“Some think that we can’t flow. Stereotypes, they got to go.” -Queen Latifah
I don’t remember when I was first exposed to Hip Hop. But I do know that I’ve always loved it. And while I’m a huge fan of Biggie, Tupac, Outkast, and Mobb Deep, nothing made me fall in love with Hip Hop more than knowing that women were using a platform-historically dominated by men-to get their points across.
“That’s why I’m talking, one day I was walking down the block
I had my cutoff shorts on right cause it was crazy hot
I walked past these dudes when they passed me
One of ’em felt my booty, he was nasty
I turned around red, somebody was catching the wrath
Then the little one said (Yeah me bitch) and laughed
Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly
Huh, I punched him dead in his eye and said “Who you calling a bitch?” -Queen Latifah
Watching the performances from VH1’s Hip Hop Honors this week reminded me of just how revolutionary women MCs really were-and still are. It is them who made us feel like it was OK to have a voice. Finally, it was OK for us to be autonomous beings, taking ownership of our bodies, setting our own rules, and telling our own stories. For those reasons alone, women in Hip Hop should be given their proper respect.
When you think about political and social movements, I hope you think about Hip Hop, then I hope you think about women in Hip Hop. I know I do. Starting out in the Bronx, Hip Hop emerged as counter-culture. It was an outlet for poor, young, Black and Latino kids to express themselves in ways that they didn’t feel they could before. It was a movement, and in some ways it still is. Although I think Hip Hop culture has become very watered down, I do know that some artists continue to put out great work. Still, not much compares to the raw, unfiltered emotion and lyrical content of rappers decades ago-especially coming from the women in Hip Hop.
Feminism. It was everywhere in the lyrics of our favorite female MCs. It wasn’t (and isn’t) hard to understand why. Aside from the experiences Black women faced on a daily, the issues were compounded times 10 when they entered the brutally misogynystic Hip Hop industry.
I especially enjoy Queen La’s feminism because it’s intersectional. Not only is she speaking from the point of view of a woman, but a queer, Black woman (We wouldn’t learn that’s where she was comin’ from until decades later).
That brings me to the next revolutionary. My favorite female rapper of all time-Lil’ Kim AKA The Queen Bee.
“Puff Daddy copped the Hummer for the Summer. I follow in the E class with the goggles.” -Lil Kim
We can do it, too. That was the motto. Your Hummer’s nice and all, but peep the Mercedes Benz I just copped. It’s becomes apparent that within the Hip Hop counter-culture, exists a subculture-the women’s movement.
“Only female in my crew, and I kick sh*t like a n*gga do!” -Lil Kim
“Suck My Dick” is one of Kim’s most memorable songs for me, because it’s a direct response to the misogynistic, sexist, and hyper-sexualized climate, in and outside of the world of Hip Hop. The track revolves around Lil Kim asserting her sexual dominance over the men she encounters.
“Nigga FUCK YOU
(No, FUCK YOU BITCH)
Who you talking to?
(Why you actin’ like a BITCH?)
Cause y’all niggas ain’t shit
And if I was dude
I’d tell y’all to suck my dick
I treat y’all n*ggas how y’all treat us
Ayo Ayo Come here so I can b*st in your mouth.” -Lil Kim
The same can be said about the rap group Salt-n-Pepa. The rap duo, along with their DJ Spinderella, broke down boundaries with anthems like “It’s a She Thing” and “None of Your Business.”
“I can bring home the bacon, fry it in the pan, never let you forget that you’re a man. Cuz I’m a W-O-M-A-N. That’s what I am, doin all I can. The thing that makes me mad, crazy upset-got to break my neck just to get my respect. Go to work and get paid less than a man. When I’m doin’ the same damn thing that he can.” -Pepa
With this song, the crew makes it clear that they can walk and chew gum. It’s possible to be a woman that makes her own living, wants equal rights, and still cater to her man. What up, Pep?!
A survivor of both domestic and sexual violence, Missy Elliott has more than enough to write about. But instead of letting her experiences define her, she defined herself. From her clothes, to the way she wore her hair, Missy didn’t dress for male attention. She dressed how she felt comfortable, and that’s what feminism is all about-self-determination.
“She’s a bitch
When you say my name
Talk mo’ junk but won’t look my way
She’s a bitch
See I got more cheese
So back on up while I roll up my sleeves.”-Missy Elliott
What I admire most about female MCs is that they did what women have been doing for centuries- they made something out of nothing. Based on what we’ve seen and continue to see in Hip Hop, the industry is (presumably) no place for women. But instead of caving to obstacles-these women used the same platform some men were using to perpetuate violence against them, as a tool for empowerment.
It is my hope that we continue to sing their praises, research their lives, and understand their impact on our communities, because they matter.They are without a doubt, the reasons so many of us have found our voices, and are no longer afraid to tell the world what and who we are.