Guy listens exclusively to female rappers for a month, writes smart stuff about it

Ladies in hip hop has been a theme around here recently, with award-winning journalist and Jay-Z inspiration Elizabeth Mendez Berry interviewed for the lastest Feministing Five and the recent Nikki Minaj themed Wednesday Weigh-In.

Female rappers tend to be singled out as a group in general more for political than musical reasons. Like women of color in too many other fields, their identities seem to require special attention, analysis, deconstruction, and qualification before their contributions can be taken at face value (if ever). This is certainly problematic, and damaging to all the talented female rappers who may not have set out to inspire endless conversations about gender and race when they decided to pursue a music career (although surely some of them did, and appreciate the explicitly political result of the music they make). But it’s also true that whether or not we like it, female rappers are something like rarities in the hip hop world, still outnumbered if not outshone or outsold.

That’s why I was so pleased to see this take on female rappers from a refreshingly self-aware, funny, and ultimately insightful feminist male writer on the site Canonball (a seemingly new addition to the feminist blogosphere–welcome!). H. Wakbserg, a self-described “writer and lazeabout,” challenged himself to listen to only female rappers for a month:

“A few months ago, I realized I spend about 70 percent of my waking hours giving my friends a hard time for not being interested enough in female-created art, while still listening primarily to male rappers myself. Since high school, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West, and (at the recommendation of a friend who just converted to Orthodox Judaism and got married in Las Vegas last month!) Canibus have all been mainstays in my iTunes. So I decided that for the month of May I was only going to listen to female rappers. Not that the only hip-hop music I was going to listen to was going to be by women, but that the only music I was going to listen to, period, for 31 days, was going to be by female rappers. Apart from a friend playing “Call Me Maybe” on her iPad every time she visited my apartment, I kept to this.”

Gimmicky? Sure. But also different from a number of premises we’re used to hearing about female rappers, including that they’re not good enough to warrant the attention or respect of true male hip hop fans. True, the foundation reinforces the “otherness” of female rappers in some ways, but it seems like it’s setting them apart in an attempt to correct for how neglected they’ve been in the writers’ life in the past. Sure enough, beyond a relatively predictable appreciation for female rap that’s expressed at the end of the project–“I do think we should listen to more female rappers… because there are great female rappers. Not because this is an ongoing assignment (though of course being a feminist consumer of pop culture is an ongoing assignment) but because I found some great stuff”–this little experiment goes on to lead to a number of strong insights around women and hip hop.

On beef:

“On the subject of Latifah vs. Invincible, I think it’s important to touch on the way we compare female rappers. Obviously it’s fine to discuss the relative merits of one musician against another, but we have a tendency to treat women in the rap game like it’s a zero-sum Highlander situation. As in, there can only be one, and to celebrate one is to detract from another. Azealia Banks is hot right now, and I look forward to her new releases more than anyone’s, but she has a tendency to throw shade at other female rappers. Beef is a weird and terrible outdated part of the rap game, and there’s some rule that says when female MCs have beef they only have it with other female MCs.”

And on collabos:

“Where is the female Watch The Throne? Why, in fact, do so few women rappers seem to collaborate at all? For this project I turned up a number of rap groups with a single woman MC; almost none with more than one, and none that are exclusively women (where is the female Wu Tang Clan, for that matter?). I think we’d all love to hear a “Black Republican”-style beef-ending collab between Nicki and Azealia. At the very least, you’d expect more women to guest on other women’s songs, but that kind of thing seems pretty rare since, well, Queen Latifah, who featured women like Monie Love on her songs.”

The writer also avoids becoming Male Liberal Savior Guy with a well-timed dose of self-awareness:

“By the middle of the month, I started growing defensive of what I was listening to. Someone would put on some Springsteen and I’d say, “Oh, do you mind if we listen to my playlist?” and giving people a really smug look, because I was listening to female rappers and they weren’t. I was winning the Intersectional Olympics of Pop Culture. My friends tolerated my smugness because they knew what I didn’t yet: making music-listening into homework is a bad way to turn it into pleasure listening.”

You can read the whole piece on Canonball here, and download the author’s playlist with his favorite female rappers here.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted June 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Hey guys! I am H. Waksberg! I just want to say I am basically blown away to read this here. Feministing was the first feminist blog I read during my extremely early days of my own feminism, and I can’t quite find the words to thank you. You guys are awesome, and I’m honored.

  2. Posted June 20, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    The second paragraph implies that all female rappers are of color, which is simply false.

    • Posted June 21, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Good call Ian,

      Come on Feministing – I think we can do better then generalizing all female rappers as exclusively women of color. I think if it were the other way around, but in a different article, this site would be all over it.

      I hope to see this changed.

    • Posted June 21, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Yes, won’t somebody pleeeeeaaaaase think of the White people!!

      White people have appropriated the music of POC for centuries – from the banjo, jazz, blues, rock and roll, hip-hop, soul, and rap. White artists are *ALWAYS* given more airplay than Black artists, but *how*dare*we* have a discussion about music that originated in the Black community and not talk about the precious White folks!?

      • Posted June 21, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        No one is saying that this conversation should ONLY FOCUS on white people, but the OP was talking about female rap artists – not female rap artists of color (at least, that is how I understood it). Nor did I see her mention the origin of music within the context of that statement. I made the comment to point out that if we are talking about ALL female rap artists (which is how the post was positioned), then let’s talk about ALL of them.

        Snark isn’t going to get more women of color airtime on the radio. Having open and honest dialogue with ALL people might be a better step.

        What I took from your statement is that white women don’t get a say ON THIS TOPIC of female rap artistis because of how white people historically appropriated “Black” music, and the fact that white artists get more play time than Black people. In my opinion, that’s not moving women forward, that’s moving us backwards. But that’s just my humble opinion…

        And by the way, Black people are not the only people of color who have contributed greatly to music and have had it appropriated from them.

        • Posted June 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          …the OP was talking about female rap artists – not female rap artists of color…

          The OP specifically mentions “women of color”. There are also pictures of women of color in the OP. I’ll excuse you if you can’t see the pictures, but you did even read the OP?

          Nor did I see her mention the origin of music within the context of that statement.

          How can you not talk about rap without any knowledge of its history?

          Snark isn’t going to get more women of color airtime on the radio.

          Fuck your tone argument.

          How’s that for snark?

          What I took from your statement is that white women don’t get a say ON THIS TOPIC of female rap artistis because of how white people historically appropriated “Black” music, and the fact that white artists get more play time than Black people. In my opinion, that’s not moving women forward, that’s moving us backwards.

          Which women are you talking about, though? And don’t say “all women” because that’s clearly not the case. Why is that the achievements of Women of Color have to make room for the pwecious fee-fees of the poor, unappweciated White people? Especially, in a genre that WE originated in the first place?

          And by the way, Black people are not the only people of color who have contributed greatly to music and have had it appropriated from them.

          Oh, so you do admit that it *is* appropriation? Yet, you want those White artists to have recognition for appropriating from a mariginalized culture?

          And which women are really being moved backwards?

          • Posted June 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            “Female rappers tend to be singled out as a group in general more for political than musical reasons. Like women of color in too many other fields, their identities seem to require special attention, analysis, deconstruction, and qualification before their contributions can be taken at face value (if ever).”

            I am not sure how you and the OP think female rappers automatically equals only women of color.

            Like any topic, the history is important, but that wasn’t the point of this post. THAT’S ALL I SAID.

            AND FUCK YOUR SNARK. Does that make you feel better now that I swore too?

            And never did I not acknowledge the appropriation of music – please don’t put thoughts/words in my post that I never wrote to make you feel better about your argument.

            All I am saying is that I wish the OP had been clear about the intent of this topic. If we’re talking about female rappers and this guy’s experiment, then let’s talk about ALL WOMEN. The statement in that first paragraph set up the piece terribly in my opinion, and this all I took issue with.

            If you want to make this an us vs. them argument, that’s fine. But it’s not how shit gets done. It’s just not.

          • Posted June 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

            And never did I not acknowledge the appropriation of music – please don’t put thoughts/words in my post that I never wrote to make you feel better about your argument.

            Your argument is that the appropriators of the music should be celebrated alongside the originators. I call bullshit.

            If we’re talking about female rappers and this guy’s experiment, then let’s talk about ALL WOMEN.

            The original article doesn’t even feature White female rappers, so what’s the point of the OP in mentioning them? Why are the contributions of White people so damn important that they need mentioning every single fucking (Oops! There’s that naughty word again!) time the contributions of POC are mentioned? Is it that damn important for White people to see their hand in everything? Can White people not recognize something as significant unless they’re involved?Why do POC have to stand aside, especially concerning something they invented in the first place? Can’t we have one damn article on one damn website that acknowledges us?

            If you want to make this an us vs. them argument, that’s fine. But it’s not how shit gets done. It’s just not.

            If you want me to stand with you, then I need to trust that you’ll be standing with me and other WOC. For some strange reason, I’m just not getting that vibe from you. Gee, I wonder why?

            [/snarkitysnarksnark]

      • Posted June 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        You misunderstood the intention of my comment. The paragraph implies that all female rappers are black, which is not true as there are female (just as there are male) rappers of all races, not just black and white either.

        However, in light of your comment Angel H. I would agree that due to the history of appropriation of black culture that perhaps white female rappers could be examined separately, not only for what they specifically bring to hip-hop and gender/race discussion but also keeping in mind the context in which you bring up. Just as female rappers of any other race or creed aside from black could be examined in an equally interesting, yet different, context.

        I in no way was specifically implying that we need to think of white people, but rather people of all races that have come to appropriate hip-hop, be this appropriation problematic as you imply or not. If the appropriation is in fact problematic then perhaps my perceived correction isn’t called for, but I think in the blog post we should not eliminate female rappers from our discussion purely due to their race.

        • Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

          I see that things got a bit heated between Angel H. and Nina above, however on the topic of appropriation of culture, the original post on Canonball makes specific reference to Starships by Nicki Minaj, if you’ve seen the video for that song then you’ll know what I mean when I say; What’s up with the Maori dancers/fire spinners?

  3. Posted June 21, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Hello! The link to download the playlist is broken. Here is the updated link: http://i.minus.com/1340353010/iNTra2ZkqynU6uVaf-Jxrw/dbfyRH1uughiXi/May%202012.zip

  4. Posted June 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I was shocked to see one of my all time favorite (all female!) groups not mentioned in the collab section– Salt N Pepa! Salt, Pepa, and their brilliant DJ Spinderella. To me, Salt n Pepa go hand in hand with greats like Latifah and cover a lot of issues specific to women by speaking openly about double standards, sex, and pleasure. I understand the author wrote that he didn’t have time to get through all he had hoped, but I couldn’t tell if he was even aware of them (he must be!) and since he was wondering where the all-female groups were I gotta wonder why this very popular, influential (I’ve heard Pitbull and Gorrillaz pay homage to their lyrics) group wasn’t even on the radar.

    Speaking of non-POC female rappers, Dessa is amazing– not trying to be all “what about the white people!?”, but there *are* female rappers of all different backgrounds (is Team Gina great? No, but they’re hilarious). I’ve never heard Dessa on the air, anyway.

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