Lola Monroe, or “Queen Roe”, is an artist who has been steeped in hip hop culture long before she first picked up a mic.
The Addis Ababa born, DC raised emcee first got her start in hip hop as a “video vixen” in the early and mid 2000s, when she appeared in music videos for major artists like Kanye West and Trey Songz. However, Monroe has noted in interviews that she began writing rhymes when she was as young as twelve years old. Her experiences both in the background of typically hyper-masculine music videos and in the forefront of her solo career as an emcee create an interesting confluence that plays out visibly in her 2018 song, “Grime”.
The videography, style, and lyrics of “Grime” underscore the intersectionality of Lola’s life and career in hip hop. Although she currently lives in and represents DC, she characterizes herself as “third world country born/murder capital raised”, in a nod to her Ethiopian heritage. The music video itself features two women carjacking a man together and winding up with a bag full of cash. This symbolism of women threatening a man and hustling him out of an expensive car–and doing so in tandem–makes a powerful statement about female capability and aggression, and flies in the face of popular tropes of African women as being passive or submissive. Additionally, the fact that the women work together indicates Monroe’s support for mutual female empowerment in hip hop.
Some of the lyrics in “Grime” also illuminate the ways in which Lola Monroe’s identity as African and American intersect with the space she creates as a female emcee. She talks about motherhood and that she “just gave birth to a young King/consider it a gift to the world”, invoking her identity as a mother, and goes on to discuss the kind of man she hopes to raise. She also asserts her power in the first line when she says “safe to say I will kill after I silence you”. Lola reiterates this unapologetic and threatening attitude throughout the song, and in this way defies gendered expectations of femininity. At the same time, however, she embraces her sexuality and femininity through her style and dress. Given her background as a former “video vixen”, her choices in style can be interpreted as reclaiming the hyper-sexualization experienced by background dancers and turning this trope on its head as she exercises her voice and claims her identity as an emcee.