Only if you were under a rock could you have missed all the recent debates regarding Hip Hop and misogyny. But one voice is mysteriously missing in all of this. Who? We'll give you a hint. Women. More specifically Hip-Hop women--from execs, media, and artists to video vixens and fans.
"It's typical for the media to exclude women from these critical discussions on Hip Hop," says Dr. Joycelyn Wilson (http://www.drjoycesaid.blogspot.com/), Assistant Professor of Education LaGrange College, Hip-Hop culture expert. "I'm not sure if it's because they don't take the time to find women who can speak about these sensitive issues or if they only look for women who fit a particular profile. In Oprah's case, I can only speculate why the show was put together in the way that it was. That is, Essence (editor in chief) in the crowd, Gayle (King) on deck at Spelman, conservative critic Stanley Crouch in the audience, and four men on stage, including noted male rap artist (Common). They skated over so many issues, the main one being the agency women have in all of this...One of the key issues...is the lack of representation at the table of discourse. I mean, I don't wanna hear saditty Spelman chicks speak for women like Whyte Chocolate or Gloria Velez or Superhead. I want to hear it from them."
"The media already has their notions on how they view Blacks so they feel if they exclude [Black women] and their opinions there won't be any further verbal altercations or situations. In other words they want to leave us out because they think we will get something started even bigger because that is how we are viewed majority of the time in White America," say Zamada and Poyzen from the female rap group NINE aka P By tha Pound.
For social entrepreneur/writer/activist April R. Silver it's even bigger than just Black women. "The exclusion is what sexism looks like on an ordinary day," she points out. "And thereby makes the whole discussion ironic and not really empowering but rather re-affirming the exclusivity."
According to Dee Dee Cocheta-Williams, who represents Hip-Hop acts and video directors as president of A.B.C. Associates Entertainment Firm, it's nothing new for women to be left out of Hip-Hop discussions--but the exclusion still is unacceptable in this multi-media age particularly when they are the ones often driving sales for the male artists from their physical image in videos, the lower management label employees who are the backbone of ensuring the administration behind the artist from airline coordination to publicity. "I can clearly say that this has always been on going perhaps because Hip Hop has been viewed as male dominated and women are not the first to be considered or 'top of mind' when speaking on behalf of the culture," she notes. "It is blatantly a disrespect that there were no women of Hip Hop represented on Oprah's show regardless of who books the guests. Anyone can search the Internet and put in 'Hip-Hop Ambassador' and Toni Blackman's name comes up. You can enter 'Hip-Hop Activist' and the first female seen will be Rosa Clemente...and enter 'Hip Hop Mama' and there you will find me--Dee Dee Cocheta."
"It is blatantly a disrespect that there were no women of Hip Hop represented on Oprah." --Cocheta-Williams
Those within Hip Hop understand the art and the culture and respect it as a mirror of the world at large. "Rap is a reflection of society. The rap industry, or should I say the corporate media industry that distributes rap music, is at fault," offers Dr. Wilson, who penned in the chapter "Tip Drills, Strip Clubs, and Representation in the Media" in the new Hip-Hop feminism anthology Home Girls Make Some Noise. "I draw this distinction because rap, the technique, is and has always been a linguistic tool to express opinions about our social experience and worldview."
Cocheta-Williams, who is also the mother of seven, agrees: "Of course rap music is reflective of the society lived in. If I was raised around nothing but pimps and hos, then that's what I will talk on....For those rappers who grow and their lifestyle changes, you tend to hear that reflected in their lyrics. Ludacris is a great example, now that his daughter is relevant in his life--he goes from 'What's Your Fantasy' to 'Runaway Love.'" From the artist's point of view, Zamada and Poyzen say lyrics are inspired by life: "Rap is reflective of one's self first and foremost, it's also reflective on society and ones environment just like any other genre of music. Rap is at fault in no way shape or form because the words someone else chooses to say has nothing to do with another person acting upon mere words. "
By narrowing in on Hip Hop many in the media are missing the bigger picture, say those in the community. And not only has the media blamed rap for sexism, racism (with the N Word), mainstream media is now blaming rap for the "Stop Snitching" ethos rather than focusing on the deeply ingrained Black community's mistrust of the police and the originators of such practices from Italian mafia to the CIA.
"Oh yeah, and by the way Hip Hop is responsible for the war in Iraq too. You didn't know?," Dr. Wilson.
"Hip Hop is a movement that's getting bigger and [the media] doesn't want to face the reality of it because Hip Hop originates in the Black community. But...Hip Hop does not have a color; it is for everyone who wants to be a part of it." --Zamada and Poyzen (female rap group NINE aka P By tha Pound)
Well, if pictures say a thousand words, then what are music videos saying about women and where is the image problem coming from--the rappers themselves or the folks behind the video cameras? According to Zenobia Simmons, director of publicity of Imperial Records (which has various Hip-Hop artists on the roster), "I think that in this day and age the artist has input as to which treatment he/she wants so it should start with artist, management and labels soliciting different directors and production companies. I don't think it has anything to do with being White owned. The one thing Hip Hop was always known for was trendsetting with videos and a lot of the trends start there. A number of artists have always done creative videos with little or no budget, including Hip-Hop artists."
So where is the disconnect? Has older Black America abandoned younger working adults? "Yes, I think most people are very self centered and only concerned with themselves. There should be more people that care about making a difference," says Simmons. For Dr. Wilson the answer isn't as clear cut. "Yes and no," she points out. "It is dangerous to draw a broad stroke with this issue. Abandoning the voice of the youth is a historical tradition regardless of the ethnicity."
"Hell, there would be different images of women if we were in the driver's seats of these media houses."--Dr. Wilson
So, what's the solution? Would there be different images if more Black women were on the boards of record companies, behind the cameras directing videos, on the airwaves as rappers, etc.? "Definitely," says Dr. Wilson. "Hell, there would be different images of women period if we were in the driver's seats of these media houses." That's only a start, says Silver. "It's not just about getting Black women on the board or behind the cameras," she adds. "It's about getting Black women on the boards and behind cameras who will not sell out the needs of the greater community for the sake of maintaining an industry that doesn't care about destroying us. If that were accomplished, Black women would still be embattled in a furious war to protect us from harm."