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YoYo Reflects On Finding Her New Purpose

48-year-old rap pioneer tells AARP about ending her music career, going back to school and teaching kids to write

spinner image Yo-Yo
Kareem Black

Part of the AARP Hip-Hop at Middle Age series

What’s central in your life now? What are you excited about that’s going on with you?

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I’m excited that I am a new grandmother! My oldest daughter had a baby. I love him. And, of course, “Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood”— I’m excited about that.

How has that been?

It’s been a journey because it’s like I have to drive into this new generation of television and entertainment. It’s been fun because I love entertaining.

And you have YoYo's School of Hip Hop. What are you teaching?

The School of Hip Hop started off as a Hip Hop summer program. We offer free programs all summer long. These kids want to know how to write rhymes and make beats because it is the new trend.      

He told me the story of how many kids were dropping out of school and having literacy issues and with that in mind I went back to my professor, Dr. Yasin, who is the head of the English Department at Bergen Community College in New Jersey and spoke with him about helping me create a curriculum.

Dr. Jon Yasin was my professor at Bergen Community College when I went back to school to obtain my associate’s degree.  We got together and created a curriculum. It became the YoYo School of Art and Academics Program. When the kids were in school, I would go in and teach them how to get A’s in English through hip-hop.  

Give me a little flavor of how you teach somebody to write rhymes.  How do you do that?   

I don’t teach them how to write rhymes; I teach them how to write.  For instance, how to get A’s in English through hip-hop with YoYo. I tell them the formula for writing is you make a statement and then you back it up. Then I teach them how you back it up by using statistics, examples and facts. We go through the process.

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Do you have a lot of young women coming to you and saying, “You really inspired me, and you made me feel like I can do anything”.  You weren’t the first, but there were not that many women on the mic when you were doing your thing.  Have you had that experience?

I have and it warms my spirit to hear women come up to me and say that it had impacted them.  The album Black Pearl was me trying to inspire others, once I got into the world of music and not just where I grew up or the towns I traveled. So many people, not just women, would come up to me saying, “Wow, you are YoYo and we grew up together; we are like sisters.” It gives me goosebumps talking about it.  

When you got to a point where you realized that being a recording artist isn’t really going to keep working out any more, how did you transition to the next stage of your life?

That was very hard for me because it was a lot of self-talk and self-motivating. I had to tell myself what my plan was. I had to do some self-evaluating.  I knew I needed to go back to school. I talk about education and how important it is. I felt like I had gained confidence in the music but I was lacking something. I did not have the skills of business even though I had been in this music business for so long. Going back to school gave me confidence and that was my first step to do something for me.  

2018 U.S. album consumption*
  • Hip-hop/Rap — 21.7%
  • Pop — 20.1%
  • Rock — 14%
  • R&B — 10.6%
  • Latin — 9.4%
  • Country — 8.7%

*Includes physical and digital sales, plus audio streams | Source: BuzzAngle Music

I remember walking on the campus and I was turning 30 years old and going to school in New Jersey. It was the first time since I was 17 that I had done something by myself. I had never traveled or been to a store alone. Everywhere I went I had someone with me. Going to school was me walking on this campus. I can remember me with my head down thinking people are going to know who I am and wonder what I was doing there, wondering why I was not rapping. 

For so long in my indecisive days, people wondered when my next music was coming out. I would say to them, “it’s coming” but in reality, there was no music coming. I had said that so much but music had changed and new artists were coming out.  What women were talking about then was power, I’m not your bitch, don’t talk to me like that, have respect for me.  

No matter how hard I tried to fit my way in writing sexy rhymes and telling myself I’ve got it, I came to the realization that it was over for me. I could not find that happy medium to where music was going.  Going back to school started my life for me.

Do you have a greater hold on your authentic self now and the speed of life and those sorts of things?

I am so glad that I took time out to get to know me and educate myself and be around great people that want you to do great things—leaders and mentors who want to help guide you. That’s why they say to surround yourself with people you can benefit from because it does a person well in life. I was surrounded. 

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