The moment the letters A-A-R-P are spoken, there’s an immediate connotation to “old people.” But if we’re being real, the architects of Hip Hop culture are inching toward 50, if not already there — and that’s O.K.
In an effort to pay homage to the artists who helped shape this culture, the higher ups at AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) recruited legends such as Yo-Yo, DMC of Run-DMC and Cypress Hill’s B-Real for its Hip Hop video series, “Hip Hop’s 2nd Act.”
Ice Cube’s former protégé, who recently joined the cast of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood for Season 6, was slightly confused by the offer as she’s still in her 40s, but she ultimately warmed up to the idea of participating in the series.
“I was excited to do the interview,” Yo-Yo tells RealStreetRadio. “But of course, yeah. I was thinking, ‘Wait, I’m not 50 yet [laughs].’ Hip Hop is so grown and I was excited about it once I found out that they were working with interviewing Hip Hop artists.
“Hip Hop has grown so much and Hip Hop is AARP. My generation of Hip Hop is older and AARP cares about people. I don’t feel like enough people care about Hip Hop yet. They have found a way to use Hip Hop for every avenue of their business.”
During the AARP interview, Yo-Yo talks about her work at Yo-Yo’s School of Hip Hop and the importance of bridging the generational gap. In fact, that was a crucial component in her decision to join the cast of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood.
“When we were coming up, we didn’t really have a lot of role models or leaders,” she says. “So in the interview, we talked about bridging the gap with Hip Hop in this new generation. They’ll get to know who I am on the show. For example, I work with the Yo-Yo School of Hip Hop, literacy programs and the National College Resources Foundation where I’m the ambassador for the Black College Expo.
“The kids don’t know who I am when I’m teaching them how to turn a rhyme into an essay or how to turn a sentence into a paragraph and a paragraph into an essay. They have no idea, but it’s called ‘How to Get As in English Through Hip Hop with Yo-Yo.’ They don’t know who I am, but by the time we leave, I’ve created a new fanbase.”
Often times, the kids will leave her programs and do some additional research at home.
“They’ll hit me up and say, ‘Hey, I listened to your music’ or now, they’ll see Love & Hip Hop or figure out I was Keylolo on Martin,” she explains. “The programs were always packed but now since we added Love & Hip Hop, we use that platform as well.”
Now at 48, Yo-Yo wears her age proudly and shares the knowledge she’s gained as she enters each new phase of life.
“As you get older, you hear a lot of people talk about levels in life, right?” she says. “You talk about these levels. What I’ve learned is not only am I getting older, but I am also figuring out what it takes to unlock the next level. I’ve never stopped because I am constantly looking for more — be it education-wise, giving back-wise, receiving — I am open to all of that.
“I was so worried about turning 30. I was like, ‘Damn, I don’t want to be rapping when I’m 50.’ That’s what I was thinking. But at 30, I wanted to build my confidence, so I went back to school. All the things I felt like I didn’t know about, I learned about. Me understanding that I needed to work on myself and take those steps to do it at 30, allowed me to unlock another other level in my life. Even though I was trying to learn how to act or learn how to build my confidence, what I learned was how to live with my truth, how to be real with myself. And so that was the next level.”
At 40, she noticed vanity took a front seat.
“I was just thinking like, ‘Dang, how do I look?’” she remembers. “I was so concerned with my looks like, ‘Wow, do I look older? I started thinking like, ‘Dang, I have to make some changes in my life. I need to start thinking about a foundation. Like, ‘Oh God, I need retirement and all of that.’ You’re like, ‘Wait shit, I need to pay attention to my life.’”
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But Yo-Yo wasn’t above doing whatever it took to take care of her children and stay above water — even when that required humbling her ego.
“There were some months when I wasn’t very successful and I was struggling,” she admits. “My kids were going without health insurance and I had to figure out a way to humble my ego as an artist and what people see me as and say, ‘OK, I have to be a big girl.’ I had to do what women do.”
As far as no rapping after she turns 50, that remains to be seen. However, Yo-Yo did just drop a new single and video for “Out Of Control” last week, so it doesn’t look like her Hip Hop career is ending anytime soon.
“Getting back into music was something I didn’t intend to do,” she explains. “I got to the point where at 38, I wasn’t even thinking of doing music. I was building this foundation and working to give something back. I wanted to be behind the scenes. I needed to be this business woman that I know I’m capable of being.
“I guess that was my giving back phase, which allowed me to open up another level of my life, elevate to another level. I didn’t know the more you give, the more you receive.”
At the end of the day, Yo-Yo’s passion for Hip Hop and giving back is always strong.
“My blessings are not just for me and my children,” she says. “My blessings are not just for my space in my house. I was made to bless others as well. My blessings have to be shared. I didn’t realize that was part of my growth. With that being said, God gave me the desires of my heart. My dedication was there and I was sacrificing.
“God came to me one night and said because of my obedience, he’s going to give me the desires of your heart. I’m thinking, ‘OK, now I can buy a new car. OK, now I can go get a new refrigerator or new carpet. But then I get a call and low and behold, who’s going on the road? Eric B. & Rakim.”
From there, Yo-Yo was billed as an opener for several dates on Eric B. & Rakim’s reunion tour last year, but she wasn’t initially sure she was ready.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m in no shape,’” she explains. “First of all, I haven’t been rapping. I haven’t been on the road since I don’t know when. I don’t even have a security guard’s number to take. I didn’t have Hip Hop nothing. I’ve been over here in business suits, trying to look presentable like I got my life in order.”
But she accepted the gig and it got things rolling again. Now, Yo-Yo is enjoying a resurgence of sorts. Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood airs on VH1 every Monday and stars Ray J, Lil Fizz, Omarion and more.
Check out Yo-Yo’s AARP interview above and DMC’s below.