there is an expectation of who Yo-Yo is, not Yolanda Whitaker. What is something about the heart of who you are as a woman and as a person that doesn’t always translate because there is this cloud of what people think you’re supposed to be?

Such a beautiful question. I guess—such a good question. Thank you. I’m a child of God, I’ve surrendered in my life. I’ve given my life to Christ. I mean, I’ve always been a child to God, it’s so wild, you know, this cooking show is a blessing. This is a gift from God to me. I’ve always loved to cook, I’ve never thought I’d have a cooking show. Um, so, I think you know, what people don’t know is…that I care. That it matters to me. Their lives matter to me. I have a long-lasting agape love for women and children and education. And for my brothers, I really do care.

Being famous doesn’t really matter to me, as you will see on this cooking show. Having my family and my mother in the kitchen with me is success to me. The fact that I could share these conversations with you, that you can come into my home, and I could introduce myself to you. “Let me reintroduce myself.” It means so much to me because it’s who I am. It’s the only way that I could live. I mean, 50 years of Hip Hop. There’s so many famous artists out there, there’s so many successful artists. But what keeps an artist alive? It has to be your gift back, it has to be your love for humanity. You have to care.

And so, me being in the kitchen gives me an opportunity to not just boast and brag about me being a dope emcee or spitting some lyrics, which I love to do, and I do on the show often. But it’s me introducing my family and my friends and people who I really care about. It’s not about me bringing a bunch of artists to the kitchen. It’s me introducing myself to you as Yolanda Whitaker. You know, my name has a new meaning. I’m not the same person that you met in 1990. Do you understand? And this is how I keep my hope alive. This is how I invest in my community. And you’ll see it on the show.

I know that sounds corny, but it’s the honest-to-God truth. You’ll see it’s the most organic, truthful show that I’ve ever been involved in, and I’m so excited that the Powerhouse Productions, which is a women’s production, a Black women’s production, all-Black cast, you know, which inspired me. We did 16 episodes. It was difficult for me, I was ready to wrap. They’re like, “Okay, now what do you make?” And I’m like, “Oh, sh*t!” [laughs] So, I think just, yeah, this is me. I get to show me. Thank God for that, right? Who gets a chance to show them? Who gets a chance to expose themselves? I hope you watch it. It’s gonna be amazing.

Oh, I’m stealing every recipe. I can’t show my mother! She’ll be like, “Yo-Yo made that, why won’t you make that?” and I can’t have those problems [laughs].

Okay, so we should connect. Let’s do some cooking together!

Don’t threaten me with a good time!

Listen, I got 10 cameras. Let’s go!

Downright Delicious with Yo-Yo is currently available on AspireTV. New episodes every Tuesday.



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