Hip Hop’s ‘Hidden Figures’: The Feminist Herstory and Future of Hip Hop


Black ladies have traditionally performed an important position within the origins of hip hop, however are sometimes unacknowledged. It’s time to study the wealthy herstory of hip hop feminism.

Lil Kim, pictured right here performing in 2008, is one in all many ladies who haven’t been sufficiently acknowledged for contributions they made to hip hop tradition. (windyjonas / Flickr)

With the current opening of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, the cultural phenomenon known as hip hop is on everybody’s thoughts. However the place are the ladies? How are they represented?

The gender omission of ladies as architects of hip hop, from its humble beginnings as much as the present second with its international influence, is just not a brand new problem. Regardless of hip hop’s cultural contributions globally of music, beats, rhymes, dancing, clothes and way of life, ladies have been noticeably absent from its origin story and the pantheon of Black males who’re thought to have “made” hip hop what it’s at the moment.

Furthermore, there have been large debates over how Black women particularly are described and portrayed in hip hop Within the early days of hip hop, there have been robust discussions and critiques over its glamorization of violence by way of gangsta rap and the degrading illustration of ladies, and particularly Black ladies, in music movies and within the style’s lyrics.

This social critique of hip hop truly resulted in a 1994 congressional listening to on the matter, spearheaded by political leaders like U.S. Consultant Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Those that participated regarded the glorification of violence and the pornographic portrayal of ladies to be a trigger for nationwide concern. The Congressional Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice entitled this report “Shaping Our Responses To Violent and Demeaning Imagery in Popular Music.”

An archival picture of the 1994 report, “Shaping Our Responses To Violent and Demeaning Imagery in Standard Music.”

They’ve Paid Their Dues: Giving Props to Girls in Hip Hop

Quick ahead, and virtually three many years later ladies nonetheless haven’t been sufficiently acknowledged and given their props for contributions they’ve made to the complete spectrum of hip hop tradition, and difficult the gender stereotypes, which nonetheless persist.

What follows is a herstory to rejoice Girls’s Historical past Month and reveal a few of hip hop’s “Hidden Figures.”

The Beginnings of Hip Hop Feminism

Hip hop, the biggest cultural phenomenon to ever grace the globe, emerged in 1973 after Cindy Campbell, a Black lady from the West Bronx, birthed the sensible concept to host a back-to-school get together to fund her college wardrobe. She requested her brother, DJ Kool Herc, to DJ on the get together—and the remainder is hip hop historical past. DJ Kool Herc is credited with birthing hip hop, whereas his sister’s contribution is misplaced and he or she stays a “hidden determine” in hip hop’s historical past.

In each aspect of hip hop music and tradition, ladies have been innovating and setting new precedents, but most connoisseurs of hip hop stay unaware of how ladies have actively formed its tradition and music from inception.

In 1999, the time period “hip hop feminism” was first coined by Joan Morgan in her seminal work, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. Nonetheless, in motion, hip hop feminism started a lot earlier and in numerous types: from Girl Pink’s graffiti resistance in 1979 to the rappers of the Eighties and Nineties resembling Queen Latifah’s Ladies FirstMonie Love’s Down To Earth, the sexual revolution of MCs like Foxy Brown and Lil Kim difficult gender energy dynamics. Internationally, ladies like Las Crudas (Cuba) remind us that Black ladies within the hip hop motion have been a gradual power in its evolution.

Quick ahead to the 2000s, there have been a number of educational interventions made—like Tricia Rose’s Black NoiseGwendolyn Pough’s Check it While I Wreck It in 2004, Ruth Nicole Brown’s Black Girlhood Celebrated: Toward a Hip Hop Feminist PedagogyKyra Gaunt’s The Games Black Girls PlayImani Perry’s Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip HopSusana M. Morris and Brittney Cooper’s Crunk Feminist MovementRachel RaimistZenzele Isoke … the listing goes on.

In each aspect of hip hop music and tradition, ladies have been innovating and setting new precedents, but most connoisseurs of hip hop stay unaware of how ladies have actively formed its tradition and music from inception. From pioneering trend designers that create contemporary new types, to shape-shifting entrepreneurs who helped globalize the artwork kind, proficient B-girls, daring graffiti artists, undefeated and unmatched MCs, versatile DJs and dynamic educators, ladies present up and present out.

Even stretching past the instant cultural imprint, ladies have been intimately concerned in writing hip hop’s herstory in movie, documentary and archiving such contributions.

An Absence of Girls’s Voices

Within the early 2000s, Gregory Hall produced the documentary collection, Extra Than Music: Songs That Modified The World, which later turned Impact: Songs that Changed the World and aired on Bravo (2003) as a music mini-series. Within the phase on Run DMC and Aerosmith: Walk This Way, the movie took a dive into hip hop’s around the globe. 

Dr. Irma McClaurin, a Black ladies anthropologist, then working at Fisk College as deputy provost, at the moment a member of the Contemporary Daring So Def Collective, was the one lady interviewed and featured in the one phase on hip hop within the 12-part collection. Though not listed within the credit, McClaurin known as consideration to the double commonplace used to judge Black and Brown city youth in hip hop tradition who make capitalism work for them by the artwork kind in her commentary. Her presence within the movie demonstrates how ladies have been within the vanguard of forming, decoding and defending hip hop tradition, but stay unacknowledged.

Rising with the hip hop business because it has advanced into a world phenomenon, ladies live examples of what it means to interrupt the gender bins of the outdated, construct anew and raise up others alongside them. Regardless of monolithic and stereotyped representations of ladies within the mainstream, particularly for Black and different ladies of colour, the contributions of ladies to innovating in hip hop music and tradition is plain. There are such a lot of unnamed, unlisted and undiscovered artists on the market.

Contemporary Daring So Def Convention: A Recognition of Girls in Hip Hop

Cowl of Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

The Fresh Bold So Def Collective is doing this work of lifting up ladies’s contributions in hip hop.

Contemporary, Daring and So Def is a feminist initiative spearheaded by Martha Diaz, founding father of the Hip Hop Affiliation (H2O), the unique hip hop movie competition, the Steingertz Hip Hop Heart at NYU and a lot extra. Diaz convened the Girls in Hip Hop Collaborative to hitch forces and finish ladies’s erasure within the story of hip hop’s origins final yr. The unique convention supplies a strong window for folks to gaze contained in the work that has gone earlier than, be launched to what exists now, and get glimpses of what’s but to come back.

There’s a lengthy listing of ladies whose lives and lyrics show that there isn’t a one blueprint to being who you’re.

Whether or not it’s MC Sha-Rock, Debbie D or Pebblee Poo, they carved a path for us to expertise the Laila’s Wisdom Rhapsody presents.

The timeless The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

The grit of Nitty Scott.

The mind of Mona Haydar.

The riveting storytelling and vulnerability of Sammus.

The lyrical genius of Akua Naru.

The unabashed prowess of Sa Roc.

The sick rhythm and movement of Chika.

The unapologetic seduction of Foxy Brown.

The no-fucks-given sensuality of Lil Kim.

The youthful OG Nicki Minaj when she advised us she got here to “Fly”:

“I’m not a phrase, I’m not a line, I’m not a woman that would ever be outlined, I’m not fly, I’m levitation, I symbolize a complete technology.” 

Girls abroad are additionally displaying up and doing the work, day out and in. From Shadia Mansour calling for an finish to a violent Israeli occupation of Palestinians, to Panmela Castro calling for an finish to violence towards ladies in Brasil by graffiti artwork, to Aysha Upchurch displaying what dancing diplomacy appears to be like like inside U.S. greater schooling, to Edd Wheeler breaking age boundaries as one in all Brazil’s oldest MCs within the style, to South Africa’s Gigi Lamayne, the world of ladies in hip hop is huge and boundless.

But, within the public sphere, the enter of ladies in hip hop is grossly missed. Far too typically, hip hop is depicted within the media as not solely a male style, with ladies introduced as exceptions and barely acknowledged for the brilliance they’ve contributed from the beginning, but in addition decreasing their worth as objects to be seen and never heard. The Contemporary Daring So Def convention challenges all that. It forefronts ladies in hip hop and locations them on the world map in ways in which reveal their multi-dimensional, nuanced, advanced existence.

Forging Their Personal Path Ahead Outdoors the Field

Girls in hip hop have all the time been on the epicenter of change and their future will proceed to provide daring reclamations and re-imaginings of what’s attainable, telling their very own herstory of accomplishments.

Far too typically, hip hop is depicted within the media as not solely a male style, with ladies introduced as exceptions and barely acknowledged for the brilliance they’ve contributed from the beginning, but in addition decreasing their worth as objects to be seen and never heard.

Take Follow the KEEPERS for instance, a world collective of artists, students and activists convened by Akua Naru, who’re creating the primary complete digital database to doc, heart and map ladies’s contributions to hip hop’s 5 many years historical past.

The outdated guidelines don’t apply anymore. As we method hip hop’s fiftieth anniversary, Technology X, who grew up with hip hop, at the moment are getting into mentorship roles and shepherding the youthful technology. The brand new cohort of artists advantages from the inspiration laid earlier than whereas charting their very own paths, ones marked by an plain legacy of innovation, braveness, and unapologetic authenticity. Expertise like Young DevynSaweetieYoung M.A. and Tierra Whack are only a few examples.

In the present day’s ladies in hip hop are creating their very own lane, defying the necessity to match into any particular field for acceptance or acknowledgment as an MC, DJ, B-girl, businesswoman, designer, graffiti artist, archivist and extra. Regardless of going through boundaries of being denied entry to main distributions previously and too typically changing into depending on main file labels that exploit their inventive expertise, ladies in hip hop are forging a brand new path ahead—on their very own phrases. They’re displaying what it means to be contemporary, to be daring, and to be so def.

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