(not sure if this fits into "conscious news" but i thought it was an interesting article :-)
By Teresa Wiltz
It's 1989. Kente cloth and door-knocker earrings were the couture du jour. And flickering on your BET -- MTV was just getting hip to black folks -- was Queen Latifah, looking every inch the Afrocentric diva, posing against a backdrop of warrior women: Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth. Winnie
Mandela. Angela Davis. She's trading lines back and forth with her partner
in rhyme, Brit rapper Monie Love, and they're rapping about how it's all
about "Ladies First." They're sounding strong, "stepping, strutting, moving
The ladies will kick it, the rhyme it is wicked
Those who don't know how to be pros get evicted
A woman can bear you, break you, take you
Now it's time to rhyme, can you relate to
A sister dope enough to make you holler and scream?
Back then, the Ladies claimed their place: Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo,
Sister Souljah, Salt-N-Pepa, Neneh Cherry, Oaktown's 357 . . . They were
there, and they were representing. Compare and contrast with today. In this
year's Grammys, to be broadcast in February, only one woman rapper has been
nominated: Remy Martin. It's a far cry from 1999, when Lauryn Hill became
the first woman -- not to mention the first female MC -- to take home five
Grammys, including one for album of the year for her solo debut, "The
Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Note, too, that Remy Martin's been nominated
as part of a group, Boricua rapper Fat Joe's Terror Squad, the posse behind
last summer's hit "Lean Back." One lone female surfing a sea of
After 30 years of breakbeats and bombast -- 2004 marked the 30th
anniversary of rap -- hip-hop has given women the boot.
Indeed, the female MC (Mistress of Ceremonies) has all but disappeared.
Queen Latifah has moved on to acting and singing standards; the
door-knockers replaced with designer duds. Monie Love is missing in action.
So is Hill, who disappeared, then reappeared only to slam the Vatican in
December 2003, disappeared again and then reappeared -- briefly -- last
September in a clandestine concert before disappearing yet again. And in the
rare instances when you do see a woman rapper, she's almost always a bad
girl. A really bad girl. The one who thinks being a ho is something to brag
about (or the way to platinum record sales). Witness the scandalous
skankiness of Lil' Kim, she of the engineered face and the ever-expanding
bosom, bragging about her sexual exploits with a Sprite can. Or Trina
rapping about how her love costs, because, let's face it, "ain't no way you
gonna get up in this for free."
If you're a woman, and you're a fan of hip-hop, you're happy to see these
bad girls, because, at the very least, there's evidence that some estrogen
still lives on in hip-hop. And then you come to your senses, because is that
any kind of thing to choose between, being a whore or being invisible?
Loving hip-hop starts to feel like being in an abusive relationship.
As poet and "hip-hop activist" Jessica Care Moore has written, women don't
want to content themselves with playing cheerleader, relegated to the
sidelines in a game where they used to be Queens, or at the very least,
"There are so many [female] MCs," says rap pioneer MC Lyte, who now appears
on the sitcom "Half & Half." "They just don't have record deals. That's the
unfortunate part about it. As a female MC trying to stand on her own, trying
to get into the business, it's rough.
"There are so many that are just waiting for the opportunity."
There was a time when the music was a movement, and it seemed there was
room for everybody. Rap was the ultimate reality show, with lyricists
spitting rhymes about their lives, real lives. If you had a story, and you
could tell it well, then people wanted to listen. Especially if you were
telling your story over some banging beats. You could be an intellectual,
along the lines of KRS-One or Public Enemy. You could be political like
Sister Souljah. You could be silly, like the Fresh Prince or Slick Rick. But
then gangstas replaced the intellectuals, thugs replaced the activists, and
the culture became a commodity. Now the only role for women is, to crib from
Lil Jon, "to get low . . . all these *****es crawl." Which is to say,
shaking it up on a video, mute, cute and damn near naked.
Not a pretty picture.
To be sure, rap's never been the easiest place to be a woman. It's always
been a phallocentric world, a culture where marginalized black and brown men
(and then white men from the wrong side of the tracks) could take the scraps
the world had handed them, pound their chests and assert their manhood. In
hip-hop culture, men traveled in packs, in camps where group loyalty meant
everything. This all-together-now mentality has its roots in the South
Bronx, where rap was born in 1974: There, what began as party music came to
serve a greater good, a place where ex-gangbangers could find a little
peace. Instead of battling over turf, they would battle over the "four
elements" of hip-hop culture: dancing, rapping, graffiti-ing and DJ-ing.
Channel the aggression.
In this insular world, women didn't always fit into the equation.
Says Toure, hip-hop writer and former co-host of MTV's "Spoke N' Heard":
"The love in hip-hop is over men, crew love, brotherly love. It's very sort
of ancient Greek. It really doesn't allow for a lot of room for women.
"Hip-hop is at its essence, it is boys, not men, but boys talking about
what they do for and with boys," Toure continues. "We will never see a woman
rapper who is seriously challenging for the role of the number one rapper in
the country. The game is not built for them."
The game may not be built for them, but in the past, women still found a
way to play. One strategy was to make an "answer record," a song that played
off the anti-woman antics of a popular hit of the day. In 1984 the
Brooklyn-based U.T.F.O. (Untouchable Force Organization) released "Roxanne,
Roxanne," an ode to a stuck-up woman ("Roxanne, Roxanne, I wanna be your
man"). Lolita Gooden, a 14-year-old Long Island native, dubbed herself
"Roxanne Shante" and dissed U.T.F.O. with her expletive-laced "Roxanne's
I met this dude with the name of a hat
I didn't even walk away, I didn't give him no rap
But then he got real mad, and he got a little tired
If he worked for me, you know he would be fired
His name is Kangol, and that is cute
He ain't got money, and he ain't got the loot
Dozens of other wannabe Roxannes, including the talented Adelaida Martinez,
"The Real Roxanne," followed Shante's lead, for an astounding total of 102
singles responding to "Roxanne, Roxanne."
But mostly, female MCs sought acceptance by aligning themselves with an
established male camp. MC Lyte started out with the First Priority Music
Crew; Queen Latifah joined up with Afrika Bambaataa's Native Tongues, the
"conscious" collective that spawned A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, the
Jungle Brothers and Red Alert. Salt-N-Pepa came from Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor's
Today, that practice continues. Lil' Kim's original calling card was being
the Notorious B.I.G.'s mistress; so it was with her onetime rival, Charli
Baltimore. Glamorous bad girl Foxy Brown had the imprimatur of Nas and
Jay-Z. And tough-girl Eve, a onetime stripper, first started out under the
wing of Dr. Dre, the producer/rapper who launched Eminem's career, before
she switched allegiances and joined up with DMX's Ruff Ryders. "Forget about
it for the new ones coming in that don't have a camp," says MC Lyte. "It's a
lost cause. Record companies aren't trying to hear from you unless you've
got the hottest male artist backing you."
That's a reality that Jean Grae, South Africa-born and Brooklyn-bred, is
learning the hard way. Described by Rolling Stone as "the best-kept secret
on . . . the indie hip-hop scene," the former dancer came of age hanging out
in the same West Village underground scene that birthed progressive rappers
Mos Def and Talib Kweli. At first, she kept her rhymes to herself,
scribbling in private and practicing in her bathroom mirror. Eventually, she
got up her nerve to go public, performing with Ground Zero and Natural
Resource. But nothing, she says, could stop her from being "a solo artist on
But out on her own, there are, she says, no major labels calling;
corporations aren't interested in taking a risk on a female artist. The ones
that will take the risk want to mold you in their own image. So Grae, 28,
produced her own record, "This Week," and is touring (she's performing at
the Black Cat on Jan. 21). And she's in tentative negotiations with an
record label that she won't name because she's learned, she says, not to get
too excited, not to count her chickens. She's had, she says, more than her
share of disappointments trying to make it as a woman rapper. " 'She's good
for a girl,' " Grae says she hears all the time. "It's always a separatist
attitude. It's always a notch below."
Another day with myself, another day without wealth
There's got to be another way, I need help
So I pray like I'm a Pentecostal, Sufi, Buddhist, Strict Agnostic
Hoping one will hit its target
Take another sip of hypnotic and lay my head on the pillow and dream erotic
Of killers spilling endless rounds and all of them shooting at me.
Hip-hop is an image-focused business, and right now, the image that sells
is that of the thug. Witness the rise of 50 Cent, he of the nine bullet
wounds and the $50 million stash.
Observes Aaron McGruder, creator of the comic strip "Boondocks": "Let's say
a woman tries to be a rapper. Now she has to be a thug rapper. But now it's
a woman doing a very masculine thing, which men don't like. Watching a
female rap tough is like watching a woman play basketball. It's not sexually
appealing in any way, and pop culture and rap culture is all about sex."
The day of the tomboy -- think MC Lyte, Bahamadia, Da Brat -- is over.
(Even Eve's covered up her TWA -- teeny-weeny Afro -- with a blond weave.)
Today, there's just one role that a woman can play in hip-hop, so long as
she knows, and keeps, her place: the chanteuse. Of course, this only works
if you look like Beyonce or Ashanti or Ciara or the Black Eyed Peas'
Fergie -- think long, blonde-streaked hair -- and sing like them, too.
"Sing" is the operative word here. You can sing hooks to a rap song; you can
even sing your own songs, songs steeped in a rap sensibility. You just can't
rap. Understand that your role is to look and sound pretty, sort of like
This is what the marketplace does to the female MC: paints pretty pictures
and turns down the volume. Ultimately, the market calls the shots. Female
artists don't sell; only Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill have achieved
multi-platinum status, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
It's a musical catch-22: Major record labels, growing ever more fiscally
conservative, aren't willing to put their money, and marketing might, behind
a maybe. But if they won't, she'll always be just that: a maybe. With
creative cowardice -- slaves to the quick hit and the proven formula --
ruling corner offices, the future of the female MC remains in question.
"I don't even know any full on Foxys or Lil' Kims coming down the road,"
says Peter Baron, MTV's vice president of label relations. "I've asked
around. No one seems to know."
No one knows where the music is heading, either. Gender roles constrict
because rap has gone shallow. Rappers have gone from banging on the door,
demanding to get in, to selling out with multimillion deals to peddle
sneakers, vodka and Pimp Juice."
It's all very well to get paid, but somewhere along the line, the love of
the music got lost along the way. And if you're a female hip-hop fan, this
is why you listen to the music, notwithstanding the horrific denouncements
of all things female that make you cringe: because you love the music --
even if you sometimes hate yourself for loving it.
There are glimmers of light in the wicked wit of Missy Elliott. She's got
crazy talent. But hers is an unusual case: Not content to just rap, she
grabbed what she could -- writing, singing and producing beats for herself
and talents ranging from the late Aaliyah to Tweet to Lil' Kim to Whitney
Houston. (Still, it took her joining up with Timbaland, an old friend from
back home in Portsmouth, Va., to put her on the producing map.)
Other glimmers come from across the pond, Brit rappers Ms. Dynamite and the
SriLankan born Maya Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.) inject politics and righteous
female anger into their rhymes. Listen to M.I.A.'s "Galang":
You wanna go?
You wanna win a war?
Like PLO I don't surrender
Ultimately, rap is about power, both fighting the power, as Public Enemy
used to say back in the day, but claiming it, too. All it takes is for one
female MC to break through and record labels will be scrambling to find five
copycats the next day. Dollar dollar bills ya'll. But that means taking a
chance on a maybe.
It's not likely to happen anytime soon. But . . .
"I can always hope," MC Lyte says when asked what she saw in the future for
women in rap.
So can we.
Its Not Over yet listen to one female rapper talk about this all first hand
Female rapper Yo Yo took a break from the music for a while to pursue acting and is now planning to come back on the rap scene.But where are women in rap now.? Well Yo Yo was on Hard Knock Radio in Los Angeles where she opened up and spoke about her relationship with Ice Cube, her trials and tribulations in the industry, her special friendship with 2Pac,sexism and where expects to be in 2005.This makes for a very good listen after you have just read the essay
Yo Yo is back in full effect..
Here's the link to the radio show...
You may need Win Amp 5.0 to here the show...
Below is the link to the radio show pt 1 and pt 2
Let us know what you think..
YoYo Interview part 1
YoYo Interview part 2