By: Nate Whitsell
I have been crossing paths with Miki Vale for years. I have seen her work and her work with Queen Kandi Cole from somewhat of an admitted distance due to circumstance and the busyness of life, so please forgive my excitement as I pen what has been one of the most goosebump-rousing interviews yet!
In our society, overt, self-serving power is often placed on a shaky pedestal and highly praised. And far too often the beauty and strength in subtlety are lost. “Miki Vale and Queen Kandi Cole are FIFTY50” is cut from the cloth of the latter. The duo exudes its subtle strength with every answer to every question, and in doing so, highlights the same strength and beauty that is found in hip-hop culture at large. This interview is like an exclamation mark placed at the end of each of its predecessors, truly embodying my belief that this culture is powerful and its power is life-changing. Some of the power is simply derived from and found in the community it creates – a community that is deeply inter-connected, which you will read more about as Miki Vale and Kandi Cole share pieces of their individual and collective stories.
The interview that follows will feel much like sitting atop the surface of the ocean and feeling the power of said ocean as the swells pass under you; you might not be crushed by the breaking of the waves, but you will certainly sit in awe of the subtle power and beauty you experience. Enjoy.
NW: Who is Miki Vale? Who is Queen Kandi Cole? And who/what is Miki Vale and Queen Kandi Cole are FIFTY50?
Miki Vale: Miki Vale is an artist, a sister, and a friend. A lover and a fighter. A dreamer and a realist. I love cats. I also love dogs. But I really, really, love cats. Miki Vale and Queen Kandi Cole are Fifty50 is a couple of dope emcees who love Hip Hop and love their people.
Kandi Cole: I’m a chain-smoking, rum drinking, internet addict. I do math problems for fun, burn sage and charge my stones before I meditate. I’m a Gemini and a hip-hop head with love for all my people. And when mixed with Miki Vale all, this randomness makes sense on record. It’s like magic.
NW: Can each of you tell us a story about how hip-hop has truly changed your life?
Miki Vale: Man, it’s hard to choose just one story. There have been so many instances over the years, even in just recent weeks. So often lately I’ve been saying “Hip Hop has been good to me.” But to choose one, I’d say Hip Hop was a big part of me connecting with my brother from another mother… literally. My father has six kids from another marriage that I didn’t grow up or spend time with, even though we all lived in the same city (Oxnard, CA). My father didn’t make an effort to make sure we all knew each other. When I got older and started being out and about I met my brother Dudley Perkins (a.k.a. Declaime). He grew up right across the street from Madlib (Stonesthrow) and they were doing their thing with the music – Madlib producing and performing with Lootpack and Dudley was rapping. We met at a nightclub in Santa Barbara where he and Lootpack were opening for theAlkaholiks. I’m not even sure how it happened, someone just came up to me and said “I think that’s your brother over there.” Turned out he was. When we met I had just started getting serious about rapping so we instantly connected on that level. He put me in my first professional studio where I recorded my first EP, produced entirely by Madlib’s brother OHNO, who was just 17 at the time and had just started making beats. So Hip Hop brought me in touch with my family!
Kandi Cole: I was backstage at the PAID DUES festival. It was my first time performing on the main stage and I was geeked. Excited because I wasn’t even booked to perform. I happened to have a few friends who were and they put me on their sets for some songs we worked on together. After a few quick interviews I sat down on the couch and talked with One Be Lo of Binary Star. We had met a couple times before but never really had a chance to sit and chill. He dropped many jewels that day but one stuck with me that I have lived by ever since. I told him how amazing my day had went and he said, “You got it. Keep goin’. Now you know the only thing you ever have to do is JUST SHOW UP.” And he was so right; I wasn’t even planning on attending that year. JUST SHOW UP. It’s such a simple concept, but words to live by. Just show up and support the homies. Just show up to the studio when they ask to come vibe. Just show up to the mixer that this guy has invited you to every month for the last 3 months. Just show up. The opportunities that have come my way since I’ve JUST SHOWED UP have been pretty dope.
NW: I love reading those stories. That’s nuts, Miki; I just got goosebumps reading that answer. I love Dudley Perkins and had no idea – small world. Thanks for sharing as well Kandi Cole; it is crazy how interconnected hip hop is and how important it is to just show up and connect! So, how did Miki Vale and Kandi Cole cross paths?
Miki Vale: In 2006, I believe, Kandi and I were both booked to perform at the Serafemme Festival in L.A. At that time myspace was poppin’, so I went to check out the other artists that were performing on the festival. Of course, back in the good ol’ days, when you went to an artist’s profile on Myspace the first thing you heard was their music. I went to Kandi’s page and listened and I was so impressed. I was instantly a fan.
Kandi Cole: Yup, Serafemme! I don’t even know if Miki knows this but that was my first solo show. I remember Miki and I had been interacting online but we finally met in person at the show. She was sitting at her merch table with all these fresh t-shirts and stickers with an ill logo. I was like “Yo she has major bars and her business is on point. She about to be my friend.” Hahaha.
NW: So rad. Love it. What made each of you feel like the collaboration had to happen? Why has it been about two years since we’ve heard from FIFTY50? And what made 2017 feel like the right time to release this project?
Miki Vale: When we met we were just always making music together. We have so many songs in the vaults, stuff that we just made on the fly. After a while, Kandi suggested that we collaborate on an entire project. So we did. We’ve worked on this project for a long time. Due to our busy schedules and the distance between us, with Kandi living in LA and me in SD, it was sometimes a challenge to get together to work. But we finished it so now’s the time to release it.
Kandi Cole: Yes, and I truly believe everything is happening in divine and perfect order right now. 2+0+1+7 = 1. Brand New. The album is coming out now because now is its time.
NW: Before we get into the video you’re releasing today and the album soon to follow, I’d like to look back a bit. Who are the three most influential emcees for each of you? What about them inspired/pushed/etc you?
Miki Vale: First that comes to mind is Lauryn Hill. I used to sit and listen to her verses on the Fugees albums over and over, just so amazed by the intricacy of her rhymes. Also Bahamadia. I wrote a lot of my first rhymes to the tracks on her Kollage album. I was also really inspired by MC Lyte. She was actually the first MC I saw that made me want to rap.
Kandi Cole: I was in love with Ice Cube. He was so dope to me. He wrote “gangster” music, but his albums were like movies. People laugh that he’s the movie guy now but if you were a fan of Cube you already saw where he was headed. I loved how he visually brought his music across to the masses. Bahamadia and her vocabulary and wordplay is insane. That Kollage project definitely pushed me to be a better MC. Method Man. He was clever, witty, aggressive, and lyrical. He was definitely an inspiration.
NW: And you can just do one-word answers for this one if you want. Who is your favorite producer? Once you share that, in general, I want to get more specific. And who’s your favorite producer in/from San Diego?
Miki Vale: My favorite producer is a really tough toss-up between Pete Rock and J Dilla. If I absolutely had to choose one I think I’d go with the Chocolate Boy Wonder, PR. Just because I’ve been a fan of his music longer, since back in Mecca and The Soul Brother days. My fave SD producer is a toss up between Mr Brady and Abjo.
Kandi Cole: My favorite of all time would have to be J Dilla. His catalogue of beats can adapt to any mood I’m in. The work he did with Erykah Badu (who is my favorite, ever) made my soul speak. I can never change that feeling. Dilla all day.
NW: Those last two questions should excite readers, sort of like a, “if you like __________ , then you’ll also like Miki Vale and Kandi Cole are FIFTY50″. Now that we have a bit of context, tell us all about this project. What’s the title? What’s the purpose/theme? When’s it drop? Tell us everything you feel we should know.
Miki Vale: The title of the album is Black Crown. I’ll let Kandi tell what it’s about. I’m more of an “I can show you better than I can tell you” type person.
Kandi Cole: Black Crown is a love letter to our people. The crown is not something we put on our heads. It’s the skin we’re living in. We are walking talking living breathing Kings and Queens. We just want everyone to love themselves. There is so much negative energy being directed toward us that we felt the need to empower through music. There’s not enough love in the world right now and we thought we’d inject the hip-hop space with a heavy dose of it.
NW: That’s powerful. Thanks. Why is “Strip” the leadoff track?
Miki Vale: We chose to lead with “Strip” because it’s a departure from what people have heard from FIFTY50 as a duo up to this point. Our last two videos, “BLACK” and “Get Em Up”, were deemed as somewhat “militant” in nature. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we don’t consider uplifting our culture and speaking our truth on social issues as necessarily being militant but it’s often perceived that way by others. But Black Crown is a very diverse project, as we are very diverse people. So we thought “Strip”, with its more mellow vibe, would be a good lead to show that we are not one-dimensional by any stretch of the imagination.
Kandi Cole: Nailed it.
NW: Before even hearing the track, or seeing the video, I am guessing that you are going to flip the word, especially given the previous songs I’ve listened to from the two of you are very socially aware, which it sounds like some have misinterpreted as militancy. The title got me thinking though, even given the great strides we’ve taken as a culture, do you two face any sexism as women emcees?
Miki Vale: We have a song on the album called “Girls Can’t Rap” featuring Boog Brown, a female artist out of Atlanta. It pretty much embodies what we have faced as women in the game. Not a lot, I can say for myself. I’m usually received with much love but there have been a couple instances where people made it very clear they were not interested in hearing women rap. Which is cool. Everyone has preferences. There’s a lot of shit I don’t want to hear either. But there are some people who will discount women who rap simply for the fact that they’re female without taking the time to actually listen first.
Kandi Cole: It’s gotten a lot better but it still exists. The one thing that these promoters do that grinds my gears is they’ll reach out to you to do an “all female lineup” that they do once every few months. As if that’s the only time we’re allowed to rap. Note to promoters: Add women on your all sausage roster and your audience will be filled with more than just dudes. Jussayin. But for the most part, we’ve been rocking for a minute so when they book Fifty50 they know they’re getting a great show!
NW: Haha. Thanks for that Kandi. I’m really glad to hear from both of you that sex is becoming less of a factor and that the art is beginning to be the focal point! Okay, one of my favorite tracks on the forthcoming album is, “Get Em Up”. It is obviously timely and needed. What specific event inspired the track for each of you? Or is it the history of police/systemic violence against the black community in general?
Miki Vale: Basically the history of violence against the Black community inspired the song. We actually wrote that several song years ago, back in 2010. We performed it at SXSW that year and people really connected with it. We revisited it around the time Michael Brown was murdered by police and tensions were really high. That’s when we connected with Kill C-rey to shoot a video for it. We felt it was time.
Kandi Cole: Thank you. We really put a lot into this record. Yeah, when Mike Brown/Ferguson happened we were all angry. It was growing, and around that time there were people being killed left and right by the cops, on camera. It was horrifying waking up every day to a new video of someone being murdered and a new day of no one being arrested. This song was our battle cry that we needed to share with the world.
NW: Heavy. Along similar lines, as emcees, do you feel it is an artist’s responsibility to speak to injustice and to address the injustices in one’s country/community/city/state? Why?
Miki Vale: I feel it’s an artist’s responsibility to do whatever moves them. And to not be afraid to speak their truth. That’s what art is about. People are at different levels in their development. If an artist’s eyes are not yet open to what’s really going on around them and the circumstances of how it came to be, then it’s my hope that they will get there eventually and be moved to speak on it through their art.
Kandi Cole: I can’t say what any other artists should do. I know that for me, if I have a voice and a platform and the ability to affect change, I’m doing it! The goal for me has always been to touch as many souls as possible and in a positive light. Help people. Love people. Whether you’re leading a protest, dancing in a club, or cleaning the house on a Saturday morning, I just want to make people feel good while they’re listening to the tunes.
NW: While the seriousness of art is important, it is also important to enjoy life – you both touched on that in the previous question or aspects of it. Can each of you tell the story of the best/most memorable moment, for you, in the process of creating this album?
Miki Vale: All the moments are the best, haha. We have so much fun. This has definitely been a labor of love. We’ve poured so much of ourselves and our time and resources into this project. All out of love for what we’re doing. Our sessions are always full of great conversations and lots of laughter. And spirits, haha. Lots of spirits. Many of our songs are inspired by conversations we have while in the lab. I think, for me, one of the best times was when we spent a few days in this dope studio in Oakland with pOETiqbEETz, the producer of the majority of the tracks on the album. The studio was in the hills, really in the cut. It was very peaceful and beautiful, lots of trees and wildlife. A family of deer walked right past our balcony, mama daddy and baby. It was the perfect place to create.
Kandi Cole: Yes, lots of spirits! We do have a great time when we connect. My face usually hurts from laughing so much. If I had to pick a time, it was one night when we got together to record and were playing beats from different producers online. We came across one producer, and the tracks were crazy! That night we made an entire album. About 12 complete bangers, on the spot, in real time. Verses, hooks, adlibs, everything. It was magical. Unfortunately, we didn’t record any of it.
NW: After my barrage of very specific questions, I want to give you some space to share whatever’s been on your minds lately. What have you two been thinking about/focused on lately?
Miki Vale: Other than albums? Not much, haha. I’ve been really focused on getting this project done. And also planning for the future. I made a vow to myself this year to get out of the country and gratefully, thanks to Hip Hop, it has manifested. I’ll be traveling abroad in the coming months. I had to a take a step back from a lot of things that were taking up my time and focus, and now I have the space and freedom and mental capacity to focus on the Next Level.
Kandi Cole: This album truly has all my attention right now. There’s a lot of work to put out a project. Making the music is the easy part. But other than that, I’ve recently upped my photography game and started editing video. I’ve only done a few so far but I’m excited. Winning an Oscar for directing has seriously been on my bucket list for the last ten years. So I better hurry up and get good.
NW: What’s something you’d like to share with San Diego’s hip-hop scene?
Miki Vale: I’d like to share this music, haha. It’s been a long time coming.
Kandi Cole: Never give up. Your art is needed. You have people rooting for you heavy that you’ve never even met. Your voice is powerful.
NW: I truly hope to see a heightened level of unity in the San Diego Hip Hop community. Can you point to some other contributors to the culture who you two see as comrades and who you also see as helping to progress the scene?
Miki Vale: My comrades in The FRESHstate are doing beautiful things. The FRESHstate is a group of artists who came together to help push each other. Everyone has a different skill set they bring to the table. Kill C-rey and Arash Afshar are multi-talented individuals, and they are helping highlight not only themselves but also artists they believe in. Kill C-rey has shot videos for me and Ric Scalesand Kahlee. Arash shot our video for Strip. They also do multiple podcasts and Platform Collection. And so many other people are doing things, too many to list.
Kandi Cole: Shout out to The FRESHstate, no doubt! Also to Jay Wat Studio, Chelly Jane and The Boon League. There is some amazing work coming out of that studio and they are really moving the culture forward.
NW: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you?
Miki Vale: Follow me on Instagram and FB @mikivalethemc
Follow FIFTY50 on FB at @Fifty50MC
Kandi Cole: You can follow me on IG/FB @QueenKandiCole and Snapchat @BacardiCole. And seriously, @FIFTY50MC on FB for all the fun stuff we have coming down the pike.
Thank you for having us and we hope you love the new music as much as we do!
Peace, Love & Hip Hop,