Rap is a particularly masculine industry in which sexist and misogynist lyrics are routinely used. It is also a largely black-dominated music industry, which requires both sexuality and race to be considered, and studied, within the context. It is interesting to see what happens when a female finds her way into an industry that is mainly popularized through its use of sexist lyrics. How do these women dictate a mainly male space? Can women in the rap industry be feminists? These are the questions I hope to answer in my project, and within this artist’s statement.
An article titled “Black Masculinity and the Sound of Wealth” delves into this idea of black male performers using wealth, objects, and excess to show their masculinity in music. This “wealth” also includes success with woman. And not romantic success, but success of a sexual nature. This idea that sexual prowess directly relates to masculinity is where the exceptionally misogynist lyrics and ideas in these rap songs stem from. However, women in the rap industry have, and are currently battling these ideals in their own ways. This feminism within rap culture widely varies from performer to performer, which makes for a fascinating conversation of what it means to show feminism in the rap
Hip hop feminism, a term coined by Joan Morgan, helps to show an outlook on feminism that directly correlates with my final project. What exactly is hip-hop feminism? Can hip-hop and feminism even be connected, can one be a feminist and also enjoy hip hop? There is no cut and dry definition of what it means to be a feminist, or to be feminist in a correct way. Joan Morgan allows for a different way of thought within the real of feminism and creates her own model. She notes “…as a feminist, I could hardly ignore that my reaction differed drastically from many of my feminist counterparts” (Morgan, 51). In her book, she touches upon the fact that the feminism she had witnessed seemed to be more in favor of white women, and that there wasn’t a feminism that catered to the needs of black-bodied woman. Because of this, she used her own ideas on feminism, and hip hop, and created a term that allowed her to explore a new type of feminism. In her own words, Morgan writes, “…I needed a feminism brave enough to fuck with the grays. And this was not my mother’s feminism” (59).
Ellen Koskoff’s chapter “From Women to Gender” explores the idea of women in music. She discovers that in music, and life in general, male dominance is apparent. She also discusses how it is more difficult for women to express their views through music because many women in music have been completely forgotten, or “erased” (14). Koskoff’s views are that much clearer within rap, because of the blatant disregard of woman in the lyrics, and the depiction of women in music videos and performances. This is why the emergence and popularity of women rappers are so incredible. Different women rappers show their own feminism in their own ways.
Cheryl L. Keyes’s article “Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance” was also a main outside source for my final project. Her article broke down female rappers into four separate categories. Her categories are slightly broad and controversial. It is difficult to break down an entire group of women into four, small boxes. However, the way in which she does so is helpful in understanding different ways in which these rappers show their femininity, and their feminism.
The first category is Queen Mother, which are women rappers who “…view themselves as African-centered icons…” (Keyes, 256). This group of women focus on traditional African culture and “…Black female empowerment” (257). Keyes uses Queen Latifah as an example of a Queen Mother. Next is a Fly Girl; women who have are stylish with their fashion, jewelry, and makeup. These women wear eccentric and revealing clothes, allowing their bodies to be shown off, which shows independence in these women. Salt n Pepa are used as examples. Third is Sista with Attitude; women who show their attitude and use it as a main source of who they are as performers. These women are those who reclaim the term bitch and have explicitly sexual lyrics. Many of these women rap in a hyper masculine way, and use that as a way to show their power. Lil’ Kim is shown as an example. Lastly there is Lesbian, which are rappers who show lesbianism from a black perspective. This rap was used as a way to show the lesbian lifestyle through music. Missy Elliot is used as the example for this category.
Obviously, it is problematic to reduce an entire community into vague groupings. It is also possible for a female rapper to be included in more than one category, or perhaps not have a place in any of the categories that Keyes has created. This notion of creating rules and barriers for women and what it means for women to be feminist is a large part of why I decided to do my final project on how female rappers display feminism. There is not one way to do this, not a set of rules that are proven to be correct. My video shows different ways in which female rappers own their womanhood and show the world what feminism means to them.
I decided to do a video project for my final because it would allow me to show performances and music videos in an easy way. Not only that, but I was also able to incorporate interviews that touched on the topic as well. I created a video collage in order to piece together what I believe shows hip-hop feminism. Joan Morgan’s interviews were very relevant to the topic and so that is why I added them into the video. I also used interviews with Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Angel Haze, and Queen Latifah. I used music videos (and a live performance) that I believed showed these female rappers represent their womanhood in interesting, different, and informative ways.
Some female rappers, such as Lauryn Hill, used their music to tell women how to act more reserved in order to show their worth. But other rappers, such as Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim promote overt sexuality, because women are allowed to own their sexuality, and act however they please. Salt n Pepa are also erotic in their music, and in “None of Your Business”, they seem to be speaking to men who are judgmental towards women who are free with their sexuality. Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” touched upon men calling women degrading names, and how it needs to stop. All of the songs I chose (which I will list in my bibliography) were used to show how hip-hop feminism is possible, and how trying to contain feminism, or limit it, is not helpful. I wanted to show how a wide variety of female rappers own the stage, their music, their sexuality, and their womanhood, and how they all did it differently, and yet equally successfully. I wanted to show how all of these women are feminist in their own unique ways, and stress what a feat that is in a male dominated space, such as rap. The music, the talks, and the in this video are all used to back up this main idea.
• Keyes, Cheryl L. “Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces: Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance.” The Journal of American Folklore 113.449 (2000): 255. Web.
• Koskoff, Ellen. “From Women to Gender.” A Feminist Ethnomusicology: Writings on Music and Gender. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 13-30. Print.
• Morris, Mitchell. “Black Masculinity and the Sound of Wealth.” The Persistence of Sentiment: Display and Feeling in Popular Music of the 1970s. Berkeley: U of California, 2013. 34-58. Print.
• Morgan, Joan. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip-hop Feminist. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Print.
• Rebollo-Gil, Guillermo, and Amanda Moras. “Black Women and Black Men in Hip Hop Music: Misogyny, Violence and the Negotiation of (White-Owned) Space.” J Pop Cult The Journal of Popular Culture 45.1 (2012): 118-32. Web.
Video Collage Sources
• Eve – EVE, 2013
• Queen Latifah – U.N.I.T.Y., 1993
• Lauryn Hill – That Thing (Doo Wap), 1998
• Nicki Minaj – Anaconda, 2015
• Salt n Pepa – Shoop, 1993
• Lil’ Kim – How Many Licks, 2000
• Missy Elliot – Work It, 2003
• Salt n Pepa – None of Your Business, 1993
• Missy Elliot – Lose Control, 2005
• Beyonce ft. Nicki Minaj – Feeling Myself, 2014
• Lil’ Kim’s How Many Licks live performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-v3xEG6WHU
• Nicki Minaj Interview on The View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLLZddPKc4M
• Nicki Minaj Interview (with pink hair): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzGZamtlRP0
• Nicki Minaj Interviewed by Queen Latifah: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3aDlxmxX0M
• Joan Morgan Panel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2R8NmNaEuk
• Joan Morgan on MSNBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arF-YkH3zJY
• Angel Haze Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRT-jWjJ7nc
• Lil’ Kim Radio Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ATpSVS3nwc
• Queen Latifah Public Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La6B1GksuQo