Griselda's first lady Armani Caesar first had Rap dreams when she was a pre-teen, and now she's readying her forthcoming project, "The Liz 2."
As one of the most respected collectives in Hip Hop, Griselda has earned itself a deserved reputation as a powerhouse. With a line-up that has included the likes of Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Mach-Hommy, and Benny The Butcher, the bar-heavy Buffalo-based label had long stood as an all-male crew until they formally introduced their first lady in March 2020: new signee Armani Caesar. Aside from sharing a hometown with the label, Armani's raw energy, lyrical prowess, and determination to outwork her peers paired well with the legacy that Griselda is establishing.
However, the rapper wasn't a stranger to Griselda prior to her deal. Armani Caesar has been working on her craft for most of her life, getting her start at the late-great icon DJ Shay's Buff City Studio, and first met Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway The Machine when she was just 16-years-old. She would eventually move to North Carolina for college, but after feeling like she wasn't pursuing a passion and therefore wasting her time, she opted to leave. It was a risky move but one that would pay off for her Rap career and in September 2020, the mogul would share her label debut album, The Liz.
Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: @sancho.smalls
For this edition of our Ladies First series, Caesar talks with us about learning the game while rising in the industry, with the help of "YouTube University," and how she's been able to navigate living up to the expectations of not only her label peers but Griselda's dedicated fanbase. She doesn't take it lightly and has shined at every step, and according to Caesar, she has a team that won't let her be anything less than exceptional.
"They’re like, really lyrical and they’re great at music and creating music, they hold me to that standard as well," said Armani. "They don’t look at it like, ‘Oh yeah she’s a female, so she gets slack.' If something is wack or if I need to go harder or something like that, they are gonna tell me and be one hundred percent with me. They don’t write anything for me. They don’t kind of help me with anything like, Westside [Gunn] will give me a beat and be like, ‘Okay well let me see what you gon’ do on this.’ And I feel like I have to overcompensate to do well. I feel like as a woman, especially in a male-dominated industry, we have to work twice as hard and do twice as much."
She may be an artist on the rise, but Armani Caesar is a certified Rap veteran who is ready to reveal a new side of herself on her forthcoming album that is just about completed. Read through our interview with Caesar where she speaks more about Griselda keeping her on her toes, Malibu Miitch and Trina showing her the most love, wanting to ask Nicki Minaj about maintaining longevity in Rap, and why she wants to see all women in Hip Hop win.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
HNHH: I’m so excited to have you for this series. I really wanted to talk to different women in Hip Hop and R&B, from our veterans to our newcomers, just to get your perspectives on what your experiences are in the industry. So, first, let’s get right into what you have going on. What are you working on? What can we expect out of you in 2022?
Armani Caeser: Right now, I’m finishing up The Liz 2, which is my second project coming off of The Liz, but I also have other music that I’m gonna drop which is a different sound from the Griselda sound. It’s like…I would say more mainstream, clubby, because it was something that I was doing before I got signed to them so it’s like, now that I’ve kind of solidified my spot with them, now I wanna bring their fans and my new fans to what I kind of already was doing before then. Besides that, just working on different projects, working with different artists. I have my boutique, Armani’s Closet, that I’ve been working on, and just a lot of different other projects. So, I’m excited for this year, it’s gon’ be lit [laughs].
Well, speaking of Griselda, such an amazing collective. In having that male crew with you, I spoke with other women about if there is an importance to also having women on your team and having your back. Do you see that as something that’s important for female artists to have as well, even if they are part of a successful and supportive male collective?
Absolutely, because just like, even with me signing with like an all-male group, it’s still like they don’t understand everything that it takes to even be a woman, or what goes into a woman showing up. When it comes to shows, or when it comes to photoshoots, video shoots, whatever, you know a man can just throw on a chain, a T-shirt, and that’s it. With a woman, I gotta get my hair done, I gotta make sure my nails is done, makeup, all of that. So, it’s good to have women on the team because they can understand, even just if a woman is on set with a shoot or something, they’re gonna tell you about the particulars, ‘cause women pay attention to if it’s a hair out of place, if you need to suck your stomach in, if you need to, you know, whatever.
"Even with me signing with like an all-male group, it’s still like they don’t understand everything that it takes to even be a woman, or what goes into a woman showing up."
So, I love that side of it, less it being about the emotions that comes with it. Because there’s this stigma that women are a lot more emotional when it comes to business and stuff like that and I feel like it’s pretty much the same. I feel like men can be just as emotional as women, if not more emotional these days. And I feel like women, we handle a lot more business now. We’re bossing up. I know even just a conversation I was having with somebody recently, I seen more women getting these new cars and houses and businesses and everything else now more than I see men doing that.
With business, I’ve heard Rap veterans stress the importance of women knowing all corners of what goes on behind the scenes. They need to know everything their lawyer knows or their manager knows. How have you implemented that from your deal to even your boutique Armani’s Closet, to everything that you do?
To be completely honest, I didn’t really know coming into the game like, anything about that. I just kind of knew what happened if you wasn’t on top of your business, and if you didn’t pay attention to the things as far as your career, particulars and stuff. I was just kind of learning as I went, and luckily I didn’t get put in a situation where it was a bad situation. But learning what I didn’t know along the way is kind of what helped me move forward, being more hands-on with a lot of my business and even with my company Armani’s Closet, I didn’t know how to run a business. YouTube University and Google University [laughs].
So, even like, how to run payroll or how to hire people, that’s things that I just learned along the way and I guess, just being around my male counterparts and seeing how they handle business, seeing how they build a team around them that not only put them on game but also helped facilitate the things that needed to be done so they weren’t doing it all themselves. That was something that I never knew how to do at first. I was doing everything myself. I was a one-woman show. So, it was like now, okay, this is how it’s supposed to go. It’s an ever-learning journey. I don’t feel like you ever stop learning about the business, ‘cause it changes all the time and it is what it is. But I’m more serious about knowing what’s going on now for sure.
Let’s talk about obstacles. I know that I spoke with one artist and she said that when she was trying to get in the studio with male producers or writers, when they get there, they trying to ask her for sexual favors. That’s just one example, but what obstacles have you faced as a woman coming into the industry and doing that on your own while making your own way?
I mean, it starts from everything, from you being discredited for even writing your own music, if you look too pretty or just even if the music is too good, they automatically associate that with a male being a part of that or having hands in that. I’ve had deals on the table and then executives feel as though they didn’t have a chance with me or they were trying to make advances at me and I wasn’t going for it, and those deals were no longer on the table. It’s just hard, just even with finding management, with signing with people and everything like guys, they have girls. Especially guys that are already successful, they’re used to women going at them and them being able to hang this carrot in front of their head like, ‘Okay well, I can give you this if you give me this.' Just as a strong woman, as a Black woman, I’m just not going for it. ‘Cause I know that eventually, what’s for me is gonna be for me regardless, and no man can stand in between me and what I’m supposed to be doing and the success that I already have or gained for me, period. But it’s discouraging a lot of the times when you do have to go through that, like not being taken seriously.
Again, just going back to a deal I almost had, I was super excited about signing and it was with a big artist and stuff like that. When that fell through, it doesn’t even happen like, ‘Oh well, I’m not gonna [sign you],’ it’s just kind of quiet for you. The texts slow down, your calls stop being answered, and then, it just kind of slowly faded out. It’s something that I been going through for a long time like, I been doing music now for ten -years plus and it’s something that I’ve been seeing since the beginning. But I think that if you just set the standard then it kind of alleviates that in the future. Like before, I used to just want to be nice to everybody because I didn’t want to come off as a b*tch, and then, that niceness I guess was confused with maybe flirting, or people just thought you were nice and they thought that you’re just gon’ go. And I’m not gonna go, period.
I’m not sure how many female producers you may have worked with in the studio if any. I’ve talked with artists that have spoken about how women are able to communicate your vision of a song versus how a man will communicate the vision of a song. Do you see that as well with women that you work with?
Well, I’ve never worked with a female producer. I would love to, that’s definitely on my vision board and future things to do. When it comes to me creating in the studio, I think at least I can say one of the good things about having all males around is that you feel like, especially with Griselda because they’re like really lyrical and they make great at music and creating music, they hold me to that standard as well. They don’t look at it like, ‘Oh yeah she’s a female, so she gets slack.’ If something is wack or if I need to go harder or something like that, they are gonna tell me and be one hundred percent with me.
"I can say one of the good things about having all males around is that you feel like, especially with Griselda because they’re like really lyrical and they make great at music and creating music, they hold me to that standard as well."
They don’t write anything for me. They don’t kind of help me with anything like Westside [Gunn] will give me a beat and be like, ‘Okay well let me see what you gon’ do on this.’ And I feel like I have to overcompensate to do well. I feel like as a woman, especially in a male-dominated industry, we have to work twice as hard and do twice as much. So, that’s the only thing. But I feel like a woman’s perspective would be amazing just because I feel like women, we have the best ears. They always in the strip club. It’s like filled with A&Rs and people that need to be in these offices because they really know what’s hitting. If a female is in there, she’s gonna say if something is hot or not.
Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: @sancho.smalls
Going off of that too, with having Griselda be so supportive and always like having your back and pushing you forward to be better, we know that those guys definitely are holding it down. But what women in the industry have shown you the most love or have been the most supportive behind the scenes?
Um, my girl Malibu Miitch. I love her, she’s super supportive and just super down to earth. I love her. Definitely Lady London, she’s very supportive. Trina! Trina is one of my favorite artists that I grew up listening to and look up to so much. She’s super down to earth and super just humble and just will give you all of the game. That’s one of my favorite females in the industry, and you could tell ‘cause she’s friends with everybody [laughs]. Like, Trina don’t be having no smoke with anybody like that.
"Trina is one of my favorite artists that I grew up listening to and look up to so much. She’s super down to earth and super just humble and just will give you all of the game. That’s one of my favorite females in the industry."
It’s a bunch of females I’m probably forgetting but I get a lot of love from other females ‘cause I feel like they look at it like, I’m not really hating on them. I want to see us all win and I like women that feel the same. I don’t feel like it’s no competition ‘cause again, like everybody can have a lane. There’s fifty thousand male artists that rap about the same stuff, and they can collab or not, and still not really be compared to one another in the same way that females are pitted and compared to each other.
Yeah, I feel like there’s always this need to create divisiveness within women in Hip Hop or even in R&B, unnecessarily, when there are so many great moments in history with women coming together. One of my favorites is way back in the day, when Lil’ Kim, Angie Martinez, Missy Elliott, Left Eye, and Da Brat were all on the same track. Hypothetically, if you were to create another lineup such as that, to make a monumental moment for this generation with you and three or four others, who would you have on that track? [Laughs] I’m guessing Trina might be one of them.
[Laughs] Definitely Trina. Definitely would have Nicki [Minaj] on there. KenTheMan, ‘cause I know she would smoke that for sure. I mean, even like females, I wanna have a female singing the hook ‘cause wasn’t Missy singing on there, too? I don’t know. Summer Walker or Jasmine Sullivan. Jhené [Aiko]. There’s so many artists.
I feel like that’s something we definitely need to do because when a person asks you, “Who’s your top five,” very seldom do they mention females at all because they’re speaking of men. They can argue about who’s number one but essentially, you still have more than one male artist that you like. There’s room for at least five. I just want that for females. I want it to be at least like that for females. If they are gonna do a comparison thing.
A female artist, R&B or Hip Hop, if you could interview one person…[laughs] I’m guessing it’s gonna be Trina. But, if you could interview one person, and just to pick their brain for like, a half an hour, what would be the center of that conversation and what kind of questions would you ask them?
I would ask them….
Well, let’s lay out who it is first.
Okay um…hmm…[laughs] because I feel like I’ve already picked Trina’s brain. I just had asked her a million questions like the first time we met [laughs], I probably cleared off all the questions that I ever had for anybody. I would be interested in Lil’ Kim or Nicki. I don’t know. Because those are two people that were kind of alone for so long, in doing it. And with Nicki still being relevant and dropping music and stuff like that, I would be very interested to see like, how the dynamic has changed for her, not only just business whose but emotionally, mentally…because again, anytime that you’re high up, if you ever have the luxury of being successful, it’s very unfortunate how people like to anticipate your demise or your downfall. It’s almost like when people see that something happens to you, they look at it like God is punishing you, and that they were right in some situations.
I feel like, with Nicki, I would be very interested to know how that has changed for her, especially with other females coming in the game and people now being able to say, ‘Yeah, you’re not the only one,’ versus her getting as much praise as she used to get before, and people trying to downplay everything that she brought to this industry as far as a female. Regardless if you love her or hate her, you have to acknowledge how much impact that she’s had on female music and female rap over ten years. I would just be interested in that and knowing how she handles that, how she still deals with that, how she’s able to still create past that, and create fire music at that point, too, because I mean her music is still fire. I would be interested in that.
There are a lot of new artists that continuously talk about longevity, every album that they put out, they call a “classic,” but for artists like Nicki to reach that is a one-in-a-million shot. Speaking of that legacy and impact, what is yours?
I want to leave a legacy of just being a bad b*tch, but still being a good person. At the end of the day, they tried to make it seem like women can’t be confident. They do everything in their power to make us feel unconfident in whatever space that we are, whether we have surgery or natural bodies, whether we wear weave or our natural hair, whether we decide to be a guy’s girl or a girl’s girl. And I feel like being confident, waking up knowing you gon’ kill it even on your worst days. Like, being your own cheerleader, not giving up, but being humble enough to still understand that you don’t know everything, you’re no better than anybody else, and that you need to be of service in whatever position you’re in. You don’t need a million followers to do it. You don’t need a million dollars to do it. But when that does happen, just know that when you didn’t have a million dollars and you were doing it, you’re gonna do it when you have the million. Knowing that I can’t be famous forever, or on top forever, I’m not gonna say famous forever but on top forever, but I can still be happy. That’s what I want. A legacy.
"I want to leave a legacy of just being a bad b*tch, but still being a good person. At the end of the day, they tried to make it seem like women can’t be confident. They do everything in their power to make us feel unconfident in whatever space that we are, whether we have surgery or natural bodies, whether we wear weave or our natural hair, whether we decide to be a guy’s girl or a girl’s girl."
I want to be able to be an example of that, because it’s very unfortunate how sad our generation is these days and I want to be able to be a person that can be an example of people trying to work through that and getting out on the other side with their money. Even if they got a bunch of horror stories, but like, coming out on the other side with money, being able to still maintain, take care of yourself, take care of your family and loved ones... Show the people that you could do it. And now it’s like, now I get to just live and chill and be good. Whatever that may be for you. That’s the legacy I want to leave. Be a good person and be a bad b*tch. Kill sh*t, do it in excellence. Don’t never let nobody tell you what you can and can’t do, male or female. And keep God first!
That’s good advice for everybody. What’s some advice that you’ve received from another woman in the industry that you’ve held close that has helped you and motivated you to keep pushing forward?
A lot. I’m thinking about all… I got flooded with everything. ‘Cause I received so many jewels from just a lot of female artists. But I would say just keep working. Like, regardless of whatever’s going on, whether it’s good or bad, just keep working. Because the goal is to remain relevant and then when you don’t feel like being relevant no more, remain in pay. Work and do it with excellence. Don’t do nothing half-ass and put that out there ‘cause if you do stuff half-ass you gon’ get half-ass results.
What is something about the heart of you as a person that people don’t often get to see because they view you as a rapper, or a part of Griselda, or you’re famous, or you’re this or that?
That I’m just a person. Like, I’m just a person. I have my days where I’m happy, where I’m sad, where I’m confident, I’m unconfident. No matter how pretty you may think I look, everybody has their own insecurities about themselves. I make mistakes. But, I just want to be a good person throughout all of that. If you ever see me out, just since I was in high school, girls will be like, “Oh well I met you, now you are cool but I used to think you was stuck up,” or “I didn’t know you I felt like you were this way,” and it’s just like…What that got to do with me? Why I have to be in it? So, I’m just a person, I’m a normal person that loves french fries and watching Family Guy and I just happened to pursue a dream that I just didn’t give up on. It’s not necessarily that I was better than anybody, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I'm just a regular person, but I’m a good person. I will say that. So, that’s what I want everybody to know.
That’s awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. This was great.
Sorry for being late. I hate being late. I really do.
But yeah, this was a great interview. I’ll have to think about some of these questions. [Laughs] I’ma journal some of these questions later on so I could think about this.
[Laughs] I mean, I can sit and ask you about your album and your pen game, and we know you’re a beast on the mic, we know that you’re a really great part of Griselda and bringing new energy to that collective. But as a part of the industry, I see artists as business people. Because this is your business, I’m asking a businessperson about the business they are in and how they feel about it from their perspective. A lot of the time, it’s just about what you wear and who you’re dating or what you look like. You’re appreciated as an artist and I’m excited to see everything you’ve got going on.
Thank you. I really love that because this can’t be easy, especially for a female, and I feel like you ask very insightful questions from both ends. It made me think about certain things. It was giving Oprah! [laughs] I don’t know if you want to start a talk show or whatever but it made me think a lot and I thank you for that and just for being very sweet.