Baltimore isn’t a city known for its thriving hip-hop scene, but local MC Keys put the spotlight on her hometown with one controversial YouTube video. Her Nicki Minaj diss clip caught the attention of the online community but not everyone was a supporter. For every fan of her criticism of the Young Money princess there were 10 naysayers that attacked Keys, claiming that she was “hating” on Nicki’s success. Even G-Unit comedian Young Jack Thriller joined in the attack, criticizing Keys for being overweight.

Despite the negative backlash, Keys, who released an official video for her diss record, seemed to overlook it all, until Nicki Minaj delivered a subliminal diss via Ustream. Although Nicki never mentions Keys by name, she refers to “bum bitches” in the game taking shots at her. The B-More MC fired back with another YouTube clip and later linked up with rap veteran Lil’ Kim for a mini tour. With everyone on the Internet talking, caught up with Keys to discuss her career, influences and why she’s so mad at Nicki. The Nicki diss was the first time most fans outside of Baltimore heard of you. How long have you been in the game?

Keys: I’ve been in the game all of my life; I’ve lived and breathed hip-hop for as long as I can remember. I actually put out a mixtape before the Nicki Minaj diss and what a lot of people don’t now is the Nicki Minaj diss video was made in fun. I wasn’t out just to diss her, she came up in a conversation, I said I thought she was wack and decided to make a video; but I never dreamed it would get this type of response.

So there was nothing personal with the diss?

[Laughs] No, we were coming from the party and it was real spur of the moment. Honestly, the only reason it was her is because it was the topic of conversation.

In a previous interview, you were quoted as saying Nicki is all looks and no talent, but at the same time you have been on tour with Lil’ Kim, who is considered the pioneer of the Barbie movement. Can you explain to the fans the distinction?

It was important for me to do the shows with Kim and stand beside her to show my respect and pay homage to a female vet in the game. I don’t want fans to get it confused and think that I’m going to start walking around with pumps on and lingerie, I’m still going to be the same me regardless of who I am on stage with. Kim and I can only do so much together; we don’t fight the same fight or represent the same movement. My fight is about girls respecting themselves and their bodies by keeping their clothes on and not saying Kim’s isn’t but she is on a different page when it boils down to what we’re trying to do.

As a female MC, why do you feel it’s so hard for females in the game and what do you think can be done to change that?

I think it’s just hard for females to identify themselves in hip-hop period. When you have a genre that was primarily dominated by men pretty much since the creation and you have women that are coming in and don’t know their place, you’re going to see women who are hot and then drop off because in essence we are forced to be something we aren’t. As a woman in the game, you either have to be overtly masculine or hyper sexual and a lot of women find themselves trying to fit in one of the categories instead of trying to be themselves. In addition we also have women trying to fill the roles that the men are rapping about, if a man is rapping she got a donk and a woman like me comes up and says, “No, I don’t and I find that offensive,” people look at you strange, so you have to be willing to step outside the box in order to find happiness in what you do.

One of the last all-female records that was successful was probably Missy Elliott’s “Ladies Night” back in 1997. Do you think that women’s inability to band together contributes to the lack of staying power in hip-hop?

I think that our lack of solidarity does play a huge role in why there aren’t a lot of female MCs in the game. I think it’s also that women in general have a problem standing up for women. Look at the songs that are on the radio, most of us really don’t like those songs but a lot of women don’t stand up instead they ride the waves and go along with what a man says about us, but will bash another woman for saying that you can be better than you are.

Do you feel that hip-hop should be more responsible in the messages that it perpetuates; because some people could say that parents need to use discretion with their kids.

I’m not saying hip-hop is solely responsible, no. What I am saying is that we need to be more aware of what we are putting out there for the kids to hear and check out what type of example we are making for the kids. Because whether we want to be or not, we are role models so why not give the kids something more positive to look up to.

Many people criticize you and say that you gained notoriety by dissing Nicki Minaj, but on your Infiltration mixtape your sound is similar to hers. What do you have to say about that?

I think people need to learn how to be smart enough to know when I’m mimicking someone and also they need to stop letting their emotions get in the way of hearing what I’m trying to say. I heard a lot of people saying that I sound like Nicki on this [mixtape], but I think that comes with my initial song being a diss record at her; so now people are constantly comparing me to her. If people really listened to the [mixtape], they’ll see that this is really an angry CD to get my feet wet and to establish to all the critics that I’m not going anywhere and to the haters if you think you can do better, try and stop me. —Tiffany Hamilton