The New York neighbourhood of Queensbridge is a district that has given so much to hip-hop culture it is almost unfathomable. Located under and slightly adjacent to the iconic Queensboro Bridge, Queensbridge has a rich cultural history, especially concerning African-American music. Known colloquially as ‘The Bridge’, in the 1980s, Queensbridge was at the centre of the first large-scale rap battle between Juice Crew and BDP and has produced some of the most potent lyricist rap music has ever seen. That said, one gem from the locality gets less attention who, akin to so many, is buried deep in the hip-hop history books.
Since hip-hop’s inception, Queensbridge has produced a host of female emcees, one of the most well-known and iconic being Roxanne Shantè. Born and raised in the New York housing scheme, as a local, Shantè quickly found herself brushing shoulders with the likes of MC Shan, Marley Marl and Kool G Rap as a member of the iconic Juice Crew and played an integral part of ‘The Bridge Wars.’ For many years, the artist (real name Lolita Shante Gooden) was revered as the ‘First Lady Of Queensbridge’, and despite the existence of exceptional, compelling lyricists such as Nas, Havoc and Cormega, for many years, she adopted that position. However, her Juice Crew counterpart MC Shan brought to light the name of another female hip-hop powerhouse from Queensbridge decades ago. Unfortunately, this woman has gone largely unrecognised.
On his legendary track, ‘The Bridge’ MC Shan raps, “Dimples D the girl, she was great, her and Marley Marl went and cut her plate / They used to rock it out in the place, and the title of it was Sucker DJ’s.” In a conversation with the hip-hop magazine The Foundation, Dimples D (real name Crystal Smith) explained how she rose up out of the neighbourhood in the late 1980s, explaining, “I was born and raised in Queensbridge Projects…when I was about 13 or 14 years old, I witnessed Hip-Hop for the first time when I saw Dr Bob Lee and Jappy Jap. They would sometimes go into River Park and have DJ battles, and sometimes Brooklyn DJs would come out.”
She continued, “When I heard Sha Rock, I was like, ‘I got that in the bag.’ I knew that I could do it. I really idolized what she was doing because she was the first female out there with a bunch of guys rappin’…I knew that I could do it, and out in Queensbridge, there were no females doin’ it. [Roxanne] Shantè is much younger than I am. When I was 16, and I really started gettin’ out there rapping, I knew of her. She was a cute little girl on the block, but I don’t remember her rapping at the time. Remember, she would have been about 10 when I was 16, so I don’t remember her rapping when I started.”
According to Smith, she preceded Shanté as an emcee but pays homage to MC Sha Rock as the first female artist out of Queensbridge. Akin to LL Cool J’s trio, The Extravagant Three, sometimes those short-lived hidden gems of hip-hop get lost. Still, in the case of Dimples D, we have been firmly reminded of her importance during female rap’s formative years. You can hear MC Shan’s ‘The Bridge’ below, during which we hear the name Dimples D rapped.