Urban voices

“Must be your ass ‘causer it ain’t your face, I need a tip drill” that’s a quote of lyrics from a song by rapper Nelly, one of the most despised songs in the history of hip-hop because of the way women are degraded in it, especially in the video. Somewhere in the video he swipes a card on a stripper’s behind. Many ask what kind of women; enjoy being associated with a culture that degrades them this way.

 The answer is simple really, it can be found in a song called Love of my life (my ode to hip hop) by one of hip-hop’s most treasured songstress, Erykah Badu featuring Common. “I met him when I was a little girl he gave, he gave me poetry, he was my first” she goes on to sing “whenever I was lonely or needed some advice, he gave me his shoulder, his words were very nice”. This song explains how many women and men that are into it feel about the hip-hop culture. They found that best friend in the music, the freedom of losing themselves in it. The ability to express themselves in rhyme, dance and all the other elements and sharing a piece of themselves with the world is a blessing.

Let’s take it back to the old school for a bit. There have always been females involved in hip hop even though it’s generally male dominated. From the days of Lady B till now women are still a force to be reckoned with, within the culture. People such as Queen Latifah, Mc lyte, lady of rage and many more were actively involved in growing the culture and inspiring the many female acts that followed. They did not deny their femininity when they started to rap simply because it was male dominated but used that to their advantage to express things that they went through but not allowing themselves to be weak in their music either.

Queen Latifah’s Grammy winning single U.N.I.T.Y is a perfect example of a woman rapping about women issues with pride and showing the amount of power she possesses. Songs like My Story by Jean Grae, talking about abortion empowering others that went through similar struggles. There came a time in the mid 90s where rappers like Lil’ Kim, Foxy brown and Gangsta Boo amongst others were popular, rapping in their tank tops and hot pants. They could rap really well but the trend they set was embedded in people’s minds and was the image that stuck in people’s minds about women in hip hop.

When Lauryn Hill’s first solo album came out it was a breath of fresh air for the culture. She was a multi talented female who did not have to stand on stage half naked for people to pay attention, her talent did it all for her. She inspired generations of women to come out with their music and not compromise their sexuality while they’re at it.

The likes of Godessa, Skye Wanda, Nthabi are for lack of a better descption, our own versions of Lauryn Hill. In a very young industry of hip-hop in South Africa, they rap better than a lot of male acts that are popular the world over. The quality of music they produce is world class and not indulgent. I remember the first time I saw Godessa’s Mindz Ablaze video on TV; I was in awe watching it, bobbing my head to the music. Even though they are really beautiful women, they did not make that the centre of their career. They set the bar very high for many acts to follow and are still a legendary crew South African artists, both male and female look up to long after they disbanded.

The ignorance and disrespect expressed in dirty rap sets women in hip-hop back. Even the women that help perpetuate the image sometimes do not realise it. The video girls that appear wearing next to nothing and allow these men to think it is ok to treat women like cheap commodities. Even KRS-one once said in an interview that hip hop needs more women and the women need to teach the men how to speak to them. When there are still women who encourage being called bitch and hoe, all the disrespect is not going to end.

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