Hip-hop feminism

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A hip-hop feminist is defined as young feminists born after 1964 who approach the political community with a mixture of feminist and hip-hop sensibilities, hip-hop feminism.[1] The term hip hop feminism was coined by the provocative cultural critic Joan Morgan in 1999 when she published the book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it Down,[2][non-primary source needed] which has been described as "seminal".[3]

Hip hop feminism is based in a tradition of black feminism, which emphasizes that the personal is political because our race, class, gender, and sexuality determine how we are treated. In the book Hip Hop's Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement Reiland Rabaka writes, "Seeming to simultaneously embrace and reject the fundamentals of feminism, the women of the hip hop generation, like the hip hop generation in general, have blurred the lines between the 'personal' and the 'political' by critically dialoguing with a culture that commonly renders them invisible or grossly misrepresents them when and where they are visible".[4] An important idea that came out of early black feminism is that of intersectionality. The term intersectionality was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw and was first used in a paper where Crenshaw outlines how black women are often marginalized by both anti-racist and feminist movements, because their identity and concerns are not encompassed by only one group.[5] Rabaka built on this idea by theorizing hip-hop as an analytical locale where lines of inquiry intersect, opening its critique up to include topics regarding media, music, feminism, and intersectionality. As Rubaka writes, "hip-hop feminism is much more than feminism, and it focuses on more than feminist issues, misogyny, and patriarchy. Hip-hop feminists use hip-hop culture as one of their primary points of departure to highlight serious social issues and the need for political activism aimed at racism, sexism, capitalism, and heterosexism as overlapping and interlocking systems of oppression" [4]

Hip hop feminism is a different kind of feminism than "traditional" feminism; it is a way of thinking and living that is grounded in different lived experiences than the "traditional" feminism of the Women's Liberation Movement, which was a mostly white movement and was more interested in advancing women's rights than civil rights. The Hip-Hop feminism movement gained traction primarily because there was no avenue for young black women. As human rights activist, Shani Jamila states in her book, Can I Get a Witness, "As women of the hip-hop generation we need a feminist consciousness that allows us to examine how representations and images can be simultaneously empowering and problematic."[6] As many women and men involved in hip hop culture are not white, they will have a different way of viewing the world; a desire for intersectional change in the spheres of how both women and non-white people are treated in America.


Joan Morgan (American author) believes that "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".[2] In the book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down, Morgan identifies as a feminist and discusses how she loves hip-hop which was known for being misogynistic and homophobic. This, Morgan notes, are things that seemingly go against feminist ideologies. Morgan comes up with the concept of "fucking with the greys" which to her meant embracing contradictions such as being a feminist while at the same time loving hip-hop and even enjoying the parts of it that are patriarchal and misogynistic.[2]

Since Morgan coined the term in 1999, it has been suggested that hip-hop is queer, and always has been. According to Rinaldo Walcott, debates about hip-hop, homophobia, and queers have failed to acknowledge the centrality of non-heterosexuality to hip hop and rap cultures from its very inception. Furthermore, because hip-hop emerges from the odd (or queer) histories of urban black diaspora communities, the claim that hip-hop and rap culture has always been queer is neither revisionist nor a play with language—even if both might be needed in the contemporary settlement of a straightened out hip hop. Walcott argues that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop's most exciting moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.[7]

As opposed to making the easy claims that rap music is sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, Marc Anthony Neal suggests we look for possibilities in the genre, moments that rupture the hegemonic script of what most folks who do not listen to hip hop imagine it to be. He asks that we look at the gestures by individual rappers that work in the service of queering hip hop by providing a fluid or dynamic representation that belies a static and monolithic rendering of the music. Neal looks to Jay-Z,[8] a fixture on the hip hop landscape, and assesses the gestures he makes that trouble traditional black masculinity in hip hop representation, particularly as the rapper has tried to negotiate his presence in a genre so tied to youth while he continues to age. For Neal, queer means a departure from rap masculinity as it is normally rendered. He cites Jay-Z's dress, video treatments, and global presence as markers of his queering hip hop masculine performance. However, he notes that Jay-Z's somewhat alternative performance still maintains hegemony as exerted through classed and raced representations of masculinity.[9]

Brittney Cooper, who teaches a seminar about hip-hop feminism at Rutgers University, believes, along with Aisha Durham and Susana M. Morris, that hip-hop feminism remains deeply invested in the intersectional approaches developed by earlier black feminists. To them, Hip-Hop feminists must insist that women and girls of color remain central to analyses, particularly in light of critical gender approaches that treat black women as an addendum to intersectional approaches black women have honed, effectively relegating them to the sidelines of a stage they built. Within hip-hop feminist studies, hip-hop and feminism act as discrete but constitutive categories that share a dialogic relationship. They see hip-hop feminism as a generationally specific articulation of feminist consciousness, epistemology, and politics rooted in the pioneering work of multiple generations of black feminists based in the United States and elsewhere in the diaspora but focused on questions and issues that grow out of the aesthetic and political prerogatives of hip-hop culture. Thus, Hip-hop feminism is concerned with the ways the conservative backlash of the 1980s and 1990s, deindustrialization, the slashing of the welfare state, and the attendant gutting of social programs and affirmative action, along with the increasing racial wealth gap, have affected the life-worlds and worldviews of the hip-hop generation.[10]

In "Using [Living Hip-Hop] Feminism: Redefining an Answer (to) Rap", Aisha Durham defines hip-hop feminism as "a socio-cultural, intellectual and political movement grounded in the situated knowledge of women of color from the post-civil rights generation who recognize culture as a pivotal site for political intervention to challenge, resist, and mobilize collectives to dismantle systems of exploitation". She goes on to further expand on hip-hop feminism as a distinct movement aimed at examining and engaging with the effect culture has on shaping black female identity, sexuality, and feminisms. According to Durham, hip-hop feminism "acknowledges the way black womanhood is policed in popular culture ..." and "recognize culture as a space for feminist intervention— especially when we do not wield power in traditional politics."

Hip-hop feminism is different from traditional feminism, according to Julian Sonny's article How Feminism in Hip-Hop Could Bring Real Chances To A Sexist Industry, because the gender equality goals that artists attempt to achieve is on a more cultural level to make space in a scene where they may be rejected from and objectified against.[11] "Hip-hop feminism is not a novelty act surfing atop the third wave of difference in the academy. It is not a pinup for postfeminism put forth by duped daughters who dig misogynistic rap music and the girl-power pussy politic of empowerment. Hip-hop gains its popularity from its oppositionality and from its complicity in reproducing dominant representations of black womanhood."[12]

Hip-hop feminism acknowledges the problematic, misogynist nature of culture and its formative effects on women (especially young black women) and empowers them by enabling participation, response, and owning self-identification. "For some, the term "hip-hop feminism" offers up quite the enigma. Critics position misogyny as hip-hop's cardinal sin, which raises the obvious question: How do women actively participate in a culture that seems to hate them so vehemently? For self-described hip-hop feminists, attempting to answer that question is not their only task, since understanding what hip-hop feminism is and isn't goes far beyond responding to women-bashing sentiment."[13] Hip-hop feminism can be influential towards social change. Treva B. Lindsey's scholarly article "Let Me Blow Your Mind: Hip Hop Feminist Futures in Theory and Praxis", demonstrates that Hip-hop feminism can be used as an explanation for social justice and as a practice in education because it covers a broad spectrum of minorities and their lived experiences which can combat the conception of hip-hop being for Blacks and males.[14]


Hip-hop gave many opportunities to people during an earlier time. A lot of the success for hip-hop came from men, however, there are some women who were pioneers to Hip-hop culture. There were all female crews such as The Mercedes Ladies that came during the rise of Hip-hop, before it was coined as a term, that hosted parties, rapped crazy lyrics, and broke out in dance moves similar to male crews without exposing their femininity or female physiques.[15] Although the Mercedes Ladies are not recognized or as known that much in Hip-hop, they started a movement for female rappers to come and start trying out their MC skills.

The next, and probably better well known, female MC to become part of the movement is MC Sha Rock. MC Sha Rock was a part of the late 70s rap group, The Funky Four Plus One, with Sha Rock being the "Plus One" considering that she was the only female in the group. This group was the first music artists to appear on national television, making rap and hip-hop television history. When the group ended up going their separate ways, Sha Rock decided to form her own all-female rap group, named Us Girls. Us Girls was then featured in the 1984 movie, Beat Street.[15]

Roxanne Shanté from Queens, NY, was next up as one of the most powerful women in rap during the 1980s era. She got her name by responding to the hip hop song "Roxanne, Roxanne" by UTFO because it was deemed a woman-hating song, and calling it "Roxanne's Revenge". This one-take rhyme took off for Roxanne Shanté and for hip-hop culture as it led to the "Roxanne Wars", which were singles that contributed to the he-said, she-said battles of the Roxanne Wars.[15]

Social change[edit]

The mediums for initiating social change are growing, and hip-hop is one of those mediums. Rabaka observes that "the majority of hip-hop feminist mobilization at the present moment seems to emerge from cyber-social networks, mass media, and popular culture, rather than nationally networked women's organizations based in government, academic, or male-dominated leftist bureaucracies"; as a result, music videos, which appeal to popular culture, can be disseminated as mass media through cyber-social networks, making them a perfect platform for motivating change.[4] Abiola Abrams, an author and inspirational speaker who has appeared on BET and MTV represents a more mainstream voice in hip-hop feminism. Her hip-hop feminist play "Goddess City" produced at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and 2007 debut novel Dare, a love story retelling of Faust set in the hip-hop world, are key works fusing hip-hop culture with women's empowerment. T. Hasan Johnson believes hip-hop can work as an intersectional platform: "Hip-Hop can be the site whereby such meditations and re-evaluations can occur, offering participants the opportunity to re-imagine masculinities and femininities in a multitude of ways to suit a variety of contexts".[16] Kyle Mays supports this claim, in that Native American hip-hop artists can find, and give, support among the hip-hop community.[17] One media example of this fellowship is "Solarize" written by Desirae Harp, Fly50, and SeasunZ.

Missy Elliot a hip-hop feminist

Rabaka explains the way in which creative mediums such as hip-hop can be used to wreck the interlocking systems of oppression in America:

"The point is to offer the women of the hip-hop generation feminist and womanist alternatives to the patriarchal (mis)representations of womanhood spewing out of the US. culture industries. Whether they meant to or not, "the women of the hip hop generation have created a body of work that offers up feminist or womanist answers to many of the hip hop generation's most urgent interpersonal, cultural, social, and political issues" and "recent feminist scholarship suggests that in its own controversial and/or contradictory way the hip-hop feminist movement may very well be the most politically polyvocal and socially visible manifestation of the ongoing evolution of the Women's Liberation movement prevalent in contemporary US society".[4]

Music artists, as they are in the public eye, have the ability to be influential social figures. Between social media and fanbases, music artists can influence and represent social movements. Social media is a powerful medium for social change to be performed and seen. It can reach and influence people of all ages and locations. Music artists can utilize social media platforms to express perspectives on social change in positive ways, despite what motivates them to do so. For several decades, Hip Hop has served as a multipurpose medium to rap and sing about social change, but talking about it on social media outlets nowadays are common. Participation in Black Lives Matter has been one of the most prevalent forms of social change exemplified by artists in the industry. These movements gain momentum because of the wide audience reached due to fanbase followings on social media. Social change becomes active when it is heard and seen by younger generations.[18][19]

In 1992, R&B singer Mary J. Blige released What's the 411? on Uptown/MCA Records and was considered the pioneer of hip-hop feminism.[20] Women such as emcees Missy Elliot and Queen Latifah followed suit. In 1995, Queen Latifah broke the glass ceiling of black women in hip-hop by winning a Grammy for her song "U.N.I.T.Y.," which revolutionized hip-hop feminism's ideal of sexual empowerment and the autonomy and ownership of the female black body.[21] Behind Queen Latifah came hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill who became the best example of hip-hop feminism with record-breaking worldwide sales of her album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" and has won five Grammy awards in 1998. Artists such as Latifah and Hill mimicked the hip hop rhetoric of males in the scene and generated a massive amount of attention. Missy Elliot was often seen dressed similar to male hip-hop artists and utilized the same body language and aggressive delivery of her lyrics as a means of protest, while still preserving her femininity. Even after losing weight over the years, she made sure that while performing videos the camera were faced to her face and her dancing.[22] These artists have carved out a new politically conscious identity in Hip-hop for women.[21] Also, artist like Nicki Minaj has changed the way fashion and sexuality is looked at in Hip Hop. She uses the way in which she expresses her self through her body to send a message that she being comfort in your skin and with your sexuality is okay.[22] These issues don't only affect the United States, as hip-hop has traveled and inspired movements beyond American borders. In Cuba, a hip-hop trio group known as Las Krudas Cubensi, rap about commonly overlooked challenges that people of color, specifically women of color, face.[23]

According to Katherine Cheairs, these artists were connecting the link between hip-hop music and the feminist movement.[21] From these revolutionaries stemmed current popular artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and so on that have been made relevant by popular culture. For example, in the early 2000s, Ciara and Beyoncé followed Missy Elliot's style of male mimicry with hit songs such as "Like A Boy" and "If I Were A Boy" to highlight the lack of respect black women were given as well as to show the juxtaposition of black men and black women in society.[21]

Fast-forward to the 2010s, and hip-hop feminists have moved passed the male rhetoric and doused the genre in feminine prose. For example, many modern hip-hop feminists utilize their voluptuous figures in a commanding manner rather than adopting male rapper outfitting and lyric style. Aisha Durham writes that hip-hop aided in creating a style icon out of the female black body.[24] In another one of her writings, Durham also stated a solution to the problem of patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, et cetera that is present in hip-hop: hip-hop feminism. She stated, "[Hip hop feminists] are moving and mobilizing and rescuing ourselves from virtual action blocks ... Hip-hop feminism is the answer (to) rap."[25] Additionally, Nicki Minaj utilizes the female black body as a power symbol. In fact, in the 2011 issue of Ebony magazine, Minaj asserted her place in the hip-hop world that she can stand on her own in the male-dominated genre and use her body in an empowering manner rather than an oppressive one.[26] Rihanna is another mainstream hip-hop feminist. In her most recent album "Anti," her lyrics assert black female independence. Given Rihanna's past, the hip-hop feminist scene looked to her as a role model to stand up for domestic violence against the black female body.[27] Many women artists has play a big role in how hip hop has evolved.

Queerness in Hip-Hop[edit]

Heteronormativity is reinforced in everyday social settings and can be observed in the hip hop arena. Patriarchal masculinity adheres to expectations of heterosexuality. In mainstream hip hop, the reinforcement of masculinity and adherence to heterosexuality manifests itself in the form of homophobia, particularly in the mainstream. Blye Frank points out that gender obedience in coherence with heterosexuality and masculinity is a social product which is embedded in people's everyday lives. Frank claims that part of this gender obedience is expressed in the form of competition among men, which then often appears in the form of homophobia, discrimination and violence against men.[28] The idea of gender obedience and adherence to masculinity which then produces homophobia, presented by Frank, can be identified in hip hop as a reoccurring theme. The use of homophobia in hip hop is then used as a tool to emphasize one's own masculinity and power. Terence Kumpf claims that gender and sex norms are recreated and reinforced in mainstream rap, while mainstream rap also uses homophobic and transphobic attitudes and lyrics to sell records.[29] Lamont Hill describes lyrical outting as a practice in hip hop that promotes homophobia. Lyrical outting is a practice where MC's 'attack' another artist who is not queer or not openly queer, yet 'out' them by calling them gay or exposing them through the lyrics of a song or rap.[30] The use of lyrical outting assumes queerness as a negative attribute for a person participating in the hip hop arena because of the pervasive expectations of upholding masculinity and heterosexuality. In addition to the way that lyrical outting maintains the mainstream narrative of heterosexuality in hip hop; Lamont Hill also claims that it is proof that queer identities do not comfortably fit into the hip hop world.[30] Aside from homophobic attitudes, mainstream hip hop has had a primarily (and universal) heterosexual narrative as the messages portrayed in hip hop are often told from a heterosexual man's perspective. The domination of homophobic and heterosexual attitudes in hip hop which are still very much intact have resulted in resistance against these narratives by LGBTQ+ people who choose to participate in hip hop. These narratives have been replaced by LGBTQ+ hip hop artists that seek to empower queerness rather than shame it.

The homophobia in Hip-Hop is situated in the larger world as well and therefore, homophobia is not exclusive to Hip-Hop and is a reflection of the larger society.[31] While homophobia in Hip-Hop exists, there is also queer representation in Hip-Hop and many Hip-Hop artists do fall under the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Artists such as Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, Syd, Young M.A, Syia, and Kevin Abstract are Hip-Hop artists that are bringing queer identity to the forefront of popular music. iLoveMakonnen is an Atlanta, Georgia-based rapper who came out as gay in s series of tweets in early 2017. He continues to work with mainstream artists such as Rae Sremmurd and Santigold.

Tyler, the Creator is a contradictory representation of both homophobia and queerness in Hip-Hop. There has been controversy surrounding his sexuality because he has been largely accused of aggressive homophobia in his previous lyrics. In one particular lyric to a song released in 2009, he raps, "come take a stab at it faggot, I pre-ordered your casket." However, he published a tweet in 2015 referencing coming out of the closet and later on in the 2017 album Flower Boy he has explicitly homosexual lyrics rapping, "I been kissing white boys since 2004" in the track 'I Ain't Got Time.' This change from explicit homophobia to an admission of sexuality shows the complex nature of queer identity in Hip-Hop. Tyler also released Pride merchandise in his GOLF clothing line in 2015. Along with the release of the merchandise, he released a photo of him and another man holding hands wearing the Pride T-shirts on his Tumblr blog.

Frank Ocean is a bisexual mainstream R&B artist

Frank Ocean is an R&B artist well known in the hip-Hop world as a collaborator and public figure and is affiliated with Odd Future along with Tyler, the Creator. Ocean's bisexual identity is one that he both subtly and not-so-subtly discusses through his music. In a July 2012 emotional letter posted as a tumblr screenshot on his blog, he reveals that he was involved in a relationship with a boy, which was well received by the larger Hip-Hop community[32] In his 2017 song "Chanel" he points towards his bisexuality in the following lines: "My guy pretty like a girl, and he got fight stories to tell. I see both sides like Chanel." Through these lyrics he is able to convey the image of men that are able to be pretty and feminine like girls, while also still holding what is considered traditionally aggressive masculine traits such as fighting. He conveys a subtle gender queerness that is not often talked about in Hip-Hop culture and challenges the hypermasculinity in Hip-Hop. These lines also further show his homosexuality and interest in men by claiming the guy he's talking about as his, using the metaphor of the Chanel symbol to discuss the duality in gender expression as well as his bisexuality. Aside from his own lyrics claiming his sexuality, Ocean has openly supported the LGBTQ+ community as well, singing: "I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman but between love and love" in his 2011 song "We All Try."

Katorah Marrero, better known as Young M.A is a queer female artist that displays feminism in hip hop by challenging gender norms with her music, appearance, and behavior.[33] In an interview with The Breakfast Club, a YouTube channel whose videos consist of celebrity interviews, Young M.A talks about her childhood and how she identified more with masculinity than with femininity. She used to play football and would cut the hair off of her Barbie Dolls in attempt to make them look more like boys. She also mentioned how it was difficult to come out at first, especially to her mother. Even when she first started getting noticed for her rapping, she agreed to rap about boys and even wear a dress if necessary. Yet, she never did this. She mentions how none of that was her; she wasn't that type of person so she wasn't going to pretend to be it.[34] In an interview with Vogue Magazine she told them "...once I got that out of me, the music became easy" when referring to what it was like to disassociate herself from femininity in her career.[35] By not conforming to heteronormative behaviors in hip-hop, Young M.A brings awareness to the queer community and the complexity of gender.

Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty, is a white, straight rapper that created one of hip hop's first mainstream anthems "Same Love" bringing attention to homophobia not only just in hip hop but across the world. Macklemore is from Seattle, Washington where politics are more liberal leaning. He was featured in OUT magazine where he talked about his upbringing. He states "Where I grew up, there were huge gay pride parades less than a mile away from me," Macklemore says. "My dad’s best friend was gay. My barber was gay. My uncles owned this restaurant that was a huge magnet for the gay community. My whole upbringing was around gay people." During the interview he talks about questioning his sexuality at a young age and wanting to join ballet to be in solidarity with a classmate that was being bullied. Macklemore has been accused of appropriation from both the Black community and the gay community but he says that the song is about equality.[36] The song reached 89 on Billboard's on Hot 100 which is a major achievement for bringing a broader awareness to the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Although homophobia is a significant part of Hip Hop, people within this music industry are doing what they can to combat that and instead being advocates for the queer community within Hip Hop. One particular group in Hip Hop is Cuban collective Las Krudas. Made up of Odalys Cuesta-Rousseaux, Odaymara Cuesta-Rousseaux and Olivia Prendes-Priverón. These women show society that they aren't afraid to push buttons and act not according to gender roles expected of them. Being women that don't look like "traditional females" in society, they are breaking boundaries and leading the way for other people to do what they love whether it's getting involved with Hip Hop or not. We see with Las Krudas, that empowerment we feel within our bodies is so important to how the world views us and how our actions affect other people. Because the women in Las Krudas appear comfortable in their own skin and confident doing what they do (which is breaking boundaries), this advocates for other people in the queer community to not be afraid to be themselves and get out their and accomplish their goals. Las Krudas encourages queer women and queer people alike to not let patriarchal systems and discrimination hold them back from doing what they love. Especially in Hip Hop, you think of women as the video girl or the side chick but really, women have so much more potential than that and society needs to recognize that image isn't the only image available for a woman in Hip Hop.

Marc Lamont Hill writes about the homophobia in hip-hop as something deeply layered. Lamont Hill notes that although there has been queer presence in hip-hop from the beginning, homophobia in mainstream hip-hip has sustained hyper masculinity. One of the most evident ways heterosexuality and homophobia is so embedded in hip-hop culture is the absence of queer artists in mainstream hip-hop. Within hip-hop culture, there is a practice called the politics of outing which is referring to when an artists outs another artists sexuality. The practice of outing comes in various forms such as in lyrics and name calling. Outing someone in hip-hop reinforces notion of heterosexuality and homophobia. While there is a strong presence of homophobia in hip-hop, there is an entire community within hip-hop known as the "homo-thug" which has helped bring queer individuals together. Overall, within hip-hop, there is a complex contradiction.

Hip-Hop Feminist Scholars[edit]

As hip-hop feminism has garnered a reputation as a legitimate area of study, numerous individuals have contributed to its body of scholarly work.

Joan Morgan, as previously mentioned, was the first to use the term "hip-hop feminist" in her book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. Black feminism and Hip-Hop feminism is greatly attributed to her works.

Seth Cosimini's analysis of the performativity and self-presentation of Nicki Minaj articulates how women in hip-hop culture may simultaneously challenge and conform to stereotypical representations of femininity. As explained by Cosimini, Minaj uses contradictory public personas in order to construct a hip-hop identity that recognizes the social oppression driven by race, gender, and sexuality within and beyond hip-hop culture.[37] Cosimini's contributions to hip-hop feminist scholarship have offered a unique perspective on the role of self-presentation in identity construction for women in hip-hop.

Murali Balaji has contributed to existing research on the roles of "video vixens" in hip-hop. Balaji argues that hip-hop music video models have the opportunity to utilize a sense of agency in order to negotiate their positions within hip-hop culture. Through an analysis of Melyssa Ford's music video career, Balaji highlights how it is possible for women in hip-hop to harness their sexuality as a form of political resistance. By way of carefully calculated self-presentation, video vixens are given the chance to subvert objectification and benefit from their own commodification.[38]

Crystal Belle highlights the myriad implications of Black masculinity in hip-hop by focusing on both mainstream and underground artists. Belle acknowledges how diverse representations of Black men within hip-hop culture work to both subvert and uphold white-supremacist hetero-patriarchal meanings surrounding Black masculinity. Belle's contributions to hip-hop feminist scholarship reveal how it is possible for mainstream hip-hop artists to profit from their adherence to oppressive social stereotypes, while those artists who challenge such stereotypes benefit from the destabilization of social expectations.[39]

Reiland Rabaka examines the history of the hip-hop genre, looking at the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts movements and the Feminist Art movement. He critiques traditions in hip hop culture, highlighting black masculinity and how this masculinity is performed in hip hop.[40] Rabaka assesses how this black masculinity is reproduced and consumed by the public, looking at white people in particular. Rabaka claims that critical scholarly inquiry can be applied to the hip hop movement. When understanding political and social activism, Rabaka says that the contributions of hip-hop must be considered.[41]

Tanya Saunders places emphasis on the importance of including hemispheric, non-English, equally marginalized (with varying struggles), black activists into American hip-hop feminist conversations. In many of her publications,[42] Saunders attempts to vocalize the need for greater connectivity between black mobilization in the United States and similar mobilization in the Global South, specifically Latin America and the Caribbean. She also uses the word "artivism," which merges "artist" and "activist," in an argument stating that feminists in nations such as Cuba[43] and Brazil, where hip-hop feminism is present, are not given enough credit for the agency and resistance that emerges from their art. Saunders urges hip-hop feminists in the United States to recognize their privilege as a referent for activist movements, and the power, privilege, and responsibility that comes with living in a global hegemon. She also stresses that without a transnational outreach that breaches language and geopolitical barriers, American hip-hop feminist praxis will, in fact, be limited.[44]

Jenell Navarro examines Native feminism, through the lens of native hip-hop. Jenell Navarro attained her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University in 2011. Through her article, Solarize-ing Native hip-hop: Native feminist land ethics and cultural resistance", she looks at the cultural resistance between the Native American community and the black community. She draws parallels to both groups, even though they are culturally different. Navarro emphasizes that both communities, need to join forces to ward off the negativity that colonization has brought forth to this world. The song "Solarize", by United Roots Oakland, serves the purpose, as explained by Navarro, to incite conversation between cultural resistance between two groups of people who were/are oppressed by the same group. Navarro explains that native feminist is important to examine because it challenges the norm of land being gendered, and these type of conversation must take place because it addresses history that is written down as valid truth.[45]

Aisha Durham refers to the work of communication scholars when discussing the role of the black woman's body in hip-hop culture. With an epistemological approach, Durham cites her own experiences in hip-hop, touching on how the black female body is sexualized and policed within the hip-hop industry. Her work examines how black women in hip hop are depicted and challenges media representations and objectification. She emphasizes that through hip-hop, artists communicate with other artists, the public and the media.[46]

Rachel Raimist identifies as a professor, filmmaker, and a crunk Feminist. Raimist is a member of the Crunk Feminist Collective since 2010, the Crunks is a collective of feminist activists, scholars, and, artists. Raimist earned her B.A. and M.F.A degree in Directing, but she also earned her M.A. degree in Women's studies and her Ph.D. in Feminist studies. Being able to teach and the love for storytelling and cameras gave students the accessibility to learn about filming and the roles of females behind the scenes through her. Her research help train females get comfortable with cameras and comfortable getting into the entertainment industry. Raimist mainly focuses on "feminist filmmaking, women of color feminisms, hip-hop feminism, pedagogy, and digital storytelling." Among her fine accomplishments, Raimist also taught a class out at the sea and four of the seven continents in a program called "Semester at Sea." Out on her voyage, she taught global cinema, digital photography and women's literature.[47]

Artists of hip hop feminism[edit]

Cardi B is a hero who is vocal about women's right and supporting women's choices.[37] She constantly breaks barriers and shares her opinions using platforms such as instagram,Twitter, and Snapchat. Cardi preaches her brand of feminism founded on taking advantage of opportunities, or in street vocabulary, hustling.[38] She is vocal of her love for feminism despite her vernacular and how society paints her out to be. If I'm going to apologize for something is for not knowing what are the right terms to call people .You guys want me to be something that I'm not I'm not going to let you make me feel like I'm something that I'm not .Ya so quick to bash but not educate .[39] She makes her role in feminism clear. "Being a feminist is such a great thing and some people feel like someone like me can’t be as great as that,"[40]

Nicki Minaj entered the scene in hip hop 2008, Nicki Minaj has used her platform to highlight colorist and racism in the slut shaming of women in the industry. When Minaj received negative feedback after releasing the cover art for "Anaconda," she took to her Instagram to highlight the inconsistent and—let's be honest—racist reactions to her displaying her own body. She wrote "Angelic. Acceptable. Lol" alongside photos of white Sports Illustrated models, topless and arching their backs, with their barely-covered bottoms on the cover of the magazine.[41] When Lady Gaga uses her body as a form of expression, she's an "artist." When Nicki Minaj owns her own sexuality, she's slut-shamed.[42]

Princess Nokia is a Puerto Rican HipHop artist from New York and a "Nuyorican urban feminist"[43] She acknowledges her hip hop work as feminism and continues to speak and perform femininity as a force to be reckoned with. She uses her work to voice her views on feminist politics as well as issues affecting marginalized communities. "I talk about small breasts, suffering from child abuse.... my lyrical content, my subject matter is not about aggression, or violence, or materialism, but about spirituality, cultural diaspora. Subject matters of black and brown women. Although I do speak on really flashy boastful things, because I am a flashy son of a b****. I've created Feminism again in Hip-Hop, it's exciting, it's wonderful."[44]

Robyn Rihanna Fenty, better known by her stage name Rihanna is a Barbadian singer, songwriter, and actress. Rihanna practices a very different and almost anachronistic type of feminism.[45] Hey gothic and rebellious aesthetics make her a notable artist in the industry. Rihanna is known for her subliminal and symbolic work and lyricism. She uses music videos and her songs to voice issues affecting marginalized groups. Rihanna being unapologetic has contributed to the sexual liberation of women. She owns her sexuality and uses it as a tool to promote women to do the same. In a May 2013 interview with MTV, The Vagina Monologues writer and feminist Eve Ensler praised the singer, saying, "I'm a huge Rihanna fan, I think she has a kind of agency over her sexuality and she's open about her sexuality, she has enormous grace and she's immensely talented."[46]

Svetha Yellapragada Rao, better known by her rap name Raja Kumari is an Indian American songwriter, rapper, and recording artist from Claremont, California. Raja Kumari is one of the first female Indian descent rapper. She has also acknowledged through her lyrics that her hip hop work as feminism and she continues to speak on how it is as a female rapper in the current hip-hop scene. She was recently nominated for a Grammy in 2018.[47] She is now in a process in creating a new album and considering doing some Bollywood work. She has also been honored at the 2018 BMI Pop Awards for co writing songs such as "Centuries" with Fall Out Boy.[48]


Imani Perry references Cade Bambara who "asks us to consider the use of metaphors, themes, and other ritualized structures to create meaning in American film". She quotes, There is the conventional cinema that masks its ideological imperatives as entertainment and normalizes the hegemony with the term "convention", that is to say the cinematic practices—of editing, particular uses of narrative structure, the development of genres, the language of spatial relationships, particular performatory styles of acting—are called conventions because they are represented somehow to be transcendent or universal, when in fact these practices are based on a history of imperialism and violence.[49]

Perry notes that "when it comes to feminist messages, often the words and language of a hip hop song may have feminist content, but the visual image may be implicated in the subjugation of black women" and points out "the tensions between text and visual image in women's hip hop".[49] Hip Hop feminism and the objectification of the black female body in music videos has also become a subject of visual art, exemplified in artist Michelle Marie Charles's 2012 video Explicit and Deleted,[50] which was included in the 2013 exhibition at the Cue Art Foundation Goddess Clap Back: Hip Hop Feminism in Art,[51] curated by Katie Cercone and featuring artists such as Damali Abrams, Kalup Linzy, Narcissister, Rashaad Newsome, Noelle Lorraine Williams and Hank Willis Thomas.

In her article "Solarize-ing Native Hip-Hop: Native Feminist Land Ethics and Cultural Resistance," academic scholar Jenell Navarro provides an analysis of Native American hip hop artists (Desirae Harp, Fly50, and SeasunZ) so as to consider their contributions to hip hop subculture itself. She describes the reasons for her analysis as needing to "examine the poetics and politics of Native hip-hop that continues the resistant strain of early hip-hop that was committed to speaking truth to power, giving voice to the voiceless, and highlighting the injustices that people face in the United States."[52] This includes hip hop artists who use their platform to advocate for a Native feminist land ethic, as well as encouraging community-building among diverse people. In this case, with the help of United Roots Oakland, the three listed artists produced the song "Solarize" as a response to environmental neglect on Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California.[52] Desirae Harp incorporated her native language into parts of the song so as to stay true to her roots, all the while starting dialogue over mistreatment of land by the very colonizers that had taken the land away from the Natives residing in the area. As we consider the various elements of hip-hop, we must also consider the ways in which hip-hop has been the microphone for activists and artists alike to discuss environmental and social issues.

As Gwendolyn Pough (2004) pointed out, because hip hop's sexism is so prevalent, and because there is only so long that the women of the hip hop generation can embrace either the super-strong black woman or video vixen identities, hip hop feminists have "found ways to deal with these issues within the larger public sphere and the counter-public sphere of hip hop by bringing wreck to stereotyped images through their continued use of expressive culture'".[4] One performer who has strategically created a persona for herself using many elements of her work to her advantage has been Nicki Minaj. "In Nicki’s case, she deploys black femme gender performance as part of her public persona, particularly in her music videos. These performances remind us of the difficulty of enacting a black femme subject on the screen, partly because her very presence threatens to "dislodge the racist, sexist, and homophobic conceptions" that structure our domination."[53] Since there are such few ways for women to elevate their work in the hip hop industry, Minaj like other female artists, began to use her sex appeal to her advantage. Sexual exploitation has been one of the only ways to allow women to be represented in hip hop music but, artists like Minaj are embracing their sexuality and femme-hoods in a way to "disrupt hegemonic scripts."[53]

However, there are some opportunities for women to resist a Hip-Hop video culture that simply fetishizes their bodies and limit them to what Rana A. Emerson calls a "One-Dimensional Womanhood". This resistance became extremely prevalent in the 1990s with artists like Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, and Lauryn Hill. Rather than conforming to this hyper-sexualized, and powerless image these women used their music videos to challenge these heteronormative and patriarchal motifs, by asserting their independence and strength.[54]

In her book Black Noise, Tricia Rose speaks to the lyrical and visual objectification of women within hip hop, primarily attributing narratives of sexual dominance as a means of coping with a lack of normative indicators of heterosexual masculine power. These, she writes, may include insecurities associated with self-worth, racial discrimination, and access to various types of resources. Although a common stigma associated with 90's rap through present is a marriage of pornography and music, Rose argues that to solely attribute this hypersexualization to hip hop is to ignore the embedded sexist social norms the emanate through dominant culture, despite these interactions being less visible. "Few popular analyses of rap's sexism seem willing to confront the fact that sexual and institutional control over and abuse of women is a crucial component of developing a heterosexual masculine identity."[55]

Hip-Hop Feminism is one of the most incorrectly represented phenomenons in modern media; but there are some visual representations of feminism that do it justice. Language and lyrics that describe the limits placed on women, and that preach for women to break these limits, are feminist diction. Lyrics that encourage women to embrace their bodies and appearance for themselves, and not the pleasure of men or society, are also visual representations of HIp-Hop feminism.While some people may think that videos that display and glorify female genitals are automatically sexist, there are some visuals in which a genital is used to promote positivity, love, and respect for the female body, such as the images used in "Pynk" by Janelle Monáe featuring Grimes. And by the same token, if visuals that adorn the female body can be feminist, visuals that cover the female body may be feminist as well, if they do so with respect. For example, in "Hijabi (Wrap my Hijab)" by Mona Haydar, the artist expresses the disdain she feels for people who criticize her choice to conceal her hair. She argues that her inner beauty and adoration for her religion should be seen as just as beautiful as any other woman's.

Within Hip-Hop Feminism, there are many hip hop songs from the 1990s that become hip-hop feminist anthems. Artists and groups such as Queen Latifah, TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, and many other performers. TLC had a few songs that constitute as feminist hip-hop such as "Unpretty" which addresses unrealistic beauty standards within our society as well as "No Scrubs" essentially explaining to women that they do not need a man in their lives in order to be independent and happy, including lines such as these "I’m not going to let you get away with sleazy actions just because you are a man". Another anthem is "U.N.I.T.Y."[56] by Queen Latifah which addresses the degrading of women by men and that women should not take any type of abuse from a man.

The most important factors that determine whether or not a visual properly promotes feminism or if it misses the mark are the respect and positivity placed on the female body, the promotion of ambition and excellence, and acknowledgement that all of mankind should function as an egalitarian society.

Hip Hop Feminist Media

  • Beyoncé - "Flawless"Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox - sisters are doin’ it for themselves
  • First Aid Kit - "You Are The Problem Here"
  • Lily Allenn - "Hard Out Here"
  • Cardi B - "Get Up 10"
  • Madame Gandhi (TT the Artist Club Remix featuring UNIIQU3) - "The Future is Female"
  • Kesha - "Woman"
  • Janelle Monáe - "Pynk"
  • Shea Diamond - "I Am Her" (Official Music Video)
  • Desirae Harp, Fly50, SeasunZ - "Solarize"

Hip hop feminism and the elements[edit]

Hip hop and feminism and the intertwining of the two, a path in which Joan Morgan—first person to coin the term and call themselves a hip hop feminist—describes hip hop feminism as "[finding the truth at a] juncture where 'truth' is no longer black and white, but subtle intriguing shades of gray."[57] Examining how hip hop and feminism coexist is a great way in examining and analyzing "the grays" that Morgan speaks of in her work.

Deejaying in and of itself is a very male-dominated part of hip hop, essentially acting as a microcosm for not only the Hip Hop community itself, but of the music industry in which Hip Hop is encased, and so on and so forth. The narratives around DJ's and DJ-ing are very male-centric. However, just like every other aspect of hip hop women were involved, too. An exemplary example of women who DJ, would be Beverly Bond, who has been deejaying since 1999. Not only is she a DJ, but she's an entrepreneur as well, and founder of Black Girls Rock; an initiative which has turned into an annual awards show—on the BET network—which commemorates and honors Black girls and women who are making impacts on their communities.

Graffiti is regarded as an element of hip hop.[58] Graffiti as a subculture is one that has overlapped with hip hop feminism. Though women actively participate in the graffiti subculture, they are often underrepresented and underestimated. Graffiti gives female writers the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of community and claiming space in a visual way through their work which ties back to the role that hip hop plays in society, particularly for female writers. Its secrecy has made graffiti a form of expression that is not judged at the surface level by gender, since you can't truly tell who made the graffiti.

Female writers such as Utah have generated national and worldwide attention to graffiti writing in urban spaces. Though a controversial figure, Danielle "Utah" Bremner's work was featured in the Beastie Boys "Ch-Check it Out" music video that was circulated across MTV.[59] Bremner also successfully painted on various MTA trains throughout New York City which led to her arrest in 2008.[59] Bremner is an example of the way that hip hop feminism creates space for women in male dominated spaces.

Breakdancing is also a part of hip hop. Breakdancing is also male dominated like both dejaying and graffiti. Women get mixed reactions about this form of art, a woman from the female crew Full Circle spoke about how when a man lost to her in a battle, he said that it was because it was hard to focus because he was attracted to her because she was a girl.[60]

Rapping is the most well known part of hip hop, so much so that it is thought of as the only part of hip hop. There have been a plethora of female emcees past[61] and present[62][63] who incorporate feminism into their work. These women don't always explicitly cite their feminism, however feminist themes have always been present among female rappers. Rappers such as Queen Latifah and Lil Kim show just how far the spectrum of feminism reaches.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Supernova, Brigette. AXS https://www.axs.com/hip-hop-pioneers-the-women-who-shaped-a-cultural-legacy-116258. Retrieved 16 May 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)