Mask Off

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by Brooklyn White

In 2017, hedonistic rap star Future released “Mask Off” - his flute-heavy ballad about molly, percocets, and fearless robbery. Out of all of the singles shared over the course of his decade-long career, it is the highest charting one, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Why were fans especially drawn to the elaborate celebration of drug use and theft? Maybe it has to do with Future’s theme, masks. The subject is two fold, as one Genius user points out. Not only is the Atlanta rapper undeterred by the possible consequences of his crimes, he is completely open about his habits and thought processes. This has been a recurring theme in Future’s career - the notion that no matter the depth of your perceived sin or world views, as long as you are able to confess and show the people the person behind the mask, then all is well. When Future showed up to the 2017 BET awards with his young daughter, he wore a $3000 mask (as did she), and performed in one as well. The implications were still present, but this outing was more of a fashion statement, as masks are sometimes, especially within the Hip-Hop community.

Rico Nasty in her  “Block List” video

Rico Nasty in her “Block List” video

Masks have been around since ancient times, and there is proof of their existence in the Stone Age. According to the History of African Masks, the role of a mask maker (and wearer) was a sacred one, as people viewed this being as someone who had contact with the spirit realm. These masks, made from wood, copper and other materials, were used as part of a ritual, often in preparation for an important occurrence like “war preparation, crop harvesting, marriage, fertility, and burials.”

Roots aside, masks may also represent the parts of ourselves that we hide, either to benefit others, or because we are afraid to face ourselves. But it’s not a standalone psychological issue, instead resting under a larger problem. “Masking is not a term used in a professional mental health setting,” according to mental health specialist Hazel Smith. The concept is filed under defense mechanisms. When asked about defense mechanisms, Smith said, “Defense mechanisms are learned behavior that we use to deal with uncomfortable situations to get us to a point of comfort in any given situation.” That is exactly what wearing a mask is, trying to cope with some type of discomfort by putting on a front. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Smith wrote, “[it] can be transcended when one decides to be their..authentic self without fear of judgment.”

Masks in rap sit at the intersection of style and anonymity, which is ironic given the boastful and self-centric tendencies present in rap. Masks remind us of our humanity and collective consciousness, even though we are all individuals, when you take away our name and status, we are the same. Mask on, mask off.

Below are some rap stars who have either been spotted in masks, or wear them full time. 


Leikeli 47

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Leikeli 47 wears a ski mask to keep the attention it on her content. In a 2015 interview with Highsnobiety, the rapper said,“this mask is my cape. I tell people that all the time. I also just wanted to keep it fun and fresh. It’s just like you said though, the mask keeps the focus on my music. It helps me with performing, too. I was definitely a very shy kid growing up in New York.”. Leikeli doesn’t overindulge in social media either, so her keeping a low profile isn’t a stunt, it’s her life.

MF DOOM

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While a part of a rap duo with his brother, MF DOOM showed his face without care. But after tragically losing his brother, and being dropped from Elektra records/falling out with the politics of the business, he began covering his face. An article for The Hip-Hop Foundation shared, “drawing similarities between his own life and the story of the fictional Doctor Doom, who’s face was deformed after a laboratory accident and donned a mask while seeking revenge against the world, Dumile himself began wearing a metal mask and re-titled himself MF Doom. Swearing revenge against the industry that badly deformed him (his own words).” He has taken the game of hidden identity even further by sending out masked fake DOOMS to perform in his stead. 

Schoolboy Q

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I first began noticing Schoolboy Q as a standout artist in 2013, as he prepped to release his third studio album, Oxymoron. The cover art featured Q wearing a mask, while his following album featured a man with a concealed face on the cover as well. His most recent work, Crash Talk shows the artist wearing a paper bag over his head, a common reference to unattractiveness.

Nicki Minaj

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Nicki Minaj has worn a number of masks over the years. Perhaps her most famous one is the colorful surgical mask (designed by Shojono Tomo) that she wore at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Tomo and Minaj worked together a number of times during the Pink Friday era, putting together some of Nicki’s most elaborate looks yet. She also wore glitzy masks in her videos for “Only,” and more recently, “Chun Li.”

Tyler, The Creator

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You may argue that Tyler, The Creator is in the running for one of the best rap masks of all time, given his intense rebrand over the past 5 years. The California native went from detailing murders, to singing about the softer, flowery aspects of young, rich life. His mask was metaphorical as well as physical, and it seems as if he’s traded in his ski mask for something greater - love.

BbyMutha Talks New Music, Pride Month, and Self Care

by Nadirah Simmons

When I hopped on the phone with BbyMutha, she was in Chicago getting ready to hop in an Uber and head to lunch with a friend. The Chattanooga-bred rapper had just gotten her nails done and bought a few wigs, and was looking forward to “Renaissance One” later that night, a show put together by PartyNoire and “Red Bull Presents” to celebrate the city’s LGBTQ+ pioneers.

I spoke with BbyMutha about the pressure to constantly put out music, the importance of protecting the Black LGBTQIA+ community and her newfound method of selfcare.


NS: You’re on the lineup for the “Renaissance One” show that “seeks to elevate these progressive artists and pay tribute to Chicago’s LGBTQ+ pioneers” during Pride. How important is this month to you?
BM: I appreciate Pride Month for what it is and not what it’s being turned into. I feel like it’s a lot of commercial profit. These are people that you wouldn’t have thought twice about [at any other time]. 

I saw a lot of ads this past month with transgender women that I follow as the faces, and I’m happy for them. But at the same time nobody does anything for them when they need help. That’s my only problem with it. Now that I’m grown I can just be gay, and I appreciate being able to play at shows like this because I can really really just be me! With other people that are like me!

Right! And it’s important what you said about visibility, because for Black queer bodies with that comes a need for protection. 
Yes, you’ll see people get so mad and say “I’m not supporting this brand anymore because they had this person on there.” And then people attack that community. That’s the stuff that has me worried, because outside of the promotion there is no protection.

That was a bar! And people are out here getting hurt and killed.
And none of these brands ever stand in solidarity with them when it’s not Pride Month.

Yup! I put a rainbow on these shorts and…
[Laughs] Right, so you better buy it!

Crazy. So I have to ask you this. Someone the other day tweeted you and recommended you make a personal Twitter account to tweet “crazy” stuff in a separate place.
Yeah somebody tweeted that to me and they got me fucked up. I’m going to do what I want to do, I paid my phone bill. Especially not on for something as silly as social media. If you don’t want to see something I post cool, but that’s why you have an option. You’re not being forced to follow me. 

Within music, especially with the people who look like us, there is this intense pressure to act a certain way or maintain a certain image. Is there pressure for you to conform to an industry standard?
I don’t care about an industry standard, because it’s very untrue and I’m a bad liar. So I feel like even if I did conform to that people wouldn’t receive me well. It would come off as fake and not genuine. It would do me a disservice.

I also spent a lot of my life being told who I needed to be. And I still ended up getting rejected. You turn into these people the world tells you to be, and it’s still not good enough because now there’s something else you have to do. 

That’s such an important value to have, and certainly something I see whenever you share your kids on social media. They look so free and happy, which is a testament to your parenting. Is it difficult to balance motherhood and your music?
They’re hand in hand. People who say what you should or shouldn’t do probably don’t have kids, and they don’t have people around them that actually care about them. And for a long time I didn’t either and it was the hardest.

People just don’t know what they’re talking about. Yes I’ve had to take some L’s when it comes to my children, but from each L I grew and I learned. 

Everyone’s been asking so I have to ask, when can we expect the album?
I can’t even give no updates! I had a listening party and everybody thought that was the final [album], but I’ve added so much since then! It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be worth it, and everybody is going to be like “damn okay this is why it took so long!”

In music people stay dropping stuff left and right, every month. 
That was literally me last year, and I’m not finna stress myself out this year! You do that and then people are like okay, throw that in the trash, where is the next one. Like nah, I’m gonna make y’all wait for this, it’s going to be good, and then you gonna sit with it for a while.

Do you feel like that saturates the market? An artist will drop a new thing every single week and I’ll be like damn are you doing this for some streams? 
I feel like it’s for the streams, and also nobody has the balls to say “y’all gon’ wait.” Everything is some supply and demand type shit, and that’s not what I’m on. Last year I put out five EP’s, I was doing that because I felt like if I wasn’t working on something I was a a failure. But it’s okay to work and keep it for a minute and sit with it. 

What do you to take time for yourself?
I just now got to a point where I’ve been trying to do that. And honestly what I learned this week is to wake up early. Waking up early, I have time to do stuff. When I get back home waking up early is going to do me some good. I can wake up before the kids, smoke and get my hair done before they get up, because that’s a lot of different personalities coming at me at one time. 

And being on tour. I just spent four days in Amsterdam by myself and at first I ain’t know what to do. After a while you realize that’s a form of self care too, spending time with yourself. And doing stuff that you like to do and not feeling bad about it.

Who are you listening to right now? What’s in your playlist?
Future never leaves my playlist, he’s my problematic fave. Asian Doll is really in my playlist right now, I like her. All the usuals, Young Thug, Gunna, Lil Uzi. He in my top ten! Earl, a lot of Earl lately because I miss being on tour with him. I really like Schoolboy Q’s new project. Key! 

People forget about him sometimes!
Forreal and I don’t know why, he’s a legend. And Nudy, I always listen to Nudy. And Hov, Nirvana, Bad Brains. 

That’s a good playlist. Before we go I know you’re in Chicago getting ready for the show and I want to know, what do you like about the city?
This is only my second time being here. It’s very Black and I love it. Black people everywhere.

25 Years Of Lil' Kim

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by Brooklyn White

Lil’ Kim, the 4-foot-11-inch tall musician and model, is a force. She started out as the first lady of Junior Mafia in 1994, and over the span of her 25-year career has reinvented herself a healthy number of times. Her resume is long, reconfiguring the content women could present in Hip-Hop, setting new trends with her fashion, and remaining largely herself. Ever aware of her legacy as a fixture in rap music, one needs to look no further than Trina and The City Girls’ “fuck niggas, get money” or the style choices of Rihanna for affirmation. She is a legend who deserves it all and then some.

Who can forget the commanding opening line, “[h]ot damn ho, here we go again”? The way she is able to guide her vocals over winding soul samples and Latin pop, without getting lost, is a talent. “Musically, her cadence is one that other women in rap still have yet to emulate,”writes historian Karen Garcia. “Her transition to pop, [while] still being very Hip-Hop is also amazing. No one ever doubted Lil Kim’s ability to rap and make gritty music.” She has worked with ghostwriters, sure, but some of Kim’s most fun verses (“Lady Marmalade” and the “Not Tonight” [Remix],” were written without assistance. If it’s murder, you know she wrote it.

Men have always proudly shared their stretched exploits with anyone who would listen. Barbershops, game nights and break rooms become cringe-worthy hot beds for this kind of information sharing. “Boys will be boys”, chimes the decrepit patriarchy. They are encouraged to kiss and tell, circumventing the “hoe” label. Women however aren't given the same privilege. Those who are pro-hoe have moved past puritancal views and the gender binary is fading, but many cis-het men still cling to both as a way to exert control over women and the LGBTQ community. Thankfully, they remain unsuccessful. 

“Lil’ Kim made me feel comfortable with my sexuality,..saying what I want to say, how I wanna say it and not feeling sorry if people are offended. Also that there’s nothing wrong talking about sex or openly expressing my sexuality as a Black woman.” -C. Alexis, Tarot reader

“Got buffoons eating my pussy while I watch cartoons.” Imagine, for just a brief moment, the leisure surrounding this line. Not only was Lil’ Kim saying that she doesn’t take men seriously, but she was so used to sex that she can focus on other activities while being pleasured. She wasn’t the first woman in rap to discuss it - Salt N’ Pepa quite literally “talked about sex” in 1991. But what Lil’ Kim did differently was paint vivid pictures of her liaisons and consistently consider her own pleasure (even though she was unafraid to please her partner, too). “That's how many times I wanna cum, twenty-one, and another one, and another one, and another one”. In 2016, a study conducted by the Archives of Sexual Behavior revealed that heterosexual women are 30% less likely to orgasm during sex than heterosexual men, which is unacceptable. Lil’ Kim was not interested in sexual encounters that didn’t end with an orgasm and asserted the right for heterosexual women to have them too.

“Her approach to fashion and beauty was, and is, sexy, expensive and over the top.”

Of course, Lil’ Kim is also a fashion and beauty trailblazer. 20 years ago this year, she attended the MTV Video Music Awards in a custom, Misa Hylton designed jumpsuit that showed off one breast. The Brooklyn-born hustler also debuted two banged wigs with the Chanel and Versace logos spray painted on them in 2001. Her approach to fashion and beauty was, and is, sexy, expensive and over the top. Kim sometimes personifies camp - the bad-yet-good taste that was the theme of 2019’s Met Gala. No one else would dare step out in a blonde, Bo Peep-style wig, a bedazzled anti-mask or boots lined with red weave. The other girls just don’t have the guts, and that’s okay. Kim also walked for Baby Phat (recently revived in collaboration with Forever 21) and was featured in a campaign for Iceberg Jeans, erasing the lines between hip hop/pop culture and mainstream fashion. Luxury brands were leery of rappers for years, but Lil’ Kim was able to create meaningful relationships with multiple luxury brand designers, and quickly became a fashion darling.

So here we are. Two and a half decades into Lil’ Kim’s career and she’s still doing it. Still making art and inspiring rappers. Still speaking directly to women and showing them how to move through a world that doesn’t want them to believe it is for them. Dripping in Chanel and jewels on the regular. We know that she’s imperfect, we know about the beefs. We know that she’s imperfect, we know about the beefs. And we know about her struggles with colorism, abuse and body dysmorphia. She’s a fighter who deserves honor, and you better believe we’re giving it to her. It’s clear that Lil’ Kim is the Queen Bee and a trendsetter, and she’s still going awff.

Salma Slims Is Ready for Her Closeup

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by Brooklyn White

Salma Slims’ new project, Runway Rapper is here. It hosts features from Salma’s Private Club Records labelmate (and brother in-law) MadeinTYO, Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd and Ty Dolla $ign. The EP, as well as Salma, is inspired by Naomi Campbell, the cheeky model with an extensive career and indelible presence. But make no mistake, Salma Slims is her own woman.

The former cheerleader, girl group member and Lowes employee has come a mighty long way from having 9-5’s and juggling college courses. Her hard work has paid off though and now she has multiple high profile campaigns under her belt (including Calvin Klein) and over 200,000 Instagram followers who are ever excited about her latest moves. Read our email exchange with the runway rapper herself below.


Brooklyn White (BW): You're based in Los Angeles now, but you spent your formative years in Atlanta. How did living in the south prepare you for the types of people and events that you come across in California?Salma Slims (SS): Atlanta raised me. Taught me how to get it out the mud,... keep my foot on they necks and never let up. My mentality is fixed on that. Coming to LA, I’m the same person but I grind harder out here because this is an entertainment city and everybody is after the same thing - to make big. [I]t makes me go 10 times harder being out here.

BW: Your introduction to the music industry was in your teens, under Tiny Cottle's Pretty Hustle. Can you tell us  a little about that experience?
SS: My introduction to the music scene was actually with 247 Ent/Konvict music when I was in a group, and from there our group caught the attention of Tiny though a cypher we did that went viral…[S]he liked the fact that we were a rap group and it was something different that you didn’t see much of during that time.

BW: What do you want listeners to walk away with after listening to 'Runway Rapper'?
SS: Runway Rapper is a lifestyle. Being a bad bitch with lots of attitude and class. This [EP] has a mixture of everything and a little bit for everybody.

Hair and makeup by  COYA BROWN , wardrobe by  AMIRAA VEE , nails by  ASTRID CURET , set design by  SIERRA HOOD , set design by  TEDRA WILSON , photography by  RANDIJAH S  and TEDRA WILSON

Hair and makeup by COYA BROWN, wardrobe by AMIRAA VEE, nails by ASTRID CURET, set design by SIERRA HOOD, set design by TEDRA WILSON, photography by RANDIJAH S and TEDRA WILSON

“I absolutely lovvvvvvvve Naomi..I feel like I’m her daughter and she doesn’t even know it. We have very similar stories - she grew up in a very religious home being [Jehovah’s Witness] and I grew up in an Islamic home.”

BW: How long did it take you to craft this project from beginning to end? Did any particular life occurrences motivate it?
SS: It took me about 4 months to finish the project[,] I’m in the studio every other day. I was just waiting on the label to drop the project, so it took forever to come out. I actually just finished a project with super producer Dun deal and it’s some of my best music, so I have so much music I’m sitting on right now.

RANDIJAH S and TEDRA WILSON

RANDIJAH S and TEDRA WILSON

BW: You've cited Naomi Campbell as a major influence, and that inspiration is evidenced on the cover of your project. What have you learned from her career and how do you juggle music and fashion?
SS: I absolutely lovvvvvvvve Naomi..I feel like I’m her daughter and she doesn’t even know it. We have very similar stories - she grew up in a very religious home being [Jehovah’s Witness] and I grew up in an Islamic home. She had so many doors [closed] on her but she still remained to go hard and now she’s the biggest supermodel in the world. I get a lot of my creative inspo from her. The cover of my project was paying homage.... I’ve always wanted to [redo] her PLASTIC DOLL portrait from 2011 that was shot by Seb Janiak. Shoutout to the photographer Brian Christopher, the graphic designer Weird Creative, and [creative director] FilthyMcDave for helping me bring that to life.

BW: Your most recent track is "Seasoning" - a ticking, thumping, bass-heavy track full of clever references and confidence. How did "Seasoning" come about?
SS: I was in the studio working with Camiam and he’s done a lot of huge records. The beat was so hard, I wanted the record to be the intro to my project. I just went in the booth and spazzed on the beat.

BW: What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
SS: [The] “Seasoning” video also dropped May 31st. And..I’m hoping to go on tour this year and take everything out the roof.

‘Runway Rapper’ is available on all DSP’s now.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

A Conversation with Schenay Mosley

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by: Nadirah Simmons

I first saw Schenay Mosley during the NYC stop on Smino’s Hoopti Tour. A singer and multi-instrumentalist whose music embodies Alternative Soul and R&B, she commanded the stage with ease and set the tone for the show, something that few lead acts can even do. Mosley, who moved to Chicago to pursue her education and music career attended a rehearsal for Smino and has been singing with him ever since, calling the St. Louis rapper and the entire Zero Fatigue crew a “genuine family” she can trust with her thoughts and ideas.

I immediately dug into her discography, captivated by her 2018 EP Lotus. We conducted a quick interview via email about what’s influenced her artistry, her creative process and more.


How did you get into music?
I got into music when I was 4 years old. I just started singing and realized that I loved it. I use to tap my fingers on tables when I was younger and eventually my parents bought me a keyboard. It's been history ever since. 

How did your upbringing and your environment influence you being an artist?
My Dad used to DJ back in the day (he still does now) and he always played music around the house. My cousin used to come over and make beats in the basement and I started learning how to produce from him. I grew up singing in the choir, taking piano lessons, you name it. I've always been drawn to the frequency of music. 

Who are some of your biggest inspirations musically?
Some of my biggest inspirations are Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu, Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Sade, Marvin Gaye, Beyoncé the list goes on.

What is your creative process like?
My process varies depending on how I feel. Right now I'm letting the music flow and I'm not controlling what I say or do. I just lay it all out in the booth and clean it up later. It feels more authentic that way. 

How did you link up with Smino? What has your experience touring with him and the Zero Fatigue crew been like?
One of my former friends told me he was looking for a backup singer and I agreed to come to a rehearsal--I've been singing with him ever since. And I love traveling with them, it feels like a genuine family, I know I can trust them with my thoughts and ideas. We always make sure the energy stays pure.

What is your favorite thing about being on tour?
My favorite thing about tour is seeing the look on everyone's faces when we walk on stage. I love the connection I have with the audience and I love instilling joy into their hearts through my gift. 

How do you identify, and how important is your identity when it comes to creating?
I identify as a spiritual being and black woman, first and foremost. And my identity is important since it is the lens in which I'm telling my story. I also like to write things from a human perspective since I am more than the color of my skin. 

What inspires you to keep going?
This indistinguishable fire inside of me, it's like I HAVE to do this. I have to share my gift and help people in a certain way and this is it. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself selling out stadiums and enjoying my career with my beautiful family.

Texas Women Are Rapping Their Way Into A Brighter Future

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Like America as a whole, the history of Texas is racist, sexist, and selectively shared. Fortunately, archivists like Bri Malandro and BOONAPALISTA are using the internet and images to shed light on the true stories regarding historical events. Malandro’s term “The Yee Haw Agenda” (a nod to Black folks in western wear) has wrapped itself around the world wide web, prompting conversations about the way we consider cowboys and their whitewashing in Hollywood. The timing is nearly divine, with Lil Nas X enjoying his fame as a musician with country and rap influences, the Kentucky Derby recently rapping up, Solange Knowles rolling out her ode to southern living with When I Get Home, and fans witnessing a meteoric rise of Black women from Texas who make fiery, honest rap music about their surroundings.

For over 10,000 years before colonizers drifted to Texas, Native Americans lived there and got acquainted with the land, themselves and each other. When European squatters came during the early 1700’s, they brought religion and deadly illnesses, and some were not met with kindness (excluding the trade-eager Caddo). Eventually, this kindness would not be met with any, as Caddo tribe had dwindled by 95% by 1816. There were multiples countries who staked claim to Texas until it claimed its independence in 1836, but this obviously was nowhere near the end of ethnic and racial grievances in Texas. Legal Black slavery continued until 1865, Black and Latinx folks have been strategically ignored during voting seasons, the deaths of Sandra Bland and Jordan Edwards rocked America to its core.

As always, Black people (and women, specifically) have done the work required to shine a light on injustice, entertain while healing, and make Texas a safer space for others. Late last year, 19 Black women made history when they were elected as judges in Houston and Beyoncé continued to heighten cultural awareness with her Homecoming documentary. Additionally, women from Texas are rapping to regain control of sexual narratives, advance themselves financially, and spread messages of empowerment, fun and freedom.

“Megan from Houston, I’m naturally sexy” is a bar from Megan Thee Stallion’s impromptu “Still Tippin” verse. Like the original performers of the southern cut, Megan reps Texas hard, as shown by Pimp C-inspired verses, cowboy hats, and frequently flaunted “H Town” hand signal. In her 2017 video for “Last Week in HTx”, she takes fans on a trip to some of Houston’s landmarks and highlights the devastation the city endured during Hurricane Harvey. She states her own struggles, saying “every..night I was eating cheese eggs.” Thee Stallion has kept her homestate in her heart, mind and music as she climbs the Billboard Hot 100 with “Big Ole Freak,” sells out shows, and posts up with fellow Houston-born royal, Solange.

“I feel like I have to put on for my city, because we have so many legends and so many greats,” Megan Thee Stallion, Rolling Stone

A newly christened Asian Da Brat [FKA Asian Doll] hails from Dallas, Texas and in a documentary with All Def Digital, she went into detail describing the early days of her career. “I [stayed] in the hood, [our curtains] had..tacks. I didn’t even have a bed,”. That kind of poverty in Latinx and Black communities is all too common in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. According to statistics shared in May of 2018, nearly a third of Black and Latinx people living in Dallas are living below the poverty line, respectively.

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“I want to know everyone where I’m from and I love repping Dallas. It’s always been more of a Texas thing, though...Texas is so slept on. I just want to put on for my city and state as much as I can and show everyone that we’re here.” -Asian Da Brat, Billboard

Making it out of poor neighborhoods is a goal for many young people who dream big and work hard to make their talents shine. Dallas is a city that’s booming with flair, and hopefully it gets to the point where the resources and opportunities align. But as homeless communities swell and more youth feel forced to turn to the streets to support themselves, there’s no telling when the tide will turn. But, Asian Da Brat is here to guide her peers every step of the way. She regularly encourages Black youth, especially women to hustle, be wise, and maintain their confidence.

Cuban Doll makes vivid, quotable music too, and has talked about becoming a woman while her mother was in jail. Growing up with an incarcerated parent is an under discussed reality that has had an affect on tons of non-white kids and teens. So, the Dallas native sharing her feelings about the last few years of her upbringing holds weight. In a short amount of time, she’s organically grown a large following and has drastically altered what could’ve been perceived as the trajectory of her life.

Black people and people of color have faced socio-economic disparities since European settlers entered Texas. But brilliant Black women are changing the story around their culture and shaping their future. Everything is litter in Texas fosho.

Rap Groups Comprised of Women Help Progress Black Feminist Thought

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by Brooklyn White

The Black woman’s voice is critical. Without it, the earth is cursed - condemned to a lifetime of misogynoir and Eurocentricity, and devoid of discussions on the intersection of gender, race, and class. There have been too many instances of erasure, or worse, a flat-out lack of knowledge on the various issues that affect Black women. Even more necessary than individual, Black feminist thought is the collective consciousness and inventiveness that Black women have cultivated since the beginning of time. As a result rap groups comprised of women have performed bops and have fostered solidarity amongst Black women.

The fusion of Black feminism and rap (created by Black women, of course) is not shocking. Both have a buzzing nucleus that summarizes the differing aspects of Black women’s experiences across industries, institutions, within family units and more. Romantic relationships, socio-economic plights, basic relations, and coping mechanisms are among the topics tackled in both rap and Black feminist’s conversations. Fellowship amongst Black women is fostered as a result of this sharing of information. And while entertainment plays a large part in the consumption of the art created by Black women rapping, there is an equally strong desire for a sisterhood. I cannot think of a better display of the connection between Black sisterhood and Hip-Hop music than groups made up entirely of women.

The Sequence is owed much more respect than they’re given - one of the first women collectives to make a big splash in Hip-Hop (in 1979). Though the Sugar Hill Records signees have been sampled by large performers like Dr. Dre, they still haven’t gotten their credit, or their coins, and they’re not happy about it- the typical underpaid, overworked bullshit that Black women have been enduring for centuries. But the ladies haven’t let financial issues and misappropriation of honor deter them from sticking together in pursuit of loot, and have managed to create an avenue for others, like Salt-N-Pepa and the City Girls. The women have also made folks reconsider how we honor living, Black predecessors.

“Pick up on THIS!” proclaimed a James Brown sample placed in Cheryl “Salt” James' and Sandra “Pepa" Denton's “Push It", the legendary anthem that thrust the New Yorker's careers into the cosmos. And pick up on it we did.   

Early on, everything about Salt-N-Pepa cemented their solidarity, from their matching asymmetrical haircuts (the result of Pepa’s hair coming out during a perm), to their names. The group had a string of hits in the 1980s and 90s, while approaching still-discussed concepts like not needing a man for his money and their sexual philosophies, and were the first mic-wielding women to go platinum, and also among the first to win a Grammy. Salt-N-Pepa have been making strides in the name of feminism for over 30 years, and inspired women to think more critically about the societal guidelines they color within.

The West Coast, as well as the Panhandle State presented their women-centric duos and trios - J.J. Fad and Oaktown’s 3.5.7 of the former and Anquette and L’Trimm of the latter. Supersonic, boomin’ whips were a sliver of the outcome of these bands, who continue to find new listeners and spark conversations. The very existence of communities of Black women who celebrate themselves, support themselves and uplift others like them is worth consideration.

J.J. Fad, ‘Supersonic’ cover art, 1988.

J.J. Fad, ‘Supersonic’ cover art, 1988.

Some might argue that JT and Yung Miami of the City Girls are not feminists. And a conversation on their musings and music (Alexa, play “I’ll Take Your Man” [by Salt-N-Pepa]...wait no, actually play “Take Yo Man” by City Girls) could support this belief, while simultaneously reinforcing the longstanding Black feminist tradition of rejecting the pathologizing of Black women’s relationship with their bodies and sex. And when you break down JT’s incarceration and find that it’s a matter of capitalism and the struggle to pursue the American Dream as a young, Black woman and Miami’s redistribution of wealth in the form of $25,000 awarded to the best twerker in the world, you may be inclined to think more critically.

It’s true that we live in a time where the term “feminism” often becomes a buzzword for brands and outlets who hover over the concept like gnats and slap it onto anything concerning women. Similarly, many are quick to call mundane and completely unintentional acts “iconic” and “radical.” I won’t be pressed if my theories regarding the feminist nature of certain Hip-Hop groups are challenged. I find solace in the fact that like The Sequence and Salt-N-Pepa, I’m elasticising the bounds of Black feminism and its purpose, while pushing the conversation forward. Period.

A Daughter of Berkeley, Shy'an G Is Poised to Put On For the Bay

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On a Sunday morning in Oakland, Shy’an G, quietly spoke about the familial and regional influences on her latest EPs The Reset, a creative project that engulfed listeners throughout 5 tracks on her growth and development as an artist. Family is a vital point for strength for the young MC who has been covered in local publications such as East Bay Express and KQED Arts for her latest project, after a two year break from I Just Need A Minute, her first EP, released in 2017. The daughter of two local artists, her ability to paint illustrations in rap originated from her lineage of grandparents, featured on The Reset’s cover as a reminder of the legacy she hopes to build upon.

“I just needed a minute because I was going through a whole bunch of crazy stuff and it was stuff that I didn't really need to deal with” Shy’an G says. “I tried to create a life for myself that I thought I was supposed to live and it turned out to just explode in front of my face, it just took me right back to the beginning. So I just need a minute to kind of figure out where did I go wrong?”

During her absence from music she experienced periods of unemployment. and disrespect from peers. But instead of allowing outsiders to narrate her journey, Shy’an G took ownership of her experiences and funneled those energies into The Reset. She called upon her team of local producers; Yajj, Money Maka, M6 and ManiOnThisThang, and returned to YR Media’s Remix Your Life  (formerly known as Youth Radio), the artist development program that provided her with writing workshops to strengthen her talent and produce a transformative project that would re-introduce her artistry to the Bay area rap scene. “ It's really funny that you know it’s the reset because I went back to the place where it started to create something called the reset,” Shy’an G says.

A disciple of the conscious rap tradition, “Go Off,”draws upon the spirituality of Nina Simone to speak to power about social inequalities and truth of our current realities as Black people in this white supremacist capitalist state over a Money Maka beat. “Top Down,” the EP’s single, paid tribute to ManiOnThisThang, one of the project’s producers who tragically lost his life this year.

“Working on that just writing for that beat that he did because he was on the verge of becoming a game changer, you know only 17 years old. Just doing it. You know. And accomplishing a lot more than a lot of other producers who are older than him. He was really changing the game up, he has so much skill. And he's also somebody who I looked at as someone who lived his best life too” Shy’an G says.

Living her best life means the removal of barriers and people who attempted to hinder her from embracing the creativity of her artistry in the rap game. Every word on The Reset is intentionally placed with the objective of Shy’an G’s power and wisdom at mind. Reminiscent of her musical influences of Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, and womxn rappers in the Bay Area, this is the definitive project that broke Shy’an G out of her shell. From a young AAU basketball player to an emerging socially conscious rapper, she credits the numerous womxn rappers in the Bay Area who mentored her, and contributed to the development of an innovative sound heard throughout The Reset. The latest in a legacy of womxn rappers taking control of the narrative around their artistry, Shy’an G aims to gain respect in an industry where patriarchal mentality and stereotypes have siloed MC’s due to their gender.

A student of Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Rah Digga, and Missy Elliot; Shy’an G possesses an awareness of the complexities within the female rap tradition, and emphasizes unficiation between womxn in rap, especially in the Bay Area. “I want to present an alternative, I got love for all of my Black sisters out there winning I just want to the media to know that this does not have to be the only image that is projected”, Shy’an G said in an interview with East Bay Express. Embedded within her discography are affirmations towards her community of Black womxn who made supported her vision, and laid the foundation for her success.Her hope for the future of Bay Area Hip-Hop is to invoke the spirit of The Conscious Daughters, a womxn Hip-Hop duo from East Oakland who gained regional acclaim in the 1990s, to the current roster of womxn rappers in the Bay.

“If I ever get to the point where I'm well known enough and I meet the current ladies of the Bay Area holding it down I just wanna tell them like thank you. Thank you and can we please continue to grow? Can we continue to let people know that we can hold our own as well as the dudes out here. I just want women to be valued better in Hip-Hop, specifically in Bay Area Hip-Hop too,” Shy’an G says.

Deep seated within her rhythms, in between the 808s and layered productions, are tiny hints of a socially conscious prophet emerging through to listeners. A daughter of Berkeley, Shy’an G encompasses the historical foundations of regional and national conscious womxn rap tradition, yet draws upon new underground sounds to produce EPs that display the beginnings of an emergent pioneer.