Friday, March 15, 2013

On Hip Hop, Coming of Age, and Absence of the Feminine Voice

I have a new favorite song of the moment, which means that I am running said song into the ground, listening to it on repeat and breaking down the lyrics. Song of the moment, Sing About Me by Kendrick Lamar. It's been a long time since a hip-hop song made me want to cry. Here's Sing about me (warning: STRONG language ahead):

Here's Kendrick's breakdown of the song.

This song, followed by a road trip my husband and I took a few weeks ago and the anniversary of Biggie's passing got me to thinking about hip-hop and how it's a medium for young people to tell their coming of age stories.

A few weekends ago, Hubs and I were driving back from New York, and he was DJing.  He played Nas' Ilmatic, followed by Mobb Deep's The Infamous and Hell on Earth, followed by A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory.  While listening to the music, a couple of things crossed my mind. All of these albums captured these young men's realities at really pivotal times in their lives - crossing the threshold from boyhood to manhood.  They were trying to make sense of life while trying to stay out of trouble (see: Big's Everyday Struggle, Nas' The World is Yours and Mobb Deep's Temperature's Rising). They were making sense of male and female relationships and the music that drove their passion (See: ATCQ's Excusions, Jazz We GotButter and The Infamous Date Rape). I can recall being in college and watching young men in a trance, fully engaged with Tupac and OutKast albums, identifying and empathizing with the lyrics.

Keep in mind that these masterpieces were written when these young men were probably around or under the age of 23.  The more I listened, the more I wondered where the similar coming of age stories for young women were. I mean, late adolescence/early adulthood is a pivotal time for young women as well.  This query gets to the heart of one of my biggest qualms with hip hop. While I am a hardcore hip hop junkie, I often battle with the lack of feminine voice.  You can't tell me that young women don't have coming of age tales that are just as powerful, vivid, and expressive as the lyricists mentioned above.  After all, women were referenced in all of the songs I mentioned.  Think of how cool it would be to hear how young women were interpreting the same events, or better yet, to hear what was happening in their hearts and minds during the time these classics were written. Overall, I feel like women's voices in hip hop are either saturated with sexual innuendo, or women are reduced and objectified in the music.

Now, let me put it out there that I'm no saint. I've danced and sung along to my share of b**ches and ho3s in my day, but as I was telling my husband, as I've gotten older and matured, I just can't dance and sing along in the same way anymore.  I'm one of those people who can filter through the profanity to hear a message or to enjoy lyricism, but even I've come to a point where I draw the line, and misogyny has become my line.

So we had MC Lyte, Salt & Pepa, Queen Latifah and YoYo.  Eve made some noise, but think of how few female hip hop greats get acknowledged.  Think of how few of them are brought up in the greatest MC of all time debate, not because there aren't women with extraordinary lyrical gifts, though.  Women MCs just aren't really acknowledged and held in similar esteem as their male counterparts.

So today, as I enjoy Kendrick Lamar and his music, I'll also bump a little Jean Grae. She's amazing, y'all.
Another favorite of the moment. Yeah it's not new, but it bumps.

I'll also play a little Na'Tee, who always keeps it (extra, extra) grimy, but she's a lyrical MONSTER.  Plus, she's Southern (NOLA), and I'm biased toward Southern rappers who can really rhyme!

Any favorite female MC's you want to share? Feel free to let me know, and I'll give them a listen.

Until next time . . . Ladies first!

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