Femcees–Pushing back against the rock in a hard place

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.

El General: Music Review

El General, otherwise known as Hamada Ben Amor, a Tunisian rap artist who is said to have given the Jasmine Revolution a voice is politically driven within his music, and very much willing to voice his own discourse in regard to governmental corruption and public office abuse toward their very own citizens. In a Time Magazine Article written by Vivienne Walt, he is quoted as saying he very much looked up to the rapper Tupac Shakur. Ben Amor is said to love his revolutionary flair and talent for speaking out against his countries injustices.

Having looked into his music’s lyrical composition and rap style, which in these terms falls into rap flow, Tupac Shakur’s influence not only on Ben Amor’s public message but delivery became extremely noticeable. The primary example of said statement falls within his song which became to be known as the Jasmine Revolution’s anthem “Rais Lebled,” which can be translated into, “President of the Republic.” Within this song, El General finds himself expressing his discontent toward  his county’s state of living, his law enforcements lack of morality, and his anger for lack of changes being made by the president of the republic, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

His delivery when delivering his lyrics is not lacking in emotion. He does not shy away from letting his emotions shine through his verses. No matter the language, the emotion is fairly easy to read. In continuation, the idea behind “Rais Lebled,” by Ele General, is fairly similar to the message behind “Changes” by Tupac Shakur. Within both songs, the artists rap about the aggravation they feel toward the lack of change or lack of effort thereof the make a change within a struggling society on behalf of political or law enforcement figures.

Furthermore, although both songs are a call to action they differ greatly based on impact. This is not to say one is valued above the other but both were used in fairly different ways. Yes, these songs are revolutionary, they sparked a vision of change within people but at the end of the day, one voiced a literal revolution, and inspired am actual change, while the other is admired for it’s ideals, but has yet to be put into play.

El General: Rais Lebled (English Lyrics in Description Section).

http://youtu.be/IeGlJ7OouR0

El General Biography


Hamada Ben Amor who is better known by his stage name El General was born and raised in Sfax, Tunisia which is located at the North of the African Continent. Although his exact birth date is not clearly stated throughout any public forum published an interview published about him in Times magazine written by Vivienne Walt recalls him being 21 at the time of the interview in 2011, which would now make him around 25 years old. The Arabic rapper was brought up in a household consisting of 4 children he being the youngest of three boys and one girl, and of course his mother and father. El General, was born into a fairly economically stable middle class family. His mother owned a bookstore and his father was a doctor.

That being said, he was not blind to the political corruption which thrived within his native country. He witnessed discrimination against the poor for the majority of his life and chose to speak out about it through song. At the age of 18 in 2008, Ben Amor began to formulate what became to be known as the anthem to the Jasmine Revolution within Tunisia in 2010. He claims to have written a precursor to the revolutionary anthem in 2008 and naming it “Sidi Rais,” or, “Mr.President,” which he later revamped and made into the revolutionary anthem “Rais Lebled,” or, ” President of the Republic,” in which he voices the failure of his regime and the countries downfall. As his popularity rose within his country, public offices, and most importantly Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, began to take notice of his music’s traction and message.

Within time, Ben Amor became victim to governmental censorship, which prohibited him from performing in live concert, releasing new music, or allowing commercial airplay within Tunisia. Although, his music was deprived of radio play within Tunisia, his music began to gain traction, and public support within Europe, primarily France. When Ben Amor decided to release a new single titled, ” Tunisia Our Country,” he was immediately taken into custody by government official who proceeded to take him to the capital and question him for hours on end. After word of his incarceration reached the Tunisian public a serge of protests took place in front of the detention center. After hearing word of this Zine El Abidine Ben Ali called off his arraignment, and set him free three days later.

After his release, and even after the Jasmine Revolution came to a close his song “Rais Lebled,” rang true for various other  revolutions in close proximity to Tunisia. The song was adopted by Cairo within their very own revolution and they even went as far as inviting him to perform the song live in Tahrir square. To which he had to decline to on the basis that he could not travel due to issues with his Visa.

Finally, El General still reside within Tunisia, and continued to create politically driven songs after Ben Ali’s expulsion from office and his new found fame in Cairo. Having written “Vive Tunisie,” and “Take Care of Tunisia,” which reflect his wishes for the new order within the government.

Walt,Vivienne. “El General and the Rap Anthem of the Mideast Revolution.” Time Magazine. Time Magazine, 15 Feb. 2011.

Web. 7 March 2015.

Hip Hop & Diaspora: Connecting the Arab Spring

Tunisian rapper El Général - picture by Fethi Belaid
Tunisian rapper El Général – picture by Fethi Belaid

Hip Hop & Diaspora: Connecting the Arab Spring by Lara Dotson-Renta

Every evolution has a certain style of music connected to it. The recent and still on-going pro-democracy movements now popularly known as the “Arab Spring’ has been accompanied by a very strong musical components, and it has been hip-hop that has become the most iconic and widespread soundtrack of the Arab Spring and, interestingly, it is having the double effect of helping to mobilize activists in the countries directly impacted by the pro-democracy movements while also solidifying links between Arab diasporic communities in the West with those still residing in the ‘homeland.’ The article also examined the now infamous song Rais Lebled by Tunisian rapper El Général in detail.

http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=777

Tunisia’s rappers provide soundtrack to a revolution

Tunisia’s rappers provide soundtrack to a revolution by Neil Curry

Tunisia’s rappers have long made a point of speaking their minds, their lyrics often bringing them into conflict with the old regime. But more than simply upsetting the status quo, according to one of the country’s leading rappers, their music was the “fuel” for Tunisia’s revolution. In this article, CNN interviewed “Balti”, who is Tunisia’s best-known rapper and one of the founding fathers of hip-hop music in the country.

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/03/02/tunisia.rappers.balti/?hpt=Mid