I remember the first time I discovered my love for hip hop. I was sitting in the back seat of my mom’s car, complaining about how my were legs sticking to the seat, when I heard the melodic chorus of “One More Chance (Remix)” by The Notorious B.I.G. It instantly shut me up. The beat moved from the speakers to my ears and from my ears to my soul. Of course, being too young to understand anything Biggie had to say, the rapper’s lyrics flew right over my head. I was focused on the hypnotic trance Faith Evan’s voice left me in. I didn’t know what exactly this music was, but I knew I wanted more. Before I knew it, I was singing all the lyrics to “Magic Stick” by 50 Cent as my mom attempted to explain to me why it wasn’t nice for a girl my age to scream those kind of words out of the window as we drove through my neighborhood.
Middle school came and I went to my first rap show. I was thirteen and Lil Wayne was on tour for his newest drop, Tha Carter III. As I sat in the stands with my step-dad, I rapped along to every “bitch”, “hoe”, and reference to tricking a girl out that was performed for the two hours he was on stage. Never once did it cross my mind that Lil Wayne was indirectly calling me, and every woman I knew, these words.
I’m a self-proclaimed feminist — a die-hard, equality demanding, refusing to take your shit feminist. And I don’t respond well to men saying they “freaks all the honeys”, offering to show me their magic stick, or calling me a hoe. So how can I still enjoy Biggie, 50, Wayne, or any other rapper, and still call myself a feminist?
I ask myself this question and still haven’t come up with a well thought-out, profound enough answer. While hip hop is notoriously known for degrading women, it’s also known for providing us with some of the best stories about love, loss, hope, and empowerment; which is crucial to the uplifting of the Black community. And while my favorite rappers may frequently degrade women (ahem, Kanye West), I take it with a grain of salt. Much like many things in this world, I am more than just one label. And because feminist is one of my many labels, I acknowledge my right to enjoy this music freely and unashamed.
As Black feminist Joan Morgan explains, I live and breathe “hip hop feminism”, finding both pleasure in the genre while producing criticism simultaneously. Although I may not agree with how women are sometimes treated within the hip hop community, I understand that the stories in these songs belong to the rappers who tell them. Eminem’s story, Future’s story, Drake’s story–they are not my own. I understand that, while I may be in a committed relationship with hip hop, like any other relationship, this one will take patience. We will often not see eye to eye on many things. But I understand that, as I am growing, hip hop is growing with me. I will not give up on my first love.
(Illustration by Taylor Roberts)
Kala Slade is a sophomore Political Communications major at Emerson College from Southington, CT.