Carolyn Rodriguez: From Selling Crack to Prescribing "Medicine" for the Soul
One of the first things Carolyn Rodriguez, the Houston-based female singer and rap artist by way of Arkansas, by way of North Carolina, said to us is that she doesn't like bios. "When you make a bio you have to keep it politically correct," she tells Rocks Off. "You can't tell the real story." She's right. By looking at her bio on her MySpace page, it keeps things really pretty. But come on, if Rocks Off hadn't had an in-depth conversation with her, how could we have known that the first time she came to Texas was to come buy cheap crack in Port Arthur, so she could mark it up eight times its value and slang it on the streets of Arkansas? How could we have known that the first time she heard DJ Screw was not in Texas but in Oklahoma during another drug run and that she was smoking syrup-laced weed when the chopped and screwed first hit her pretty little ears?
Today, Carolyn is known as the Medicine Girl. You'd think it was a clever name that associates her with her drug-dealing days or the Houston rap mascot, Purple Drank, which is often nicknamed "medicine" on the streets (which makes no sense because that's essentially what it is). But it isn't a play on words. At 30 years old, Carolyn's full-time job is selling her music, not drugs. As for the reference to medicine, well, we'll let her explain. "The theme is medicine for your soul," she says. "Any kind of mood that you're in, there's a remedy for that. There's medicine for the painful times, the struggling times, and the thing you had to overcome to get to a better place. My music is about what went on in my life and is more of a representation of me." Yeah, Carolyn's story is somewhat of a cultural roller-coaster that starts off pleasant, gets real gutter and then turns into a tale of inspiration and hustle. Born in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and raised in Fayetteville, Carolyn was the daughter of two Spanish teachers. Her father is a native of Spain and her mother is Anglo and taught on the Fort Bragg military base "where there were people from all over the world." "I was exposed to so much as a little girl," says Carolyn. "I never experienced any kind of racism. What people grow up with and have to deal with in Texas and the Southern states, I really didn't have to deal with that as a child." Every other summer in Spain, road trips with the family... for all intents and purposes, Carolyn was to live out her upbringing tip-toeing through life for the North Carolina State Ballet Company, shooting hoops for the school basketball team and impressing with solos in the school choir. But like all divorces, they have the potential of impacting kids negatively and that's where this story goes from re-runs of The Brady Bunch to HBO's The Wire. With Carolyn's mother's family in Fort Smith, Ark., they'd uproot and settle there, and soon the cold reality of diversity not being the most embraced thing in certain parts of America would hit her in the face.
"I was in shock," she says. "There were hardly any black people and no Mexicans. I was always used to people of different colors. The redneck thing was new to me. I didn't know anybody I could relate to. The only people I could relate to were people of color, who did crime. I was drawn to the criminals, the thug life." From ages 15 to 19, Carolyn sold guns and crack and joined a Crip gang that was made up of an influx of troubled youth from the Laotian, Vietnamese and Thai communities. "Crack became lucrative to me," says Carolyn. But the good in Carolyn tugged at her. She knew she was smart, and hustle was in her veins. She recalled selling stuffed animals and stacks and stacks of books as a kid because she read them so fast. Why graduate a year early from high school to escape racism and then just sell crack? Her father landed a gig at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville at the time Carolyn was soul-searching, and luckily, she had no felonies or major rap sheet preventing her from attending college and graduating with an accounting degree. She'll admit that it wasn't all out of her system. She sold weed to help her get through college and worked as a manager for Domino's. And what used to be college playtime on the Karaoke machine with her four best friends in the world, turned into a gateway to successfully participating in talent shows sponsored by 97.9 The Box. Wanting to record a demo, she found herself in a booth at Dope House Records with Jaime "Pain" Ortiz, who hadn't yet amassed the stellar resume of two Latin Grammy wins, four more nominations and over 4.5 million in total sales.
Here's where the bio is appropriate. In the last four years, Carolyn is known for major features on SPM's The Last Chair Violinist and has done countless more features, from rapping to singing hooks with respected artists in Texas. Juan Gotti, who had major-label distribution on his album, John Getto, put Carolyn's track, "Crush" on it against the advice of everyone around him. Another well known major-label artist, Dallas' Big Gemini, was the first to pay her for a feature after the two met at an SPM show in '01. Today, she is essentially known as Texas' only significant Latin female hip-hop artist. Often times, she's the only woman passing out CDs and doing shows at Lowrider car shows and Medicine Girl is a huge hit on the streets and is being sold out of shops in San Antonio and Austin. Let's not forget her large followings in Phoenix, Denver and Los Angeles. Let's face it, in the world of hip-hop where beautiful Latinas are usually bouncing ass and are the beneficiaries of champagne showers, Carolyn is setting a different precedent. "All these females nowadays are plastic," she says, referring to fake female artists and females in general, but excluding rising artists, like Swishahouse's Surreal, and legends like Mia X and Lil Kim. "Their body is plastic. Their words are plastic. I'm living it," she adds. "I'm out there doing music 24/7, putting food on the table and keeping the lights on. There are talented girls but they're not pushing it and not living it. There aren't many chicks like me. Most are trying to see what they can get out of their man." Write down the prescription, ladies. That's medicine for curing dependence. Like Lil Webbie asked in "Bad Bitch," "I-N-D E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T, do you know what that means mayne?" Carolyn Rodriguez does. Follow Carolyn on MySpace and Twitter. Rolando Rodriguez is managing editor of www.redbrownandblue.com. Follow him on MySpace http://www.myspace.com/rolando_rocksoff and Twitter.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.