Ra the MC’s rap calling came early. “I wrote my first rap when I was in the seventh grade,” says the D.C. native, who counts Notorious B.I.G. and Lauryn Hill among her biggest inspirations growing up.

“I definitely always knew this was what I wanted to do,” she says. “There was no plan B.”

Ra,nee Rashea Faulkner, hit the talent show circuit as a teenager, then landed in New Jersey for college — mostly to appease her mother, who wanted a plan B.

She spent weekends haunting open mics and freestyle battles in nearby New York City, quickly making a name for herself with her aggressive style and wry wordplay.

But, as a female MC, respect didn’t come easily. “You have to go through that phase to get any respect as a rapper up there,” she says. “You’re always underestimated as a woman. It’s a male-dominated industry. It’s always been hard for women.”

Even since she returned to Washington in 2007, Ra says getting taken seriously as a female rapper is its own full-time job. She has a string of successful mixtapes under her belt, performances alongside such heavyweights as Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, and even an MTV VMA Breakout Artist nomination. Still, she says, “I go through headaches at every show trying to get a fair shot.”

But years of hard work are paying off: Ra was just named one of the area’s top 10 rappers by local radio station WKYS. She’s the lone female MC on the list, alongside such hometown rap heroes as Tabi Bonney and Wale.

“It definitely feels good for people to pay attention and acknowledge my work,” says Ra, who joins label mates XO and AB the Producer this week for a performance at Strathmore’s Friday Night Eclectic.

It’s looking like 2011 could be the year Ra crosses over: She dropped her sixth mixtape, “Victory Lap,” this past week, a follow-up to last year’s well-received full-length album, “Heart of a Champion.”

“This tape is reminding people I’m a lyricist,” she says. “I always have fun, but at heart, I’m a rapper.”

» The Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda; Fri., 8 p.m., $10-$12; 301-581-5100. (Grosvenor)

Written by Express contributor Kristina Gray
Photo courtesy Ra the MC