For hip-hop’s fiftieth anniversary this yr, “Turning 50: Wanting Again on the Girls in Hip-Hop” acknowledges the ladies who formed the style. The sequence contains articles in print and on-line, a public syllabus highlighting girls and hip-hop, and digital conversations with “hip-hop feminists” in music, journalism and lecturers.
This week, in our continued protection of hip-hop feminists, we spotlight two essential Black feminist students.
- Elaine Richardson, a professor of literacy research on the Ohio State College, based the Hip-Hop Literacies Convention. She is professionally generally known as Dr. E.
- Kyra Gaunt, an assistant professor of music and girls’s, gender and sexuality Research on the College at Albany, State College of New York, is the writer of the award-winning and groundbreaking The Video games Black Ladies Play: Studying the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop (2006). She is at present writing a ebook on the influence of YouTube and music applied sciences on the sexualization of younger Black ladies.
Richardson and Gaunt spoke with Ms. contributing editor Janell Hobson to debate the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop.
Elaine Richardson: ‘Our Historical past Is Actually American Historical past. We’re Nonetheless Right here.’
Janell Hobson: What’s your relationship to hip-hop?
Elaine Richardson: I’m from the primary hip-hop technology, in all probability the technology earlier than that technology… the people who find themselves Gen X, millennials… However I rely all generations as a result of we’ve got various ranges of how we see ourselves in hip-hop. I really like instructing, and I educate a category known as Hip-Hop Literacies. That’s how I realized what the youthful hip-hop generations are serious about. I’m instructing them vital evaluation, however they’re giving me vital lenses, too, with their preferences and situatedness within the music they hearken to and the tradition they take part in.
Hobson: How do you outline hip-hop literacies?
Richardson: The ways in which folks observe and dwell hip-hop, all of the ways in which they make which means and advance their tradition. I attempt to go away a broad definition as a result of it’s simply one other means of being on this planet.
Hobson: How would you describe hip-hop throughout its infancy versus how it’s now that it’s turning 50?
Richardson: Within the early days, hip-hop was funky, considerably Black Energy-ish, because it got here from Black Energy and funk music. I nonetheless really feel that funkiness. You realize, the grittiness, the survival narratives, the enjoyment after I’m on the dance flooring.
Hobson: What’s fascinating is the way you discuss tradition and the way it’s a sense, a vibe. And this undoubtedly crosses generations. However whenever you’re speaking about hip-hop literacy, how does that inform scholarship and instructing?
Richardson: I believe it helps us to know our historical past and our creativity like because of this we’re nonetheless right here. The creativity that we’ve got in our tradition has helped us to make it over.
We needed to develop. We needed to dance. We needed to commune with a better energy within the face of slavery, Jim Crow, genocide and super-exploitation. Like, I can’t even determine if I wish to have intercourse. I can’t even make that call as a result of any person already made it for me. So, I’ve to determine find out how to prioritize my humanity within the face of being dehumanized. And what can I draw from? What do I’ve? I nonetheless have creativity inside me, despite the fact that they tried to kill it.
When folks join my class, they don’t understand the depths of what hip-hop is. So, I attempt to situate it for them: our historical past, our journey, our troopers, this is part of us. You realize, staying alive in a system the place we’re simply fodder for the system.
We needed to develop. We needed to dance. We needed to commune with a better energy within the face of slavery, Jim Crow, genocide and super-exploitation. … I nonetheless have creativity inside me, despite the fact that they tried to kill it.
Hobson: Most individuals consider hip-hop solely as music, not essentially taking within the broader tradition.
Richardson: Undoubtedly, and I like to consider our dancing, even the completely different in style tradition domains, like cinema, theater, and literature. Hip-hop is saturated in every thing and is in every single place. It’s that factor that makes our folks our folks. And it’s so unhappy to me, sister, when these in energy wish to wipe us out. You’re simply gonna wipe out the previous? You don’t need us to show or to study something about our historical past? And our historical past is actually American historical past. We’re nonetheless right here, and we’ve been attempting to make y’all dwell as much as what you declare: democracy, humanity, liberation, freedom.
Hobson: They don’t need our historical past, however they need the music!
Richardson: However, they at all times wish to acceptable it. They wish to acceptable, whitewash, and disconnect it from the mom. However, we’re the mom of this mom!
Hobson: That’s how energy works. First, you conquer, and you then colonize. And you then take over.
Richardson: That’s why I really feel so dedicated to our collectivity. That’s what I’m obsessed with after I’m instructing my hip-hop literacies class and speaking about us having management over our narratives. God bless Jay-Z and Beyoncé, who’ve change into billionaires and work behind the scenes to provide cash and empower and help Black Lives Matter and legal justice reform. However I’m combating racial capitalism as a result of we should take into consideration collective empowerment, not simply particular person empowerment. Capitalism is only one instrument to assist us get to the factor. And the factor is liberation.
Hobson: Most hip-hop music appears centered on particular person empowerment quite than liberation. Are there any artists that you just admire with a extra liberatory message?
Richardson: I believe Rapsody is so aware and might converse to hip-hop feminism.
Hobson: Oh sure! She had that very spectacular album Eve (2019). I want it had gotten extra recognition.
Richardson: That makes me mad! That’s precisely why Cardi B mentioned what she mentioned about how persons are not giving artists consideration in the event that they’re not speaking [about sex]. That’s why I like Cardi B; she at all times retains it actual, like how lately she spoke concerning the struggles with balancing performances and motherhood.
Hobson: Rihanna and different high-profile artists have talked about that battle too.
Richardson: And so they have the means to care for their infants. That’s that capitalism once more. What about these of us who needed to work in and outdoors the house and have a tendency to different folks’s infants? We received to earn cash. We received to maintain a roof over folks’s heads. We received to place meals in our stomachs.
Consider your mother and your grandmother and your aunt. I’ve felt like that ever since I’ve been within the academy. As a result of I had three small children and was going by the academy on the similar time, I really feel like I uncared for my ladies at instances after they actually wanted me. However you bought to do what you bought to do. I gotta write this dissertation. After which after that, I gotta write all these articles to make tenure. I received to show all these courses and do all this stuff that hold you away from your loved ones. However as soon as you bought the cash, you’ll be able to say, ‘Lay off now.’
Hobson: What do you hope to see within the subsequent decade concerning hip-hop, particularly its influence on girls and their energy and liberation?
Richardson: I wish to see extra collective empowerment. I’m huge on collective empowerment. I like to see somebody like Cardi B shouting out youthful girls artists, attempting to place them on. I like to see us work collectively. I’d prefer to see extra institutionalization of us working collectively to additional our tradition. I’d prefer to see us students care about these points and our neighborhood.
We generally get sidetracked by movie star tradition. However you don’t need to be a star by your self. What actually makes us shine is the constellation!
Kyra Gaunt: ‘There Has Been So Little Funding in Structural Energy for Girls within the Business’
Hobson: Do you suppose girls’s representations in hip-hop are bettering, staying the identical, or has it gotten worse?
Kyra Gaunt: I believe on the floor, it feels prefer it’s bettering as a result of so many extra feminine artists are receiving extra consideration. However it’s worse as a result of there was so little funding in structural energy for ladies within the trade.
There isn’t a union defending girls from the violence they expertise in and outdoors of the trade in order that extra girls can change into producers and engineers. They’re nonetheless preventing the identical sorts of battles behind the music and within the streets. Consider avenue harassment: We’re nonetheless combating the identical issues!
Sound alone can’t shield us. Sound and dancing can’t shield us, particularly when primarily located in a strip membership tradition.
Hobson: What would you hope to see when it comes to change?
Gaunt: I actually wish to see little ladies making their very own beats on Garageband or their telephone apps.
How will we not solely get #blackgirls to hear/like/love producing their very own voices, engineering music as sound AND embody trauma launch via twerking or TikTok dancing? My #TEDTalk hit 1M views a min in the past. Bragging! Pls hold sharing!! https://t.co/DAuWj7vPd9
— Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D. (@kyraOcity) September 15, 2022
Hobson: What’s your relationship to hip-hop tradition?
Gaunt: Traditionally, I graduated highschool in 1979, so I grew up within the DC-Maryland-Virginia space—the D.M.V.—and I keep in mind when “Rapper’s Delight” got here out.
I’m a kind of individuals who was obsessive about radio and data and music; that’s on the coronary heart of hip-hop tradition: funk, R&B, soul. And when “Rapper’s Delight” got here out that yr I graduated, I started my undergraduate profession at a neighborhood faculty the place folks have been denigrating (consider the anti-Blackness in that phrase!) Black music in each means, form or kind, or something non-classical. I keep in mind pondering, ‘Oh I’m not purported to hearken to this.’ However I knew all of the lyrics to the music anyway!
Hobson: In fact, you probably did!
Gaunt: From “Rapper’s Delight” to “The Message.” Additionally, that period was a pivotal time as any person who got here by the bicentennial yr of Roots, Alex Hailey’s Roots on Tv, a mini-series, who advanced to this place the place youth tradition by Black folks was making noise—actually and figuratively.
Hobson: How did hip-hop form your musical scholarship?
Gaunt: I went from being a classically educated singer who wished to be Chaka Kahn and Minnie Riperton in my neighborhood faculty days to a degree the place I had such stage fright that I switched to ethnomusicology. However, I had by no means studied any Black American tradition in faculty in any respect–by no means was uncovered to it–after which I went on a mission to heart Black folks in each paper I wrote in grad college each time I may. I took this 18th-century opera course, and the professor mentioned, ‘You’ll by no means discover any tradition, any music by Black folks,’ however I discovered 100 operas by Black folks! And the unhappy factor is, in hindsight, he by no means requested me to publish it; stuff nobody knew about, he by no means inspired me to publish. I nonetheless have all these playing cards in a four-by-six deck. Nonetheless, I moved on and have become aware of the absence of girls in hip-hop. I knew I wished my dissertation to be about girls in hip-hop.
In my scholarship, I discover how girls define the rhythmic textures of music, change the beat, and lay out how issues work with their our bodies.
Hobson: Is that this what led to your give attention to Black ladies and their video games?
Gaunt: The women’ recreation songs have been a serendipitous discover at an ethnomusicology convention. I heard two ladies taking part in hand-clapping recreation songs. It was on the finish of the convention, and it simply snagged my ear, dragged me down the hallway, and I believed, ‘This feels like hip-hop!’ They’re mixing beats, the chants they sampled between hand-clapping video games, cheers, and Double-Dutch. I keep in mind saying it to my dissertation advisor–and thankfully, I had this Buddhist advisor who didn’t care what I pursued–and it emerged and advanced from there. The ebook that I’m identified for, The Video games Black Ladies Play: Studying the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop, was the fruition of that little happenstance assembly with these seven-year-old ladies taking part in ‘Down, down, child, down, down the rollercoaster…’
Hobson: What strikes me about your work, even together with your upcoming ebook, is how Black ladies have change into central to hip-hop. I’m additionally fascinated by the legacy of hip-hop—for instance, the social gathering that began all of it on Sedgwick Avenue within the Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973, which Cindy Campbell, the sister of DJ Kool Herc, hosted. The entire level of the social gathering was to boost cash for returning to high school.
Gaunt: Sure, a back-to-school jam hosted by a girl. We’ve at all times been there. As a result of there are not any events in a heteronormative tradition with out girls.
Gaunt: And you’ll see [Cindy’s] little handwritten three-by-five card invites on the Google Photographs Archive as we speak. However I wish to give credit score the place it’s due, and Jeff Chang questions at the start of his ebook Can’t Cease Gained’t Cease this notion that hip-hop started with that social gathering. Some folks in Brooklyn declare it, and lengthy earlier than 1973, folks have been popping and locking in L.A., and graffiti was no less than 10 years previous.
Hobson: To not point out rapping has been round for a very long time!
Gaunt: Rapping has a protracted historical past courting again to African types of griot performances within the Niger Delta area.
However, you can inform a really completely different, feminist-centric story of hip-hop within the 50 years that begins with Cindy Campbell. Then transfer to Sha-Rock, who claims to be the primary feminine rapper.
There’s a timeline; there’s a feminist historiography of hip-hop: in 1993, Salt-N-Pepa launched their album Very Essential, which went 5 instances platinum … Queen Latifah launched Black Reign that very same yr, and we get ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’ from that album.
MC Lyte was the primary feminine rapper to obtain a gold single in 1993 for her music “Roughneck,” which offered 500,000 copies. In 1994, Da Brat’s album Funkdafied offered 1,000,000 copies, making her the primary feminine solo rap artist to obtain platinum certification. …
Lil Kim debuted with the album Hardcore and went licensed double platinum.
Cunning Brown, who was extra in style than Jay-Z then, launched her album on Def Jam, Unwell Na Na, and it’s licensed platinum.
So, from 1990 by 1998, when Lauryn Hill emerged together with her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 15 girls have been on the billboard charts. … In 2003, sufficient girls have been recording, touring and getting radio airplay that the Grammys took discover and created a brand new class as “feminine solo rap,” however that solely lasted for 2 years.
Hobson: That’s so unlucky, because it solely encourages girls’s marginalization in music.
Gaunt: The opposite day in my hip-hop class, I used to be making a case for why we don’t have extra girls producers, like Missy Elliot, why we don’t have girls who make beats, and why there aren’t extra engineers and producers. And this younger man mentioned, “I don’t consider girls may make beats; they need to play an instrument.”
I requested him what he meant by that. He mentioned, ‘You gotta play piano,’ so I replied, ‘You do know that almost all producers in hip-hop don’t know find out how to learn or play music,’ together with the truth that Dr. Dre on the Tremendous Bowl final yr performed piano for the primary time in his life! The most important producer within the recreation, and but I mentioned to this scholar: ‘Title me a feminine emcee of the identical standing as Dr. Dre.’ He was stumped. I instructed Missy Elliott, however he stored demanding that as a result of girls dance, they will’t be producers!
In my scholarship, I discover how girls define the rhythmic textures of music, change the beat, and lay out how issues work with their our bodies. That’s the kinetic orality that I discuss in my work. However he received so upset and flustered he left the classroom!
Hobson: It’s wonderful to me how we’ve got a masculine tradition that refuses to think about how girls have contributed, a lot much less might be central, to music.
Gaunt: I believe that’s the dilemma that hip-hop nonetheless faces inside Black tradition, and in style tradition nonetheless faces males’s fragility, which is hiding behind all this bravado. It’s been there because the begin.
I believe I, with my college students, began the primary intimate accomplice violence on the hip-hop web page on Wikipedia. And after I make an inventory of Russell Simmons, the individuals who accused him [of sexual assault], it’s 20 completely different girls! Because of this I’m scripting this ebook, about how music and tech orchestrate violence in opposition to Black women and girls, as a result of they’re gaslighting us at a stage the place music should be remembered.
Dee Barnes says, “The music is without end.”
You’re groomed from girlhood by it, however we’re educated to neglect any point out of the folks resisting violence in opposition to girls. … The music trade doesn’t enable or foster any actual information that may lead you to rethink what you’re rapping about and dance to and never simply have your sexuality and your physique be the first automobile for gaining consideration in an trade that exploits women and girls left and proper.
These moments the place girls get to talk their reality … are my favourite hip-hop moments.
Hobson: There’s this must diminish what we do, proper? Our affect is in every single place, however our genius is at all times questioned.
Gaunt: Yeah, and erased, and minimized, and co-opted.
I’m writing my ebook this morning, and Phyllis Hyman’s voice involves me: ‘Nobody is needed greater than I need you…’ And I’m pondering, right here’s this lady who took herself out, one of the wonderful R&B soul voices from after I was rising up. … I went to take a look at her lyrics, which led to me studying that her music has been sampled eight instances in hip-hop! Her voice is sampled, minimized, turned, sped up and used to inform a male story in hip-hop.
Hobson: This occurs on a regular basis—girls’s voices are simply one other physique half to be objectified, fetishized and fragmented.
Gaunt: Nobody is taking note of this repeated linguistic violence.
Toni Morrison mentioned linguistic violence is extra harmful than something. It tells us how to consider the world. And there are such a lot of points of taking us out of our physiological calmness and a hyper-aroused, offended, mad state or hypo-aroused, silencing, self-silencing, withholding or dissociating from the harms that we’ve got to expertise after we hearken to music after we’re attempting to entertain ourselves by shaking away the blues from our our bodies.
It’s not simply twerking; we’ve at all times used music to alleviate stress and self-soothing. It’s resistive, however it can also masks—if we by no means talk about it—the traumas upon our our bodies. The physique retains rating.
Hobson: What would make the music simpler for addressing these struggles?
Gaunt: You’d need to be self-produced, before everything, and it’d need to be one thing like a #MeToo motion on file.
Hobson: What’s your favourite hip-hop feminist anthem?
Gaunt: It’s ‘Freedom,’ the rap model. The film Panther—now forgotten—concerning the Black Panther Social gathering was a industrial characteristic, and Quincy Jones’s son produced this music video. It’s a black-and-white video; it opens with Patra and Meshell Ndegeocello in there, and all these girls usually are not carrying make-up.
My favourite scene is when Lisa’ Left Eye’ Lopez with T.L.C. talks about Rosa Parks and the way nothing is extra essential than my folks, ‘that’s why I took away his freedom.’ She then exhibits the quantity she had tattooed of Andre Rison after she burned down his home. It’s our ‘Ready to Exhale’ second in hip-hop!
Additionally, the manifest verse by Lauryn Hill from The Fugees Rating album, the place she talks about:
“Diamonds deserve diamonds, however he satisfied me I used to be price much less,
when my folks would protest, I informed them to thoughts their enterprise
as a result of my shit was complicated, extra than simply the intercourse.”
Gaunt: These moments the place girls get to talk their reality … are my favourite hip-hop moments.
Be part of Ms. for a particular plenary, “Surviving Hip-Hop: A fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of the Girls Who Formed the Tradition” (that includes Joan Morgan, Dee Barnes, Drew Dixon, Toni Blackman and Monie Love), set for Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, on the annual Nationwide Girls’s Research Affiliation Convention in Baltimore, Md.
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