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L. Keyes Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 113, No. 449 (Summer, 2000), pp. 255-269 Published by: American Folklore Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/542102 Accessed: 24/09/2009 11:07
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in the history femaleshavebeeninvolved of this musicsinceits earlyyears.schoolyards. OBSERVERS OF RAPMUSIC BEGAN TO NOTICE the proliferation of successful female rap acts during the 1990s. [Queen] Latifah. and music critics-referred to in this essay as an "interpretivecommunity. Journalof American . JacquelineBobo exploresthe concept of "interpretive community" as a movement comprisingBlack female culturalproducers.In general. She writes. Though rap has often been presentedas a male-dominatedform by the media." In BlackWomenas Cultural film critic-scholar Readers. Keyes is AssistantProfessor of Ethnomusicology of California Folklore 113(449):255-269." concept.critics and scholars.In examining exploresBlackwomen'scontribution this an model that employscultural study engages interdisciplinary female rappers.female rapartists have not only proven that they have lyricalskills. Making Choices. rapmusicwith urbanmaleculture. had their little crews and were known for rocking parties. women have been a partof the rapscene since its earlycommercialyears. "interpretive analysis. KEYES Empowering Self.they have createdspacesfrom which to deliverpowerful messages from Black female and Black feministperspectives. This article to and role in shapingrap music.Roxanne Shante.and massmediation an ethnographic in its the community.whatever it was. Creating Spaces Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance have oftenassociated Criticsand scholars However.audience members. Rap music journalistHavelock Nelson notes. and it employs studies. and [Monie] Love have had to struggleto reach a level of successclose to that of male rappers" (1993:77). artistslike [MC] Lyte. theoryof popularculture. American Folklore Society. "femaleswere always into rap. Data utilized in this study derive from interviews (1993-96) with "culturalreaders" (Bobo 1995)-African American female performers. Copyright ? 2000. "While women have alwaysbeen involved artistically with rap throughout the '80s.in their struggleto survive and thrive within this tradition.CHERYL L. at the University at Los Angeles Cheryl L. feminist theory.and culturalconsumers(1995:22). and females rockedjust as hard as males [but]the male wasjust firstto be put on wax [record]"(Pearlman1988:26). Challengingmale rappers' predominance.
Monie [Love]. the classifications interpretive community. When rapperMC Lyte was asked. theydeem Working together and ways." and "Lesbian." Black female rapperscan. In their lyrics. however. qualitiesthat she identifiedwith the Queen Latifahtypes (see Penrice 1995). Roxanne Shant6. The "queen mother" is. and Yo-Yo. the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. to me.four distinctcategoriesof women rappersemerge in rap music performance:"Queen Mother. and the late 1990s: "Sha-Rock. of the more discern parameters categories. shift between these categoriesor belong to more than one simultaneously.More imporform recorded is a transmitted music by rap women of rappersare based on the constructions of an tantly. For instance. upwhat inrelation to cultural works that either arecreated women orfeature them insignificant byblack placed thewomen of black women that utilize valuable in representations ways. Let us now examine the four categoriesor images of Black women introducedto rap by specific female rappersor emcees (MCs) and consideredby the interpretivecomof and specificto AfricanAmericanfemale identity munity in generalas representative in contemporaryurbanculture. Sequence. . Then you got a second crew which is Salt-N-Pepa. she separatedwomen rappersinto three groups. Latifah.each category mirrorscertainimages. Queen Mother The "Queen Mother" category comprisesfemale rapperswho view themselves as African-centeredicons.. if she felt that there is a distinct female rap category. associatedwith identity Africantraditionalcourt culture.My initial categoryof clearly leading me to "Black Diva" in early interviews for the grand posture of these women was later revisedto "Queen Mother" afterone female observerconvincingly said divadenotes a as opposed to that of a regal and self-assured posture of arroganceand pretentiousness woman. Then afterthat you got Da Brat. as observed via recorded performance and personal interviews. Bobo's thesis of the to this examination of women in rap because interpretivecommunity is appropriate and video performances." "Fly Girl. voices.in the 16th-centuryBenin Kingdom of .Bobo finds it necessaryto distinguishthe interpretive community-Black women involved in making or consuming these films-in order to accuratelydetermine the actualintent and effect of these films. an image often suggestedby their dress.256 Folklore113 (2000) Journalof American I have aninterpretive thewomen make termed which isstrategically Asa group.' Queried about specific categories. they refer to themselves as "AsiaticBlack women. referredto as "crews." suggestiveof their self-constructed intellectual and prowess. however. me." "intelligentBlack women. In the female rap tradition.for example." "Nubian queens. community. [1995:22] politically productive usefiul Because much of the criticismof Black female independent film makers'works stems from male or white perspectives. Foxy Brown."reigning in three periods-the early 1980s.More importantly.both rap music performersand female audience membersfrequentlyused the buzz wordsfly and attitude (asin "girlfriend got attitude")." "Sistawith Attitude. and lifestylesof AfricanAmericanwomen in contemporaryurbansociety. The Real Roxanne. Lil' Kim." or "sistas droppin'science to the people.. that'sthe firstcrew. HeatherB" (1996)..
delicate. and full figure contributeto the perception of her as a queen mother. Queen Latifah finds that her stature and grounded perspective cause fans to view her as a maternalfigure or as a person to revere or.2 It is certainlypossiblethat femalerapartists may know of the historicalsignificanceof Africanqueens. a commemorative head made of brasswas sculptedin her honor adornedwith a beaded choker.. was the firstfemale MC to use Queenas a stagename. at times.. Andevery Black woman isa queen.and queen.posture.goddess braid styles. maybe because I am full-figured. but I'm twenty-one" (quoted in Green 1991:33). want to Mycousin.SisterSouljah. priestess. establishedher regal identity." and."Me. They include such lyrics as. who are "to be accorded respect by . along with a facial expression capturingher reposed manner. men. you can't take my crown from me. Although Queen Latifahacknowledges that others perceived her as motherly even at age 21. fear. and ankh-stylizedjewelry. Among those women distinguishedby the interpretive community as Queen Mother types are Queen Kenya. youknow. gave [Latifah] beMCLatifah. nonetheless. I didn't Muslim. I was and Latifah. Just because I take a mature stance on certain things. Their rhymes embrace Black female empowerment and spirituality. "I'm on the scene. Because of her maternal connection to the king. though. women in this category adorn their bodies with royal or Kente cloth strips. headdress. including control over districts and a voice in the national affairsof the state. when Well[inrap]. she was the mother of a reigning king. And myhead it. and kind.Nefertiti. Queen Kenya. a . she tries to distanceherself from the label: "I wish I wasn't seen as a mother. Davis (1998:122)." explains the origin of her stage name: who's methat name I waseight. I'm the Queen of Royal Badness. she garneredcertain rights and privileges. "You try to be down.3But the woman of rapwho became the firstsolo femaleMC to commercially record under the name "Queen" is Dana "Queen Latifah"Owens.Keyes. I don't really care for that.and crown. like."Latifah. woman. The ambiguityof Latifah's Joan Radner and motherly image follows what feministscholars Susan Lanseridentify as a form of coding in women's folk culture called distraction: a device used to "drown out or draw attention away from the subversivepower of a feminist message" (1993:15).whose Arabic name means "feminine. warrior. it gives me a motherly feel .. Queen mothers demand respect not only for their people but for Black women. indicating to fans that she remains. Queen Latifah. BlackFemaleIdentityvia Rap Music 257 southeasternNigeria. Itdidn't sound I didn't want to come outlikeoldmodels. a member of hip-hop's Zulu Nation. as evidenced in the above interview.making clear their self-identificationas African.." observes Angela Y. Queen Latifah'sinitial singles "Princessof the Posse" and "Wrath of My Madness" (1988). Isis.and Queen saying I ama queen. I am mature. Queen Mother Rage. African headdresses. just popped oneday.  Latifah's maternaldemeanor. During his reign. and Yo-Yo." Itfeltgood I feltlikea queen. Latifahattemptsto mute her motherly image offstage. Soqueen into right. However. followed by her debut album All Hail the Queen(1989).
Angela Davis. in the African American community. which. a particular Despite the ambiguity. containing live footage of South Africa's apartheidriots overlaidwith photographicstills of Black heroines-Winnie Mandela. In Black Feminist sociologist PatriciaHill Collins recognizesthat. who is . "she isolates several of the difficultiescommonly experienced by young black women [on welfare]"(Forman1994:44) and shows how the powers that be are apatheticto Black women who are trying to beat the odds: I wanna here are cover. and some from Here isa message brothers.4Pan-Africanism is tacitly evoked with these images-South Africa's political struggle against segregation and a salute to Winnie Mandela. type "strong they African-American communities. addresspolitical-economic issuesfacing Black women and the Black community as a whole. [1990:132] community's Queen Latifah'sothermotherposture is no doubt reflected most vividly through her lyrics. infostering women's African-American Black thebasis forms for involvement community development the of This is Black woman" around them see in traditional community-based power. and ordinaryperson in spite of her onstage "Queen of Royal Badness"persona. In Latifah's song "The Evil that Men Do" (1989) from All Hail the Queen.[quoted theevilthat I should send I thought 1994:44] youabout Another example of Queen Latifah'srole as queen mother of rap resonatesin her platinum single "LadiesFirst"(1989). because she's butwhothehellcares living decent with a can't come Thegovernment housing plan up land innoman's soshe's whotells it'sa sucker . youyou're equal thegood lifetax-free Someone's livin' free crack can't belivin' some 'cause girl poor ofthemessage and that's justpart inForman mendo. the mother of this struggle. Rosa Parks.258 Folklore 113(2000) Journal ofAmerican modest. and Madame C. Stereotypes intoreverse and around I gonna mess flipthescene first. Thought. at times. The lyrics of "Ladies First" respondprimarilyto maleswho believe that femalescannot createrhymes: can't flow we [women] think that Some they gotto go. Walker.. things mysisters life forabetter A woman strives onwelfare. ofladies a little touch With The video version is far more political.Queen Latifahrepresents type of mother figure to her audience.. rankedin the annalsof rap music history as the first political commentary rap song by a female artist. community mutuality through figures furthering well-being. work onbehalf of theBlack othermothers Community by community and which embrace ethics of of transformative and accountability caring personal conceptions expressing as power othermothers become identified the . J." Collins explains. some women are viewed as "othermothers.. HarrietTubman.. down-to-earth.
Queen Latifah opened the doors for other Afrocentricfemale MCs. Perceived by the interpretivecommunity as a queen mother of rap. women rappers."Fly Girl. a former associateof the Black nationalistrapgroup Public Enemy. where she chided AfricanAmericanswho murder one another for no apparentreasonby figurativelysuggesting.Keyes. and economic parity in her rap messages. launched her firstLP in 1992.high-heeled shoes. While SisterSouljahadvocatesracial."Why not take a week and kill white people[?]" (Leland 1992:48). a film that inspired one MC to adopt the movie's title as her moniker. including Sha Rock of Funky Four Plus One.featuresthe rap single "The Final Solution: Back in in which Effect. and Queen Mother Rage are categorizedas queen mothers via their names.the bond between Black women in the United Statesand the United Kingdom is alluded of Monie Love of England. such as SisterSouljah. The LP. her recordsalesplummeted dramatically messagesskyrocketed with television appearanceson talk shows like The Phil Donahue Show and speeches on the universitylecture circuit. the hip-hop community furtherembracedthe fly image via the commercial . Souljah. By 1985.a style that grew out of the blaxploitationfilms of the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. Souljah's preachy style of delivery.she also looks within the community to relationshipissuesbetween Black men and women in her lyrics and her semiautobiobook No Disrespect graphical (1994:xiv). as fly.jewelry. But Yo-Yo's image-long auburn braids and very short shorts (worn by Jamaicandance hall women performers)-and tight-fittingpum-pum her gyratinghip dancingalso position her in the next category.sequined fabric. The Mack (1973). Isis. Black women-reminders of Black liberation. which she discusseson her debut LP Make Way for the Motherlode (1991).S.B.C.Additionally. Supeofly (1972). or attire. They wore short skirts.social. in turn." Fly Girl Fly describes someone in chic clothing and fashionable hairstyles.whom Queen Latifahrefersto to through the appearance as "my Europeanpartner. resurrected flynessand its continuum in hip-hop culture.female rapperYo-Yo is also regardedby the interpretive community as a queen mother. and cosmetics. The fly persona in these films influenced a wave of Black contemporary youth who. Black FemaleIdentityvia Rap Music 259 presentedamong U. lyrics.the Intelligent Black Women Coalition (I. These films include Shaft (1971).). Souljah was ridiculed as a propagatorof hate by presidentialcandidateBill Clinton."Her lyricsillustrate her political ideology of Black feminism and female respectability. In the wake of the controwhile her "raptivist" versy." Slavery's "Souljahimaginesa police state where blacksfight the reinstitutionof slavery"(Leland1992:48)."These images locate Latifahas a queen mother and equal partneramong those Black queens who struggledfor the freedom of Black people. During the early 1980s. Although Nefertiti. 360 Degrees of Power. the trio and soloist LadyB. dressedin what was then consideredby their audiences Sequence. she earned the title "raptivist" fame grew after her speech at the Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition LeadershipSummit in 1992. With her candid and somewhat quasifrom her followers.W. As a consequence. and prominent makeup. and Foxy Brown(1974).as advancedby her organization.
an independent woman. By the mid-1980s. and an answer rap during the same year. considered beauty markers of Black women by Black culture (Roberts 1998). Pepa. an erotic subject rather than an objectified one. Cultural critic and scholar bell hooks further articulates that Black women's erotic consciousness is textualized around issues of body esteem: "Erotic pleasure requires of us engagement with the realm of the senses . tight-fitting outfits. earrings and necklaces). long sculpted nails. "writing their own bodies. until the Black's Magic (1990) LP. Female rappers' reclamation ofthefly resonates with the late Audre Lorde's theory of the erotic as power (Davis 1998:172)." by female rapper Pebblee-Poo. Rap's fly girl image is. however.. [to work] toward self-recovery issues around body esteem. but speaks her mind" (1987). Salt notes that "the image we project reflects the real independent woman of the '90s" (quoted in Chyll 1994:20). on which Salt (Cheryl James) ventured into writing and producing the ." "Tramp.e. prominent makeup. it is common knowledge in the rap community that during Salt-N-Pepa's early years. becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence. and more in "we're not ashamed of our sexuality. but. The Boogie Boys describe a fly girl as a woman "who wants you to see her name." "Push It. "she sports a lot of gold. Salt-N-Pepa are "flippin da script" (deconstructing dominant ideology) by wearing clothes that accent their full breasts and rounded buttocks and thighs. Moreover. achieving a sense of independence from an entrepreneurial perspective has not been easy. In Lorde's influential essay. has voluptuous curves." she reveals the transformative power of the erotic in Black women's culture: "Our erotic knowledge empowers us. ripped jeans or punk clothing. and hairstyles ranging from braids and wraps to waves. Black fly girls express a growing awareness of their erotic selves by sculpting their own personas and. as folklorist Elaine Lawless (1998) puts it. wears tight jeans. Salt-N-Pepa describe themselves as "women [who have] worked hard to keep our bodies in shape." by the male rap group Boogie Boys. For instance. "Uses of the Erotic. additionally. a made-up face. for we're Salt-N-Pepa-sexier control" (quoted in Rogers 1994:31). glittering gold jewelry (i.260 Folklore 113 (2000) Journal ofAmerican recording of "A Fly Girl. their lyrics and hit songs ("I'1 Take Your Man. and Spinderella-nevertheless canonized the ultimate fly girl posture of rap by donning short. Through performance. to accept and love our bodies. the female rap trio Salt-N-Pepa-Salt. "A Fly Guy. leather mini skirts.." and "Shake Your Thang") were mainly written by their manager/producer Hurby "Luvbug" Azor. 124). 121-122. the capacity to be in touch with sensual reality. far more than a whim. leather clothing. for it highlights aspects of Black women's bodies considered undesirable by American mainstream standards of beauty (Roberts 1998). many female MCs began contesting the "fly girl" image because they wanted their audiences to focus more on their rapping skills than on their dress styles. But for many women of rap." For example. [and] to be empowered by a healing eroticism" (1993:116. forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their meaning within our lives" (1984:57). her game and her ability". to do so. Despite this changing trend. they portray via performance the fly girl as a party-goer. in ever-changing hair coloring. Another aspect of the fly girl persona is independence. we're proud to show them off": moreover..
TLC remainedsteadfast with the message to women of all sizes regardingmental and physical wellness and body esteem. servicingit up to us in our videos. On Salt-N-Pepa's fourth LP." saidSalt (quoted in Rogers 1994:31." Other women whom the interpretivecommunity categorizesasfly are Left-Eyeand Yo-Yo. The "Shoop" video turns the tableson the male rappers. and pronounced facial makeup also categorize her as fly. Salt-N-Pepa praise their significant others in the areas of friendship. as underscored in both music and video performancesof the single "Unpretty"(1999). TLC's espousal of being fly and sexually independent undoubtedly comes hand in hand with sexual responsibility via their lyricsand image. She takeson sexualityin "You Can't Play with My Yo-Yo" and "Put a Lid on It. emphasis added). TLC underscoresthe messages visually through wearing certain accoutrements."which went platinum. their baggy style of dress ran counter to the revealing apparelof hip-hop's typical fly girl and invited their fullfigured audience to do the same. stylishauburnbraids. Like TLC. Yo-Yo also deliversa seriousmessage. tight-fittingoutfits.6 In the video versions of both songs. TLC has made delivering "safe sex" messagesa priority.W. Like Salt-N-Pepa. whatta mighty good man. When TLC firstappearedon the music scene with the debut LP Oooooooohhh . Left Eye. Black'sMagicalso contains Salt-N-Pepa's "Let'sTalk about Sex" (writtenby Azor). is conveyed powerfully in their award-winning"Waterfalls" LP. On the TLC Tip (1992). "Whattaman. he notices a lesion on his face." on the other hand. while other members of the group attach colored condom packagesto their clothes. whatta man. National Anthem" and "Sisterland" from Make Wayfor theMotherlode (1991). the group wrote and produced most of the selections. romance. But her gyratinghips. Throughout the 1990s. championing African American sisterhood in "The I. Following this encounter. TLC's T-Boz said. which Salt later rewrote for a public service an nouncement song and video "Let'sTalk about AIDS" in 1992. TLC's warning about unprotectedsex. tight-bunned brothersacting like sex objects.in it "ladiessee a bunch of bare-chested. BlackFemaleIdentityvia Rap Music 261 single "Expression. and two. we don't want them to feel like they can't wear what we're wearing"(quoted in Homer 1993:16). Yo-Yo writes about independent. the three women scrutinizedesirable men. and parenting as the female rhythm and blues group En Vogue joins them in singing the chorus. as their titles suggest. CrazySexyCool (1994).which earnsher a place among the queen mothers. "We like to wear a lot of baggy stuff because for one.Left Eye of the trio wears a condom in place of an eyeglasslens. which suggeststhat he has contracted the virus that causesAIDS." which... In "Whatta Man. VeryNecessary (1993). empowered Black women.C. emphasizedby the condoms they from their second wear. . rangingfrom businesstypes to "ruffnecks" (a fly guy associatedwith urban street culture). whatta man. many of our fans don't have the so-called perfect figure.B. explore being sexuallyin control and being sexually irresponsible. it's comfortable. While both groups do so through lyrics. The songs "Shoop" and "WhattaMan" from that album stand out as celebratorysongs that deserve note.Keyes. The messageis amplifiedin the video: A man decides to follow his partner'swish not to use a condom. and Chili).short. Left Eye is the rapperof the hip-hop/rhythm and blues hybrid group TLC (T-Boz.
Some women of rap take a middle road.viewing it as positive ratherthan negative and using the term to entertainor provide catharticrelease. Since the late 1990s. can be defined as an aggressive.on. how it is employed. that's not harmful. female MC. girl.known to some as "Missy [finger] waves.. Her usage of bitchmakes a self-statementabout being a mover and shaker. These women.262 Folklore 113 (2000) Journal ofAmerican In 1996.. Prototypes of this category are grouped according to " 'tude": Roxanne Shante.defiant. such as Lauryn Hill. Elliott has occasionally appeared in television for the youth fashionstore Gap. LP. women. songwriter. and to whom one refers. MC Lyte Bytches with Problems (BWP). The reclaimerscounter this argument with the opinion that "it's not what you're called but what you answer to" (MC Lyte 1993).B.W."Bitch around you theterm.Many of these "sistas" (sisters)have reclaimed the word bitch." female fans also admire her finger-wave hairstyle. I useit withmyhomegirls like. However. "Sistawith Attitude" comprises female MCs who value attitude as a means of empowerment and present themselves accordingly.and offstage. and Da Brat are known for their frankness. regardless of size.] . She no doubt succeedsas a full-figured advertisements fly woman. in which she addresses questions about male-female relationships and interpersonal growth in the name of I. with her single "She's a Bitch" from her sophomore LP Da Real World(1999). a diminutiveform of attitude. TotalControl."Sistawith Attitude.in rap'smale-dominatedarena.] "That bitch is so crazy. Yo-Yo" in the hip-hop magazine Vibe. or an oppositionalor negative outlook or disposition"(1994:228).Mesmerizedby her debut LP SupaDupa Fly (1997) and her single "The Rain. all in the name of her predominantly posture. I-know-I'm-BAD pose or air about oneself.arrogant. see also Harmony. [But. concurring that bitchcan be problematic depending on who uses the term.and thus she shares much in common with the next category. In general. exudes a hardcore/no-nonsense approach. I play mind I don't really crazy?"Bitch is a fierce girl.C.As Queen Latifahexplains. breaking new ground in an area too often seen as off-limitsto all but the most slender and "correctly" proportioned." You know. Missy "Misdemeanor"Elliott appendsanother image to her fly girl posture. and producer Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott hasjoined the fly girl ranks. Yo-Yo began a column entitled "Yo. Yo-Yo moved beyond the shadow of her mentor Ice Cube with her fourth for which she served as executive producer.Other sistasin the interpretive community are troubled by that view.Boss is recognized for her gangstabitch stance.and Mia X advancesa militaristic male posse No Limit Soldiers. quoted in Donahue 1991). are withit." 'tude. have "refusedto be labeled a 'bitch' because such appellationsmerely mar the images of young African American females" (1994." and her ability to carry off the latest hip-hop fashions on her full-figured frame. In stakingher claim to rap music's fly girl further Elliott reclaims sexuality and eros as healing power for all Black category. Following this success.." SistawithAttitude According to Black EnglishscholarGeneva Smitherman. [Or.
Foxy Brown is connected with The Firm.Black badmen boast about their sexual exploits with women. The bad girl image also parallelsthe "badman"character(such as John Hardy. and use it in a positive sense" (quoted in Donahue 1991). At the end of the day.. aggressivewoman who goes afterwhat she wants. wild drinking binges.A.yet dangerouswoman: "I think it's every girl's dream to be fly" (Gonzales 1997:63).bordering both "Fly Girl" and "Sistawith Attitude" categories. and sexuallyemassmoking "blunts"(marijuana) " male or "dissin' their would-be female culating (verballydownplaying) characters.So it'sthe . lewd" an exacerbated their affiliation with male gangsta 1997:77).A. . symbolic of "white power" (Roberts 1989:196).I.to late 1990s. "We use 'Bytches' [to subvertspatriarchal a mean] strong. Foxy Brown. Morgan furtherarguesthat Black women's power-on. and narrow brusheswith the law. the "Sistawith Attitude" categorywas augmented with rappersLil' Kim and Foxy Brown. violent. seducing. positive. they are designatedby some as the "mackdivas. and Stackolee) peculiar to the African American oral narrative.. whose name is derived from Pam Grier's1974 screen character. talk endlesslyabout their wee-wees and what have you.. or "bad girls of hip-hop" (Morgan 1997). who conflate fly and hardcoreattitudesin erotic lyrics and video performances. Dolemite." These artistsare not highly respected for their creative skills.9In these narratives." nowthat's theword that to medecides whether I should turn it offorlisten toit. some members of the interpretivecommunity criticize them for being "highly materialistic.8 By the mid.1 Some female observersI queried felt that sistaswith attitude merely exist on the peripheryof rap and are seen asjust "shootin' off at the mouth. (Morgan impression by Lil' crews: Kim is associated with and rap-style Junior M.they are viewed as misusing sex and feminism and devaluing Black men.  behind meaning Female MCs revise the standarddefinition of bitch.. The feminist renderingof "the badman"includes those sistaswho brag about partyingand with their men.emulatesthe powerful. desirable. BlackFemaleIdentityvia Rap Music 263 "This bitch downheretalking meant in a harmful justcame stupid way.sistaswith attitudehave acquiredrespectfrom their peers for their masteryof figurativelanguage and rhyme. Lyndah of the duo BWP explained.""Thelma and Louise of rap" (Gonzales 1997:62). We take that on today.rather.Keyes. hip-hop feminist Joan Morgan statesthat the new "badgirlsof hip-hop" may not have careerlongevity because "feminismis not simply about being able to do what the boys do-get high. In an Essence magazine article.and offstage--is sustainedby "those sisterswho selectivelyrationtheir erotic power" (1997:133). a long poetic narrativeform that predates rap.African American oral narrativescommonly exploit the "badman"or "bad nigguh" types in the toast. They simply refuise to be second best. Although Lil' Kim's debut album Hard Core (1996) and Foxy Brown's Ill Na Na (1997) have garnered platinum status."1 or male competitors-all through figurativespeech. . it's the power women attain by making choices that increase their range of possibilities" (1997:132).In doing so.. repressing. Despite the controversies.from an "aggressive woman who challenges male authority" (Penrice 1995) to an aggressiveor assertivefemale who rule.F.
"Role-play among black lesbiansinvolves a resistanceto the homophobic stereotype. which suggests "role-play. racism. white lesbiancultureor white women to the exclusion similarto feminism." first to and addressthe lesbian lifestyle from a Black woman's the about rap among perspective.264 Folklore 113(2000) Journal ofAmerican Lesbian While representatives of the "Queen Mother. Regardless of issues concerning race privilege and role-play. people will say I was the . Walker asserts.12 "Girlfriend" (1997). Corroboratingissues of race privilegeraisedby the Black lesbiancommunity.While this song may be a "breakthrough still complicate Black female artists'willingness to openly address gay and lesbian culturein their performances. againstwhite male patriarchal and general homophobia on the other (Omosupe 1991:105). Queen Pen further stresses in performance her play on image.to late 1980s. why shouldn'turbanlesbiansgo to a girl club and hear their own thing?"(quoted in Jamison 1998:AR34). a chic hairstyle. one notices how Queen Pen "drownsout" her femme album cover image by with "B-Boy" gestures(cool pose and bopped gait)commonly associated appropriating male hip-hop culture. note Lisa M." performingvocals and Pen as In herself the suitor in a lesbian bass guitar. "This song is buggin' everyone out right now. Drawing on the critical works of Audre Lorde (1982."from her debut LP My Melody a "breakthrough for queer culture"(Walters1998:60)." other issues relationship.' She continues. the "Lesbian" categories category the closet from emerged during the late 1990s. In this regard. With 'Girlfriend. quoted in Jamison 1998:AR34)."and "Sistawith Attitude" came into prominence duringthe mid. Duvernay 1998:88). Queen Pen contends that certain like Ellen DeGeneres and k. With I'm getting all kindsof questions"(quoted in everybody. it's all right. Not only does the female audience but the artistwho has given recognition to this division is term this category"Lesbian. d.Black lesbiansare at times forced to live and struggle cultureon the one side and white lesbianculture. Queen Pen concludes that in "two or three yearsfrom now. represents or on Black lesbianlove interestwith a parodyof the refrain on indirectlyplays signifies section of Me'Shell Ndegeocello's "If That'sYour Boyfriend (He Wasn't LastNight)." Ndegeocello. licensesare affordedto white openly lesbianperformers lang. you got k.. d."another crucialissue to Black lesbian culture.and stylish dress.. Omosupe notes that lesbian identity. who is openly lesbian. Ellen [DeGeneres]can talk about any ol' thing and it's all right.13 [If]you got Ellen." "Fly Girl. appearson "Girlfriend.. in performance. Queen Pen's "Girlfriend. On her album cover. lesbianas a pejorativeterm within (andoutside) the black community used to signal 'bulldagger. as observed in Blackstreet's"No Diggity" (1996).' the lesbian as a woman who wants to be a man" (1993:886).Though other Black rap artistsrumoredto be gay/lesbian have chosen to remain closeted in a scene describedas "notoriouslyhomophobic" (Dyson. 1984). Black lesbian culture and identity have been concerned with issues of race and role-play. "Girlfriend. However. who do not have to pay as high a price for their candidnessas lesbiansof color: "But you know."Queen positions for queer culture. Queen Pen exudes a "femme" image through wearing lipstick. Walker (1993) and Ekua Omosupe (1991). represents of women of color.
as is apparent with Grammy awardees Left Eye of TLC and Lauryn Hill. and black female sexuality. (quoted Conclusion Women are achieving in rapmusicby continuing to chiselawayat majorstrides aboutfemales as artists in a male-dominated tradition andby (re)defining stereotypes women's culture and identity from a Black feminist perspective. convey their views on a variety of issues concerning identity. They use their performances as platforms to refute. producing records. and create spaces for themselves and other sistas.Y. company. sociohistory.N. Black Identity 265 first female to bring the lesbian life to light [in an open way] on wax. Lauryn Hill's 1999 Grammy Award-winning LP The Miseducationof LaurynHill (1998). However. rap music becomes a vehicle by which Black female rappers seek empowerment. and even starting their own record companies.Female viaRapMusic Keyes. feminism. Some have become exclusivelyknown for their lyrical"skillz. deconstruct. female rappers."the ideologicaldivisionbetween compositionand performance devalue women's role in music making and cast doubt on female creativity in general" (1990:57). nevertheless. black women. black women rappers are in dialogue with one another. While the majority of scholarly studies on female rappers locate Black women's voices in rap.T.'4 These works tend to focus on females' attitudes and responses to sexual objectification. It's reality. they present only a partial rendering of female representation. femaleMCs move beyond the shadows of male rappers in diverseways."Only when I led them [maleproducers]to believe that a man had written or produced my stuff did they show interest" (quoted in Cooper 1989:80). QueenLatifah's Grammy Award-winning single "U. a "black female-self emerges as a variation [on] several unique themes" (Etter-Lewis 1991:43).I. Mass-mediation scholar Lisa Lewis notes that."while othershaveuseda uniqueblendof musical of singer-rapper stylesor a combination acts. make choices. Additionally. including dominant notions of femininity. With this platform. Women of rapstill face. most of whom are Black. . In rap music performance." (1993) challenges those males who use bitch/ho appellations in their lyrics. ignoring the many roles and issues of women and female rappers. and dominant American culture as they struggle to define themselves" (1994:147-148). female MCs of the 1990s have defied the sexist repression by writing their own songs. What's inJamison the problem?" 1998:AR34). Female rappers have attained a sense of distinction through revising and reclaiming Black women's history and perceived destiny.overt sexism regardingtheir creativecapabilities. FemalerapperPrincesarecalls. black men. Although rap contin- ues to be predominantlymale. in the popular music servesto arena. and reconstruct alternative visions of their identity. Rap music scholar Tricia Rose says female MCs should be evaluated not only with regard to male rappers and misogynist lyrics "but also in response to a variety of related issues. and esoteric beliefs shared by young African American women. At the very least. More importantly. and Queen Latifah's record Flavor Unit. as with Salt-N-Pepa's Very Necessary(1993).
for the firsttime.MC Trouble(Motown)." and "Letter "Ill Na Na" It Up." Funkdafied Wit"and"Fire (1994).d.Finesseand Synquis(MCA). Thang" "Spend "Big (1997). artists music (seeKeyes1996). following: Da Brat. the lateGerald L.ConsciousDaughters (Priority).see Roberts1994. of newjack swingstyle(a rap/rhythm Queen Pen'srealname(Lynise Riley. he commissioned herrolein it in his palace to commemorate headmadeof bronzeof his mother. MC HeatherB (MCA). king. a morein-depthdiscussion 7For rappers Consciousness as a Music Phenomenon Street and titled (n. forthe Studyof Popular Association International Pittsburgh.see RogerAbrahams 9Forfirtherinformation (1970)andDarylDance(1978).and "Steady Is Back TheBitch Mama. duringEsigies's reign. (MCA). and350 (Rap-a-Lot).Afterleaving a new stagename. Sole (DreamWorks).queenmothers the Benin-Idah war. emcees as and in which inner-city nonviolence break-dancers.andplaced sculpted In in the cultof royalancestors." Lil' "Paper (1996). andpositive theseterms depending meanings mayhaveboth negative the include with attitude of sistas characteristics distinct the that selected of rapsongs portray "Examples with Born Izza "Mai Sista Fuck" and a "I Don't Give Bitch. Rap Rhymes tentatively ing Science: referto menin theirrapsongs in whichsistas of speechplayis the manner 8Another withattitude aspect or "myniggas. sculpting a the 16th century. Rah Digga(Flipmode).and an "attitude" for hip-hop."QueenPen usesthismoniker 12While "QueenPen"is a playon "King malerappers. 3-5-7 (Capital). by rap of thisvideo." at the 42nd AnnualMeetingsof the Societyfor Ethnomusicology Representation Music(USAChapter).Idia. 22-26 October1997. Ladybug Boo (Relativity). who makeup a roster of female MCs:Antoinette is a listof otherartists 1Thefollowing (NextPlateau)." "motherfuckas" appealing on context.andgraffiti pers).Nonchalant Music).Ladyof Rage (DeathRow)."Ain'tNo Other "Big (1993). book. (or writes) andproduced on QueenPen'sLP were cowritten andotherselections by Teddy "Girlfriend" Although andblueshybrid). language.andthe anonymous Lou-AnnCrouther. referto Ben-Amos1995 and Ben-Amosand Rubin 1983 for of Benin. 10-12 November1995.Bambaataa's rather thanphysically artists discjockeys."Lyteas a Rock(1988). of queenmotherheads anda briefdiscussion photographs the mid-1970s in theBronxduring thatwasfounded 3TheZuluNationis an organization by DJAfrika of a philosophy thatincorporates thatthe Zulu Nationis a youth organization He contends Bambaataa. Gangsta Mercedes Smooth(Crush (No Limit).Oaktown's in Beninby KingObaEsigies headwasestablished the queenmother's during 2Accordingly. Lyte. andHunterCollege/CityUniversity Institute Program Women. Walters) appears .FoxyBrown. Eve (Ruff Ryders). is aesthetically the elementof signifying Because or "niggas. Bytches Gangstaz Boss." sponsored by the WorldMusic New of New YorkGraduate in Ethnomusicology. as well as Corinne Folklore for theirsuggestions reviewers of the Journal of American to article's refinement." 1968hit "What fromLinda Man"is adapted 6"Whatta Lyndell's in my forthcomto the sectionon female refer of thiscategory.thereby including." Ill Na Na to the Firm. MC Core Hard Little a and Momma Doe. I wishto thank Phyllis May-Machunda." (1992).266 Folklore113 (2000) Journalof American Notes and of this articlewere presented on the panel"WomenPerformers as Traditionalists Earlier drafts Women in WorldMusic:A Symposium. Davis.Lin Que.In the musicindustry. 4Fora moredetailed analysis thisgroup. Bahamadia (EMI). at Resounding Innovators. to indicate thatshe"pens" Pin.Sieberand Walker(1987:93)note that. as or suitors referto theirmale competitors with attitude can occurwhen sistas emasculation 10This in thisstyleof rap."DaShitYa Can'tFuc TheBytches and"Shit "TwoMinuteBrother" (1991). on earlierdrafts.Nikki D (DefJam). a Man. Kim.)."'Ain't Nuthin'but a She-Thing': with the in Rap.a youth artsmovementcomprising laid the foundation via performance of whichis articulated andgesture--all in the formof a distinct rendered dress. (Pendulum). in with lack MCs female believe some that skill a her own comparison lyrics. and as a paper." (1993). Popper.shealsoadopted with the Blacknationalist once performed 5Isis groupX-Clan." as "motherfuckas" or insultingly affectionately aboutthe toast. of Beats. comments contributed whose invaluable the Lightweaver. Problems. Thin.. (raprhyming youthscompeteartistically ZuluNation withknivesandguns.Race and York. F .RoxanneShant6. the above arts. additionto Sieberand Walker's work. inventor credit to takecowriting forproducers it is not unusual on allsongs..
TLC: The Homegirls with Style! Right On! (February):16-17.Rhymesand Street Science: Rap Musicas a Phenomenon of Consciousness. Unpublished MS. eds.Rap Pages(May):86-88. Black FemaleIdentityvia Rap Music 267 on their mentees' debut works. Paula Girshick. Standpoint. Bobo. CredibilityGap? Rap Masters Sexy Rap Chyll.Nancy. Sherna Berger Gluck and Daphne Patai.119. pp. Leland. Elaine J. Deep Down in thejungle: NegroNarrative from the Streets of Philadelphia. Lawless. 7(7):19-20. N. Cook and Judy S. Musical Reactions: Chuck. 160-175. 1992. The Phil DonahueShow Transcript #3216. Shuckin'andJivin': Folklore from Contemporary Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Nataki. Iconography. 1997.Roger. Sisters of the Yam:Black Women Homer.C. 1991.d. see Berry 1994. 1994. hooks. Washington. Sunday New YorkTimes. At the Crossroads:Rap Music and Its African Nexus. Cheryl L. In Women'sWords:The FeministPractice of Oral History. Angela Y. Queen Pen assertsthat there are other nonlesbiansongs on her debut album My Melody. Feminine or Masculine:The Conflicting Nature of Female Images in Rap Music. Gwendolyn. BlackAmericans. Michael. Manning Marable. Urbana:University of Illinois Press.Rev.New York: Pantheon Books. The discussion of Riley's input on "Girlfriend"is discussed by Laura Jamison (1998). The Art of Benin. Goodall. Dance. Guevara 1987. Laura. as Cultural New York: Columbia University Press. Carol. Chicago: Aldine Publishing. Forman 1994. 18 AR34. January: Keyes. Beats.: SmithsonianInstitution Press. Jamison. Lauryn. 1993. 1990. Newsweek. 1987. Hill. The Naked Truth. and Rose 1994. New York: Verso Press. Phil. A. PatriciaHill. 1991. TheArt of Power. Cited References Folklore Abrahams. Venise T. Mack Divas. Etter-Lewis. Panelist.ed.C. New York. 1998. Seminar 15. Green. Blues Legacies Holiday. Queen Pen: Keep 'EM Guessin'. Black Women or 1994. bell. 36. on Gender In Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist and Music. 29 June: 46-52. GirlsAin't Nothin' but Trouble.and Women in Rap. 43-59. in Benin Ben-Amos. Goodall 1994. D. 1989. Readers. 1998. 29 May. pp.and Arnold Rubin. Women's Studies23:35-55. 1998.ed. Gonzales.Keyes.Fred Pfeil. 1970. Souljahon Ice. 13When asked about "Girlfriend"in her interview in Rap Pages with Duvernay (1998). Cynthia.John. 1995. In The YearLeft 2. and BlackFeminism: Gertrude "Ma"Rainey. Ethnomusicology 40(2): 223-248. Donahue. Susan C. and thePolitics Collins. 1995.Journal of American 111(439):3-22. Cooper. Murray. 1998." which discussesdomestic violence. 1993. Mike Davis.Journalof Negro History79(1):85-93. Knowledge. 1994. 1978. Claiming Inversion: Lesbian Constructions of Female Identity as Claims for Folklore Authority.L. of Empowerment.pp. Perspectives 183-201. Ben-Amos. and Billie Davis.thePower of Art:Studies Los Angeles: Museum of CulturalHistory. . New York: Routledge. Berry. PaulaGirshick. 20 July. edition. Ava. 1991. The Source (February):62-64. BlackFeministThought: Consciousness. and Self-Recovery. A Feisty Female Rapper Breaks a Hip-Hop Taboo.1994. . Kim. Black Women's Life Stories: Reclaiming Self in Narrative Texts. Duvernay. and Michael Sprinker. London: HarperCollins Academic. ed. Movin' Closer to an IndependentFunk: Black Feminist Theory. 1994. Tsou. 1983.including "Get Away. BessieSmith. The Source (November):32-34. Female Rappers Invade the Male Rap Industry. 14Formore on this topic. 1996.Hip-Hop Summit for New Music. Depend on Myself: T. Jacqueline. Essence (April):80. and the Evolution of Black Female Rap. Women Writin' Rappin' Breakin'. Forman. Boston: South End Press. Daryl. Guevara.
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