If you're a regular shopper at Amoeba Music Hollywood, you may have already had the pleasure of crossing paths with the ever knowledgeable Monalisa. Maybe she helped you track down a rare hip-hop record or locate some soul CD you've been seeking for a while. Perhaps you sought her advice at the vast SoCal store's information desk and she ended up turning you on to some music or artist that you had never heard of but are now a converted fan of. Amoebite Monalisa has been an amazing asset to the Hollywood store since she began working there sixteen months ago. She's brought with her a vast knowledge of music -- from classic soul & golden era hip-hop up to contemporary hip-hop, to rock, jazz, funk, and more -- all accumulated over two intense decades of being deeply embedded in the music world as diehard fan/collector, DJ, and putting in countless hours working behind the scenes at important hip-hop record labels such as Loud, Delicious Vinyl, and Wild Pitch during their 1990's heyday.
While taking a break from work at Amoeba one day recently I caught up with Monalisa to ask her about her music history, about working with the Wu-Tang Clan in their formative days, what some of her all time favorite records are, and what she likes about working at Amoeba Music, among other things. "The first thing, of course, that I like about working at Amoeba is the music -- the musical atmosphere and all aspects of it," she said. "I like interacting with people and finding out what music they are into and helping them find the music that they are looking for." As for her history in the music industry, she informed me that she worked in the music biz "for about fifteen years. I worked at a lot of record labels over the years -- Loud, Wild Pitch, Delicious Vinyl, PMP [a subsidary of Loud Records], A&M, to name a few, and I held several positions, from local retail manager to street team coordinator. I also did national college and commercial/mixshow promotion and national street team accounts for corporations, clothing companies and entertainment firms." This included setting up her own independent promotions and marketing business to facilitate music and sports related "lifestyle marketing" projects, she said.
Knowing that Monalisa worked at Loud Records in '93 and '94, right as Wu-Tang Clan was starting out and about to unleash their influence on the hip-hop world, I asked her if she was surprised at how the Wu-Tang Clan blew up on such a major scale. "I wasn't surprised at all, honestly. When i started working at Loud the Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) LP was three weeks away from its release date," she recalled. "We knew that the world had never seen anything like Wu-Tang; from the way they just carried themselves as individuals, to their rhymes, even down to their Eastern philosophies and principles -- never mind the fact that there were nine of them in the group and every last person in the group had their own strong identity and style of rhyme," she said. "From the fast success of their first independent single it was obvious to us that they were going to do really well. One of my co-workers had the idea to press up a limited edition green vinyl version of "C.R.E.A.M." on wax for the DJs because he knew it would be a huge record for Wu-Tang -- that 12" is a collectible item to this day. And yes, I still have my copy!" (laughs)
With a chuckle, Monalisa recalled her first interaction with the infamous members of the Wu-Tang. "The first time I met Wu-Tang was on my third day working there. We had a Wu-Tang listening party for DJ's, radio & retail at Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles. This was their first time at Roscoe's. Method Man had a large hotel towel as his bib," she said. "He ordered everything on the menu, including chicken gizzards -- Ol Dirty Bastard took one bite of their chicken burger and went on for twenty minutes about how good it was before he ate the rest of it. That whole evening was a hilarious, priceless sight to see. The best thing about all of them is that after all their success, they're still the same people to this day."
Considering the overwhelming success of the Wu-Tang, I wondered if, like me, Monalisa was surprised that another super-talented Loud Records act, SoCal's Tha Alkaholiks, didn't reach that same level of success as the Wu. "I was kind of surprised because Tha Alkaholiks got so much love at home," replied Monalisa. "It was hard to imagine them not getting the same love in other markets. But at the same time, a lot of West Coast artists that weren't living the stereotypical 'gangsta' life had a hard time blowing up as well. I thought they would do just as well as [Delicious Vinyl act] The Pharcyde because of the fun, novelty side of their music. And they also had part of their fanbase from King Tee, who was affiliated with DJ Pooh, Ice Cube, and other West Coast emcees on the hood side of things. There was also the fact that there was very little production done outside of the Loud/Likwit camp, and a lot of the successes during that time in the early 90's were a result of bringing in East Coast based producers like Pete Rock, Salaam Remi, Diamond D, Premier, etc, to bring a variety of sounds into various projects. By the time there was room for that expansion in sound, there wasn't that much of a demand for their music anymore and their name change from Alkaholiks to Liks certainly threw a lot of people off of the path they laid from the beginning. E-Swift, Tash, J-Ro and even King Tee wrote some of the best rhymes ever and they definitely should have done as well as the Wu."
Looking back, Monalisa says some of her most memorable moments at Loud Records would include the LA label's humble offices. "We sat at small, simple wooden desks with fold-out card table chairs and we had those small black & white Macs with the screen built in, a very low budget operation, all while making huge strides in the music industry. Loud was also SRC (The Steven Rifkind Company), so along with working records for the Alkaholiks, Madkap and Wu-Tang Clan, we did street marketing for Helly Hansen, Nike, and Giant Records, among many others. The perks: free gear from all of the above (laughs), and working with Bigga B. Bill Operin, aka Bigga B (RIP). [He] was Loud's retail manager/street promoter and an integral part of the early Loud days. He also put on the infamous Unity hip hop shows. One day he came to me and asked me to help him write a letter to Duck Down Records to get Black Moon to come to LA to do Unity. I was a huge Black Moon fan so I jumped at the opportunity to help. They came out and did the show, and soon Smif N Wesson, Heltah Skeltah, and OGC followed. Their performances at Unity helped the whole Duck Down camp develop a giant fan base here in L.A. that they have to this day."
In addition to her work behind the scenes in the music industry, and more recently at Amoeba, Monalisa has earned a rep as a DJ. She applies her knowledge of music to satisfy dancefloors of all types, spinning "hip-hop, soul, funk, rock, jazz, anything. When I DJ I play whatever fits the situation," she said, naming some of the LA spots she has DJ'ed at over the years to include, "Root Down, Firecracker, a party called Kiss N Grind, and Strictly Social." On the topic of spinning and all time favorite records, I finished up my conversation with Monalisa by asking her what her all time favorite golden era hip-hop songs are, and what her all time favorite songs (of any genre) are. her answer is below:
Monalisa's Golden Era Hip-Hop Top Five Songs (in no particular order)
1) Organized Konfusion "Fudge Pudge"
2) Eric B & Rakim "Eric B Is President"
3) EPMD "So Whatcha Sayin'"
4) Public Enemy "Rebel Without A Pause"
5) Boogie Down Productions "My Philosophy"
Monalisa's All Time Top Five Fave Songs (in no particular order):
1) Mandrill "Mango Meat"
2) Main Source "Lookin at the Front Door"
3) Donald Byrd "(Fallin Like) Dominoes"
4) Roy Ayers "Running Away"
5) Prince "Anothaloverholenyohead"