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Two feminists who came of age with the music and the culture take a long, hard look at its impact--for better and worse--on young women, and reassess its importance in their lives. > by Tara Roberts and Eisa Nefertari Ulen

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BY TARA ROBERTS & EISA NEFERTARI ULEN
ILLUSTRATIONS BY TRUE

 

Remember that early summer night in SoHo when we went to a Bad Boy party at Spy Bar? I felt the bass-line pump beats out of the dark club and into my heart just as the doorman lifted the velvet rope for us. Hip-hop and I grew up together. I've been partying like that with my girls since the Cherry Hill discos back in Baltimore when we thought we were cute in designer jeans pressed as crisp and straight as our mushroom-styled hair. Even now, at age 30, that rhythm gets me all excited. Something primal is awakened, some deep ancestral code, memory of the drum.

But there was a lot goin' on at Spy Bar that night: sistahs dressed like they'd stepped out of a high-tech fantasy video; men high or on their way, shooting the gangsta gaze at said sistahs; occasional couples laid back on each other--a big-booty back fitting just so along a muscled front. That night I felt horrified, brutalized, when I listened to the uncut lyrics. I'm not crazy about all the testosterone thumping my way at the jimmie-jams these days.

I neeeeed to get out and dance, though--with our peeps, to our sounds. I feel the grip of sistah love most potently when the dance sets us free. That configuration of accumulated power, that cipher--hip-hop's sacred space, where freestyling rhymes bounce bodies bending over breakbeats--lets an entire generation move through sound.

I was feeling the circles of women I saw dancing together that night, tight, like me and my girls were back in the day. No man could have penetrated those ciphers, and no man tried. Watching them was like watching myself. Rhythm transported their crew to some place beyond the confines of the club, liberating a communal soul-force. I felt the estrogen then, Sis, and it beat as loudly as a million African drums. I saw the sistah cipher as a microcosm of our might. Imagine young black song pulsating a people forward.

 
 

 

I have released hip-hop music. It just ain't that deep for me anymore. Oh yeah, I may nod my head once or twice, even when idiotic music like Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up" (meaning, by the way, your ass, so he can get a taste of it pump-pumping against his crotch) blasts over the airwaves. But whatever. I just don't think it matters. For one thing, everybody's acting out and flipping the script, and journalists like us are getting the brunt of the stick, Eis. Hip-hop's rage and confusion has turned inward on itself and is now killing the messenger. Remember Jesse Washington, the former editor in chief of Blaze--my homeboy from college and yours from the 'hood, no less--getting a vicious beat-down by a rapper who nicknames himself "madd"?

For me, rap music is like Spam. It may always be there on the shelf, but at some point you just outgrow it. You no longer reach for it, even if you can wax nostalgic about those days sitting on the porch eating Spam sandwiches with mayo dripping down your arm. You move on.

I, too, used to love the power of the bass booming on speakers at house parties and clubs around the way. I would smile seductively at the brothers in jazzed up VW bugs who passed me on the corner, though I knew what was blaring on their systems was in no way good for women.

I am tired of being conflicted, girl.

If you are a woman in hip-hop, you are either a hard bitch who will kill for her man, or you're a fly bitch who can sex up her man, or you're a fucked-up lesbian. There is no fullness of womanhood. I asked my girls from Atlanta recently what they thought of Lil' Kim, and you know what one sistah said that made me stop and think? She said she loves Lil' Kim because Lil' Kim is the ho' she always wanted to be. The conversation among sistahs around sex is so two-dimensional--either you keep your legs closed and your dress down or you're a freak, a nasty ho'. But when do you get to be real?

We've concocted a fantasy world of Gucci shoes, diamond bracelets, Lexus SUVs, and sex, with no spiritual consciousness, Baby. It's a modern day Babylon that we are feeding, and I can't get down like that no more.

 
           
     

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009