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50 Years of Hip-Hop: Remembering Atlanta pioneers Silk Tymes Leather

Former member of female rap group doesn’t want people to forget their legacy.
With the help of Jermaine Dupri, Silk Tymes Leather (including Jordan Victoria aka Silk on the left, Jocelyn Rabon aka Leather, and Dyonna Lewis aka DJ Diamond X on the right) became the first rap act from Atlanta to sign a record deal. The trio's first and only album dropped in 1990. (Photo courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather)

Credit: Courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather

Credit: Courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather

With the help of Jermaine Dupri, Silk Tymes Leather (including Jordan Victoria aka Silk on the left, Jocelyn Rabon aka Leather, and Dyonna Lewis aka DJ Diamond X on the right) became the first rap act from Atlanta to sign a record deal. The trio's first and only album dropped in 1990. (Photo courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather)

When hip-hop’s first half century is recounted, men are given starring roles and women often are reduced to supporting acts or not recognized at all.

Male pioneers like The Sugarhill Gang (who created the first rap song to play on the radio) and Run DMC (who had the first rap video to air on MTV) are widely regarded as hip-hop landmarks.

But MC Sha-Rock, the Bronx native who was an original member of the first rap group to appear on national television, Funky 4 +1, is rarely remembered for being the first female rapper. Da Brat seamlessly placing a Midwest spin on g-funk — becoming the first female rapper to have a platinum album in 1995 — is often overlooked.

And in Atlanta during the late 1980s, female trio Silk Tymes Leather became the first rap act from the city to sign a record deal. But many people aren’t aware of that fact.

Silk Tymes Leather vanished almost as quickly as they appeared on the scene, guided by a teenage Jermaine Dupri, who after discovering them, went on to create one of Atlanta’s hottest record labels — So So Def — without them.

“It was hard being females, number 1, and it was hard not being from New York, number 2,” said Jordan Victoria, a former member of Silk Tymes Leather.

Dupri, Atlanta’s groundbreaking producer, now 50, is curating a set celebrating Atlanta’s hip-hop legacy at this weekend’s Essence Festival in New Orleans. The concert will feature legendary rappers Big Boi, Gucci Mane, Lil Jon, T.I. and Ludacris. No female acts are slated to perform in the Atlanta-focused set.

“The story of how Jermaine became Jermaine is very pivotal because of us,’' Victoria said. “I don’t doubt that he would’ve found artists if not for us because he was that talented, but I think the recognition of how it all came about should be acknowledged more.”

"Do Your Dance (Work It Out)" is a single from Silk Tymes Leather's 1990 debut album "It Ain't Where Ya From...It's Where Ya At." The group, which consisted of Jordan Victoria aka Silk, Dyonna Lewis aka DJ Diamond X and Jocelyn Rabon aka Leather, became the first rap act from Atlanta to sign a record deal. (Photo courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather)

Credit: Courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather

Credit: Courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather

New York and College Park

Victoria conceived the idea to be in a rap trio after accompanying her former fiancé Jalil Hutchins from Whodini during Fresh Fest Tour in 1984 and 1985. Fresh Fest, produced by Atlanta-based promoter and UniverSoul Circus founder Cedric Walker, was considered the first national hip-hop tour and included notable acts like Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys.

Victoria, who was 18 then, had only rapped covers of The Sugarhill Gang and The Sequence at family gatherings when she was younger. But she always loved music. And getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the magic of those prominent acts in hip-hop’s infancy further piqued her interest.

It was one Fresh Fest act in particular that sealed the deal on her dream — ABC (Atlanta Brooklyn Connection), a dance group comprised of 12-year-olds Chad Elliott and Jermaine Dupri. The duo opened the show. It wasn’t until the last night of the tour that Dupri and Victoria realized they shared the same hometown. Both of them assumed the other was from New York, considering everyone else on the tour was from there.

“We were in the lobby of the hotel, and he used to always sit in my lap and just like hang on me ‘cause he was like my little brother,” Victoria said. “Literally, we lived like less than two miles from each other in College Park.”

The pair’s bond grew stronger after the tour, marking the genesis of Silk Tymes Leather. The trio included Victoria aka Silk (because of Victoria’s softer tone), Jocelyn Rabon aka Leather (because of Rabon’s deeper voice) and Dyonna Lewis aka DJ Diamond X.

Dupri’s dad, Michael Mauldin, agreed to manage them as Silk & Leather, before changing the name to Silk Tymes Leather.

The group started recording demos in Dupri’s bedroom, which resulted in them being signed to Geffen Records in the late 1980s — the first Atlanta rap group to sign a record deal.

Although Dupri was only 16 at the time, the group trusted him with writing and producing the songs. A dancer, he also implemented a rigorous choreography boot camp so the trio could learn how to breathe without missing a beat in the rap.

“We would record at midnight and finish at seven or eight o’clock in the morning,” Victoria said. “I literally would leave and go straight to work and then come back and do it all over again.”

With the help of Jermaine Dupri, Silk Tymes Leather became the first rap act from Atlanta to sign a record deal. The trio's first and only album dropped in 1990. (Photo courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather)

Credit: Courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather

Credit: Courtesy of Silk Tymes Leather

Falling out of the picture

It Ain’t Where Ya From…It’s Where Ya At,” the group’s debut album, dropped in 1990. The album didn’t reach any mainstream success. Dupri said the group being from Atlanta made it harder for him to market them outside the city.

“When I brought out Silk Tymes Leather, I was going to places and giving people their records and talking about the South and (how) we’re from Atlanta, and nobody cared,” he said. “It was like, “So what y’all from Atlanta. Who cares? Nobody raps down there. Y’all are country.’”

While Silk Tymes Leather tried to find a niche in the South, female rappers in New York like Salt-N-Pepa, Sweet Tee, The Sequence, and MC Lyte were making more noise, though hip-hop remained male-dominated.

Later that year, Silk Tymes Leather toured with Public Enemy, Heavy D, Kid ‘N Play and Digital Underground and started recording their sophomore album. Victoria said the release date for it was consistently delayed by Geffen, which was distributed by MCA. She said MCA prioritized Bobby Brown and Bell Biv DeVoe, who were bigger artists at the time.

The delays caused stress and, according to Victoria, the group’s constant bickering made it difficult for them to work together.

Silk Tymes Leather disbanded before the album could be released.

“Life took its course and it’s unfortunate that it took its course during that time because the second album was a really, really good album,” Victoria said. “Jermaine did his thing on that album.”

Lewis and Rabon, the other two members of the trio, could not be reached for comment.

Jordan Victoria, a former member of Silk Tymes Leather, is now an Atlanta-based interior designer with her company, Atelier Jordan.

Credit: Lauren Chambers

Credit: Lauren Chambers

Victoria moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to pursue event planning, before pivoting to interior architecture design. She is back home now and has a studio and warehouse in Atlanta called Atelier Jordan, which she created five years ago. She often connects with Lewis on social media but hasn’t spoken with Rabon since the group separated.

Now, more than 30 years after Silk Tymes Leather’s debut, women are reaching mainstream success more than ever. Southern artists like Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion, Miami rap duo City Girls and even Clayton County’s Latto are proving that the South still has something to say.

Victoria said she’s happy more female rappers from the South today are making their mark because that’s all Silk Tymes Leather wanted to do.

“We felt like it shouldn’t matter where you’re from, it shouldn’t matter where you are, and we’re here to state our claim and put Atlanta and Georgia and the South on the map.”

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