Document on Sexist and Misogynistic

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Part IVI’ll Be Nina Simone Defecating onYour Microphone:Hip-Hop and GenderMark Anthony NealI could do what you do, EASY! Believe me / frontin’ niggaz gives me heebee-geebees so while youimitatin’ Al Capone / I be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphoneLauryn Hill, “Ready Or Not” (The Score, 1996)Rap music and hip-hop culture have often been singularly cited for the transmission and reproductionof sexism and misogyny in American society. With tracks like Akinelye’s “Six-Foot Blow Job Machine”and 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny,” hip-hop is perhaps too easy a target. As sexism and misogyny arelargely extensions of normative patriarchal privilege, their reproduction in the music of male hip-hopartists speaks more powerfully to the extent that these young men (particularly young black men) areinvested in that privilege than it does to any evidence that they are solely responsible for itsreproduction. As journalist Kevin Powell eloquently cautions in the introduction to Ernie Paniccioli’scollection of classic hip-hop photographs,Who Shot Ya?(2002), “it is wrong to categorically dismisship-hop without taking into serious consideration the socioeconomic conditions (and the many recordlabels that eagerly exploit and benefit from the ignorance of many of these young artists) that haveled to the current state of affairs. Or, to paraphrase the late Tupac Shakur, we were given this world,we did not make it.” But there is also no denying the fact that hip-hop’s grip on American youth allowsfor the circulation of sexist and misogynistic narratives in a decidedly uncritical fashion.The embrace of patriarchal privilege by some male hip-hop artists partly explains the margin- alizationof women among hip-hop artists, particularly when those women don’t conform to the normative rolesassigned to women within hip-hop (the chicken-head groupie, oversexualized rhyme-spitter, baggyclothed desexualized mic-fiend are prime examples). Thus, many female raps artists are lessconcerned with challenging the circulation of sexism and misogyny (Sarah Jones’s “Your Revolution”notwithstanding) than they are with simply being recognized as peers alongside male rappers. This isin part what Lauryn Hill asks us to consider in her verse from The Fugees’s “Ready or Not.” Extollingthe legacy of the legendary jazz vocalist and activist Nina Simone, Hill champions a notion of hard-corehip-hop that is not rooted in the Mafioso fantasy of the day, but that goes back to the risky aestheticand political choices made by a woman who, at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s,spoke “truth to power” in songs like “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women.” Hill’s lyrical phraserepresents a legitimate critique of the hypermasculinity and phallocentrism that pervades hip-hop—acritique that is clearly gendered in its intent.247248• MARK ANTHONY NEALWhat Hill and many other female rap artists, including Salt-N-Pepa, Eve, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah,Bahamadia, and Missy Elliot, are really asking for is a respect for woman-centered narratives that existalongside, and not necessarily in competition with, those of their male peers. As Hill attests, however,these women are ready and more than willing to battle. Accord- ingly, each of the five women whose
essays are collected in this section speak to a complex and multifaceted notion of gender andfemininity in hip-hop. While the chapters are clearly in dialogue with one another—Tricia Rose’s “NeverTrust a Big Butt and a Smile” being the now- legendary opening salvo in scholarly criticism of hip-hop—these chapters are not simply echoing the party line from some mythical center of feminist thought.These are works that complicate our sense of the obvious gender problems within hip-hop.UCLA ethnomusicologist Cheryl Keyes charts the formation of “four distinct categories of womenrappers” within the hip-hop performance tradition. Drawing on Jacqueline Bobo’s concept of“interpretive community,” Keyes examines the observations of female performers and audiences,identifying the “Queen Mother,” “Fly Girl,” “Sista with Attitude,” and “Lesbian” as the dominant figureswithin female hip-hop performance, adding that “each category mirrors certain images, voices, andlifestyles.” The most provocative of these figures is the “Fly Girl.” According to Keyes, “Rap’s fly girlimage ... highlights aspects of black women’s bodies consid- ered undesirable by Americanmainstream standards of beauty.” Citing the example of Salt-N- Pepa, hip-hop’s quintessential “FlyGirls,” Keyes asserts, “they portray via performance the fly girl as a party-goer, and independentwoman, but additionally, an erotic subject rather than an objectified one.”Journalist Joan Morgan also finds value in the identity of hip-hop’s “Fly Girl” and the asso- ciated eroticpower she possesses. In the opening pages of her book,When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: MyLife as a Hip-Hop Feminist, Morgan relishes the opportunity to replicate the “proper Bronx Girl Switch”that she watched “project girls” employ when she was a young girl growing up in the Bronx. As shenotes, these were woman-girls who could “transform into Black Moseses capable of parting seas ofotherwise idle Negroes.” Given the reverence for the South Bronx in hip-hop lore, it is not a stretch tosuggest that the prototype for the hip-hop “Fly Girl” may have been born on the streets of New York’suptown borough.It is in the context of black female sexuality that Morgan posits a hip-hop feminism that championsboth a critical discourse around gender in hip-hop and the pleasures associated with flaunting the veryfemale sexuality that is regularly objectified by some hip-hop artists. As Morgan queries in onepassage:Is it foul to say that imagining a world where you could paint your big brown lips in the most decadentof shades, pile your phat ass into your fave micromini, slip your freshly manicured toes into four-inchfuck-me sandals and have not one single solitary man objectify—I mean roam his eyes longingly overall intended places—is, like, a total drag to you?Morgan, in fact, uses the power of female eroticism to flip hip-hop sexual politics on it’s head as shebrazenly asks, “how come no one ever admits that part of the reason women love hip-hop—as sexistas it is—is ’cuz all that in-yo-face testosterone makes our nipples hard.”Morgan opensWhen Chickenheads Come Home to Roostreminiscing about being a young girl,disappointed that she couldn’t accompany her mother to a performance of Ntozake Shange’s dramafor colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Here, Morgan is the ten-year-old girl dreaming of black feminist possibilities.Treading similar ground within the context of hip-hop, Kyra Gaunt finds these possibilities in the very“girl” games that Morgan herself likely played as a child. Exploring the concept of “play” in blackexpressive culture, Gaunt writes, “Black girls’ musical games promote the skillful development ofmusical authority that reflects blackness, gender, individual expressivePART IV: I’LL BE NINA SIMONE DEFECATING ON YOUR MICROPHONE •249ability, and the very musical styles and approaches that later contribute to adult African- Americanmusical activity.”Challenging the pervasive notion that women exist in hip-hop solely as “chickenhead” groupies, Gauntposits female hip-hop fans as “nurturing a ‘real’ appreciation or understanding of the creativity and
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