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Underrated Hip Hop Ladies From the 1980s: Sweet Tee

Mixed Tape
Mixed Tape

American rapper Sweet Tee, or Toi Crystal Jackson, was born in Queens, NY, in 1967. She began her career in the 1980s, achieved considerable success throughout the 90s, and holds a special place in hip hop history as a pioneering female emcee. And while many may not know it, she is still pretty active today. Sweet Tee's most recent single, "Hunger Games'' can be heard on the Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) movie soundtrack. If people needed evidence that Sweet Tee hasn't lost her touch, this is it.

Her first music project was recording "One for the Treble" with Producer/ DJ Davy DMX in 1984. Now, he is best known for his work in cooperation with Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, and Jam Master Jay. But at the time the young creative was just starting to make a name for himself. As an early associate of Russell Simmons and Larry Smith, Dave likely introduced Sweet Tee to the individuals that would eventually sign the young rapper. But, when “One for the Treble” just dropped, Sweet Tee was a 17-year-old kid hoping for a break.

That break arrived sooner than later. By 1986, Sweet Tee met Herby "luv Bug" Azor — the iconic producer who is credited for working with Salt N Pepa, Kid'N Play, Dana Dane and Kwame — and joined his "Idol Makers" camp. Guided by Herby in the studio, she recorded her first solo song “Its My Beat" featuring DJ Jazzy Joyce the same year. The track became a huge hit and eventually scored Tee a deal with Profile Records, the premier hip hop label before the emergence of Def Jam.

She followed up with her 1988 debut album It's Tee Time, which achieved moderate success on the US Billboard R&B chart, peaking at No. 31. But, it still scored her four hit singles, including "I Got da Feelin," "On the Smooth Tip," "Why Did It Have to Be Me," and "It's Like That Y'All." The latter is the most widely known song in her catalog to date, though all were fairly popular at the time and attained a lot of airplay, gaining Tee notoriety and respect among her peers. Timing couldn’t have been better for Sweet Tee, this was the Golden Age of Hip Hop.

After Sweet Tee completed her album, she started touring and didn’t stop until well into the 1990s. After JMJ Records, a subsidiary of Def Jam Recordings, signed Tee (then going by Suga) in 1995, she recorded the song "What's Up Star" for The Show soundtrack produced by Russell Simmons and went on its promotional tour with Onyx, Erick Sermon, Wu Tang Clan, Redman and Method Man, playing venues like Apollo Theatre and Soul Train. This introduced her to an even wider audience and solidified her credibility as a bonafide hip hop pioneer. And while It’s Tee Time was the only album she released to date, it was a really great one.


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