Written by Amy Zhang
I’m a walking contradiction. On one hand, I’ll be the first to put dudes in their place for inappropriately harassing one of my girls on the dance floor and yet in the same night; will happily shake my ass to lyrics like “you’re such a fucking hoe, I love it.”
So the question that begs to be answered:
How can you be a feminist and love problematic music?
Let’s be frank, it’s no news to anyone that Hip Hop culture is laced with misogyny and sexism. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s why:
For one, the industry itself is so heavily male dominated.
Despite Hip Hop being one of the most popular music genres of today, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea were the only 3 women in rap to make the top 100 in 2018. Soooo under-representation for women in Hip Hop? Tick.
Two, well…listen to the lyrics.
Aside from the Queen Latifah’s, Salt-N-Pepa’s, and Lil Kim’s, any representation of women is inherently derogatory, sexualised or degrading to women (and unapologetically so). Listen to your average rapper’s rhymes or tap into any of their music videos. These songs are built on a foundation of explosive lyrics in which men refer to women as “bitch”, “hoe” or “gold digger” alongside objectified female bootys bouncing errrrywhere.
Do I need to keep going?
In true millennial fashion, I took to the internet to find a way to justify my love for Hip Hop and still proudly call myself a feminist.
Here’s what I found: Hip Hop Feminism
What is Hip Hop feminism?
Hip Hop feminism was a term coined by cultural critic and music journalist, Joan Morgan, in 1999. She first introduced this term in her book “When Chickenheads come to a Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it Down”.
In a nutshell, Hip Hop Feminism is the culmination of political ideas based on a combination of hip hop and feminist sensibilities.
“I wrote the book because people kept constantly asking me, how could I consider myself a feminist and love hip hop? So, the book was really the answer” – Joan Morgan
Treading the line
In the same book, Joan also coined this term “fucking with the greys.” This is about embracing contradictions like loving hip hop music and being a feminist. This term opened up the vocabulary for female hip hop heads to express ideas about themselves through a feminist lens.
“More than any other generation before us, we need a feminism committed to keeping it real. We need a voice like our music; one that samples and layers many voices, injects its sensibilities into the old and flips it into something new, provocative, and powerful. We need a feminism that possesses the same fundamental understanding held by any true student of hip-hop. Truth can’t be found in the voice of anyone rapper but the juxtaposition of many” – Joan Morgan
What does this mean?
On a ground level, it means we don’t need to beat ourselves up for liking the songs we like. Let’s acknowledge the other elements: songs are also made up of sick beats, good production, insane musicianship and amazing vocals. It’s possible to acknowledge that: yes, the lyrics are problematic, but we are capable of loving music for more than just the lyrics. Truth be told, every lyric in “I love it” by Kanye West and Lil Pump makes my insides crawl, but goddamn that beat is EVERYTHING.
More importantly though, it opens up a conversation about the music and the culture. Hip Hop feminism has paved the way for women to speak out and shed light on the issues within Hip Hop culture.
“We don’t get to a better place by erasing facts from the past. We have to put it into it’s historical context, deal with it, say what we’ve learned [and then] discuss what we still need to learn.” – Joan
There’s no denying we still have so much ground to cover. On that note: keep an eye out for more blogs because this rabbit-hole of research has only just begun. Joan herself even said “While it would be nice to have a quick, one-line answer about how it’s possible to be a hip hop-loving feminist, the issue is far more complex than that. Such is life.”
For now, what I see is that Hip Hop feminism sparks conversation. We are beginning to ask for music that reflects the time we live in. We’re demanding opportunity for FxMALES to speak their truths in the music.
Enough talking, hit play
In 2019, we now have wayyy more BOSS fxmale rappers than ever before. Of course, you know the O.Gs like Lauren Hill and Missy Elliott but there’s a new wave coming up in the scene. I want to give them all a shout out right now in the only way I know how. A PLAYLIST!
This playlist is a culmination of (mainly) new and old fxmale rappers I’m loving right now who are upping themselves, their fellow females. These womxn are speaking on some real stuff in their rhymes on top of some *fire emoji* production.
For your listening pleasure, guilt-free, hip hop music. Enjoy!
Groove Therapy is an organisation that focuses on dance as a vehicle for mental, physical and social change. Through an unrelenting obsession to learn, unlearn and contribute to the betterment of humanity, Groove Therapy teaches beginner weekly ‘no mirror, dim lights’ classes across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia. For those who cannot geographically attend, Groove Therapy has a series of online courses. Get out of your head and into your body. Dance a little baby.
Header image: Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Kimberly Elise in Set It Off (1996)