Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Um, Maybe We Should Just Hand Hip Hop Over to the Ladies?

What does that mean exactly? I don't know. Maybe it's sexist. Maybe it's just a headline. But this female emcee (her name is "Invincible") I just got put on to prompts some thoughts on the subject of hip hop's proprietary gender issues:

First off, I'm sure I'm under-informed, but this is the first caucasian female i've seen with a *hardcore* hyper-lyrical flow. I haven't parsed the lyrics to give it a real grade, but it's the first time I've even felt compelled to. Now we know here on TAN, "a white chick is just light-skin". And we know they've quietly-but-surely been part of a renaissance for the beat-boxing arts. But flow? Like a Black Thought, or a Kweli, or a Jean Grae? Holla.

Now I'm sure she's pissed about the "white girl rapping" angle, because any interview/article/blog is going to want to discuss it, and she will be dealing with that forever (the youtube blurb indicates there's plenty of backstory in this regard already); but in terms of the whole Asher Roth a-solid-white-rapper-is-better-than-a-solid-black-rapper hip hop affirmative action plan, this girl kills that for white guys because if your average white rapper is just a better marketing proposition than your average black emcee, there's little question a white female is better than both of those options (all else being equal).

But that's all sort of tongue-in-cheek blog talk. Hip hop heads are over the white-black culture issues, they abide by the microphone. And the real bullshit is still entrenched in gender. Hip hop needs some mf'ing women in positions of power. That means behind the scenes, of course. But also artists that command respect amongst their peers (I can already visualize the eyebrows raising, the blunts falling to the ground, as this girl spits hot fire).

Once hip hop got embraced by pop culture, it wasn't about racism holding the culture back; it was the f'ing sexism. Because even the "conscious" artists were kinda-sorta misogynists. And homophobic.
And generally insensitive/intolerant in a way that was laughably ridiculous considering the immediate history.... of course that's a different, much bigger story. And I'm not putting it all on her -- she's just what I've been exposed to -- but this girl makes you think about that, if only because it took this long for caucasian females to access the artform in this participatory way.

Now all she has to do is resist the Maxim (King RIP?) photo spread, and get a big co-sign on a mixtape without sleeping with the dude (sorry ladies, but see what i mean? i can't resist!)and voila, a star is born. or at least another solid underground hip hop artist with a capacity for emotional intelligence.




  1. Trap Counselor7/01/2009

    Yeah, she can flow, but this bitch is pretty boring. Or am I just biased?

    I see the problem with female rappers is that it's like encountering a girl on a xbox live game of halo. You just don't know how to react. Rap (like video games) is such a loner-dude culture that when a girl wants a piece it throws your whole world-view off. I think it might have to do with the fact that all video game nerds and hip-hop heads want a girl that is also a video game nerd or a hip hop head, just with that precious vagina. But the lack of pussy is one of the main reasons I'm (us) is sitting at home smoking a blunt, listening to wu-tang and fragging fools on a saturday night in the first place. So when a girl shows up all that bitterness resurfaces and it just brings out basic male reactions and misogynistic sentiments that surely aren't helping anyone.

    Like you said, the white/black male rapper divide was bridged inside the culture due to the fact that no one on the inside really cared about anything other than skills. However, also involved in that was the large amount of white male rap fans that popped up in the mid-to-late nineties. So much to the point that all post-2000 underground rap shows were dominated by white fans and the rappers had to get over their hatred of da man for the sake of their careers. I don't think female emcees (ones that don't have to sell their bodies first... eve, trina etc.) will ever go big time, regardless of race, until there's an organic growth of female hip-hop heads. And with gender roles being what they are currently, does anyone see this ever happening?

  2. Stinky7/01/2009

    I remember Cokemachineglow reviewing her (debut?) record last year, and wondering why Pitchfork never bothered to review it. Then again, Pfork really loves the 'retard' rap, so I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised.

    Review link:

  3. Trap, sorry to rebust your Saturday night male loner bubble again but I think that's an interesting point. I think there *are* a lot of female hip hop heads (does anyone have the stats on this?) -- but come to think of it, I have always been one of the only girls at the shows I went to -- I thought it was like women with mosques -- they still pray they just do it from home. Anyway, maybe it's just that women aren't visible in the scene or community.

    There is also, I think, some issue with the masculinity factor in rap - like, one of the main reasons white men responded to hip hop in the numbers they did in the 90s (and still do) is that they've got issues with masculinity -- there's a cultural confusion about the white male role and what the hell they're supposed to do with all their masculine traits -- hip hop allowed them to celebrate their masculinity when nothing else in the culture was. And I think females respond to that "Alpha" male-power energy too -- not as objects of it but, just like with white men, as conductors of it.

    Then what do women, black and white, do with all that masculinity? Position yourself as the object of it? How can you rap when you're lying on your back? Become the female version of the male gangster? But Lil Kim did that with "Hardcore" and because it wasn't really her vision, it was Big's, and that is essentially a male projection of female sexual power anyway, nothing could really ever top that or continue in that direction without being a mediocre comparison...

  4. Anonymous7/02/2009

    And she's repping The D. Detroit may has provided both the dopest white male rapper, and possibly the dopest white female too? Not to mention Dilla, Black Milk, Royce, Elzhi and the rest. RESPECT THE D.

  5. Anonymous7/02/2009

    WHY would I wanna see a lady look like a dude and rap like one?!?!

    The thing that set little kim apart from the rest of the female rappers is she brought lyrics like a dude(I don't care if it's ghost written. Her delivery was on point.) BUT struck the right balance with looks/sex. Not too sexy, not too hard. Foxy was a Lil Kim knockoff and everyone knew it. Eve tried to be too sexy(Failed) and Trina doesn't have the lyrical flow and has dubious sex appeal,IMO.

    Trap Counselor said she is boring. I co-sign that. I applaud the effort and she seems to have the sufficient amount of black dick riders(lol) in her circle. So....
    good look with that.

  6. JCTA: "there's a cultural confusion about the white male role and what the hell they're supposed to do with all their masculine traits"

    are you consciously distinguishing between white and black here? do black males not have the same confusion, or is it different?

    anon (the second): i never really felt lil kim, and i didn't get the sense think many were stressing her skills-wise. not like, say, lauryn hill who obviously had a different image, but could still be classified as sexy and hard. at least firm.

    JCTA's comment about females responding to that energy (as well as white males) makes me think hip hop just hyper-dramatized what are actually legit gender roles/differences. i guess that would dovetail with Trap's original comment...

  7. Anonymous7/02/2009

    Julia Clare Tillinghast Akalin said... "But Lil Kim did that with "Hardcore" and because it wasn't really her vision, it was Big's, and that is essentially a male projection of female sexual power anyway, nothing could really ever top that or continue in that direction without being a mediocre comparison..."

    I did my usual half ass job of reading and didn't see this great observation, which pretty much reiterates what I said.

    TAC, whether you liked her or not, Lil Kim was considered legitimate in the rap game. The album "HardCore", like Julia said, will be hard to supplant and really is the gold standard of woman rap albums. The only other women, besides MC LYTE, that I can say had lil kims appeal was a rapper named Antionette. She had the rap skills and vibratto (and decent looks), just not enough backing.
    My point is, if your going to be in the rap game, you better understand that men do respect women ie men respect women who talk a tight game and can take control on a moments notice. If a woman comes off as all sex, we know the manipulation can't be too far behind.

  8. You need a female Eminem. A woman who isn't afraid to be inflammatory or shocking because she has the talent and wit to pull it off. Think a song from the perspective of a tampon. Or something like "We Made You" with a ton of jokes and pop culture references but directed AT GUYS. Fat, lazy, old guys using the system.

    Are there any funny female rappers? Someone like a Katy Perry would be cool if she were a rapper.

    A female Kanye might work also, he uses humor to compensate. A skilled producer who also talks about life as a middle class female. Something like 808s was Kanye trying to channel his inner fembot anyway.

    The problem here, at least in this song, is that it's the same boring "rapping about rapping" that only people into hardcore rap care about. That's a dwindling crowd.

  9. TAC is me, right?

    I prob need to revisit Kim's catalog. But it's not to say HardCore is unimportant. I mean, like the feminem comment, "Not Tonight" or "Queen B" or many of her songs are unprecedented. i'ven ever heard a woman growling demands to eat her out. she nailed the female gully sound.

    but i don't know if that threads the same as "skills". i think "lighter's up" and some of her later material shows growth. but that's a concession that everything before was derivative and sort of empty shock shit. i mean after the first few singles you wasn't checking for her to do some next shit. was she really better or different than foxy brown?

    maybe cause she was derivative of Biggie, and Biggie never got to show what his evolution may have looked like. Kim needs something like The Black Album. I didn't find The Naked Truth to be that, but she might have been shooting for it.

    maybe i'll change my mind once i re-peep though

  10. Ha! I can't recall when real hip hop heads had serious white-black culture issues. It's ALWAYS been about the microphone. Gender issues in rap music and hip hop culture have always been there. For example: Where's Bahamadia?! If you don't know who that is then you have no argument with me (Google is free). You are in denial.

    One of my first memorized rap songs was 'Bite This' by Roxanne Shante (we are about the same age). It felt great to have/hear a rapper who was female and my age at the time. I know of others, including white women, who can 'spit hot fire' and have even gotten record contracts...but this is a Man's world still. And men are messing up!

    Also, there are already some "mf'ing women in positions of power" at media outlets, record labels and distributors but they are not always in 'key decision-making roles'.

  11. Anonymous7/02/2009

    Nettrice said... "I know of others, including white women, who can 'spit hot fire' and have even gotten record contracts"

    ^^^^^ NAME NAMES.Bahamadia isn't white.

    Nettrice said..."there are already some "mf'ing women in positions of power"

    ^^^^^ NAME NAMES

    "they are not always in 'key decision-making roles'" <<< Oh, so what are you talking about??

  12. White Female Rappers (that come to mind):

    Jessy Moss
    Lady Sovereign
    Northern State
    Fergie (LOL)


    Judy McGrath, Chairman/CEO, MTV Networks

    Julie Greenwald, President, Atlantic Records

    Lisa Ellis, President, Sony Urban Music

    Alison Wenham, Chairman/CEO, AIM; Worldwide Independent Network

    Christina Norman, President, MTV Networks

    Debra Lee, Chairman/CEO, BET Networks

    Sylvia Rhone, President, Universal Motown Records

    Lesley Bleakley, CEO, the Beggars Group, U.S.

    Lia Vollack, President of Worldwide Music, Sony Pictures

    Jody Gerson, EVP of U.S. Creative, EMI Music Publishing

    Alexandra Patsavas, Founder, Chop Shop

    Diane Warren, Founder, RealSongs

    Marilyn Bergman, Chairman/President, ASCAP


    Andrea Ganis, EVP, Atlantic Records

    Mavis Takemoto, EVP of Administration and Operations, Universal Music Group Distribution

    Amanda Marks, EVP/GM of Digital Distribution, Universal Music Group Distribution

    Lynn Hazan-Devau, SVP Finance & Operations, RED Distribution

    Hilary Shaev, EVP of Promotion, Virgin Records

    Lucia Ballas Traynor, GM, MTV Tr3s

    Angelia Bibbbs Sanders, VP of Member Services, the Recording Academy

    Diana Meltzer, EVP of A&R, Wind-Up Records

    (And did you know about Bahamadia? If so what happened to her?)

  13. Also I was so busy naming names I forgot to mention that in the mainstream (American) media empire I could name only 10 or so white female executives...this is still a patriarchy we all live in.

    Key decision makers are usually at the very top of the chain of command, so when I write that these women are not always in key roles I mean that their stake is dependent on the hierarchical structure they are a part of.

    Anything else?

  14. ha. how about power rankings?

  15. You gotta pay me for power rankings. I've already done enough work for you! :P

  16. What does the C in T.A.C. stand for?

    >> The album "HardCore", like Julia said, will be hard to supplant and really is the gold standard of woman rap albums.

    >> You need a female Eminem.

    ... Yeah, like I said, for me, that album will never be surpassed . . . _for what it is_ (and yeah you *should* revisit it, T. A. C. : just personal taste but this has always been one of my favorite tracks: couldn't find a version without budget "anime" illustrations -- not so much on a bar-by-bar lyrical level but overall as a dramatic monologue -- with a complete narrative in the background -- and it is so Biggie, to me, what she is doing, but this is another story) . . . But my point was, for the dominatrix/male-fantasy/madonna-esque 3rd wave objectification-wielded-as-a-weapon/gangstress angle, that album was supreme. Most of the mainstream/successful(ish) female rappers that have come after her have been trying to do some version of the same thing.

    But people always say stuff about "the female eminem" and shit (word is that is EXACTLY what the companies who were trying to sign Invincible before she took the independent route were pitching) -- and I understand the impulse -- but that's my whole point! Kim's gangstress persona was(/is) a kind of female version of Biggie -- the female artists who are going to take this shit by storm are women who are doing something different -- this sounds cheesy but -- some authentically female, feminine version(s) of that power (and Lauryn Hill is one great example of that but where the fuck is she now? and why aren't there more of her? and other who are doing something a little less preachy?) -- *NOT* the inversion of a masculine persona.

    Everyone talks about how Em broke through a boundary because he had (has?) skills that nobody can deny -- but don't forget that *his* real breakthrough as an artist was with *the invention of the Slim Shady persona/perspective*. If you've ever heard "Infinite," besides crappy production and pretty lame beats -- you can hear the same clever lyrics and intricate, complex rhyme schemes but he's jumping all over the place with who he "is" and what he wants to say.

    Invincible definitely has the skills but it's gotta be the whole recipe (obviously though superstardom is not what she's going for anyway so this whole discussion is moot as far as she's concerned)-- and the angle, the persona, the perspective -- that's crucial. And what I'm saying is that women who rap deal with trying to construct or locate that persona -- one that is somehow simultaneously powerful, hard, sexy, funny (good point and that's a hard one) but not in a way that's just a female version of a male rapper. Incidentally a microcosm of what's going on with women and power in general.

  17. and

    >> are you consciously distinguishing between white and black here? do black males not have the same confusion, or is it different?

    Yeah -- good question -- I am consciously making that distinction -- I'm not saying that I think black men don't have that same confusion, and there is substantial overlap. At the same time, I think black men and white men contend with that confusion differently, have different histories/expectations, etc. to deal with just as black women and white women (and women of other races) each have lots of overlapping but differently nuanced/historied gender-related issues... BBBBBBBUUUT maybe the more salient issue is the way that white men *perceive* black masculinity -- as more successful and seamless and visceral -- and what they project into it... and maybe the actual issues and experiences are not as different as I was assuming.

    >> WHY would I wanna see a lady look like a dude and rap like one?!?!

    A female rapper has to bring the same (or higher) level of skill and be hard enough to get in the ring with the guys *and* live up to an ideal of feminine beauty? Are you fucking serious? If we barred men who aren't conventionally attractive from rapping think of who we'd be left with... You are the problem.

  18. ok. Nettrice and JCTA get paid for this post. but Lil' Kim has to choose the form of payment. which i suspect is going to constitute a thug n licking the back of your knees or somesuch

  19. are my new hero :)

    As a woman who always tends to be on the fence regarding my love for hip hop, particularly due to its male-centric, essentially anti-woman nature, I appreciate Invincible greatly. Will be copping her album very soon.

    I second JCTA on the theory that there are plenty of women invested in hip hop that may not appreciate hip hop cultural SPACES. I mean, would anyone question why gay folks don't wanna go to a Beanie Man concert, Black folks don't wanna go to a Civil War Re-enactment festival, etc. Not perfect metaphors, but you get my point. I too tend to be one of few females, esp. Black females interestingly, in Hip Hop spaces.

    For females to achieve success in mainstream rap, listeners have to change what we want from rap. Not to be a pessimist, but that probably ain't happening tomorrow. Or the next day. In fact, that ain't happening until Black people start to really take seriously sexism in our community. Unfortunately, rap/hip hop tends to be a reminder and reflection that (esp.) in the Black community, it's ok to be overtly and explicitly sexist/misogynist if it's directed primarily at Black women/WOCs. Nobody cares. Troof. Until the revolution comes, female hip hop heads rock the margins but are still absolutely present.

    Also, to second JCTA, female hip hop artists shouldn't have to be the girl version of any male hip hop artist. Women bring our own flavor, swagger, interests, flow, etc. to hip hop, and we just gotta trust that. Fuck a female Em or Biggie.

    Finally, conversations like these will continue to lack female input and incite as long as people can say things like "WHY would I wanna see a lady look like a dude and rap like one?!?!" or "...or a hip hop head, just with that precious vagina," or call women bitches indiscriminately, etc. and not get checked by...someone (ahem, TAC/N). I'm not into censorship, but you can check folks kindly so that your message board remains a safe space for everyone. Just sayin.

    Final thought: @ Trap Counselor, I really disagree that “true hip hop heads” (whoever that really means) don’t care about race, as long as an emcee can rock the mic. You yourself say, “...all post-2000 underground rap shows were dominated by white fans and the rappers had to get over their hatred of da man for the sake of their careers.” Concession for the sake of being able to make enough to live and eat is not the same as not having a problem that your fanbase is primarily white and/or that underground white hip hop artists are at times privileged over Black hip hop artists. Though not as deep into hip hop as you seem to be, I’ve heard several Black emcees discuss this racial tension on records and in interviews (Murs, Defari, Mos Def, The Roots, etc.). Tangent: I mean, people try to act like hip hop transcends race, but what does that really mean? I mean, Michael Jackson transcended race, and that nigga reeeeeally didn’t wanna be Black, so what is the real value of superficially transcending race (esp for Black folks) at the end of the day?

  20. Shug: thanks for the thoughtful response. to get at some of your points:

    1. Female Essentialism: yeah, i agree. to me it becomes an essentialist argument, because as you suggest on the consumer level it's almost like the ship has sailed. hip hop is deeply rooted in sexism, such that to come out of that you might have to change it so much that you wouldn't even call it hip hop anymore.

    i think that's probably what i'm getting at with the female emcees and positions of pwoer. women would need to take over and really transform the whole thing. i don't know if that's realistic/feasible.

    but until then, you're right, female hip hop heads will be slightly more abundant than black civil war reenactment enthusiasts.

    but i think the questions that raise are more fundamental, like what is the female "essence" missing? what are the other signifiers of this (besides a healthy sense of respect for females, and other races, gays)? we need to see female "power" in action, and not be, like, affirimative action-y for women.

    2. Dark side of capitalism: I think this all gets to the ugly side stemming from capitalism. my perception of hip hop is that its the impulse/force of capitalism as encapsulated and repurposed by young black people. it's what we made to empower ourselves.

    but that capitalistic force is brutal. it aligns with power, which can breed sexism, homophobia, and yes, more racism.

    i say this because hip hop has a problem with women, and black women. but i don't think black people do. within the black community i think it actually goes from this sort of void/absence to overcompensation really quickly.

    i mean ultimately sex and sexism sell. that's not hip hop's fault.

    3. censorship/range: i'm very light-handed on the censorship. i think people can naturally ignore or block out that which they don't want to see. i also think it's important to know there are a lot of retards. Supporters of G.W.Bush weren't censored, we had to live with them. we have to live with a lot that seems ostensibly retarded.

    it even ties in with the above, because "why i wanna see a lady look like a dude" person is a consumer. the overwhelming daunting challenge is trying to understand where that comes from. because it exists and we have to account for it.

    4. yeah, transcending race is a misnomer. like post-racial. but i do think people who are asserting that believe there are forces that override one's willingness to be racist. like capitalism. sexism. it's hard to be racist, or even treat it seriously if black people or other minorities are making money. are empowered. it's also more difficult to be racist and get away with it, but sexism still abounds.

  21. TAN, thanks for the comments. With regards to #2, I appreciate what you're saying about hip hop and its relationship to capitalism. As a Black woman for a long time I believed in the myth of hip hop, i.e. that it is the cultural space of the voices of young Black American people. That one space, when other spaces have been denied from us. The opportunity for us to be active in our representation, instead of constantly being defined by those in power. It's a beautiful, endearing, and unifying myth, but it's not true, for all Black folks' voices are not equal in hip hop. It took a long time for me to get over that, as I looked towards hip hop as a source of post-Civil Rights identity, to represent some sort of cultural/historical anchor and definition for Black American-ness. Esp since so much of our real selves has been historically hidden and ripped from us (language, culture, tradition, history, etc.). It turns out I often don't - and many times won't - identify with hip hop. I don’t see myself in it, and believe it or not, that hurts.

    But I have to face the facts: Hip hop is not pure, and neither are we. We are as swayed by power/money as all human beings are, thus our art becomes less about our true selves and more about the projected ideas of Blackness that make money. And this involves thugs and bitches. Guess I'll have to crack that African-American Studies reader after all.

    With regards to #3, I feel you. But I wonder if you would be so light handed with the censorship if the offended were, say, straight Black men? I hope so.

    Thanks for your time and words. I really enjoy your's pretty weirdo.


  22. shug: i agree with you on hip hop failing those of us who invested that much of a high standard/hope in it. to be this all encompassing cultural *thing. maybe it is just a music that is often incredibly sexist.

    i still use the term for something bigger though. in the jeff chang interview on this site, he called hip hop "the art of the impossible" ... i think this notion is a human thing, but like chang, i think of it as "hip hop".

    and i let offensive, or at the least, inflammatory comments go all the time all across the board. in fact, possibly my most commented on post is something along those lines

  23. TAN, that hate letter was out of control. Interesting. I have to admit, I'm not sure that it's the same thing, as the extreme-ness of the letter writer's comments almost assured the overwhelming responses of condemnation you received. Also, it's way uncool to be that openly racist in 2009. It's not yet that uncool to be sexist and homophobic. Women and queer folk might need a little more support for that reason.
    But I get it, that's your mod style. Plus I feel like I've seen other threads where white folks have said crazy anti-Black racist shit, and you haven't intervened.

    Thanks for the response :) I will be reading that Chang interview.


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