Women, Rap, and Hip-Hop

The Challenge of Image

Authored by: Gail Hilson Woldu

The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415509527
eBook ISBN: 9780203124888
Adobe ISBN: 9781136447297

10.4324/9780203124888.ch13

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Abstract

Queen Latifah, rap's first diva, has long understood her anomalous presence in the world of hip-hop culture. Over the course of her ascension, Latifah battled stereotypes about women's place in the male-dominated genre as she sought to create a space for women that at once acknowledged their femaleness and observed the conventions of hip-hop performance. Her earliest performances, which date from the early 1990s, show a woman solidly secure in her domain, commanding the stage with the aggression ascribed to male MGs while introducing an unmistakably womanly presence. Missy Elliott, known for her humorous raps, which often poke fun at herself and at hip-hop's practices, ushered in a distinctly female interpretation of urban attire. Wearing the oversize pants, jackets, and baseball caps that were hip-hop's staples in the early 2000s, Elliott added a new twist: athletic gear in soft colors, often shades of pink and light blue, accompanied by fluffy or feathery accessories. Lil' Kim, rap's leopard-print-thong-wearing, self-proclaimed queen bitch, proved that women could be as vulgar and profane as men. And Nicki Minaj, hip-hop's human blow-up doll in yellow lipstick and pink wigs, forces us to reconsider the challenges of image in popular culture. Each woman pushed limits. Their presence alone constituted de facto protest as it confronted the status quo, broke barriers, and addressed concerns of an underrepresented group. Moreover, the women's infiltration into the male domain of hip-hop required us to understand more fully the multiple manifestations of protest music in popular culture.

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