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As noted in our class discussions and reading materials, African women have faced many challenges in the hip-hop world. This playlist, “The Feminist African MC” addresses various ways African women MCs have created space for women and feminist ideologies in the male-dominated hip-hop scene in Africa, while also fighting against the status quo. Feminism is often expressed in various ways, consequently, each of the songs included in this playlist has its own unique way of embracing feminism and representing womanhood. The five songs included in this playlist are grouped in two three broad forms of expressing feminism: (1) by exerting dominance over men or assuming male identities to convey their dominance in hip-hop, (2) by reclaiming their sexuality to acknowledge how African women’s bodies are often policed, and (3) directly tackling feminism by speaking about certain issues that specifically pertain to women, whether it be violence against women or addressing heterosexual norms that are often seen as “deviant” in society. Overall, this playlist addresses that there are several different ways African women MCs express feminism in their music, and it does not take one uniform shape.
The first song included in this playlist is “Fear No Man” by Eno Barony. “Fear No Man” is a track from Eno Barony’s debut album, Yaa Asantewaa. As noted, by Yoyo Tinz, this entire album is thematically pro-women, and the album itself was named after “Yaa Asantewaa, queenmother of Ejisu in the then Ashanti Empire; who called on, and lead fellow women into battle against British colonialists”.The song “Fear No Man” embraces feminist ideologies by essentially serving as a diss track to male rappers. The song begins with the following fiery line: “They told me I was a woman so I no go blow/ They told me I’m too weak for the role”. This song approaches women empowerment in an interesting way by mimicing male-dominance. Rather than promoting typical feminine attributes, Eno Barony places herself among men. For example, Barony raps:
I don’t wanna be a God-MC who can’t
Punish a King for his sins for Kanta,
I wanna be someone you can never be, I’m the King of Queens,
Rather than using her female identity as a form of empowerment, Eno Barony separates herself from other rappers by asserting herself as the “King of Queens” while simultaneously trying to promote her womanhood. While some may see this as contradictory, it is nevertheless an example of how feminism and women empowerment takes different forms.
The subsequent song in the playlist, “Hip Hop Halisi” (Real Hip-Hop) by Ukoo Flani ft Nazizi also addresses women empowerment by assuming male-dominated roles or styles. In particular, braggadocio is very important for rappers when asserting their credibility as a hip-hop artist. Women MCs have also utilized this technique as well to gain credibility despite its controversy. In the track, Nazizi not only hold her own with the men, but also asserts her role as “Kenya’s first lady of hip-hop” in the following verse:
First Lady on the beat
Pump it for my streets of Nairobbery town [Nairobi]
We represent the girls
And the boys
From Mau Mau they for freedom, now we’re free
To rock my crowd so they dance with us
They can’t refuse instead they agree
That we’re the illest
For this crowd of artists
That’s why we’re chosen by the teenagers
Nazizi engages in the braggadocio style by boasting about her reputation as a prominent woman MC in Kenya, while also asserting herself among the men MCs as well. Braggadocio is also very controversial in the hip-hope world. While it is seen as an essential part of asserting your dominance, some argue that it feeds into hip-hop’s hyper-masculinity, especially when people use sexual-prowess or when people brag about materialistic items. However, by engaging in braggadocio to reaffirm her dominance in the hip-hop sphere, Nazizi is empowering women by engaging in a style that is often associated with male dominance.
Contrarily, “Stella Stella Stella” by Stella Mwangi engages in feminist hip-hop dialogue by embracing her femininity and sexuality. By engaging in these attributes, Mwangi is addressing how African women’s bodies are often policed. Although some women MCs in Africa are often told to embrace their sexuality to be successful, they are simultaneously slut-shamed for doing so. Thus, Mwangi’s embrace of her sexuality can be viewed as a pro-women stance to help break the cycle of women being afraid of expressing their sexuality out of fear that men will punish them for doing so. In particular Mwangi states “I’m a sexy motherfucker/ Go and ask your brother/ I keep them boys coming L’L’L’L’Like no other”. “Stella Stella Stella” can also be viewed as a song that engages in braggadocio as well, with references to material items and financial success, but this song also associates sexuality with that element, which further supports women embracing their bodies as something to celebrate.
“Xxplosive” by Dope Saint Jude is an example of more overt feminism in African hip-hop that confronts issues directly. In “Xxplosive”, Dope Saint Jude promotes feminism by addressing heteronormativity. In particular she states, “down with my dykes, down with my queers/I’m down with my boys”. By embracing her sexuality Dope Saint Jude demonstrates that feminism goes beyond embracing heteronormative perceptions of women. This song does the important work of including all women in the discussion of feminism.
In the final song “Alwoo” (Cry for Help) Keko also engages in feminism in her music by directly addressing women’s issues. As stated in an interview with Andrea Crossan, “Alwoo” tells the story of an abused woman finding her strength. However, this song is not about one woman’s story, it is meant to represent the misogyny and domestic violence that is committed against women in Africa.Keko also notes in the interview that women are often not encouraged to speak about their experiences with domestic violence, which it makes it incredibly harder to heal and to seek justice. Thus, this song serves as a method to help empower other women who are struggling with domestic violence.
This mixtape ultimately demonstrates that feminism takes many forms in the African hip-hop community. As women continue to encourage feminism dialogue in hip-hop, hopefully they can continue to change the male dominated status quo.