In 2000, I wrote a cover story on Ja Rule for The Source. Ja Rule and his then-girlfriend Aisha, high school sweethearts who had already been together for ten years, lived about ten minutes away from me in Jersey so I was able to hang out at their home the day before we all left for Los Angeles for the American Music Awards, where Ja was presenting an award.
Aisha didn’t speak to me during my first interview with Ja Rule in Jersey. She didn’t ignore me and she wasn’t the least bit hostile. I interviewed Ja at their dining room table and she offered me water and checked on us occasionally to see if we needed anything. Aisha was crisp and formal—no eye contact and few words.
I was struck by how young she seemed. She looked like a teenager but carried herself like a seasoned political wife on the campaign trail: polished but reserved.
When I met up with them the next day in Los Angeles at the American Music Awards, I trailed them both as they made their way down the red carpet. Aisha acknowledged my presence with a slight nod. And later, over dinner, we exchanged please and thank-yous when necessary. There was no sustained conversation and it was abundantly clear that I would NOT be pointing my tape-recorder anywhere in her direction.
On our last night in Los Angeles, we all went to Mr. Chow’s: Ja Rule, Aisha, producer Irv Gotti, his wife Deb and a large entourage. After dinner was over, a driver pulled up and Deb and Aisha came out of the restaurant and made a beeline to the car.
I stood on the sidewalk, waiting for someone to tell me the next step. As folks began to decide who was taking which car, I was ushered into the car with Deb and Aisha.
Aisha moved her legs so I could climb over her and then she scooted back close to the door, her head turned away. I got the message and moved as close to the other side of the car as possible. Directly across from me, Deb Gotti sat with one slim leg over the other. Her eyes and half her face were obscure by oversized shades. Her hair, bone straight, fell over the other side of her face. Her hands were folded over her knee. On her ring finger was the largest diamond ring I’d ever seen up close. I flicked my eyes to the left to glance at Aisha’s ring—also large but nothing like the rock Deb was sporting.
Outside on the street, Ja Rule and Irv Gotti and their entourage were going on about something and being loud and rowdy. Aisha stared at them from the window. Deb looked straight ahead. For twenty minutes, neither of those women uttered a single word. And in those twenty minutes, through eye blinks, sighs, throat-clears, skirt-straightens, nostril flaring and leg shaking…I learned everything I needed to know about what it meant to be a real housewife in love and hip-hop.
Fifteen years ago, women married to rappers were largely invisible. You might see a glimpse of them on the red carpet or in a paparazzi shot. But you definitely didn’t see them on reality television. Most of the time, you didn't even know the name of a rapper’s wife or girlfriend. It’s hard to imagine now. But rappers’ wives kept their mouths shut and kept their circle very small.
I was haunted by what I saw in that limo with Aisha and Deb. Beyond looking bored and uncomfortable, they seemed like they were in a very beautiful prison, sitting across from each other in a luxury car with a driver, not saying a word while their husbands were loud and rowdy just a few inches away. They were dead silent as we waited for their men to decide it was time to go.
It was so hard for me to relate to those women. We were all the same age. But my life was so radically different. I was still years away from marriage and babies. I was a nosy reporter who traveled the world, sticking a microphone in the face of people like Ja and Irv Gotti, who understood and respected the power my recorder held. I earned my own money and had lived on my own for years. And unlike those women, I had no idea what it would be like to not live paycheck-to-paycheck.
My boyfriend at the time was also in the entertainment industry. I couldn’t imagine sitting in the back seat of a car while he was laughing it up. I’d be right next to him, throwing back drinks and talking shit. Poised and proper I was not.
So, I wrote my story on Ja Rule, (including an exclusive, about his fight with an up-and-coming rapper named 50 Cent), and then I kept it moving. But I never forgot those tense moments in the car with Aisha and Deb.
A few years later, I was asked to write a story about women married to rappers for VIBE. I instantly thought about that night with Deb and Aisha and I quickly accepted.
I reached out to Tashera Simmons, Kim Mathers, Shante Broadus, Simone Smith, Claudinette Jean, (wives of DMX, Eminem, Snoop Dog, LL Cool J and Wyclef Jean), and a host of other wives. I only wanted to interview women who were there when their husbands had absolutely nothing. What happens when your man makes it big and you have more money than you can spend in a lifetime?
Of course, I also tried to interview Deb and Aisha. I was relentless, using every source I had to track down the women and get them on the phone. I sent letters. (Handwritten. With stamps. Remember those?) I sent emails. I made calls. I left numerous voices. I may or may not have sent fruit baskets with notes inside. I sent two-way pages from my boyfriend’s two-way pager since I didn’t have my own.
Most of the wives ignored me. Or flat out said no. Some had their husband’s reps call me and tell me to step off. This continued for months.
One of the reasons I couldn’t get any of the wives to talk to me was because of a book that had just been published. Confessions of a Video Vixen, written by Karrine “Superhead” Steffans, had exploded, ripping the curtains back on the misogyny and careless sexual escapades in the hip-hop and urban entertainment community.
Many of the men Karrine outed in the book, like Ja Rule, Dr. Dre, Bobby Brown, DMX, Shaquille O’Neal and Method Man, were married, most were with their day-one women, the ones who were there when the money wasn’t.
Ja Rule, according to Steffans’ book, actually gave her the nickname Superhead, borrowed from a line in a Jadakiss song.
And while some she didn’t name, others, again, like Ja Rule, she put fully on blast, including photos. She said she and Ja took Ecstasy together and had multiple threesomes—all while Aisha was home raising their children. And she claimed that Irv Gotti forced her to perform a sexual act—and then passed her around to his friends, all while his wife Deb was home raising their children.
I had done enough investigative reporting to know—there was NO way Steffans could have published that book without lawyers heavily checking her facts. If it made the book, I knew Steffans had receipts to back up all her stories.
It was no wonder I couldn’t get Aisha, Deb or any of the wives to agree to an interview.
One day, I was watching Run’s House on MTV. I saw Aisha and Ja Rule’s daughter Brittany playing with Run’s children. I hadn’t seen the little girl since I’d interviewed Ja back in their condo. I smiled. Brittany and her little brother had grown up to be absolutely adorable. Then my smile faded when I heard someone say something about how Ja and Run were neighbors.
I looked at the notebook of possible addresses I had for Aisha and Ja. One of the addresses listed was located in the Bergen County town that I knew for sure Rev Run lived in. So there, I was, sitting in my apartment, realizing that I had the right address for Aisha. And it was a fifty-minute ride from my sofa.
I did ninety miles an hour on the Garden State Parkway and got to the house in thirty minutes. The house, a monstrous property set back from the street, was gated. I pulled up and rang the doorbell.
“Who is it?”
“This is Aliya King. From Vibe. I’m here to talk to Aisha Atkins.”
“Who? From where?”
“Aliya. From Vibe.”
There was silence from the intercom. But the gates began to slide open. I walked down the pathway and waited at the front door. It opened and a woman who looked like Aisha’s twin sister stood there staring at me.
“What do you want?”
“I’m writing a story and I wanted to interview Aisha,” I said, my hands shaking and my heart pounding. “I sent her a few letters but I didn’t hear back from her.”
“Well she’s not here. She’s picking up the kids from school. You want to leave a card?”
“Yes,” I said, digging out a business card. “I’ll be in the area for the next few hours if she wants to give me a— ”
“Well never mind, here she comes now,” said the woman. I turned around and saw Aisha coming down the driveway in a white Benz. I could see the kids bouncing around in the backseat. I could also see Aisha’s face. It was the same steely face I saw in that limo five years before. She pulled up to the door. The kids began to get out of the car and she sharply ordered them to stay put. She closed the door and locked it.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Aliya. From Vibe. I—
“Did you send me a fruit basket?”
“Oh. Um. Yeah. So you did get it…”
Aisha twisted her lips.
“Yeah. I got it.”
“Can I interview you? It’s a story on—
“Why should I?”
I don’t remember what I said here. It was something about setting the record straight and having her voice heard. All I know is, I begged.
Aisha just stared at me. At one point, she instructed her sister, who was still standing at the door, to get the kids out of the car and into the house. I could see the kids running around, throwing their backpacks down and taking off their shoes.
When I was done begging, Aisha rolled her eyes and looked up at the sky. She whispered something under her breath and then looked at me and shook her head. Finally, she pushed her back against the front door until it opened completely.
“Come inside,” she said. “Have a seat in the kitchen.”
I sat. Took out my notebook and my recorder. Aisha moved around the kitchen, distributing snacks to the kids and making tea. Finally, she sat across from me at the table with her cup of tea. Aisha gestured to the recorder and made a motion for me to turn it on. I pressed record.
“Well?” she asked. “What do you want to know?"