Growing up my grandmother didn’t have cable…not because she chose not to. She simply lived so deep in the country that cable companies didn’t service her area. In order to entertain themselves at her house, my mom and aunt would record hours of videos from BET, MTV and VH1 to replay at her home, where the majority of my early childhood was spent. These dubbed VCR tapes are how I fell in love with music. My older cousin, younger sister and I would re-enact the videos, singing and dancing with all the awkwardness of elementary school kids (We were no Blue Ivy). One of my most vivid memories was re-enacting Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.” I was Salt, my cousin was Pepa, and my sister was Spinderella, banging on the coffee table as if it were her turntables.
“Push It” was the first rap song I remember hearing. I instantly loved it and became a Salt-N-Pepa fan. As I got older, I not only recognized Salt-N-Pepa as seminal hip hop artists, but they became integral to helping me express what womanhood meant to me. As I began developing my understanding of self, the woman I wanted to be, and what womanhood should mean in society, Salt-N-Pepa’s lyrics helped me learn to verbalize the concepts of sexual liberation, autonomy, and women’s ability to be sexual without losing their dignity. Their lyrics were a rebellious voice that challenged the sexism, respectability politics, and the confining and conservative interpretation of womanhood that was present in the church and culture around me. “Push It.” “Tramp.” “Shake Your Thang.” “Spinderella’s Not a Fella (But a Girl DJ).” “Expression.” “You Showed Me.” “Do You Want Me.” “Let’s Talk About Sex.” “Independent.” “Whatta Man.” “None of Your Business.” “Shoop.” “I’ve Got AIDS.” Their lyrics gave voice to my politics –– a more progressive womanhood that made room for others. That’s why Jermaine Dupri’s attempt to shame and silence “strippers rapping” last week was not only disgusting but dangerous.
While Salt-N-Pepa was my introduction to rap, I didn’t experience a shortage of female rappers growing up in the 80s and 90s. MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, J.J. Fade, Lady of Rage, Da Brat, Left Eye, Lil Kim, Trina, Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, and Mia X. Mainstream female rappers were the norm during this time, so it was easy to get diversity in content, voices and perspective. But something changed…and in the 2010’s mainstream female rap became synonymous with one name: Nicki Minaj.
Over the last two years, things have began changing again. Cardi B emerged, dominated the charts and soon entered City Girls, Megan Thee Stallion, et al. And they didn’t just show up. They are taking up space in the rap conversation in a way that I have not seen female rappers do before. And while the nosiest lyrics center sexuality and a woman’s autonomy and ownership of her body and sexuality, not all of it does (e.g. Cardi B’s “I Like It,” “Be Careful” and “Best Life.”). Likewise, there are number of female rappers whose lyrics don’t focus on sexuality at all (Noname, Rapsody, Kamaiyah and Chika). Long story short, there’s a lot of female rappers giving us great music on a lot of different topics today. So it is pathetic, uncritical and misogynistic for a notable, male record executive to reduce the conversation of the female emcee to “strippers rapping.”
Jermaine’s take ignores the monotony that often comes across from mainstream male rappers (when has “drug dealers rapping,” “pimps rapping” or “ballers rapping” ever disqualified a male artist from a “real” conversation about their artistry?). It demeans sex workers and dismisses their stories as unworthy of sharing. And it discredits the work of female rappers who made names for themselves without a male co-sign and/or crew like most 90s female rappers had (e.g. Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Da Brat, Mia X, Trina, Eve, et al).
Jermaine’s comments were misogynistic and grounded in the fact that women who loudly and unapologetically own their sexuality make a lot of people –– a lot of men –– uncomfortable. Jermaine’s comments are full of the uneasiness of having one’s culture and social order challenged. Salt-N-Pepa gave me a frame to discuss the social structures that confine and box women in. Cardi, City Girls, Megan Thee Stallion, and other “strippers rapping” are doing that for others. They’re challenging inequities in gender social order. And when those in power are challenged, they attack and attempt to silence and/or discredit those who are speaking…and in hip hop culture –– in Black culture –– the easiest way to discredit a woman’s voice is to declare her a sexual deviant, unworthy of voice in the public square…which is exactly what Jermaine did when declared a class of female rappers “strippers rapping.”