With Humility and Inclusivity, Women of Hip Hop and Kamala Harris are Breaking that Fourth Wall.

An Observation. 

“This damn barrier,” the sweatsuit, fur coat, face mask-wearing rapper, Leikeli47 told a Banger’s Austin crowd during SXSW. “If only I could just blink and make it disappear,” she said. The barrier was the barricade blocking fans from jumping on stage. The same barrier that seemed not to exist during the rest of her set. Leikeli47 tore down that barrier. She jumped into the crowd two times,  pulled numerous fans on stage to dance with her and even had a conversation with a woman who was standing on a platform in the back. “How is your night going?” Leikeli47 asked the woman who was 30 yards away. The two started having an intimate conversation as if there weren’t a thousand people between them.

Leikeli47 at SXSW 2019
Rico Nasty, SXSW 2019

The following day, Rico Nasty tore down the barrier at Mohawk Austin. Fans climbed onto the stage to dance with Rico including two twins who quickly won her approval. At no moment did Rico Nasty seem worried. Instead, she seemed to embrace everyone. Others jumped on the stage to use it as a launch pad to jump into the crowd. Much like the night prior, so much of the 40-minute set revolved around the fans in the audience.  Leikeli47 and Rico Nasty intuitively absorbed the energy of the crowd. They broke down that barrier that usually exists between a performer and the audience and reflects the crowd energy right back at them.

Rico Nasty, SXSW 2019

Sure, they aren’t the only ones. Many musicians do, but what was different about Leikeli47 and Rico Nasty was the fans who were participating were diverse from different backgrounds, from different parts of the country, and often seen as “outcasts.”

Meanwhile, outside of SXSW and on Twitter I found myself captivated by videos of young women and girls stepping up to a microphone to ask presidential candidate Kamala Harris questions. Senator Harris started having that same conversation that Leikeli47 had with an SXSW-music goer. Yes, that goes with the political campaign game. Other candidates, like Beto O’Rouke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker routinely take questions from potential voters, but with regards to Sen. Harris, many of the questions and statements were less about her and more about how she makes them feel.

For instance, a young girl in Hemingway, South Carolina stood up and asked Sen. Harris, “Is it possible if I try hard enough I can be President?”

https://twitter.com/IanSams/status/1104169583206907904

When Haley Grapevine introduced Sen. Harris in Texas this past weekend, she said, “When I see her, I see hope. As a black girl in America, I can share with you that seeing someone in a position that redefines stereotypes and breaks glass ceilings is powerfully inspiring. For millions of girls like myself, she is black girl magic.”  It might be a wise and brilliant campaign strategy. However, it is real. It was real when Jacob Philadelphia wanted to touch President Obama’s hair to see if his haircut was just like the President’s. It was real when little girls looked at Hillary Clinton and saw that they too, can run for president. When we can see ourselves in a role model or something who is achieving success, that feeling, also, is real.

Hip hop and politics are interconnected and always have been. Perhaps more so than any other genre of music. In 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle called Tupac’s 2Pacalyspe Now a “disgrace to American music.” There is something to observe on how women in hip hop have been connecting with their audiences and why a candidate like Kamala Harris, who listens to hip hop,  is a force to be reckoned with.

HIP HOP INCLUSIVITY

Writing for DJ Booth last year, Yoh Philips wrote, “I only know hip-hop as a massive entity. An inclusive, embracive culture of many doors for easy entry. Before my time there were rules to participation that have vanished—now almost anyone with a functioning microphone can place their art underneath her umbrella. It doesn’t take a king to recognize the problem with having a kingdom open to the public, but the lifestyle becomes second nature when normality is commoners in the throne room and jesters trying on crowns.”

In an interview with The Oracle’s Jesse Stokes, Professor Aisha Durham who teaches ‘hip-hop feminism’ said, “we talk about (hip-hop feminism) not only as a cultural feminist movement but also an intellectual movement and a political movement.” She told The Oracle that there was so much misrepresentation of black women that she “wanted, in some way, to right the wrong.” Durham went on to say that “in order for us to have an analysis, we have to have a history of representations of black women…We have to have a multi-faced approach of talking about black womanhood today.”  Black women, she said black women have been saying these stories for decades but have not been heard.”

For most of its history, hip hop has been dominated by men, even though women have played influential roles. Often the history of hip hop gets, and rightfully so, called out for objectifying and sexualizing women. However, it is the women of hip hop who have helped make it an inclusive, accepting community, where no matter your gender, sexual orientation, race or religion there is a place for you in Hip hop.

The term hip hop feminism was coined by Joan Morgan when she published the book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it Down. It is, according to Wikipedia,  “based on a tradition of black feminism, which emphasizes that the personal is political because our race, class, gender, and sexuality determine how we are treated.”

Serena Rio wrote a Medium post titled, “How Hip Hop Taught Me About Feminist Theory Throughout My Childhood,” in which she talks about her and her mother bonding over TLC‘s hit, “No Scrubs.” The song, as it played on the radio resonated for mother and daughter and led to a personal conversation about being a woman and knowing your worth. TLC was able to break down that barrier and speak to an audience that did not feel they were represented enough on the radio and therefore, did not find themselves in situations where they can have a candid conversation about what it means to be a black woman. Yes, TLC’s “No Scrubs” is an awesome song that not just black woman or women were able to enjoy. However, it was a song that played all over the radio and women were able to identify with what was being said.

Writing for Vice Lindsey Addawoo writes, “being a black female MC today means an introspective look at what it truly means to be both an artist and a black woman in our current sociopolitical climate. It’s getting real raw, gritty, and honest with oneself—a responsibility that our male counterparts aren’t always tasked with.”  It’s that “raw, gritty, and honest” approach that has come out of necessity that has made women in hip hop so formidable. Because of the double standard, women in hip hop have had to endure adversity that makes their music honest and relatable.

WOMEN IN HIP HOP

MC Lyte

“For me, I guess, just learning that just because there’s not a whole lot of female MCs on the front lines being supported by major record labels doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” MC Lyte told Blogarama. “It doesn’t mean they don’t have the drive and the competitive nature and the will and the way.”

MC Lyte who in 1988 was the first solo rapper to release her own, full-length album pushed the limits by refusing to self-censor and to be herself and not some idea of what a women solo rapper was supposed to be.

Likewise, Queen Latifah pushed the boundaries by talking about the issues black women face. Yes, Queen Latifah was seen as pushing the barriers at the time. She was not a man rapping about how she thinks women feel, but she was an intelligent and socially conscious lyricist rapping things like, “Every time 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.” And surprise, surprise there was an audience who was yearning for this voice, for this poet.

Noname

MC Lyte, Queen Latifah like Sha RockMonie Love, Salt-n-Pepa, Bahamadia, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, Erykah Badu, TLC and Lauryn Hill proved that there was an audience yearning to hear women in hip hop speak the truth. They paved the way for Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Noname, Little Simz, Leikeli47, and Rico Nasty to tear down that fourth wall, speak to an audience who often feel they are not listened to and aren’t represented.

2020

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris launches her campaign for President of the United States at a rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in her hometown of Oakland, California, U.S., January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

It is not a coincidence that Kamala Harris played tribute to Shirley Chisholm as she launched her presidential campaign. Sen. Harris knows her history, knows that metaphorical baton she is being passed, much like today’s female hip hop artists know and honor the women who paved the way for them.

Over the weekend The Texas Tribune’s Emma Platoff wrote — Ron Clark said he brought his 7-year-old daughter Madison to Harris’ event “for obvious reasons”: He wanted her to see “someone who looks like her” poised to fight for the country’s top job. She smiled from atop his shoulders, pink sneakers dangling and several teeth missing from the top row.

https://twitter.com/BellamysMarina/status/1108853040889520128

At a South Carolina rally, as reported by CNN  a voter who believes that her father “was most likely in the KKK,” asked Senator Harris “I’m wondering what you can do…to heal the racial divides that Donald Trump has emboldened and what we as white people who don’t believe in that don’t support that — what can we do to help offset the obvious flashpoints of racial divide in this country?”

“For too long, franking in our country, for too long we have not had these honest discussions about race. We’ve just not. You can look at textbooks in public schools that have erased so much of the history, the awful, shameful history on race in this country…we have to speak truth to what happened. And we have to do it understanding — and to the point of the spirit of you rising it, and the way you did — it is in our collective best interest to speak these truths, to acknowledge what happened, to acknowledge then the vestiges of it that remain because they do. To get to a place where we can heal and we can be better. And I believe that is going to have to be about leadership — that one is to your point — not stoking the racism, the anti-Semitism, the white supremacy that we have been seeing because that is happening,” Senator Harris replied.

Black women and women of color are underrepresented in U.S. politics. According to Brookings, they represent 2% of candidates; however, are 6.5% of the voting population. For comparison, white men represent 65% of candidates but only 36.7% of the voting population. Despite the underrepresentation, black women continue to be one of the most, if not the most reliable voters for Democratic candidates. They ensured Doug Jones became Senator in Alabama in 2017. They made the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia competitive. Black women helped elect 19 African American women to the bench of Harris County Texas. Black women were the most influential voting block during the 2018 midterm election.

That same study also highlighted that despite their underrepresentation, “black women are viable in districts in which blacks are not the majority. Although a third of all black congresswomen and female state legislators were elected in minority-black districts, recent and past successes suggest black women are creating more and different routes to elected office.”

Along with being underrepresented black women are often underestimated. They were underestimated in Alabama, in Georgia, in Texas. And they are often underestimated in music. Over the weekend Angela Rye said on CNN, “the best thing that could have to happen for Kamala Harris’ campaign is to underestimate her.”

This week Sen. Harris unveiled her proposal to hike teacher’s pay on average of $13,500. As part of her rollout of the plan, she said that black students and schools would benefit. According to the Center for American Progress, black teachers earn $2,700 less than white teachers.  Black students, like the growing population of ethnic minorities in the United States, have fewer teachers who look like them. According to the Grio, some studies show “black students also perform better when they have at least one black teacher and are more likely to enroll in college if they have a black teacher by third grade.”

We are all searching for those who are speaking the truth, and connecting with audiences by understanding and looking like the audience. To do that you much break down barriers, provide a hand to be lifted onto a stage so your voices, our collective voices can be heard. We all want to feel represented.

There are links and something to pay attention to between how Kamala Harris connects with her audiences and the how women of hip hop have been connecting with their fans.