[By Alysha Griffin]
The space for women to enter into Hip Hop is a small one. However, once through, female singers and emcees have held their own against the objectifying and misogynistic nature of Hip Hop culture. Although few have entered on the Hip Hop stage, many have established their lyrical dominance and street credibility. For this, HBW salutes contemporary, female “toast masters.”
“Roxanne’s Revenge” Roxanne Shante
Though only fourteen when she made a public entrance to Hip Hop, Roxanne Shante was instrumental in establishing the credibility of female MCs. In 1985, she responded to the rap group UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne”- a grievance about the groups’ failed attempts to gain the affections of a young, lady named Roxanne. Roxanne Shante’s retort sparked a series of rap retaliations, and consequently, a series of toasts by female rappers The Real Roxanne and Sparky Dee.
“Do you understand the metaphoric phrase ‘Lyte as a Rock’? It’s explaining how heavy the young lady is” is the classic opening of MC Lyte’s 1988 song “Lyte as a Rock,” which appeared on the album by the same name. As MC Lyte demonstrates in this song, a toast is sometimes less about responding to someone specific and quieting the haters and more about telling how her skills and love for rhyming make her a powerful force in the rap game.
“Gossip Folk” Missy Elliott
“Gossip Folk,” one of the top singles from Missy Elliott’s 2002 album Under Construction, is an ode to Missy’s own success and lyrical skills. An attempt to address rumors about her sexuality and her weight loss, “Gossip Folk” utilizes Elliot’s unique style and sharp wit to counter malicious attacks on her personhood and defend her position as an exceptional rap artist.
Found on her latest album Light of the Sun (2011), Jill Scott’s “Womanifesto” asserts herself as not “just a fat ass, ” but a woman of “active brain” and faith. Scott praises her body, her history, and her ego “that won’t submit.” Amid a time where Eurocentric images of beauty are the standard and black female bodies are objectified in Hip Hop culture, Scott’s salute to herself is very similar to the poetic toasts written by black female poets that establish agency amongst black women as a whole.
“Did it On ‘Em” Nicki Minaj
Despite controversy over hypersexual and vulgar lyrics from female rappers like Nicki Minaj, some women rappers use these subjects to exert a sense of power in the male dominated arena of Hip Hop. Filled with scatological references, images of the body, and violence, newcomer Nicki Minaj’s “Did it On ‘Em” boasts of lyrical superiority by feminizing characteristics of masculinity. Thus, in some ways, “Did it On ‘Em” and her 2010 album Pink Friday in its entirety works to carve out a space for her as female emcee.