Yolanda Whittaker, more commonly known as Yo-Yo, is an American rapper and actress from Compton, California. However, to deduce her as solely an MC would be an undersell of her talents. She’s better defined as an actress, educator, philanthropist, and Grammy-nominated rapper. In February, Yo-Yo even partnered with AspireTV for a new cooking series, Downright Delicious with Yo-Yo. Born on August 1971, she was thrown into a chaotic environment from a young age. However, she also began to take notice of the burgeoning hip-hop scene throughout the area. By the time she was 18 years old, Ice Cube had started to take note of her unique flow and straightforward narratives. In fact, Atlantic Records had to wait for Yo-Yo to graduate high school to sign her.
The narrative meaning encompassing Yo-Yo’s sound was aimed at enhancing women’s empowerment. She first appeared as a guest on Ice Cube’s 1990 debut album AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, contributing a verse to “It’s a Man’s World.” Cube would return the favor on 1991’s “You Can’t Play with My Yo-Yo.” Narratively, the track entrenches the listener into Yo-Yo’s plans around woman power in the male-dominated landscape of West Coast rap. Rapping over a slowed sample of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Devotion,” the Compton classic sees Yo-Yo rightfully hype herself up alongside Ice Cube. She told ABC News, “The song has a lot of femininity, adult femininity in it, and it’s powerful to me because it’s everything that I am.”
Black Pearl Solidified Yo-Yo’s Notoriety
NEW YORK, NEW YORK–FEBRUARY 23: Rapper Yo-Yo (aka Yolanda Whitaker) appears in a portrait taken on February 23, 1992 at a Billboard Magazine Grammy Party in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Yo-Yo’s debut album, Make Way for the Motherlode, was released in 1991. However, it would take her time to grow into the mother of West Coast rap she’s associated with today. “At first, it was just like, ‘Wow. Mama, I made it,’” she told HipHopDX. “I’m not asking, ‘Can I buy a car?’ I’m buying a car. ‘I don’t have to put up with your stuff, I’m moving out.’ But after a while, I would say certain stuff in interviews and didn’t know what I was saying, you know? I was so fake. I was trying to be something that I wasn’t instead of just allowing it to take.” However, her sophomore effort Black Pearl expressed significant artistic and personal growth.
Black Pearl solidified her influence in the hip-hop industry. At the time, gangsta rap was inherently focused on the violence and Black plight surrounding impoverished communities. Ice Cube, Tupac, and Dr. Dre were all impactfully raging at the world around them. With Black Pearl, listeners resonated with her steadfast focus on uplifting themes, a stark contrast to the negativity that hip-hop heads had become accustomed to. Grounded in hard raps and thudding beats, many regard it as her best project. However, she would release other successful albums such as You Better Ask Somebody, Total Control, and Ebony.
She Was In A Relationship With Tupac
Speaking of Tupac, the two would meet in a recording studio in the 1990s. Continuing to bump into each other while on tour, their relationship would become romantic for a time. Yo-Yo told EURWeb Spotlight, “We were in love and we loved each other until the day he died. Pac became like a brother to me. We were just two people on the road who found each other, fell in love with each other. We spent many nights on the road together. He wasn’t perfect, nor was he trying to be. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his community, about his parents, stuff that people don’t what to hear about, stuff people don’t want to talk about. People don’t want to talk about their truth. That kind of love he had for truth made me love him more.”
Yo-Yo’s Influence On Women’s Empowerment Is Beyond Music
By 1995, she had begun visualizing a life outside of the scope of hip-hop. Her musical career would take a backseat in favor of her acting career. No longer solely a rapper, Yo-Yo made appearances in the film Panther (1995), the television show New York Undercover (1994), and a recurring role on Martin (1992). In addition, she went back to school to obtain an associate degree in business at Bergen Community College. Reflecting on the experience, she told AARP, “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.”
In “You Can’t Play with My Yo-Yo,” she references the Intelligent Black Woman’s Coalition. The mastermind behind the IBWC’s core purpose revolves around standing up for Black woman’s rights and advocating for an end to gun violence. Her influence lies beyond hip-hop verses, advocating for creative rights. In 1994, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about whether the government should require rating labels on gangsta rap. Additionally, she’s enhanced her love for teaching by founding the Yo-Yo School of Hip-Hop. In essence, Yo-Yo is one of the pioneering influences of West Coast hip-hop and feminine empowerment.