You’ll know her voice from Q-Tip’s latest album The Renaissance, featuring on party favourite “Manwomanboogie.” You might even recall her performances on Def Poetry Jam. Actually, 27-year old California-born poet, MTV2 presenter, visual artist and rapper Amanda Seales – better known as headstrong go-getter Amanda Diva – initially made her name as a music journalist for the likes of and XXL. Now on the other end of the dictaphone, Ms Diva speaks to SoulCulture about art, putting down the pen to pick up the mic and why her new (and free) EP Spandex, Rhymes and Soul proves she’s a credible artist.

“I ain’t nobody’s fool, I ain’t nobody’s sucker/ Laid back, I play it cool, but please don’t push my buttons/ Some might say I have a quick temper, Some might say I’ve got a short fuse/ I try not to let it get the best of me but it’s true that we all have our issues/ The things you try to run from become walls you run into/ Become bags that weigh your soul down, Turn your yellow into blue/ and I see it, see it, see it all the time.”

– “Devils” [Amanda Diva – Spandex, Rhymes and Soul]
[AUDIO: Amanda Diva-Devils.mp3]

“Music wasn’t my goal,” she tells me. “It was never my goal, contrary to popular belief. It literally just happened. And once it did, I wasn’t even sure if I was really committed. So I was like, ‘I don’t wanna call myself an artist until I’m officially committed to this and I don’t wanna approach other folks who are legitimately artists unless I’m officially committed’. ‘Cause you know I hate people who wanna DABBLE in the music business. That’s what “40 Emcees” was all about, like don’t dabble. If you’re gonna do it, do it. It’s a craft, it’s an art.”

-Amanda performing “40 Emcees” on Def Poetry Jam:

Graduating in 2005 with Masters in African-American studies whilst simultaneously wrapping up her presenting post for MTV2, Diva found herself wondering what to do next. “I had met two of my life goals…” she explains, “I had wanted to go to college like all my life, so it was like ‘ok, now it’s done…?’ I had been putting so much energy towards that…and I always wanted to be on MTV, and I met that goal. So it was like, well what do I wanna do now…? I was like all depressed for like all of ‘05. Then top of ‘06 I was like ‘ok we’re gonna stop being depressed and we’re gonna go back to the beginning and figure this all out’.

“Poetry was my start, so I went back to poetry. I ended up doing a show and there was a band. I could never rhyme on beat, then all of a sudden I could rhyme on beat… I ended up running in to the band two days later and they were like ‘we wanna be your band!’ When stuff like that happens, you’ve gotta heed that.”

When her album comes out (and she’s aiming for the end of 2009) and her success increases, is it possible that Diva will feel the same ‘what next’ listlessness with her music career? Not according to her. “Music is so broad that there’s always another set of trees to look over. It’s not so finite. I wanna perform for U2-sized audiences; there’s a loooong way to go! At the same time I do my television stuff – I have two web shows [] that I’m hoping to take to a wider audience, hopefully on television. I think I’m lucky because I’m equally as good at both facets, but also I figured out how to finally put what people love about me on TV as a host, into my music. It’s not like complete separate entities – they’re both Amanda Diva, it’s just here she is talking and here she is singing.”

Her turning point was performing at the Black Lily festival ?uestlove on the drums as she did – “it legitimises you in a way.” Soon afterwards, Diva was invited to join Marsha Ambrosius on the ‘Floetry Remixed’ tour in place of British ‘Floacist’ Natalie Stewart – and she jumped at the opportunity. “So I met with their managers, next week I met with Marsha, a month later we were on the road.” Replacing Stewart on tour was a controversial move for staunch Floetry fans who desired nothing but the original duo. Was Diva aware of the tension this would cause?

“I knew that it was gonna be that way,” she concedes, “that’s why I was very adamant about doing press prior to – and they were very adamant about us not. I didn’t wanna surprise people at a show, I don’t think it’s fair. It’s like going to see OutKast and they didn’t tell you that Andre wasn’t coming. That’s not fair. So when I went and did the shows I knew it was gonna be difficult but I didn’t know it was gonna be like That! With people cursing me out from the audience. By the end of the shows, I will say this, I did win them over.”

If her role on the Floetry tour didn’t convince, her “genre-stretching” EP Spandex, Rhymes and Soul intends to. “I have a point to prove,” she states. Her switch from journalist to music artist left some in the US ‘questioning her legitimacy’ due to her journalistic background – had it just been a clever way of making the right contacts?

“Here in the states it’s very much like you’re only allowed to do one thing. It’s like ‘don’t dare be multifaceted ‘cause now you’re just being greedy!’” Diva says, clearly frustrated. “But then there comes a point when you can’t question it anymore, like c’mon now, she did this.”

[AUDIO: Amanda Diva-Colorblind feat Johnny Polygon.mp3]

“So that’s what I stand behind with this project and I really feel like it’s a dealmaker. I really feel like It’s like, ok If you don’t mess with me with this then you just don’t mess with me. You just don’t like it. But don’t tell me after hearing this that I’m not a credible artist, because you’re just full of it, you’re a hater.”

Taking inspiration from a relationship she feels less than fondly about in retrospect, Diva gives a simple illustration of how pain can breed art: “I can probably name about five songs on [Spandex, Rhymes and Soul] that were inspired by this fool. I mean he’s a loser now, as you can hear with harp strings.

“But you know what, if you wanna do an album – get in a relationship. End it just when it’s time for you to start turning in the album, I’m telling you man…. I can’t even trick myself into saying ‘this is a waste of my time!’

“If it wasn’t for this asshole, I wouldn’t have these songs. That’s just the facts! Like, that’s what he was there for. He definitely knows [it’s about him]. He can tell people ‘Yeah that’s me’ and I wont even be bothered ‘cause it’s true. Like ‘Thank you, now go away.’”

However, the bottom line of her inspiration to rhyme is Lauryn Hill. “Then there’s Q-Tip, Mos Def… folks that made you be like “ugh, I gotta re-write that verse!” she laughs.

Whatever happened to the female emcee? I muse. Everyone loves Lauryn, and can name a few other females who mastered the mic. But who’s left? Diva names MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Monie Love and Bahamadi – then pauses, admitting, “There aren’t any.”

“There’s always gonna be a small number because [Hip Hop is] so male-driven, they won’t let us in. Bottom line, they won’t let us in. You can’t break through the barrier – that’s a reason why I started doing a lot more singing. One, I wanted to sing more, but two, it was like this comes in handy because I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.

“Personally I think [the problem] is the audience. I could be wrong, but just from what I’ve seen… whenever any woman says she’s rhyming off top it’s not about her rhymes it’s just like ‘Girl rhyming? Peeeace…’ so you know there’s already an obstacle there that’s almost insurmountable.

“I just had somebody on Twitter telling me, ‘You only got in Q-Tip’s [“Manwomanboogie”] video because you had sex with him.’ No I didn’t, one. And two, why does that always have to be the reason?! What is the deal with that? Like, why?” Diva acknowledges bumping into the sleazier members of the music industry who are pretty blatant in throwing sexual favours on the table in return for advancement. She explains, “‘Sexual harassment’ doesn’t really exist as a claim in our business. It just is what it is and you deal with it. And luckily I have a sharp tongue so I can get back real quick.”

How does she avoid or deal with these awkward scenarios? I can almost hear her rolling up her sleeves as she responds:

“You have to be assertive and you have to be aggressive. And I’m not gonna front, people will knock you for it. I mean people definitely knock me personally and professionally for being so assertive and so aggressive and being so bottom line about how I’m dealt with, how I’m spoken to, and it’s about how I handle business. But it is a man’s world and what is ok for them, what’s considered being on-point for them, is a lot of times considered ‘being a bitch’ for us [women]. Or like, ‘you’re too much’.

“What did Beyonce say? A. Diva is a female version of a hustler.

[audio: diva – diva freestyle.mp3]

“It’s just knowing what you want and not settling for less. I’m telling you, every time I’m laid back and lenient, that’s exactly what I get – less. I get taken advantage of and I get walked over. And I just become more resolute at being Amanda: take it or leave it.”

Spandex, Rhymes and Soul is available now for FREE download [click here].