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We’re In Effect: Hip Hop’s Feminist Role Models

May 27, 2010

[This article also appeared on my other blog, Red Vinyl Shoes.]

While these ladies may or may not consider themselves feminists, as a young hip-hop fan looking for tracks that I could rap along to without 1) contorting my voice into deep tones, 2) having to change all the pronouns, and 3) convincing myself that the “hoes” referenced in the songs I was rapping to had nothing to do with REGULAR black women, I found them inspiring and much easier to enjoy. Roll call!

Salt-N-Pepa debuted in 1985 with “The Showstopper” but didn’t hit it big until 1986 with the release of Hot, Cool and Vicious which included the platinum hit “Push It”. I LOVED these ladies. They were the first female rappers I heard when I started listening to hip-hop in the early nineties, when they came out with “Let’s Talk About Sex” which actually was what made me aware of the issue of AIDS. Not only were they politically aware, they were sex-positive, too! And they could drop HITS that I shook my little 11 year old booty to. I did that dance from “Push It” to pretty much every song. When I got into my BMG/Columbia House scamming days, Very Necessary was one of the first albums I got with my penny. And if she/ wanna be a freak an’/ sell it on the weekend/ IT’S NONE OF YO’ BIZNASS!

Queen Latifah first got on my radar with “U.N.I.T.Y.”, which I recognize was pretty late. But the song provided a bumpin’ counterpoint to all the “bitch” and “ho” shit going on in hip-hop during the gangsta rap days (which have now become decades since “bitch” and “ho” never went out of style). And I have to admit I am a huge West Coast gangsta rap lover, but I internalized Latifah’s message, which enabled me to brush off the insults and characterize them as what they were — ignorance. With a bomb beat. Latifah’s been on the scene since 1989 with All Hail the Queen, which included the hip-hop feminist anthem “Ladies First”.

The Lady of Rage doesn’t get mentioned much, but as I stated before I was heavy into West Coast gangsta rap in the nineties so naturally I was interested in Rage, since she was featured on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. She released “Afro Puffs”, which has since become one of my favorite nineties tracks, in 1994. She has AMAZING flow. I love rapping along to anything she does. She didn’t drop a solo album until 1997’s Necessary Roughness, but made appearances on Snoop Dogg and various other Death Row artists’ albums in the meantime. Without her, I couldn’t rock ruff an’ stuff with my Afro Puffs.

Da Brat was another one with amazing flow. She dropped her debut, Funkdafied in ’94. Her lyrical gymnastics give me chills and again, I pride myself on being able to sing along. The embed is one of my favorite songs, and she also did a HOT song with B.I.G. called “The B Side” that I count among my favorites, too. Brat is pretty much the only thing Jermaine Dupri did for me. She often collabs with my ultimate rap role model, see below.

Lil’ Kim ROCKED MY WORLD when the above track hit my ears. I was in love. Tight rhymes, fanciful subject matter, and the video was incredible. All those wigs! Hardcore dropped in 1994 and my life was not the same. I can quote Kim lyrics at will — the woman shaped my sexual philosophy. If you ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this became my motto. I used’ta be scared of the dick/ Now I throw lips to the shit/ Handle it like a real bitch opened up the world of fellatio for me. Yes, I was at the tender age of 14 when it came out, but I rocked that CD until 2000 when she came out with Notorious K.I.M.. I will be the first to admit she is problematic. But when that woman ripped the mic out of Puff Daddy’s hand in the “All About the Benjamins” remix video, she ripped the mic out of the hands of all male artists. SHE CAN RHYME, y’all. I’ve heard her freestyle and it is on point. Her fashion is atrocious, the plastic surgery is awful and the feuds legendary, but Lil’ Kim still holds the crown of Queen of Rap. I could write an entire article on the institution that is Kim. Maybe I will.

Bahamadia will take us out of this article. Her style is so laid back, you might not notice that she’s a lyrical genius. Her album Kollage came out in 1996. She takes me back to the days of Latifah, when female rappers were more concerned with rhyming than catfighting. (I see you, Kim.) When I want to kick back but keep my mind stimulated, I put on either Kollage or her EP Bb Queen. She’s kind of an underground/indie type rapper (aka no guns or Gucci), performing with The Roots and Talib Kweli. That’s pretty much the main type of hip-hop I listen to now, besides Kim and old school rappers. I get tired of the horrible production value of the recycled crap they play on the radio these days. Now get off my lawn!!

This is by no means a comprehensive list of women in hip hop, and I know some of y’all are going to object to some of these women being labeled “feminist”. But they each empowered me in SOME WAY, and that shaped my worldview and thus my feminism as it is today.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. raymondj permalink
    May 27, 2010 9:46 am

    But when that woman ripped the mic out of Puff Daddy’s hand in the “All About the Benjamins” remix video, she ripped the mic out of the hands of all male artists. SHE CAN RHYME, y’all.

    I still love that moment in the video. “…dressed in all black like The Omen.”

    I haven’t heard that Da Brat song in a minute, I forgot how much I love it!!

  2. May 27, 2010 10:53 am

    I LOVE Bahamadia. I wish she would put out more music! “Uknowhowwedo” was on constant rotation in my crappy Camry thanks to my college roomie who also introduced me to Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School, Camp Lo, and Dr. Octagon.

    I also did the Salt n’ Pepa dance. Well I should say, tried to do it. I’m not the best dancer.

    Good list. I wish there were more woman rappers… doesn’t seem like much has changed since the 80’s/90’s. Seems like the ratio of men to women is just the same. Sigh.

  3. May 27, 2010 11:40 am

    When I got into my BMG/Columbia House scamming days, Very Necessary was one of the first albums I got with my penny.

    OMG I’d forgotten all about that era! All those little perforated, lickable stamps to choose from.

  4. May 27, 2010 12:16 pm

    I haven’t heard that Da Brat song in a minute, I forgot how much I love it!!

    I know, right? This was the best post to write because I got to listen to all these songs.

    I LOVE Bahamadia. I wish she would put out more music!

    SERIOUSLY. She is so awesome, I would kill for another album by her.

    Good list. I wish there were more woman rappers… doesn’t seem like much has changed since the 80′s/90′s. Seems like the ratio of men to women is just the same. Sigh.

    Yeah and now we have crap like Ke$ha to deal with.

    OMG I’d forgotten all about that era! All those little perforated, lickable stamps to choose from.

    BMG and Columbia House financed my entire music collection for years before they started dunning me and my mom had to send them a letter telling them I was a minor and they had to stop bothering me.

    During the same era, I bought a rug and a bedspread set on credit from the Fingerhut catalog and my mom had to write them the same letter.

  5. May 27, 2010 12:36 pm

    Seriously, this was amazing, Tashie. Amil from Major Coins still rocks my bitter little soul with her take down verse in Jay Z’s :

    Monie and Queen being all positivity:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST. IT MADE MY MORNING. ❤ Tashie.

  6. May 27, 2010 1:29 pm

    Ambition makes me so horny! I loved Amil on that track too! My coochie remains in the Gucci name/ Never test my patience, nigga/ I’m high maintenance

    Seriously that was like my jam for so long!

  7. May 27, 2010 1:31 pm

    People must think I’m crazy. I’m sitting here muttering lyrics and shaking my booty in the chair.

  8. May 27, 2010 8:29 pm

    Salt-N-Pepa kick ass! I remember when I heard their song “Swift”, I started grinning like an idiot because it was the first time I’d heard female rappers whose rhymes were just as fast and complex as any of the men.

    Neneh Cherry’s “Raw Like Sushi” album was a landmark for me in pro-woman and pro-sex hip-hop. Especially the last track, “So Here I Come”, ending with her telling the man she’s with:
    I came already. Stop it.

  9. June 25, 2010 7:18 am

    Oh man. Now I have new stuff to listen to on itunes. This post made me remember a lot of music that I loved. I went through a pretty hardcore lady rap phase about ten years ago in which I was obsessed with Missy Elliot and MC Lyte. I bought some editing software and would remix songs. And then I would think of clever rhymes (usually in the shower) and post them on the internet under the moniker Wundabread. I will say that Very Necessary was one of the first cassettes I ever owned, and later Supa Dupa Fly rocked my entire world off its axis.

    I will leave you with this:

  10. P.Houtman permalink
    April 19, 2011 7:02 am

    I can honestly say that if t wasn’t for Mecca the Ladybug, my mind wouldn’t be open to hip-hop.

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