Home / HIP HOP (Feminism) 101: Class is Now in Session

HIP HOP (Feminism) 101: Class is Now in Session

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Hip Hop is a culture, born on the East Coast of the United States circa 1968; with roots in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and Africa that date back before known history. Rap music, the “pop” music form of Hip Hop music, began commercially in 1979 when Sylvia Robinson of SugarHill Records put together a slap-dash group of rappers to make the group The Sugarhill Gang. They recorded a track called “Rappers Delight,” biting rhymes from original pioneer MCs like Grandmaster Caz and other foundational MCs. Thus, commercial Rap music was born.

But there’s much more to it than that. Hip Hop culture manifests in myriad forms and activities – primarily Breakdancing, Graffiti Art, DJing/Turntablism and MCing/Rhyming – as well as Beatboxing and Afrika Bambaataa of the Universal Zulu Nation’s “fifth element” of Hip Hop, Knowledge.

For an amazing blog experience with a bevy of much-needed historical information on Hip Hop culture, please check out Jeff Chang’s blog.

So to speak on Knowledge, one of the questions I’m often asked on panels and discussions is this – Is Hip Hop a Black culture, is it a Black art form? There are a lot of underlying issues within the roots and foundation of Hip Hop culture and music. Hip Hop and it’s art forms were born in the slums, birthed from the youth and the have-nots who needed and wanted to represent themselves in an original, fresh way.

And while African-American men comprise the majority of the pioneers of Hip Hop, it must be stated that MANY women were also pioneers including Lisa Lee, Pebblee Poo, Lady B (Philadelphia), The Mercedes Ladies, Shaka Zulu Queens, Sparky D, Tonya Winley & Sweet Tee, Lady Pink, Eva 62, Barbara 62, DJ Wanda Dee, DJ Jazzy Joyce, B-Girl Baby Love, B-Girl Headspin Janet, B-Girl Sista Boo, and many others. And while Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Bajans, Jamaicans, and many other Caribbean born émigrés were part of the first wave of Hip Hop culture, and they do retain much of their own cultural identities from their native lands, each of these groups has their roots in the African diaspora. On the other hand, this culture is an American culture, the daughter of Jazz – and save its mother, the only American cultural form of music that has spread around the globe and affected every nation on this planet.

There are a couple of incredible sites based on Hip Hop research and archiving Hip Hop history & information. I highly recommend taking some time to peruse these sites.

There are many books on the art forms, and one of the best is New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, by Raquel Rivera. I recommend that those new to the culture or just beginning to study Hip Hop literature read New York Ricans first, because it is one of the few books that directly speaks to the pioneers of Hip Hop who didn’t identify as “Black” but as Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Dominicans with their roots in Africa.

Another important book to start with is Vibe’s Hip Hop Divas, paying particular attention to two of the articles by Hip Hop “herstorian” Cristina “Dulce” Veran. Her pieces on the wax/discography of Women in Hip Hop, as well as her Women in Hip Hop timeline; are fundamental reading for anyone wishing to getting an education and moving on to Hip Hop 202.

New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone by Raquel Rivera

Vibe’s Hip Hop Divas

Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere by Gwendolyn D. Pough

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist by Joan Morgan

And it Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip Hop Journalism of the Last 24 Years edited by Raquel Cepeda

Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership, and Hip Hop Culture by Yvonne Bynoe

Rap Music And Street Consciousness (Music in American Life) by Cheryl Keyes

Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman by Queen Latifah

The Political Action Handbook: A How-To Guide for the Hip Hop Generation by Maya Rockeymoore

Word: Rap, Politics and Feminism by Adrienne Anderson

Painting Without Permission: Hip-Hop Graffiti Subculture by Janice Rahn

Droppin’ Science: Straight-Up Talk from Hip Hop’s Greatest Voices by Denise McIver

Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Music/Culture) by Tricia Rose

I recommend all of these books because they are written by women and people of various races/nationalities. It’s important to saturate your mind with images and historical representations of the whole picture – and to avoid reading/studying materials prepared by and for (but not about) white men attempting to tell the greatest stories never told. It’s fine to read their books as well, just as it’s fine to listen to Eminem – but only after you’ve studies the greats and listened to the originators. I’ll be back with another lesson focused on the music, but for now, delve into some of these texts to learn more about Hip Hop, the richest culture every born in the United States.

One Love,
Miranda Jane

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  • Buttaz

    WOW! I knew you had a lot of 1, but this is incredible. I’m going to visit the library and check for these titles. Hopefully they got some of ’em. Keep it up Queen!

  • sydney

    I dig the feminist angle, and don’t dispute its relevance.

    However, isn’t it ironic and sad that hi-hop seems to harbor so much misogyny. Perhaps feminists who study hip-hop should turn their eye to the hateful lyrics that dominate the art-form.

    When will positive tip rappers break the mainstream?

  • Peace. This is Miranda, the author. There’s actually a movement in motion RIGHT NOW that I’m a big part of. Search for articles on Moya Bailey, Spelman College Feminists vs. Nelly, Essence Magazine’s Take Back the Music, Feminism in Hip Hop Conference (University of Chicago), B-Girl Be Summit/Intermedia Arts, and Rosa Clemente/Kuttin Kandi/Asian-American Activists vs. Hot97. The new movement of feminism is Hip Hop Feminism, and we are activists and revolutionaries who WILL make a change in the way Hip Hop culture has been commodified and misrepresented in the form of commercial rap music.

    Also much more info on my blog, http://www.pyramids2projects.blogspot.com.

    One Love,

  • sydney

    Well good luck to you. I was just commenting on another blog arguing that free market economy doesnt always have poistive ramifications.

    I think the free markets effect on hip-hop is a good example. SEx and mysogyny sell, and the free market has exploited this. There isn’t a means of using pure art to combat the cheap variety of hip hop that dominates in the current system for distributing art.

    Currently the industry sells sex, and shock, and it does so in the medium of rap music.

  • great post Miranda. Good to see you as a BC!

  • Dnae Beats stopped thru…
    stay up!!

  • Miranda,

    I’m sticking my two Drachma here to let you know I posted your review of this to the Advance.net Web sites.

    The review can be found at a few different places on the Advance network around the country, but here’s one of them.

    Check the links to see where it gets around

    Thank you
    Temple Stark

  • Peace Queen, I agree that women have been important to hip hop since it’s inception and should be valued, but what is the definition of Hip Hop feminism, I think that our women should be uplifted in a way that differs from the “independent woman movement” that was set off by those white bored housewives back in the day. I also firmly believe that men and women have to work together for the sake of the community and the children.

    lyfestile/F5records.com/Altered St8s/Plan-B

  • Dear Miranda,

    I thought you and your readers would be excited to know about the following initiative from hip hop feminists JLove, E-Fierce, Marcella Runell Hall and myself.

    Peace and progress,
    Sofia aka Black Artemis
    Hip Hop Novelist & Activist


    Conscious Women Rock the Page: Activists Team Up to Publish Curriculum that Uses Hip Hop Fiction to Explore Social Issues and Promote Political Action

    WHAT: To support educators who wish to use hip hop fiction in their classrooms to explore social issues and promote activism among their students, four women have teamed up to publish a curriculum entitled Conscious Women Rock the Page: Using Hip Hop Fiction to Incite Social Change (C♀RP.)

    C♀RP is based on three hip hop novels praised for their treatment of substantive issues from race relations to dating violence in a genre often criticized for glorifying street life and perpetuating stereotypes. The curriculum contains over thirty lessons which are appropriate for use in middle school classrooms through university campuses. The novels upon which C♀RP is based are:

    That White Girl, the debut novel of JLove, inspired by her own coming-of-age as a young White woman in Denver in the 80s which included becoming a graffiti artist and joining the local Crips.

    The Sista Hood: On the Mic by E-Fierce is the first in a four-part series about four girls of color at a San Francisco high school who bond across their differences in race, class and sexual orientation through hip hop.

    Picture Me Rollin’, the second of three novels by Black Artemis, brings a feminist twist to the “felon-come-home” tale as it follows a young Latina who is obsessed with Tupac Shakur in her uphill battle to rebuild her life.

    C♀RP contains lessons on multiple subjects and disciplines including English, social studies, ethnic studies, race relations, women’s studies, criminal justice and health and sexuality to name just a few.

    WHO: C♀RP is a collaboration among four women known in socially conscious hip hop circles: Jennifer “JLOVE” Calderón, author of That White Girl; Elisha “E-Fierce” Miranda, author of The Sista Hood; Sofía “Black Artemis” Quintero, author of Picture Me Rollin’; and Marcella Runell Hall, co-editor of The Hip Hop Education Guidebook. They have also enlisted a diverse team of activist educators to design lessons. The activities in C♀RP spark discussions on issues such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation and more.

    WHEN: Conscious Women Rock the Page will be available in late March 2008.

    WHERE: The creators Black Artemis, E-Fierce, JLove and Marcella will release the curriculum and demonstrate a sample lesson at the annual Women, Action and the Media Conference in Cambridge, MA, March 28-30, 2008.

    WHY: Committed educators are always searching for ways to strike the balance between meeting students where they are yet bringing them to a higher level academically, socially and even emotionally. As a result, many are incorporating hip hop in their lessons from using rap songs to teach metaphors and similes to looking at the recording industry to impart lessons in economics.

    Street lit – often called “hip hop fiction” – is immensely popular and credited for getting reluctant students to read. However, conscientious educators hesitate to use it as it frequently glorifies street life and perpetuates negative stereotypes. Whether they are middle and high school teachers, after-school program facilitators, community activists at grassroots organizations or college professors, C♀RP is a curriculum for educators who want to introduce popular media in their learning environments to engage their students on meaningful social and political issues, facilitate their empowerment, and inspire them to take action.

    That White Girl, The Sista Hood and Picture Me Rollin’ each possess a commercial sensibility that will appeal to students of all backgrounds yet also raises substantive issues in a non-didactic manner. That makes these novels ideal for classroom use. C♀RP shows educators exactly how.

  • Truly nice, Thanks for posting