Bad Bitch Alert: female MCs challenging hip hop’s male reign
Lizzo, Junglepussy, Leikeli47: we take a look at up-and-coming female MCs who are taking Queen Latifah’s lead and running with it
From its beginnings in New York in the early to mid-70s, the many contributions of women to hip hop culture has been significant to its very evolution as a genre. But despite playing a vital role in the movement’s status as arguably one of the most important cultural forces of the past century, the relationship between women and hip hop hasn’t always been easy.
The ‘Bad Bitch’ phenomenon can be traced back to the early days of rap. As misogyny and sexism began to creep into the central tenets of the culture, it became increasingly necessary for women from MC Lyte to Roxanne Shanté to voice their anger and affirm their defiance against such attitudes. Queen Latifah placed emphasis on issues that affected women specifically offering a counterbalance to the misogynistic nature of the hip hop scene. By voicing issues relating to female well-being, Latifah educated those informed solely by gendered hierarchies and furthermore, defied the stereotype of the female rapper that is incapable of rhyming competently.
Latifah’s focus on gender disparity and female empowerment has not only earned her success but has given her the opportunity to pave the way for other female MCs within the genre. And certainly, there are many up-and-coming female rappers that are currently attempting to take female empowerment to a whole new level, breaking down the walls of misogyny in new and often contradictory ways to Latifah.
Lizzo, for example, is a highly unique and spirited rapper that manages to express her thoughts on gender and identity without giving into stereotypes of what a female rapper should be. Although her debut album LizzoBangers came out back in 2013, her recent run as the opening act for Sleater-Kinney’s reunion tour has opened her up to a whole new body of fans, allowing her to inspire yet more people. There’s also Leikeli47, who dons a mask in order to take emphasis away from her looks and transfer it onto her performance. Her anonymity is refreshing, enabling her to confront the focus that the music industry in general places on the visual.
Junglepussy, whose album Satisfaction Guaranteed came out last year, has the type of confidence that makes her a force to be reckoned with. As well as being very vocal about Black cultural politics, she completely owns her sexuality, accentuating the ideas of empowerment that she raps about. Chynna, often called the ‘first lady’ of A$AP Mob, may be young but her sound tells a different story with its brash and energetic honesty. With a new album imminent, it’s only a matter of time before people see her as more than just the first lady of a male collective. Swedish rapper Silvana Imam is doing all she can to start a revolution. Having received attention for her fierce and persistent lyrics which denounce racism, sexism and homophobia amongst other topics, Imam’s songs explore her position as a white lesbian-rapper in a patriarchal and unequal society.
There’s a distinct increase in the ‘Bad Bitch’ mentality, something the aforementioned rappers arguably share and a phrase which in itself has a complex history in the context of Black culture. On the one hand, the word ‘Bitch’ can be seen as a modern rendering of the Sapphire or Jezebel stereotype so prominent in African American history. Latifah herself criticised the word in ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’: ‘Instinct leads me to another flow / Everytime I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho / Trying to make a sister feel low / You know all of that gots to go’. But on the other hand, the word has transformed from being a tool to both dehumanise and demonise Black women to a form of empowerment and even respect, particularly within hip hop culture. Prominent social theorist Patricia Hill Collins in her book Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism aptly argues that ‘Just as young Black men within hip hop culture have reclaimed the term nigger and used it for different ends, the term bitch and the image of Black women that it carries signals a similar contestation process.’
The idea of the ‘Bad Bitch’ has been adopted by rappers of all backgrounds and cultures for the purposes of defiance against misogyny. It’s not about giving into the stereotype of the ‘Bitch’ but taking it and shoving it back in the faces of those who attempt to subjugate and criticise women. It’s about embracing female sexuality, freedom and independence. Female rappers are constantly proving that the acceptance of rap as a heterosexual-male dominated genre is something that needs to be confronted and dismantled for good.