Hey Ladies – The Female Emcee
Posted by Jennifer (Jenn) Hampstead | Nov 5, 2019
First of all, let go back…way back.
The female emcee has been a part of the hip hop scene from its very inception in the late 70s early 80s. From Roxanne Shante battling on the streets of Queens as depicted in the Netflix Biopic ‘Roxanne Roxanne‘, influencing a generation of male and female rappers. MC Sha Rock (est. 1976 Of Funky 4+1 – the first rap group on television), Debbie D (est. 1977) and Lisa Lee were solo rappers brought together for a scene in the 1984 movie Beat Street. Their track ‘Us Girls’ a continual theme for female rappers to this day. That us girls can boogie too!
With the rise of the music video the world opened up for the next generation of women to take up the mic. Queen Latifah (Ladies First), Salt ‘n Pepa (Sisters in the Name of Rap) and Songwriters Hall of Fame Artist- Missy Elliott would be able to make waves globally, bringing the image and sound of the female emcee to Australia. When hip hop really began taking root amongst the Aussie suburban sprawl in the early 90s, mixtapes and music video shows like Rage and Video Hits emblazoned their styles and flow on a generation of young Aussie girls just waiting for someone like them to show up. Girls with moxy, attitude and feminism. Strong female images with positive messages of standing up for yourself and saying what you want. Their call to arms was heard.
We had MC Que telling it like it is. Fijian/Samoan MC Trey (Universal Soldier). Maya Jupiter, of Mexican/Turkish heritage, the first and only female host of Triple JJJ’s Hip Hop Show. Melbourne’s A-Love (Rapunzel 2011). Sydney’s hip hop DJ Josie Styles. West Australia’s Laylah (in Ice Land – A Hip h’Opera 2019) and Brisbane’s Kowhai (Character Spill 2001), Lioness & Miss Brown (Love You Brisbane 2005) to name a few.
I myself used hip hop in the early 00’s. A follower of Brisbane’s Brothers Stoney (Lazy Grey and Len Wun) and as someone who had been on stage since I was 17, I immediately found a way to tell my stories, my family’s stories, my hopes, my grievances and have fun. I was graciously made a part of the 750 Rebels Family. A wrecking ball of a crew that was a ruckus of rambunctious hilarity. They didn’t dilly dally with their rhymes, they played hard and I got to play hard with them. I left performing altogether when I had my first son and my motivation changed. But what a glorious creative time I had with those hard knock fellas.
Fast forward to today and there is a plethora of female emcees in Australia. Sampa the Great reigns supreme in my eyes making waves internationally. What a beautiful thing it is to watch her soar.
For those who use hip hop as self-expression, specifically emcees, it is not usually about emulation but celebration – of who you are. The beauty of hip hop is that its original fundamental principles are peace, love, unity and having fun. Within the elements of hip hop – breakdancing, graffiti, djing and emceeing you can explore who you are and share it with the world. Like any other form of performing arts you learn the history, set the foundations and then you can begin to test the boundaries using yourself as the tool. Like Jazz, rooted wholly in African American heritage, so too did hip hop evolve. And like jazz, hip hop resonates with people of all ethnicities all over the world. Some use their native tongue or their natural accent to emcee, while others choose, like 80% of the world’s singers, to use the internationally accepted American accent. Whatever accent or language you use to tell your story, it is your story. Essentially that is what emceeing is all about. Storytelling.
That’s why hip hop and its elements are integral to many youth initiatives in Australia. Breakdance crews in and out of school are a great way to engage body and mind and concentrate energy into healthy active outlets. Some schools have recording studios where hip hop music is created, expressing emotions and situations using words and music. People who work in their community that come from a background in hip hop like Cairns emcee Dizzy Doolan, understand the integral part hip hop plays in getting kids to dig deep in a creative way. Today MC Sha Rock works in law enforcement and understands the benefit of coming from hip hop and connecting with her community. That’s the beauty of the performing arts and having mentors who have experience in their field who understand where you’re coming from.
Part of the recent Australian Women in Music Awards held at Brisbane’s powerhouse was the Visibility in Hip Hop Forum – Women on the Frontline. Eloquently facilitated by Melbourne emcee Kween G, the forum discussed hip hop’s vexed relationship to women, their stories and their voices. The question? How can female voices more consistently be given their rightful place in the Australian Hip Hop Music Scene? Panellists included indigenous artists Dizzy Doolan, female emcee from far North Queensland, Logan indigenous emcee Kaylah Truth, with the male voice coming from Philly, a gentleman from Briggs’ Bad Apple roster.
Key to the cause of the female MC in Australia?
Crucial points of any movement needing momentum.
All of the panellists spoke about the importance of representation in their relationship with music. In seeing themselves in the artists they admired. American artists such as Queen Latifah, Salt ‘n Pepa and Missy Elliott were early influencers of the younger versions of Kaylah and Dizzy. Female artists from overseas were their role models and the artists most like themselves. For Dizzy it wasn’t until she saw Christine Anu and Shakaya, that she saw someone like her succeeding in music. Until you see yourself represented you don’t realise the impact. Someone just like you, from your world, achieving or doing something you’ve never seen anybody else like you do before. That is representation. Just like Nova Peris OAM, the 1st Indigenous female Olympic gold medallist and the first Indigenous woman elected to Parliament. In other arenas breaking down doors – Serena and Venus Williams and Misty Copeland. Representation matters in all realms and Australian hip hop is no different.
Something that impacted both Kaylah and Dizzy was Ipswich’s Stylin Up Festival. An indigenous youth festival that played a part in both their careers. A community of people coming together in a positive way. To bring back that festival or something like it would create a platform for the wealth of emerging Indigenous artists to make a name for themselves. A community event like Stylin Up gave Kaylah and Dizzy a place to build their confidence and hone their craft!
Kaylah Truth has used hip hop to express her frustrations at how her home of Logan is misrepresented by the media. With members of her community Kaylah created Logan State of Mind – a visual and performing arts exhibition celebrating the positive success stories and role models of her city. Kaylah Truth said is about similarities between Indigenous Culture and the elements of hip hop. Djing/beatmaking is our clapsticks, emceeing is our storytelling, breakdancing is our dancing, and graffiti – we have the oldest graffiti known to man.
For Dizzy Doolan connectivity is at the root of her youth work. A metaphor she uses is: one stick can be easily broken but many sticks are unbreakable. As if to prove her teaching methods Dizzy and fellow emcees from Melbourne, Lady Lash and Miss Hood, have formed their all-female rap collective OETHA – Our Earth The Heart Acknowledges.
The ability to share energy and a stage is a sweet diversion from their own solo work. A lot of men in the rap game in Australia have a crew while working independently as solo performers. As with any collective it becomes a haven for knowledge, creation, development and critique. Cultivating a sisterhood with an edge. “The more women come together collectively…the more power we have,” says Dizzy. MC Trey and Maya Jupiter had their collective Mother Tongues. On the album First Words below you can see their record showcasing a roster of all female talent.
Dizzy came up with a great response to a question from the audience as to how female MC’s can make their way.
Concentrate on your own journey
Don’t listen to too many other’s work
Remove the shame of getting up
Words are powerful – the act of writing is cathartic
Trust your intelligence within
Take your own advice
Teachers in the creative realm need to allow their students to seek representation. To know that they can be seen and heard. To find people like them, or to be unafraid to be the first.
Kaylah simply expressed that we need to open our minds and explore beyond the headliners and cultivate inclusivity. That means write about them, help them get up, show love.
The Wrap up
Given that the fundamental principles of hip hop are peace, love, unity and having fun. I think we could all use a dose of hip hop. Support our female artists, come together collectively and if the platform isn’t there, then lets create our own. If you have young women in your life needing a way to express themselves and their emotions, if they need a way to clear their head get them to put it on paper, find the poetry within and give them an outlet. Hip hop for the female emcee doesn’t have to be Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. Introduce them to the sound of female rappers not only in Australia but other countries. Let them use their own accents if they want to, they don’t have to sound American. Hip hop is ultimately about being yourself, accepting yourself and creating a way to share that with others. Be inspired and be inspiring, be serious or not serious, hip hop gives people freedom to just be. Isn’t that something we could all learn from?