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Rebecca Plasencia doesn't know what an enchilada is, which is strange, especially considering she used to be a waitress at a Mexican restaurant in suburban Detroit.
"I was so high all the time," she explains, glancing at the lunch menu at the University City restaurant Mi Ranchito. She orders the enchilada anyway, doesn't like it, but doesn't send it back. "I don't want to be rude," she explains.
Strange stories of stoned culture-clashing come with the territory when you're talking to Plasencia, a local rapper who goes by the name Bee. In fact, spend a little time with her, and you'll notice lots of things that don't add up. Like that her Baby Phat sunglasses still have the sticker on the lens. Or that even though her father is Mexican, everyone's always referring to her as a "white girl."
Even though she arrived here from the Detroit area only six months ago, she's already drawing notice for her stage skills and can be found freestyling at the Hi-Pointe and the Red Sea, or doing short sets before packed crowds at Club Viva and Club Legit. Audiences can hardly believe their eyes when the petite, blue-eyed Plasencia climbs onto the stage. Her confident delivery and out-of-the-box lyrics, however, usually win them over.
Earlier this year Bee self-released a self-titled EP, one that invites comparisons to Eminem and not just because they're both from Detroit. Like Em, Plasencia raps with superior cadence and a unique point of view. In fact, hearing her rap about female empowerment is almost as shocking as Shady rhyming about throwing his wife in the trunk of his car.
On "Girlfriend," which samples Pebbles' '80s classic of the same name, she raps: "You give him the boot, but he call in the middle of the night and he cryin'/That he can't see his life without you, and he wanna make a wife about you/'Come through cause I just wanna see you. I need you, I would never leave you'/Just leave him, you don't need him."
Sporting dyed-red hair, a Hard Rock Café tank top and high heels, Plasencia says she thrives on the fish-out-of-water experience. Growing up in the white, middle-class suburb of Commerce, she played open-mic nights in the city, but her friends refused to come along.
"They were afraid of the 'hood," she says. "But that's the only place I've ever felt like I belonged. I sometimes don't feel comfortable if there's too many white people in the room. The world's just racist."
She says she first became aware of racism's haunting effects after seeing the John Waters flick Hairspray. Her rap name, she adds, is intended to emphasize the contradictions within her and comes from Muhammad Ali's famous phrase, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." (A charcoal drawing of Ali is one of three portraits that grace her bedroom wall the others are of Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls.)
Plasencia is only 22, but she's already been around the proverbial block too many times to count. After graduating from high school in 2002, she intended to go to fashion-design school in Long Beach, California. But at the last minute, she met a local producer who said he would help her hit the big time.
"I was one of only two female emcees out of 25,000 people trying out," she says. "Puff was really nice to me, but I guess I just wasn't what he was looking for."
In 2003, thanks to connections from a neighbor who did booking for the Michigan State Fair, Bee opened for Dru Hill, Fabolous and 112 at that annual event. Since then, she's played showcase concerts all over the nation, from Los Angeles to Newark. Along the way, she's met people who have told her the same old story.
"I've met with a lot of labels," she says. "They're like, 'You're so great,' but they don't call. LA Reid heard one of my songs, but he said, 'Female rappers don't sell records.' It was right after Shawnna's first album (Worth Tha Weight) had just flopped."
But while she moved into a University City apartment with her older sister in January (joining her as a server at CJ Muggs in Clayton), Bee was also drawn to St. Louis for the opportunity to work with entertainment lawyer Eric Kayira, who works with Ebony Eyez and Chingy. His promise to hook her up with influential local queen-makers has already paid off, as she recently worked with TrackBoyz Entertainment producer Versa.
Still, as committed as Plasencia is to her dreams of rap stardom, she vows to never, under any circumstances, sell herself out.
"It's unfortunate that women rappers get on some 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em' shit," she says. "Like, 'I'll give you some head for some money.' Since Lauryn Hill, there hasn't been a woman who portrays us in a positive light. And video girls, they're acting as if they're a doll not even human, just something to look at. I'll never sell my body for quick cash."