Hiphop would not exist without the support and participation of women – the same women it will objectify, oversexualize, and push into the background. We can begin exploring hiphop feminism and the tension of being a woman in hiphop by asking a few questions: What does it mean to be a female emcee and share your story through rhyme? Who are some of the most influential female rappers in the game? Looking forward, how can we engage with Hiphop feminism and implement its tenets within a genre of music that sometimes seems anti-feminist?
Here are nine groundbreaking films and documentaries to watch that tackle these questions and more:
1. B-Girl Be: A Celebration of Women in Hip Hop (2005)
"Created by the organization Intermedia Arts, B-Girl Be was a multimedia festival that showcased and celebrated the contributions of women to Hiphop. Encompassing MCing, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti, B-Girl Be influenced thousands of artists and audience members since its inception in 2005, challenging and changing the perceptions and roles of women in this revolutionary art form. This was the first international exhibition that was held for three days by 37 artists spanning from South Minneapolis to South Africa. The multimedia convention celebrated the accomplishments of women in Hiphop and included workshops, performances, readings and panel discussions that focused on the four elements of Hiphop... emceeing, deejaying, break dancing and graffiti. The B-Girl Be Summit was the event to make connections, build confidence, sharpen skills, and gain access to the tools to create music, poetry, film, rap, aerosol art, and dance. This event came at a crucial time in Hip-Hop, where images of women are often stereotypical and one-sided. B-Girl Be's mission is to dispel these myths."
2. First Feminism and Hip Hop Conference (2005)
In 2005, the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago hosted the first national conference on Hiphop and feminism. The conference brought together experts and scholars from all over the country to discuss the impact Hiphop’s casual imagery and culture has had on the normalization of violence against women. However, the conference also served as a forum for empowering thoughts and approaches to feminism. Dialogue and debate over arguments by commentators and casual observers covered questions such as whether or not the imagery and lyrics of popular rap music and videos normalizes or even promotes the degradation of women, especially Black women. And while such opinions are expressed readily in newspapers, magazines and general conversation, there has existed little opportunity for extended discussion, research and debate to seriously explore such claims, until this conference.
Organizer: Cathy Cohen [University of Chicago]
3. Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes
Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes provides a riveting examination of manhood, sexism, and homophobia in Hiphop culture. Director Byron Hurt, former star college quarterback, longtime Hiphop fan, and gender violence prevention educator, conceived the documentary as a "loving critique" of a number of disturbing trends in the world of rap music. He pays tribute to hip-hop while challenging the rap music industry to take responsibility for glamorizing destructive, deeply conservative stereotypes of manhood – that have lasting impacts on men and women as well. The documentary features revealing interviews about masculinity and sexism with rappers such as Mos Def, Fat Joe, Chuck D, Jadakiss, and Busta Rhymes, Hiphop mogul Russell Simmons, and cultural commentators such as Michael Eric Dyson and Beverly Guy-Shetfall. Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes offers an unflinching look at Hiphop’s attitude towards women, and ways in which we all actively take part in these actions.
Director: Byron Hurt
Executive Producer: Stanley Nelson
Co Producer: Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
4. MC Lyte: Lyte Years (1991)
An inside look into the game-changing lyrics, videos, and opinions of MC Lyte - the undisputed First Lady of Rap. This is an up close and personal program filled with interviews, rare early footage, public service announcements, and behind the scenes clips, as well as music videos from her album, Act Like You Know.
Released By: A* Vision Entertainment
5. Miss MC: Women in Rap (1999)
"It all started with Roxanne Shonte then progressed to Salt-N-Pepa. Now with ladies such as Lady-Luck, Rah Digga, and the very sexy Charlie Baltimore, women are making a huge financial dent into the $500,000,000 male dominated rap industry. This video features some of today's hottest female rappers ever to hit the stage for the Year 2000. Who will be the first female rapper to go platinum? Check out this video and you be the judge."
6. My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip Hop (2010)
DuVernay offers a linear examination of the evolution of women in hip-hop. In the early 70's and 80's, the genre was fresh and still belonged to streets. Women had a presence and were empowered as b-girls and organizational roles. Then there was a corporatization of the genre in the 90's that birthed the hypersexualized MCs of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Both of them join Missy Elliot, Eve, MC Lyte, Trina, Salt-N-Pepa, and other femcees to speak their mind and tell their stories of what it’s like to be a woman in a modern music industry that seems to celebrate and reward the toxic and violent lyrics about women.
Director: Ava Du Vernay
Producer: Tilane Jones
Associate Producer: Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
7. Nobody Knows My Name (1999)
Nobody Knows My Name tells the story of four women and artists. Asia One, DJ Symphony, Leaschea, Medusa, and T-Love all come together to tell their story and offer a small look into a day in the life of someone who is completely dedicated to Hiphop. All of these women are talented in their modes of self-expression, a characteristic strongly valued in Hiphop culture, and yet all must strain to be heard in their male-dominated structures. Ramist’s documentary allows them a platform to share their stories with the world. Ramist explores and brings to light the fascinating feminist community trying to find its place as a subculture, within a subculture that is already marginalized to an extent.
Director & Executive Producer: Rachel Ramist
8. Say My Name (2010)
The unstoppable female lyricists of Say My Name speak candidly about class, race, and gender in pursuing their passions as women in Hiphop. From Hiphop’s birthplace in the Bronx to grime on London’s Eastside, emerging artists like Chocolate Thai, Invincible, Jean Grae and Miz Korona, to world renowned pioneers like MC Lyte, Erykah Badu, Estelle, and Monie Love, these are women turning adversity into art.
Director: Nirit Peled
Producers: Dave Hemmingway, Nirit Peled
Production Company: Mamamess
9. Sisters in the Name of Rap (1992)
At its worst, rap can encompass moronic, ”yo, baby”-style sexist rants that see women as little more than whores or gold diggers. But the distaff side has slowly been gaining ground, as this new video demonstrates: Hosted by the Dee Barnes of Fox TV’s Pump It Up, Sisters in the Name of Rap presents no gangstas, no Uzi-toting militia, no scantily clad sex kittens. The acts range from established artists like Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte to newcomers like Tam Tam. A 75-minute extravaganza of live performances taped at the Ritz in New York, this revue preaches self-reliance and demanding respect from guys.
Director: Chris Balton
Executive Producers: John Scher, Jeff Rowland, Tim Snow
Producer: Mark Spellen