Monday, September 6, 2010

My Mic Sounds Nice: So Why Am I Scene, (But) Not Heard?

"It's almost chivalry...but not really" --- Jean Grae

"Whew, I know the pressure, Sista, I do..." --- Roxanne Shante

Initially, I only caught the tail end of BET's premiere of "My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip Hop". I thought it was very good and the visual array of "Femcees" (Female MC's) whom have blessed my life made me feel good about the foundation of artistry that encapsulated my dome as a girl and young woman. And speaking of foundation...

Dancing was my artistic foundation. I am, as the saying goes, "Once a dancer, always a dancer." This is fact. So, I missed the premiere because I was totally focused upon LaToya winning the Oxygen Channel's "Dance Your A__ Off" in the finale (she did!!!). As a dancer who's gained weight over the years and is trying to lose it, you understand how this show caught my attention, yes? Alright, don't judge me and let us continue...more on LaToya later...

But thanks to the DVR, I watched "My Mic Sounds Nice" in peace a few days later. Time for self-reflection...

My stage name-now company name-now nearly replacing my birth name, Dr. Goddess, is undoubtedly inspired by the Femcees who blessed my life. I grew up listening to Miss Harmony, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Lyte, Salt N Pepa, Bahamadia, JJ Fad, Roxanne Shante, B Angie B and many more. So, when it came time for me to find a stage name for myself as a Spoken Word poet, I easily adopted that which had already been suggested to me upon graduating with my doctorate---Dr. Goddess. It's hilarious, on so many different levels and for so many reasons.

In "Dr. Goddess!: A One Woman Show", however, I have two female Hip Hop artists---DJ Special K and MC Daisy B---who remain crowd favorites whenever I perform them and my trailer opens with "Gimme the Mic and I'll change the world, change the world, change the world." So, you know, the Women in Hip Hop mean alot to me.

Naturally, I was destined to love "My Mic Sounds Nice" and it took me back to the varied Hip Hop influences upon my life. I had so many beautiful and interesting mirrors in which to look and feel good about myself. I was built like Queen Latifah, looked a bit more like Roxanne Shante, danced my butt off like Salt N Pepa (and, to this day, blame them for how long it took to grow my hair out after my asymmetrical do) and, a bit later, was as crazy as Missy Elliott while thinking like Lauryn Hill. And I tried to replicate Big Lez's dance number during the opening to "Living Single" like she was about to hold auditions for peeps to join her. Oh Ladies, you have given me so much! Thank you!

I feel so sorry for any girl growing up today who didn't have the exposure to the variety of Femcees that I had. It was even revealed in the documentary that the category for "Best Female Rapper" was taken out of the Grammy nominations from 2005 - 2010 because there weren't enough contenders for the category. Now, that's absolutely disgusting. Just imagine if we found out that a company had to stop making guitars because there were no more Princes coming along. That's how I feel about this disgusting array of misogyny and apathy.

This is why MC Lyte's poignant observation that it's hard to imagine the space for a female MC when the misogyny in Hip Hop has cultivated a palate antithetical to and relatively unwelcoming to a female voice in the public sphere. (Shoutout to Gwendolyn Pough's Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere).

But I do have beef with some of the ideas espoused in the documentary (surprise):

Smokey Fontaine - Lauryn Hill's disappearance is not tragic. She gave us "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" and we can hit "replay" anytime we want. If anything is tragic, it's the music industry. Focus on that the next time you'd rather lay blame on Lauryn's person or any of her circumstances.

Trina - Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott prove that men can and do listen to women with clothes on. Define, don't be defined.

Ladies - Don't be fooled by the notion that you need "so much more than the men do". Umm, NO. Just because you need hair and makeup, don't let these cheap industry execs try to cost-effect your voice into silence. Men get dressed, too. They get designer jeans, shirts, shoes, haircuts, hats and weigh themselves down with bling. Men also need greater security and higher insurance costs cuz they're always taking their beef off-wax and they inspire violence. Add up the lawsuits, the funeral costs, the bail money, the list goes on... Please, please don't let these people fool you into thinking YOU are more expensive to manage. No, you are cheaper. Period.

Overall, what I most appreciated about the documentary was hearing the sisters' voices. It was just so refreshing, so wonderful and so many of them are brilliant, even if lacking in a bit of self-awareness and empowerment (Trina). The editing of the documentary was a bit questionable, at times, but I'm so appreciative, I won't focus upon its imperfections. Just getting a documentary such as this on BET is a feat in and of itself, so let us all bow our heads and say, "Amen"...or "Awomen" as the case should may be...

As usual, all glorious moments occur on Twitter these days and we all started tweeting femcees who tweet. It was so beautiful seeing Monie Love (@mobrocka) tweet her memories of performing and building, it felt good to see Bahamadia (@Bahamadia) getting the love she's always deserved and watching young femcees like Mia X (@TheRealMiaX) and Invincible (@InvincibleDET) appreciate the foundation Queen Latifah (@IAmQueenLatifah) built for them and seeing the tweets of appreciation to Rah Digga (@TheRealRahDigga), Tiye Phoenix (@TiyePhoenix), MC Lyte (@McLyte) and Jean Grae (@JeanGreasy). I made sure to give a special shoutout to Glennisha Morgan, who keeps "The Fembassy" (@thefembassy) alive. It's a beautiful thing and when we do Twitter well, we do it best.

More Femcees are coming at the bottom of this post. 

And a few good tweets:

RT aisha1908: Bahamadia + Precious P + Heather B + Rah Digga + Paula Perry + Nicki D #femcees

Plus, we hashtagged it on Twitter, so check us at: #mymicsoundsnice

Now, despite the fact that I teach aspects of Hip Hop music and culture in the classroom or in workshops, I was saddened by how much I did NOT know about these women and their stories. It's truly a travesty. Every last one of them deserves an epic film showcasing their stories.

Which leads me to Maori Karmael Holmes, her Karmalux company and her fantastic documentary which debuted in 2005, entitled, "Scene Not Heard, A Story of Philadelphia Women in Hip Hop." While Philadelphia is called the "City of Brotherly Love", the ladies have a greater claim to this legacy, in my mind. First, you had Phillis Hyman who was actually from Pittsburgh but (I guess) had to claim Philadelphia to bolster her street cred. Most of us love that city because it gave us "Jilly from Philly". That's right, Jill Scott. Love that woman. But I digress...

I first saw "Scene Not Heard" at the Pittsburgh Hip Hop Film Festival. I spoke on a panel at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, which I believe was organized by journalist, Brentin Mock. Gee, I wonder if this is even on my resume? #CareerFAIL

What I most appreciate about Maori and this fantastic documentary is that she was a Black woman filmmaker, doing a film about Black women, talking about being a woman in Hip Hop. Pay attention to her angles, to what is included in film, to what she chose to represent via her lens. It's extremely important and although I tire of the Tyler Perry controversy, my major emphasis is to make sure that Black women get to tell our own stories, in our own way and in our own time. We don't need anyone to speak for us. We can speak, quite perfectly, for ourselves, thank you. This requires supporting Black women filmmakers, writers and directors who allow Black women to speak for themselves.

And speaking of speaking for ourselves...

Most persons have seen Byron Hurt's fabulous documentary, "Beyond Beats & Rhymes", which deconstructs notions of masculinity and explores the abuses of unbridled patriarchy---and I do love it. But I MUST point out that his documentary seems to be more popular, despite the fact that there is only about 20 seconds where any of the Black women in his documentary speak for themselves (it's the scene where they are in Florida and say that they are NOT b*tches just because they chose to be scantily clad on the beach).

The DC Film Festival got it right and did a dual screening of Byron and Maori's films, back to back. Even Byron agreed that his documentary is BEST viewed in a dual mode with Maori's, since she allows Black women to speak for themselves and own their own voices. Maori also took herself out of the film and does not speak in the first person or center these MC's' narratives around her own growth process. There is something to be said about that type of filmmaking.

So, you may have seen "Beyond Beats & Rhymes" but allow me to (re)introduce you to "Scene Not Heard". Enjoy and let me know what you think:

Watch more free documentaries

Tell me that "Scene Not Heard" doesn't need to be on BET post-haste! Let's get on it, BET!

Finally, even though I started off the call to list the Femcees on Twitter, Davey D (@mrdaveyd) is always trying to upstage me because I reside in Steeler Nation and he rides with the Oakland Raiders. It's cool, though, peep his timeline following the viewing and feedback of "My Mic Sounds Nice" on BET:

RT @STICKSCLA: @mrdaveyd DON'T FORGET @pamfunkstress AND @STICKSCLA more females who hold it down within Hip Hop
@pamfunkstress check the timeline..
@STICKSCLA I didn't..
@therealEternia digital.. hit me on DM for email
@Fritsvandewerel Damn it.. I did not mention Conscious Daughters.. where's my damn gun...LOL They are and continue to be dope
@SuBRepublic oops sorry, the odeo site where they were housed came down so I have to find a new home..
@VMay the odeo site where I housed them came down.. not sure if they gonna put it back up.. the original folks of odeo made twittert
@therealEternia where's my other v5 albums?
A few others @BrazenWords @lahtere Yoli of Public offenders, The Poetess , Bahamadia, @MariaIsa Chihualt Ce, Toni Blackman, Kelly Maize
@DearestAnja also dont be telling @dessadarling I left her off the list.. I was trying to do special presentation.. LOL
Another resource is @HIPHOPSISTERS website is also where u find female producers
Also before I get racked and quarted do not forget my homegirl @dessadarling here's our intv
@DearestAnja LOL I couldnt remeber everyone's twitter.. I'll do it one better.. #recognize
@papalote415 I included more than just emcees.. and yes @KuttinKandi has been a spitter for years.. shes a raw on mic
I would also encourage folks to hit up @KuttinKandi who addresses this issue frequently peep her open letter
Theres a bunch more, but I cant remember everyone's twitter I would encourage folks to hit up @invincibleDET she has a phat list
@amandadiva @DjNina9 @canarysing @BigNay @1stLadyEL @DJBgirl @NICKIMINAJ @@Desdamona1 @QueenDelah @QueenNasim pt5
@jenniferjohns @RockyRivera @djchela @DjNomadik @DJKSLY @pamfunkstress @rosaclemente @Adriennemaree @pattydukesnyc @LegendMedusa pt4
pt2 @drgoddess , @mclyte , @PsalmOne , @KuttinKandi @mizkorona @thatgirlmystic @IAMQUEENLATIFAH @NewGirlOrder @TheOnlySilk_E , pt3
Here's alist of female emcees to reach to @invincibleDET @therealEternia @HopieSpitshard @juliechang206 @JeanGreasy @tiyephoenix pt1
If u peep my radio show most of the time I make it a point to include lots of women voices.. Too many dope sistas on the mic
If we go to a Hip Hop show first question we all should be asking is where are the female emcees in ur line up.. not one or two but WOMEN
This is not about simply playing NM & calling it day.. as Hip Hoppers we have a duty to crate dig & seek out lot of women out there
More than half the population is women, but we would never know that listening mixtapes & going to concerts etc.. we have a obligation
This is not make token gestures.. its a commitment to make sure we bring balance, open doors & help keep them open & set a new tone..
As a male who plays Hip Hop on the radio & writes abt out..I challenge my collegues to make sure women are included in EVERY offering..
Shout out to many of my favorite emcees who just happened to be women.. My Mic Sounds Nice.. (via @Missinfo )   

 Please head Davey D's advice.
I want to hear more of these ladies on the mic, check one! *strikes B-girl stance*

Thanks to @WrittenByBene and @GlennishaMorgan for the date correction!


Anonymous said...

Enlightening Post. I did my own recap but clearly you have more research on the subject. I'll have to check out those other documentaries.
I particularly agree with your point about the expense of female MCs being a fallacy. Well put - but the ladies seem to be racking up the same lawyer fees these days. Sad.
I'm not a rapper, my love for hip hop started with dance as well. Perhaps we'll meet on the dance floor. Peace.

Dr. Goddess said...

Thank you so much for leaving the first comment, Najeema! You know I love your work, anyway. Yeah, you're right. I did have a painful flashback to the shenanigans of Lil' Kim and Remy Ma after the show aired but still, overall, they're much cheaper. I will absolutely meet you on the dance floor, yes, Ma'am!