Female hip hop artists find themselves in a precarious situation. They navigate a male dominated industry that profits from objectifying women’s bodies through sexualized images and lyrics. Their environment is misogynistic. The presence of a female emcee (“femcee”) is antithetical to mainstream hip hop norms. Because of this, female artists (particularly black female artists) are confronted by stereotypes that are often responsible for policing a woman’s body and sexuality.
In her song “Hold on,” Medusa confronts gender norms through her clothing, flow, and body language. The first thing I noticed about her was her country of origin. Medusa is from Tunisia where Islam is the national religion. Although Tunisia has granted more autonomy to its women than other Muslim-majority countries in its region, Tunisian women still battle with sexism, religious conservatism, and misogyny. When I clicked on the link to Hold On, I did not know what to expect. Medusa, however, challenged gender norms through her clothing. She wore a hat on top of her long, natural hair. She sported jeans and a blazer–a style that is perceived as both masculine and western. She also sported earrings which contrasted with her more masculine appearance. Her rap-flow can also be perceived as masculine. Whereas women are either musical props or expected to sing, Medusa came forward as a rapper. Her rhyming style reminded me of a few of the male rappers I’ve heard in the US. Lastly, the way Medusa used her position on the set and her body language also challenged gender norms. She was at the center of the music video. This is significant because most women in the hip hp industry are placed at the margins unless they are wanted for their bodies. Medusa was also one of the only people on the set for the majority of the video. All attention was on her as she freely expressed her body.
Little Simz’ song, “Dead Body”, is one of the most incredible examples of a femcee defying sexist stereotypes and individual/artistic expression. The title, Dead Body, is violent and eye-catching. Aggression and violence, in the Hip Hop industry, is usually expressed by men. Guns, assault, and violence are often conflated with hyper-masculinity. Because of this, few women in hip hop (or in the music industry in general) are expected to be as explicit about these themes as men. Calling a song Dead Body and writing lyrics such as “Do you want to see a dead body? Probably not” is a direct challenge to the norms that dictate what themes a woman can express. Furthermore, the themes of this song are incredible. She begins by talking about the demons that torment her. She mentions the struggles of being a homeless drug addict on the street. The chorus is very compelling as well, “I just might sell my soul. Cause I don’t feel like I am a part of the world no more. Will anybody miss me when I’m gone? Will anybody miss me? Have you ever seen a dead body? Prolly not.” The most powerful aspect of this song is Little Simz’ artistic expression. She provides the audience with a window into the inner turmoil of her mind. She walks the audience through her addiction and her repudiation against religion. This, coupled with intense black and white imagery defies stereotypical norms about women emcees who are often expected to talk only about love and sex.