Hip Hop is more than a genre; it’s a culture. It’s the soundtrack that has played beneath the lives of kids in urban neighborhoods for almost 50 years. Hip Hop is the medium that allows suburbia to escape normality by living vicariously through the culture’s unruly, rebellious nature. Its beginnings arose from African American inner-city struggles in the 1980s and emerged into a representation of black urban culture in America. The music is powerful but not perfect; its identity suffers from contradictory messages but prevails because of its authenticity Hip Hop was born in the Bronx during the late 1970s. Its forefathers are debatable, but names like Fab Five Freddy, Marly Marl and Kurtiscome to mind when thinking of the early days. As a native of one of the New York neighborhoods commonly referred to as “the hood,” I saw first-hand the impact the music had on my community. The fashion, the language, the idols, the struggles mirrored their environment and created a sense of pride in places that were formerly vilified. Rappers admirably and authentically spoke their truths, their truth became cool, and over time the lines between cool and reality blurred Defiance and rebellion frame the music, intertwined with witty rhymes and metaphoric punches that compel and resonate. Even if you do not understand the lifestyle, you will taste and feel it just by listening to the music. It is a complex genre that tells the tale of the underdog who wins against all odds and takes pride in the measures necessary to get there, whether good or bad. In Hip Hop, you find solidarity, spirituality, culture, upward mobility and loyalty. However, you also find misogyny, outlaws, the “N” word (which some have claimed to have reclaimed), patriarchal themes, overt sexuality and much more The genre is male-dominated, so while women do play a key role, they are discounted and underrepresented. Women in Hip Hop are often overly sexualized, dismissed and overlooked. Exceptions do exist, however, but some songs would make even the extreme anti-feminist cringe. Women aren’t always given the mic, but when they are, they prove to be just as talented, if not more talented than their male counterparts. Nicki Minaj has outdone most of her male peers in an effort to dominate the genre, outselling some of the biggest men in rap with millions of units sold in the United States alone. She has become a mogul, dipping into other businesses that have allowed Minaj to expand and strengthen her brand Either way, the evolution of women in Hip Hop has changed for the better, for the worse, and has remained the same, all at once. The relationship between women and hip hop is complex and must be broken down to evaluate fairly and thoroughly; we must look at the role of the female emcee and how her message has changed over the years and we must also look at the male emcees and their discourse regarding women as a whole. How are we being represented in a genre that went from underground to mainstream in a matter of two short decades? The term “emcee” stems from “Master of Ceremonies” and has become a widely accepted title describing the voice in control presiding over the public. Emcees have traditionally been men, with women standing on the sidelines, but females have had their share of opportunities on the mic and have been able to hold on to their place, even if by a thread. Although they’re generally led by the guidance of already established male artists, these women have been using rap to tell their own truths The history of women in Hip Hop has developed in the same way as Hip Hop itself. In its beginning, women used storytelling and metaphors to get important messages across. Although lyrics reflected situations that weren’t ideal, there was a lesson to be learned in each track. MC Lyte’s “Poor Georgie” (1991) discussed the dangers of drinking and driving and Salt-N-Pepa expressed the importance of safein “Let’s Talk About(1990). They injectedverses into their rhymes and roared confident affirmations into party anthems that made anyone believe these ladies were the best of the best in a world full of men. They denounced derogatory remarks made by their male counterparts and demanded respect As time progressed, women took aturn in their rap personae. Artists like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina boasted raunchy lyrics, earning them widespread popularity and a fair share of album sales. It cannot be argued that they hold a legendary seat in the rap game, but it’s questionable whether or not their overall image helped women progress in the genre as more than justobjects. Men have always boasted theirtenacity and have glorified polygamy at theof women. As a result, these females reclaimed their sexuality with the same radical methods upon which the genre was founded. The music in itself has been reclaiming some of the negative stereotypes associated within urban communities. It can also be argued that the erotic language made them equal to the men, adopting a major theme of hip hop and putting their own spin on it. They aggressively assumed the posture, *if you can do it, I can do it too* Claiming that the adoption of the overtlyputs male and female rappers on an equal plane is a problematic argument. Lyrics like Lil Kim’s “Whisper in my ear he wanna get hison, I dug him, so Ihim, it wasn’t nuttin’” are overshadowed by some spurts of her female empowerment lines like “I got my own Benz, I got my own ends, immediate friends. Me and my girls rock worlds.” The message sent by the former line plays into the stereotype of theor the.” If that’s their idea of reclaiming their sexuality, it’s my idea ofin and enabling it To reclaim what was once disabling – theobject, derogatory phrases, etc. – is to ignore the reality. The female emcees who rely on sensual erotic themes are surely talented, but often times the first thing we see and the last thing we remember is On the other hand, there have also been female artists who have changed the game for the better. Queen Latifah’s *U.N.I.T.Y.* (1994) called for solidarity among women and for a stop to the normal use of the wordsandin rap. Lauryn Hill’s *The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill* (1998) is packed with gems of wisdom for women everywhere. She preaches about personal growth and self-worth in an album that is still included in any discussion of the top five albums of hip hop. Hill urges women in a powerful way “How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within? …Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.” Roxanne Shante, Yo-Yo, Lady of Rage, Eve, JJ Fad and Nikki D were also notable female rappers who stood their ground next to men. In Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge” (1985) she boasts, “Every time that he sees me, he says a rhyme but, see, compared to me it’s weak compared to mine.” There was a fearless combativeness in these women; they were determined to prove that not only could they hang among the most lyrically dexterous of the men, but they overshadowed them as well Artists like Missy Elliot and Da Brat also proved themselves with their record-breaking hits and albums. Elliot is the only woman to have six albums reach platinum status while Da Brat was the first female artist to ever go platinum with her critically-acclaimed *Funkdafied* (1994). Last but certainly not least, Nicki Minaj is the most relevant mainstream female rapper today, her work leaving an indelible mark on pop culture *When was the last time you saw a close up of a male rapper gyrating hisbody to sell records? Yeah, me neither. Where’s the equality in that?* Minaj is a rapper from Queens who deserves to be acknowledged for her many achievements. Even mega artist Kanye West has admitted to thinking about removing her verse, the only female voice among the guest rappers featured on his hit single “Monster” (2010), because West was afraid that she’d outshine him. But as arguably the only mainstream female representation we have in hip hop today, does Minaj have a responsibility to her audience? Her empiremessages of female empowerment, perseverance, and sovereignty in a male-dominated world. On the other hand, her explicit sexuality is difficult to decode and often superfluous. Some argue she portrays feminism in every aspect of the word — after all she is redefining “sexy” for the curvaceous girl. Supporters say she uses her sexuality not to sellbut rather to challenge the patriarchal build of Hip Hop and society in general. In some ways this is true, but her perceived defiance also directly serves the male gaze. Yes, in some ways Minaj is taking control of her sexuality and using it for her benefit, however, by doing so she feeds into a male- dominated industry that historically requires women to use their bodies for sales numbers. When was the last time you saw a close up of a male rapper gyrating hisbody to sell records? Yeah, me neither. Where’s the equality in that? I’m not trying toanyone, but there are ways of using the body to make a sociopolitical statement without having to submit to the traditionally male narrative. Take Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” video (201), for example. In a single shot, Badu walks down a street in plain day shedding her casual/sporty clothing piece by piece. She’s not flirtatious or trying to be sexy but rather using her nudity as a metaphor. Badu ultimately strips down to nothing and falls to the ground as a shot rings out, the blood shed spelling the word “groupthink.” This is an instance where baring flesh does not invoke sexuality but provokes thought. Either way, perhaps we’re placing too much blame on the women who are only trying to stay afloat in a sea full of men It’s true that even the mostlyric offenders have produced their fair share of female-praising tracks (2Pac’s “Dear Mama” (1995), Method Man’s “You’re all I Need” (2003) Macklemore’s “Growing Up” (2015 but for the most part women, when they aren’t in the periphery, are being demeaned. Most recently, there’s been a stir about the critically-acclaimed film *Straight Outta Compton* (2015) for excluding women and female artists like Yo-Yo and J.J. Fad who played important roles in the development of West Coast rap. Not to mention Dr. Dre’s literal beat down of former TV personality Dee Barnes back in the day. Ice Cube defended the film’s use ofandby telling Rolling Stone in 2015, “If you’re ayou’re probably not going to like us. If you’re ayou probably don’t like us. If you’re not aor adon’t be jumping to the defense of these despicable females. I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.” And that’s the problem: the continued use ofterminology with blatant disregard for their effect. Thedichotomy Ice Cube perpetuates only divides women and allows him to conquer Men’s portrayal of women in hip hop glorifies and enables the same behavior that male rappers condemn. Females are accused of beingfor being too sexy, yet those are the samerappers feature in their videos to help solidify their macho image. Women are held to impossible standards and judged for not following them to the T. Women, much like gold chains and fast cars, are objectified and commodified. They are used for sport or are criticized for having the sameprowess that men have. I don’t necessarily agree with Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim’s sexualized approach, but I don’t think women should be criticized or devalued because of theirlifestyle either. To each her own Historically, women have always been objectified in the genre, and it’s had real consequences. I will never forget the day, as an impressionable 14-year-old girl, that I watched Snoop Dogg show up to the 2003 MTV Music Awards with two women on dog leashes. Or when Eminem belted lyrics like “That’s why I ain’t got no time for these games andtricks, or theseon my.” And who can forget Nas’ gratuitously vulgar “Oochie Wally” (2000)? These songs are so prevalent, they’ve become too many to name, and whether artists take responsibility or not, the audience listening is taking on a new normal as a result. It starts to become embedded in the culture, and we accept it. I’m guilty of it. I don’t stop listening to music just because of its degrading nature, although I should. At the same time, I believe in freedom of expression in music. I guess I’d just like to see a change. I’d like to see women’s real lives, real stories and real issues represented in pop culture. I’d like for young girls to have options in terms of who they look up to and identify with. We deserve better *Produced by Karina Cabreja* *Thanks to * *Deja Vu, Author/Radio Personality (New York’s WBLS)/Motivational Speaker; Kwazi Hewlett, Creative Services Director, Los Angeles’ Real 92.3fm; Teri “Lady Tee The Difference” Lynette, Marketing, Motown Records/Hip Hop Artist; Chris Classic, Artist/Film & TV Songwriter/Producer; Dawn Dai, Motivational Speaker; Erik Pettie, Marketing & Digital Strategy, Cash Money Records; and Norma Moreno, Event producer/Social Media Influencer/Socialite for their participation* *Slide image credit to Eddy Rissling*