Bow Down to Your Herninjaness: Cynthia Tumwine’s Rise as a Femcee

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Cynthia Tumwine, who goes by stage name Herninjaness, is an up and coming femcee from Kampala, Uganda. She is a radio DJ, model, TV actress, and rising hip hop artist.

When she was younger, she had a dream to be an entertainer. She started her career in TV and radio, but went on to pursue a side-career in rap and music. In her music, she focuses on women’s empowerment, particularly financial empowerment and economic empowerment. Many of her raps focus on the woman’s ability to be the breadwinner in the household. Additionally, she talks about male privilege in hip hop and society at large.

Because her career did not begin as a hip hop artist, she tried to gain credibility by rapping alongside the hottest rappers in Uganda in “UG Cypher 2.” In the music video, she performs in equal stature to the men in the song, and is not stereotypically objectified.

She has also collaborated with other femcees, and performed in an all femcees hiphop cypher, alongside other female Ugandan hip hop artists like Keko and several others. The cypher depicts every artist using braggadocio to show off their superior rap skills, but they also each touch on a different aspect of their experience as a femcee and the difficulties that came with it.

In “All Femcees HipHop Cypher,” Tumwine talks about her struggle to be taken seriously as a femcee, particularly when she was first developing her skills as a rapper:

“Reminiscing of a time when I couldn’t rap / Not because I couldn’t spit but because I wasn’t hood enough / Hip hop was a man’s game and I had a female name / That wouldn’t allow my royal lead to reign / Even though I could plan verses, spit perfect, but when I wear lip gloss, nothing I spoke made sense / Yet all I wanted was to be like my senseis / Put me on the same pedestals as the MCs.”

Like many femcees, Tumwine portrays a multidimensional view of what it means to be a femcee in Uganda. She talks about how hip hop is a man’s game, particularly because of the cultural expectations that women are supposed to meet. For example, African spaces often dictate that women cannot be aggressive, boastful, gaudy, or vain, and therefore an art form like hip hop is too aggressive for women. At the same time, if a femcee embraces their feminity, their art is taken less seriously (“I had a female name”, “When I wear lip gloss, nothing I spoke made sense”). Tumwine illustrates the difficulty femcees have in navigating African spaces and hip hop spaces as a result of this.

Watch her interview:

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