We are Hip Hop Feminists. In line with the principles of Black Feminism as defined by the Combahee River Collective, we recognized that race, class and sex oppression are intertwined (1). And we love Hip Hop.
We are Hip Hop Feminists embracing the vitality of race, gender, class, urbanism and youth culture as critical lenses we use to make sense of the world and change power relations (2).
We speak out against blaxploitation and we still love Hip Hop. We believe it is the most poignant form of popular culture the world has ever experienced (3).
We are black but not all black. We are women but not all women. We have butts of all sizes. We are committed to men and women working together in partnership but not all straight. We are Houstatlantavegas. We are the Weezies, the Drizzies, the Biggies, Eazys, Snoops, 50s, 2Pacs. We are the Beyonces, the Ivy Blues, the Missys, the Trinas, the Ciaras, the Lil Kims, the Lauryns, the Willows, the Narcissisters, the Zebra Babys, the flygirls, the bgirls, the Homo-Hoppers, the Homo-Thugs and the Hoez Wid Attitude. The Thuggles. We are mack divas rollin wit posses fifteen bitches deep (4). We are the Whitney Houstons, Tina Turners and Rihannas. We are the Blackanese Barbies. We are the Sara Baartmans and the Josephine Bakers. The Contemporary Goddesses and Chickenheads. We are unsheltered black girls around the world, learning to navigate space as sexually and racially marked subjects.
We are Hip Hop Feminists moving beyond a simple critique of misogyny in Rap. We believe the misogyny and homophobia of Hip Hop culture reflects our collective anxiety about not being able to access the fantasy of being a ‘real’ man, woman or whatever else for which we are striving (5).
We connect the objectification and degradation of black women’s bodies within Hip Hop Culture to their historical precedents. We are Sara Baartman, the Khoisin woman renamed ‘Venus Hottentot’ whose body was exhibited freak-show style around Britain by scientists interested in her large buttocks and hypertrophy of the vagina due to tribal practices of genital mutilation. We are her jarred genitalia, put on public display at the Musee l’Homme in Paris after her death and then stored in museum vaults for twenty years while the French Government refused to return her remains to Africa for a proper burial (6). We are Josephine Baker, the African American woman who joined a traveling circus at the age of thirteen and became a millionaire shaking her ass for paying white audiences of the mid twentieth century (7).
We are Hip Hop Feminists because we believe the animalistic and hypersexual ‘loose’ image of the black woman developed during the past two centuries still exists as a trope in Hip Hop and is an image which contributes to the exploitation, abuse, and objectification of the black female body (8). We are Hip Hop Feminists and we are more than groupies, video-hoes or vixens, eye candy, chickenheads, hood rats, apple bottoms, baby’s mamas and ill nanas with dreams of acquiring money, men and material objects (9).
We connect the work of Contemporary female rappers to the women who sang the blues, when music was central to the meaning of a culture of resistance during slavery and encouraged forms of social consciousness (10). We are Hip Hop Feminists. We use Hip Hop as bait. We use Hip Hop culture as a teaching tool, one which can help young people recognize their collective and individual stakes in civic society as they dissect paradigms of race, class and gender (11). We rebuke the pimp-ho dog-eat-bitch game because we have daughters that are telling us Rap ‘hurts’ (12).
We are Hip Hop Feminist because we too are seduced by the lyrics, the images, the beat we bow our heads to affirming its sacredness. Sometimes we even want what they promise ‘all the keys and security codes…the cheese.’ Because we were born knowing that successfully negotiating male space – male space that’s paid – reaps great rewards (13).
We know the real roots of Hip Hop and we are proud of them. We know that Hip Hop was born in the Bronx following New York City’s structural redevelopment that literally bulldozed through vibrant ethnic communities. Hip Hop is the response of a young, creative, piss poor black ‘underclass’ faced with jobless fathers, skyrocketing imprisonment rates for non-violent drug-related crimes, dwindling educational options, no affordable housing or healthcare.
We are the African Roots of Hip Hop. We celebrate the utilitarian nature of African Art: of dance that initiates adulthood, of a mask that channels spirit, of a cloth pattern that conveys status, of a drum that talks (14). A drum signifying territory, and belonging; a drum that calls the community to battle. We are Call and Response. We are boasting, toasting, and bragging. We are rappin’, rhymin’, beat boxin’, battlin’, breakin’ and drawin’. We are 18th Century slaves emerging from their ships with half-moons and stars we carved into our scalp by broken soap bottle (15). The tom-tom laughs, the tom-tom cries (16).
We are the undeniable appeal of the communicability of Transatlantic cultural memory. We are the visual production of black bodies as shiny commodities at once hypervisible and disappeared, the meaning of America as a global brand, which shines bright but remains shadowed by its history of race relations at home and abroad (17).
We are Hip Hop Feminists and we believe black female roles in Hip Hop must be understood in light of the political economies that inform their cultural practices (18). We believe that ‘bitches do[ing] what they have to do to get paid’ may be it’s own form of Feminism, although we recognize that these Pussy Power platforms glamorize and glorify the hard core sex, drugs and rough street life that, in reality, accounts for black women’s comparatively higher rate of AIDS-related deaths, imprisonment, ‘forced’ single parenthood and domestic violence (19). We connect the sexual objectification of black female bodies to the fact that in 2001, HIV was the number one cause of death for African-American women between the age of 25-34 (20).
We are Baby Mamas but not only Baby Mamas. We are Hip Hop Feminists and we engage in critical discussion around the effect of public policies on the lives of young black women whose bodies have come to be viewed as active sites for the reproduction of black poverty and the projection of national anxieties at the hands of both black men and conservative politicians. We are Hip Hop feminists committed to deconstructing Baby Mama as a singular trope employed to obscure the role of the state in the undercutting of love relationships and removal of black fathers (21).
We are Hip Hop Feminists and we know that when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, more than 70% of all black families were headed by married couples and that in 2002 that statistic had dropped to 48 percent (22).
We know our declarations may not always be met with praise and love. We know that acknowledging the rampant sexism in our community, for example, means relinquishing the comforting illusion that Black men and women are a unified front (23).
We are committed to shedding light on the way in which Hip Hop influences and informs racial stereotypes that perpetuate a neo-slave existence. We are Hip Hop Feminists because we know that black music exists in a neo-colonial relationship with the $12 billion music industry whereby black inner cities act as ‘raw cites of cultural production’ where conditions (low per capita income, high birth rate, economic dependence on external markets, labor as major export) resemble a third world country and produce a ‘product’ – Hip Hop – that is sold back to the ‘motherland’ (in the case of American, suburbs teeming with bored white youth) (24).
And we still love Hip Hop, and we can still back it up and dunk it. We still love Hip Hop because we are Hip Hop Feminists and we know that no one can ever ‘own’ Hip Hop. We are Hip Hop Feminists because those reformed nigga thugs make our nipples hard (25). Because black-on black-love is the backbone of Hip Hop Feminism and just phat dope mack bitches ridin’ love-on-love-on-love cuz we got it like dat in generals.
We are Hip Hop Feminists speaking up about an industry produced image of black ghetto life which serves to buttress the Prison Industrial Complex, a contemporary ‘leviathan’ of racial inequality maintained through a ferocious combination of government law, private corporations, police terrorism and racist cultural attitudes (26). We are Hip Hop Feminists and we rebuke the constant turn to ’ghetto blackness’ as a model of ‘authenticity’ and hipness in rap music (27) limiting ‘blackness’ to ‘a primal connection to sex and violence, a big penis and relief from the onus of upward mobility’ (28). We are Hip Hop Feminists speaking up about how you’re more likely to die living in the American ghetto than if you were fighting in Iraq, the leading cause of death for black men ages 15-24 is black on black homicide (29), and that for too many black men there is not trust, no community, no family (30).
We are Hip Hop Feminists committed to countering mainstream journalistic discourse that relies on a darky spectacle hook linking Hip Hop with ‘pathological’ black behaviors. A hard-core feminist talking with a hardened mack about the political, spiritual and emotional self-determination of black people does not good copy make (31). We are Hip Hop Feminists because communication has to be the ‘dope’ thing in black liberation struggle – like you and me talking culture this way down home and revolutionary-like (32).
We are Hip Hop Feminists because we believe Hip Hop is healing, and that men and women have been conditioned to express themselves in problematic ways. We know that A nigga forgets feelings, recognizing, instead, that affects are communicable, particularly the hardcore ones of anger, rage, intense pleasure (33). We know that many – white, queer, Asian, Latino/a, straight, male, female, you name it – have adopted the nigga trope in performative, exciting and safe ways. And yet we also want to raise children, especially young black boys, who feel comfortable expressing feelings and affects, especially love.
We are committed to Hip Hop as an expressive, holistic, liberatory and extralinguistic mode of multidirectional communication. We are our vernacular, A language without a nation… a culture whose condition is exile, wandering and resistance to a dominant power (34). We are Hip Hop Feminists because Hip Hop satisfies our profound need to have our territories acknowledged, recognized and celebrated (35).
We are Hip Hop Feminists because we love Hip Hop and we use Hip Hop to fight for social change. We are Hip Hop Feminists and we are brave enough to fuck with the grays (36).
Katie Cercone is a visual artist, cultural critic, yoga instructor and founding member of Go! Push Pops. KatieCercone.com
(1) Sujatha Fernandes, Proven Presence, Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology Gwendolyn D. Pough, Elaine Richardson, Aisha Durham, Rachel Raimist, eds., 2007
(2) Michael Jeffries, The Name and Game of Hip Hop Feminism, Home Girls ibid
(3) Jocelyn A. Wilson: Tip Drills, Strip Clubs and Representation in the Media,
Home Girls ibid
(4) Joan Morgan, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, 1999
(5) Paradigm of the queer rap group BQE, Eric Darnell Pritchard & Maria L. Bibbs, Sista’ Outsider, Home Girls ibid
(6) Kaila Adia Story, Performing Venus – From Hottentot to Vixen, Home Girls ibid
(7) Kaila Adia Story, ibid
(8) Alesha Dominek Washington, Not the Average Girl from the Videos, Home Girls ibid
(9) Chyann L. Oliver, For Sepia “colored girls” who have considered self/when hip hip is enuf, Home Girls ibid
(10) Angela Davis quoted in Heather Duerre Humann, Feminist and Material Concerns, Home Girls ibid
(11) Michael Jeffries, ibid
(12) Dream Hampton quoted in Aisha Durham, That’s My World, Home Girls ibid
(13) Eisa Nefertari Ulen: They’re Not Talking About Me, Home Girls ibid
(14) Eisa Nefertari Ulen, ibid
(15) Krista Thompson, A Sidelong Glance: The Practice of African Diasporic Art History in the United States, Art Journal, California Art Association, Fall 2011
(16) Langston Hughes, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, 1926
(17) Krista Thompson, ibid
(18) Fatimah N. Muhammad, How to Not be 21st Century Venus Hottentots, Home Girls ibid
(19) Fatimah N. Muhammad, ibid
(20) Kates and Leggoe (2005) sited in Kimala Price, Hip Hop Feminism at the Political Crossroads, Home Girls ibid
(21) Brittney Cooper, The State as Patron of the Baby Mama Drama and Other Ghetto Hustles, Home Girls ibid
(22) Joy Bennet Kinnon, The Shocking State of Black Marriages, Ebony, 2003
(23) Joan Morgan, ibid
(24) Norman Kelley, The Political Economy of Black Music, 1999
(25) Joan Morgan, ibid
(26) M.K. Asante, Jr. Its Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation, 2008
(27) Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, 1994
(28) John Leland Hip: The History, 2004
(29) Joan Morgan, Real Love, VIBE, 1996
(30) Joan Morgan, ibid 4
(31) bell hooks, Gangsta Culture Sexism and Misogyny, Outlaw Culture, 1994
(32) bell hooks, bell hooks and Ice Cube in Dialogue, Outlaw Culture, 1994
(33) R.A.T. Judy, On the Question of Nigga Authenticity in That’s the Joint: Hip Hop Studies Reader M.Forman and M.A. Neal, eds. 2004
(34) Russel A. Potter, Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip Hop and the Politics of Post-Modernism, 1995
(35) Tricia Rose, ibid
(36) Joan Morgan, ibid 4