Two weeks ago, I watched the Netflix documentary series, Hip Hop Evolution. The documentary left out the social and economic reasons that led to Hip Hop. The documentary slightly mentioned the four aspects of Hip Hop culture which are breakdancing, graffiti, rapping, and DJs. I was completely annoyed when I got through the fourth and final part of the series to see that not one Woman of Color was mentioned in this “evolution”. In 2016 Women of Color in Hip Hop still do not have a voice in the Hip Hop public sphere. Using chapters two and five of Tricia Rose’s Black Noise, I will discuss these three aspects since they did not hold any relevance in the Hip Hop Evolution Series on Netflix
Before I jump into the importance of Women of Color in Hip Hop, let me first explain the social and economic reasons as to why Hip Hop started. In chapter two of Black Noise by Tricia Rose, she links hip hop to the de-industrialization of the 1970s, and the post-industrial urban landscape in the 1980s. Rose states this in chapter two,
“In the 1970s, cities across the country were gradually losing federal funding for social services, information service corporations were beginning to replace industrial factories, and corporate developers were buying up real estate to be converted into luxury housing, leaving working-class residents with limited affordable housing, a shrinking job market and diminishing social services. The poorest neighborhoods and the least powerful groups were the least protected and had the smallest safety nets. By the 1980s, the privileged elites displayed unabashed greed as their strategies to reclaim and rebuild downtown business and tourist zones with municipal and federal subsidies exacerbated the already widening gap between classes and races.”
The urban communities felt this intensely in the state of New York. President Ford vetoed New York when they filed for a federal bail out, leaving the state to negotiate a federal loan that carried very harsh terms. Rose points out that between 1978 – 1986, twenty percent of people in the bottom income scale, experienced a decline in income. Also, thirty percent of New York Hispanic households were living on or below the poverty line, as well as forty percent of Puerto Ricans, and twenty-five percent of African-Americans.
Economically, racial succession (this refers to when a race abandons a residential area) and immigration reshaped New York’s population as well as the labor force. Rose points out the,”Shifts in the occupational structure away from a high-wage, high-employment economy grounded in manufacturing, trucking, warehousing, and wholesale trade and toward a low-wage, low-employment economy geared toward producer services generated new forms of inequality.”
Urban communities in New York were more likely to experience slumlords, re-developers, toxic waste dumps, drug rehabilitation centers, violent criminals, and inadequate city services and transportation. Hip Hop’s birth place, the South Bronx, was worse off during the period of postindustrial. Rose explains how the “urban renewal”relocated massive numbers of economically fragile People of Color from different parts of New York into the South Bronx. These poor People of Color were relocated by officials under the direction of the planner Robert Moses to accommodate public projects such as highways, parks, and housing projects. Close to 60,000 homes were destroyed throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The fact the this documentary series leaves out the social and economic reasons that led to Hip Hop, does not bring the full meaning to what hip hop culture is. You had these People of Color who were stripped down to nothing, somehow create this culture of grafting, breakdancing, rapping, and DJs. To discuss hip hop without it, does not paint the picture of marginalized People of Color who decided they would fight for a voice in a public sphere that literally took them from their homes.
Although I was annoyed at the fact that women were not mentioned the entire series, I was not surprised. Women of Color in Hip Hop are never given any credit for their part in the Hip Hop culture. In chapter five of Black Noise, Tricia Rose says,
“Black women rappers interpret and articulate the fears, pleasures, and promises of young black women whose voices have been relegated to the margins of public discourse. They are integral and resistant voices in rap music and in popular music in general who sustain an ongoing dialogue with their audiences and with male rappers about sexual promiscuity, emotional commitment, infidelity, the drug trade, racial politics, and black cultural history”
Women of color have actually been rapping since the mid 1970s, but they just were not put on wax at that time. Not only did women rap, but they were graffiti artist, break dancers, and DJs. You see Women of Color have been a part of Hip Hop Culture since it started. I find it funny that this Hip Hop “Evolution” series did not mention Lady B who was the first recorded woman rapper in 1978, this is the same Lady B who became a top DJ in Philly, as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Word Up. It also did not mention MC Lyte’s 1988 release of “Paper Thin” that sold over 125,000 copies in six months without any radio play. Women of Color in Hip Hop provided a space where women could confront the misogyny they faced in rap music. Time after time we listened to black men take stabs at our femininity, but Women of Color in Hip Hop culture gave us (Sistas) hope. To have a conversation about Hip Hop and leave Women of Color out is complete disrespect, and speaks to the sexism that is still present in Hip Hop Culture.
Groups such as Salt ‘N’ Pepa taught women how to avoid being played by men. Queen Latifah asked black men who they were calling a bitch. Women of Color rappers confront and articulate the tension between men and women in a Hip Hop public sphere that is both misogynistic and sexist. Women of Color in Hip Hop have provided a way for Women of Color to express their sexuality, something we as Women of Color have been to told to keep to ourselves. Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Salt ‘N’ Pepper, Missy Elliot, and Nicki Minaj made it okay for Women of Color to say how they really felt about their sexuality and what they wanted to experience from their sexual partners. Women of Color rappers shook up the public sphere with the rhetoric it spoke. Women of Color Hip Hop Artist not only articulated the oppressions of Women of Color, but for Men of Color as well; they spoke on all issues concerning the Black community. These women brought feminist thought and empowerment to all Women of Color, and not just college educated Women of Color. I will continue to stress and give Women of Color Hip Hop artist the attention they deserve, even if documentaries are made that leave out their role in Hip Hop.
The Evolution of Hip Hop series was an overall decent series, but if it should have included the social and economic factors that led to hip hop, as well as the important role of Women of Color in Hip Hop culture. To mention the culture without these factors is a complete disgrace and a disappointment in a number of ways. The saddest part is when there are books such as Black Noise by Tricia Rose that explain these factors, but instead of using these resources they are ignored. Hip Hop is bigger than just going to interview Hip Hop pioneers, you now should include the numerous research that has been done on the community when preparing any presentation on it.