Photo credit: msmagazine.com, www.bet.com, www.widewalls.ch and www.phillymag.com
Most days I find myself thinking about the ladies and I can’t figure out why. Oh right, I’m single. But besides that, I have noticed another absence of women, this time in Hip Hop. A culture that was equally men and women when it started. There were female MCs, DJs, graffiti artists, and plenty of B-girls (b stands for break-dancing).
So why is it today that there are so few women in Hip Hop? No disrespect those women holding it down in the underground, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the female presence in Hip Hop has certainly dwindled.
The only women in the game today, with graffiti and break dancing having sadly faded from popularity, are Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea and a super bowl throw back from Missy Elliot, with the occasional mention of Tink, Dej Loaf, Azealia Banks, Angel Haze, and Rapsody. This list is very short, and it reflects the state of Hip Hop.
Since Hip Hop has become the popular music genre of my generation, it has been boiled down and commercialized. The simplified image of a Hip Hop artist is one of a gangster or drug dealer, both of whom are a man.
I want to remind people that Hip Hop has had a long legacy of strong women. From Queen Latifah, Salt n Peppa and MC Lyte, to Roxanne Shonté and Lauryn Hill, women have been spitting just as well as men and just as long as men have. And these women weren’t relegated to the margins of Hip Hop. They were making Gold and Platinum selling albums and earning the respect of their male peers.
So why is this gender disparity a problem for Hip Hop? Behind being stuck in the archaic music business and its sexism, it hurts the art form and culture as a whole. With any sort of creation or discussion, its always better to have more perspectives and more dialogue than less. One of the most glaring holes in Hip Hop is a woman’s perspective on love, relationships and men. I’ve heard enough “bitches this” and “hoes that” to last a lifetime. Without women, Hip Hop’s dialogue becomes overwhelmed by a misogynistic message. Women don’t get a chance to refute that sort of message, and listeners don’t get the full picture.
Women are needed in Hip Hop. They balance out the discussion of female sexuality and female bodies as well. We know that men want the “coke bottle” curves on a woman (we’re talking the old glass bottle here), but we need to hear more women defining their own sense of beauty. It is unhealthy as a culture to always demean and marginalize a group simply because of their gender, and this needs to change in Hip Hop.
A male dominated Hip Hop is very damaging to women. If the male gaze goes unchecked, then the dominate messages and ideas about women are being defined by men. And that leads to sexism all over Hip Hop. Women are told how to look beautiful and how to act (i.e. submit to) around men in some of the most demeaning ways through the music videos and lyrics produced by men. Young boys and girls are at risk of internalizing these messages, which is not what Hip Hop should be about.
Another area that women help balance, speaking in a technical Hip Hop sense, is the contrasts in style and flow. Women dress differently and rhyme differently from men. The thing I love the most about an MC like Rapsody is that she embraces herself and doesn’t try to rap or act like a man. She doesn’t “sing” her lines or change her voice (cough Nicki and Iggy cough). She simply spits.
Hearing how women deliver their songs would break up the monotony of men shouting into the microphone. Fashion wise, females MCs can reclaim their bodies from the men running wild in Hip Hop, and change the stereotypical image from being the “scantily clad dancer/stripper in the music video” trope. Female MCs could show girls how to embrace and value their own bodies and beauty by leading by example and providing an alternative image to the “thirsty girl in the club”.
If Hip Hop is truly a culture of inclusion, education and respect, then women need to be once again respected and have their own unique voice in Hip Hop. And the sexism in the music business should not stand in the way of male MCs doing their part. That said, I don’t want to see handouts or pity from male MCs. We should follow Kendrick Lamar’s example, when he put Rapsody on his latest album. He didn’t do it to flirt with her, to pity her, or to exploit her. She was on the track because she can rap, and Kendrick recognized that. ‘Cause real always recognize real.