A mother of five uses her hip-hop show to promote peace.
by Beth Ellen . photo by Matt Rose
The question: When does Molly Mcdonough-Leota find time to sleep? By day, she’s a mother to five kids, ages 4 to 14. By night, she’s a full-time nurse in the mother-baby unit at Mission Hospital. Also at night, the 35-year-old North Asheville mom is a hip-hop DJ at Main FM 103.5. On her weekly radio show, Drop Beats, Not Bombs, she says she “spins some dope hip-hop” with her co-host, Lucia Daugherty. Their goal is to not only show people the depth and breadth of global hip-hop—rolling out songs by artists from Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere—but also to counter the impression that hip-hop is all about “bling and cars and women,” says Mcdonough-Leota. “That’s what commercial hip-hop has turned it into, but our show is about getting back to the roots of what hip-hop means—peace, love and respect.”
During the week, Mcdonough-Leota works long shifts at Mission, teaching new mamas how to breastfeed and about things like sleeping and feeding techniques. The Asheville native was trained as a midwife in New Zealand, but she moved to Asheville to be closer to family in 2003. She was disappointed to find that, though she had been acting as a midwife elsewhere, North Carolina’s stricter laws don’t allow her to practice midwifery without many more years of training. After an accelerated 12-month nursing program at Western, she was ready to do what she loved again: work with mothers and newborns.
After her shifts, she takes off her nursing hat and slips on her headphones. Turns out she’s long had an interest socially and politically conscious hip-hop. And she’s always had a knack for juggling multiple personalities, DJing at clubs while studying midwifery at hospitals in New Zealand and Samoa. Her friends there were so impressed with her hip-hop collection that they asked her to play for parties and functions. Back in Asheville in 2005, she and fellow hip-hop collector Michelle Garrison (who’s since moved to Oregon) started Drop Beats, Not Bombs.
In between the hip-hop, soul, and R&B tunes, Mcdonough-Leota and Daugherty interview local musicians, activists and community organizers. The interviewees are sometimes people like the Urban Art Institute’s Michael Hayes, who use music to help low-income youth and others. “Anybody who’s empowering people who are oppressed or need a second chance—we consider that part of the hip-hop movement,” she says. One recent show was devoted to the efforts of the anti-greed protesters Occupy Asheville.
At home, Mcdonough-Leota and her family have frequent dance parties. They mostly share her interest in music and the change it can bring about. With a nod to the hip-hop artist KRS-One, she says: “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.”