If you haven’t noticed by now, this year has been a huge moment for the culture. It’s the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop and I have seen so many different events and commemorations taking place. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture hosted a Hip-Hop Block Party in August. In October, One Music Fest in Atlanta is having a special stage featuring artists spanning generations in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary as well. The Book of Hov exhibit debuted at the Brooklyn Public Library, honoring Jay-Z as one of the most iconic rappers and documenting his rise to fame and influence. Even the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) got involved! In New York, commemorative MetroCards featuring portraits of New York hip hop icons – LL Cool J, Cam’ron, Pop Smoke and Rakim – were made available for purchase as part of a collaboration with Universal Music Enterprises and Hip Hop At 50 – Honoring 50 Years of Hip Hop: A Legacy of Rhythm, Revolution, and Soul. As a Brooklyn native, I could not wait to go home to visit the Jay-Z exhibit, and get a Pop Smoke metrocard. Hip hop has become so entwined within Black culture. It’s how artists express themselves, it’s what we listen to during many moments in our lives, how we represent where we’re from, and there’s no denying the impact it has had on our fashion as well. But in all of this celebration of Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary, there’s a lot of focus on the male icons, and not so much for the women of Hip Hop. At Therapy for Black Girls, we like to call the ninth month of the year Sex Positive September. So, what better way to highlight sex positivity and celebrate hip hop than to discuss the Sexuality of Black Women in Hip Hop?
When I began this article, my plan was to look at how Black women have been sexualized in hip-hop, how Black women have reclaimed their sexuality, and the mental health impact that has on us as a whole. But as I started this article, I was reminded of the Netflix mini series, Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip Hop. I would be remiss if I didn’t watch the series before finishing the article. In just the first episode alone, I was reminded of how much women have influenced hip hop, with and without their sex appeal. From the beginning of hip-hop, women were there building the foundation. Not as video vixens, but as MCs, managers, producers, and more. They used hip hop as a safe space to process the daily stressors and pain they were experiencing in their own environment, growing up during the crack epidemic, apartheid and gang violence. MC Sha Rock is considered the first female rapper of hip hop, Roxanne Shante broke rap battle barriers at just 14 years old despite her adult male counterparts sexualizing her, and MC Lyte was the first woman to have a solo hip hop album. Once they set the standard, they paved the way for artists like Queen Latifah, Salt & Peppa, Yoyo, and more to carry the torch in the 80s.
While male hip hop artists have always sexualized Black women and incorporated misogyny in their lyrics and videos, the 90s and early 2000s was the beginning of women starting to take that narrative back and reframe it on their own terms. Artists like Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and Trina to name a few, came out with explicit and sexual lyrics, showing off their body with confidence and reaping the benefits of their sex appeal. While they became well known and rose to the top, they received plenty of backlash and criticisms of being too vulgar, too raunchy, too sexy, etc. It wasn’t common for women to discuss their sexual experiences or even admit to being sexual beings in general. They represent a moment in history when women began to take back their agency and own that they enjoy sex and pleasure just as much as men do. Male rappers had been discussing their sexual escapades for years at that point, but when women began to do the same, the double standards of patriarchy and sexism were loud and clear.
While Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina may have been the catalysts, artists like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Latto, and plenty of others still carry the torch. They continue to embrace their sexuality in their videos and lyrics, making space for other young women to do the same. There’s often this shame that Black women receive when they are vocal about loving their bodies and being sexual beings. We often receive messages as young women about not being “too fast” or not allowing our bodies to be exploited. On one hand it’s a common phrase in our culture that sex sells, but on the other hand women are seen as irresponsible when they actually tap into their sex appeal and use it to their advantage. It seems to me that it’s fine when men profit off of our sexuality, but when we do, that’s not ok.
The Mic Drop
I have heard plenty of people who believe women artists who make explicit songs and videos are having a negative impact on the children growing up in this current generation. When Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion created WAP, they were being discussed on media outlets for weeks. Chastised and judged by the masses. But as a therapist, I offer another alternative: that these women can be powerful examples of confidence and self love. To be clear, these examples of women rappers embracing their sexuality doesn’t suggest that everyone has to do it in the same way. Not to mention, there are plenty of other women rappers in the game right now who embrace their bodies and shift the narrative in their own way. This can be an exciting time for women as they reclaim what they have often been made to feel guilty for. There are plenty of mental health benefits that occur when one embraces their sexuality. It reduces shame, which leads to reducing stigmas, guilt, and bottling up emotions and experiences. It can promote a positive body image, which encourages self confidence, positive self talk, and affirming others bodies as well. Last but not least, it allows for women to have agency of self. Being sex positive doesn’t mean you have to be loud and proud about having sex. It means embracing your sexuality – in whatever way you choose to express it – and being confident in yourself and how you show up. It also means allowing yourself to control the narrative of your body instead of allowing others to create the narrative of what you “should” do or be for you. As stated in Ladies First, female rappers represent possibilities for Black womanhood and put forth new narratives about who Black women can be.
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