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Black Girls Rock: The State of Women In Hip-Hop With Rapsody

Posted by Lucas G. on 04/08/14 | Filed under Opinion, Rapsody, Interview

I'm a hypocrite. After studying gender roles (especially in hip-hop) for a good chunk of my college career, I swore to myself that if given the chance, I would never help feed into the gross misrepresentations of masculinity and femininity in the music I loved. Well, at that point, I didn't know I would be writing for a hip-hop blog. I'd like to think I am beyond reproach - oh it's not me making the music or calling women "bitches" - but the truth is I let those same misrepresentations continue to run rampant and infect our culture. Hell, I even do it myself with articles like the one about porn stars in music videos

Honestly. it's one of the things I struggle with most about the job. I hate hip-hop that degrades and demeans women, but I continue to listen and write about it, actively putting aside my views in favor of not rocking the boat or doing what is different. It becomes all the more confusing when I even like the music. I'll try to tell myself, I have little to no effect on the landscape of gender in hip-hop, but that's a convenient little lie so that I don't have to feel guilty. If am being honest though, I don't do enough. Grow a pair, Lucas!

It does not change things at all, but at the very least, gender roles in hip-hop is something I think a lot about. It's frustrating to me that women are so silenced and boxed in hip-hop. I fell in love with hip-hop because I think, more than any other kind of music, hip-hop gives a voice to those who feel marginalized, stepped on, or different, a place to feel like they belong and their voice matters. Hip-hop got me through a rough time and helped me feel like I had something, so when I see the culture spurn rappers based on trivial things like race or sex, it bothers me deeply. I want to dedicate my life to a culture that treats everyone as equals not worries about petty, arbitrary classification that have nothing to do with skill.

So what's the answer? Should I stop listening to artists who say "bitch" or throw racks at the strip club? Should I just quit all together and refuse to take part in this world? Honestly, I don't really know. I wish I could write the article that would shake the hypermasculine discourse pervading hip-hop today, but I don't think such an article exist; there is no magic wand or quick fix. I should probably stop listening to those artists, but in all reality I probably wont. I'm not sure what to do, but that doesn't mean I won't try. I guess all I can do is pick my battles and write about it when it comes up. Like now, just days after Black Girls Rock's celebration of women in hip-hop as part of the on going One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide festival.

Everyday the festival puts on various concerts, panels, and talks that are all about celebrating hip-hop culture in it's purest form. Events have ranged from Nas performing with the NSO Pops to a B-boy competition. The other day, I got to listen to the Low Budget Crew  talk about producing and they even played a few beats. Well, of all the events the one I was most excited for was the Rock Like A Girl concert. Sure seeing Rapsody, Jean Grae, and some lady named Lauryn Hill perform was exciting, but the real reason I wanted to go was for the panel where they would discuss femininity in hip-hop. Finally! A chance to make up for all those less than progressive posts and really deal with some real issues. I wasn't going to miss this.

Of course, nobody would miss the chance to see a free Lauryn Hill show, so on Saturday, I woke up early (12:30 PM on a Saturday is early right?) packed a book, a water bottle, a phone charger, a phone (equipped with "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"), and headed down to wait in line for tickets like any other fan. By the time I made it there, it was about 2:30 PM, two hours before tickets were free and four hours before the concert. Worried I was one of the last in line, I feared I wouldn't get tickets. That was until I saw people coming in droves and before you know it, the outside of the Kennedy Center was flooded with people here to see some of hip-hop's best women. As the line, and excitement started to build, I thought too myself, "Who says women have no power in hip-hop?"

Sadly, the panel did not happen, but I still had so many questions and thoughts. So I held a little panel of my own with one of the performers and one of my favorite emcees in the game, Rapsody. I sat down with her to discuss the state of women in hip-hop; who better than one of the game's brightest young stars, who also happens to be a woman. I can't change everything, but talking with her is a start.

How did you get involved with Black Girls Rock?

We actually reached out. My manager Martin saw that it was going on a week before so he e-mailed first and he didn't say my name. So he e-mailed Beverly [Bond] and she was like "we're full". He tried one more time, but instead of reaching out to her secretary he reached out to Beverly Bond directly and she was like "Oh I didn't know it was Rapsody" so she squeezed me in and made room for it. I was thankful they did it; to be a part of it was amazing.

Why did you get involved?

One, because Black Girls Rock is a great organization. I always said outside of passion, I got into this to be an inspiration especially for girls, everyone alike but especially girls, because as far as mainstream hip-hop goes there isn't much balance. They don't have much many options as far as females in rap to look up to, so to be a part of something that directly effects females and little girls, I couldn't not be a part of that.It's a great organization for that reason; building confidence really showing women what it really is to rock like a girl. Two, because to be on a stage with other great artists like Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, and Jean Grae, Beverly Bond; that's amazing in and of itself.

Did Lauryn and MC Lyte inspire you when you were growing up?

Oh, man! That's not even a question!  That's not even a question. In any interview I am in and people ask me what made you want to rhyme it was MC Lyte. When I saw her "Poor Georgie" video that showed me that I could do this too because that was the first female I remember seeing that could rhyme and rhyme like she does. At that point I was like "I want to do what she's doing". And I just connected with Lauryn on a different level; there's a spirituality there. That Miseducation album and her verses on The Score took it somewhere else for me. It showed me about storytelling from a woman's point of view and how you could do that and still connect with men. Just the honesty of and raw talent-she can sing, she can rap, she can produce and write, she can do it all--so I was floored by that. She and Jay Z had the biggest influences on me personally.

What's been the hardest part about being a woman in a male dominated industry?

Wow. I guess feeling like you have to prove yourself or trying to break that wall of I'm not just a female rapper. I can rhyme as  well as any man you have and sometimes better. Just having to deal with that because a lot of times in the business they don't know what to do with you. They stick you with a bunch of other females or put you on this female list. That hurdle was probably the biggest but I'm still new and I'm facing newer challenges everyday, but like 9th (Wonder) says, "it's a good fight" and we are still  fighting.

We talk a lot about how it's hard to be a woman in hip-hop, but what are some advantages?

The perspective that we come from. There are somethings in music I think you are going to get from a woman that you can't get from a man. Not to say that that doesn't make our music enjoyable to men but there is this type of sprit or energy that females have. I don't know if it's our mothering nature or whatever, but it's just a different emotion or something different that you connect with. Women see the world different on another level; I think that's beautiful.

Would you mind sharing a specific story about being discriminated against because of your gender.

I've told the tour one over and over again...Lately, the most recent thing was year end lists. You know, you don't ever see females on year end lists. I think She Got Game is a great project, one of the best to drop last year, but it doesn't always get recognized, especially on those bigger list. Because you are a female they save that for the best female project list.

Tell the tour one, I haven't heard it.

Oh it's nothing too crazy. For the longest time I've been trying to get with an agency to book tours and it has been one of the craziest struggles. I watch these other guy artists who don't have as much buzz as me and they are with any agency and touring and I'm like, "why is it so difficult for me?" Every single time we've reached out to somebody outside our camp about a tour it always comes back to "I'm going to stick you on the road with all females or this singer" and I'm like, "this singer and me are total opposites; that doesn't make any sense." They might be R&B or ratchet style and I'm pure hip-hop; that makes no sense. That's been the craziest thing to me. Put me on a tour that makes sense. I can tour with an Ab-Soul, I can tour with a Kendrick Lamar, I can tour with an Jean Grae, I can tour with a Talib Kweli. That makes sense to me. This R&B singer? These females? Not to say they are not good but just because we are females doesn't mean we are the same type of music.

In what ways has hip-hip changed for women recently?

I wasn't in the game, but as a fan, outside looking in, there was more variety and more balance. It seemed like women were given more of a chance. In the 80's and 90's your MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, Lil Kim, Amel; all these female artists. Now you only have one and that's Nicki Minaj. So the greatest difference, as far as mainstream goes is there is just one, there is no balance; it's like females just disappeared if you look at it from the mainstream point of view. But we know that to be different otherwise because we have Ill Camille, myself, Nitty Scott, Angel Haze, Tina Apex and Noname Gypsy, Jean Grae; there's so many, Now, it's almost like a rebirth and I think that's across the board.  Just across the board it's not all one sound. Now you have Big K.R.I.T in the South, you have the West Coast Movement and you have New York with Action Bronson and Joey Badass and when that happens you also have this rebirth of all these women coming up; that's a difference that I see growing. I feel like you will see a lot more females coming up in the game because everything else is being pushed. Other than that the struggle is still the struggle. You still have to break down these walls and work harder than the guys.

One thing I find interesting about you is that you are a female and you do have that unique perspective, but it's not all of who you are as a rapper. It's interesting to me to think about that line between a embracing your gender but not having it be your main discourse. Is that something you are conscious of when working?

Sometimes. I try to not block it out but do what feels right; whatever feels is right you gotta stick to that, but it is a fine line to walk. I say all the time I don't want to be called a female rapper or a female emcee and at one point I did not like to do female panels because I felt like it boxed me and was too much about being female. But at the same time I'm proud to be a woman.

And I think you need that sense of community and camaraderie.

Exactly. And that's why I love events like Black Girls Rock. But I've learned that it's knowing when to turn it on and when to turn it off. You can be proud but when you're  working and you're in that booth and you're writing, it doesn't matter. Just do what feels right. Whether it's you coming out telling your perspective as a woman or just rhyming like I'm on the same playing field as any of you, excuse my french, n*ggas; we gonna rap.  It's doing whatever you feel like. If you feel like murdering someone that day then go for the kill, you know! If you feel like being more into your womanhood and talking about things that mostly women would relate to more than guys than do that; tell whatever story you feel.

Now, it's going to take a lot more than one interview to dismantle traditional gender roles in hip-hop, but it's a start. Sure, I got to see Lauryn Hill, Jean Grae and Rapsody kill it his weekend, but more importantly, it reignited a passion in me for challenging the norm and making hip-hop a better culture. I can't say I will note dedicate every post to changing the power structure, but if something doesn't feel right or needs to be said, I have to take the platform I have and talk about it; it's time we start judging an emcee by what they sound like not what gender, race, or sexuality they associate with. Again, I'm not sure what my role is (especially as man)  in changing all of this, but I want to help anyway I can. Hip-hop has given me so much, it's time I start giving back.

P.S. Don't worry, I still asked Rapsody about what she has planned music wise. Be on the look out for a EP this summer and check out her brand new effort, Murder By Numbers.

By @LGarrison88

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