Tenina “Suga-T” Stevens is perhaps best known as the first lady of The Click, the Bay Area rap group formed in 1988 with her brothers Earl “E-40” and Dannell “D-Shot” Stevens and cousin Brandt “B-Legit” Jones. With her memorable hooks and aggressive yet feminine verses on E-40’s classic “Sprinkle Me” and The Click’s “Hurricane,” both from 1995, Ms. T was primed for West Coast–queen recognition.

After her well-received 1996 solo LP, Paper Chasin’ (4Eva Hustlin’), however, her musical output dwindled, with only two inconspicuous indie records released since, the last one in 2006. For Suga, who became a single mother at 16, the limelight was affecting her priorities. “My goal was never to have my kids be, like, ‘We have all this money, but, at the end of the day, I didn’t really know [my mother],’” says the proud parent of two daughters. “I didn’t want to have to live with that guilt.”

Outside of parenting, Mama Suga has kept busy by going back to school (she has an associate’s degree in business and is currently studying psychology) and promoting her own fragrance line, called SugaWata. She has also worked as a motivational speaker, through her The Be About It Movement, for which she travels nationwide to speak with youngsters about positive lifestyles. Such role-model status is credited to motherhood. “If I didn’t have kids…I would’ve probably kept selling sex and thinking that was the only way to do things,” she says.

This past August, the femcee dropped a new mixtape, The Return of Suga: The Best Is Yet to Come, the first in a three-part series designed to set up her fifth solo album, Chameleon: The Best of Both Worlds, scheduled for early 2011. “Continuing to represent an image that glorifies a negative lifestyle is played out,” she says. “I’ve been there already myself, but I’ve moved on… Be open-minded about listening to what I have to offer, because it might help change your life.”

Just tell her when to go! —Brooklyne Gipson


"The Game Needs Me" feat. Spice 1

"Keep It Movin'" feat. Vic Newman