A Woman’s Real Place in Hip-Hop

Yeah, so generally I avoid talking about sexism in hip-hop at all costs. After all, the key to being a successful female hip-hop writer is to never, ever acknowledge (a) that you are indeed female and (b) that there is any sexism in hip-hop whatsoever. Any mention of either of these things serves as an invitation for dudes to scrutinize your private life.

But given the fact that several male bloggers insist on repeatedly raising the issue, and none of the female bloggers (not a single one of us five) have responded, I’m afraid the time has come to jump in. (Plus, it seems that the XXL site has become the spot to say all the stuff that isn’t normally said. Interscope that.)

Anyway, let me get to it: there is no denying that hip-hop is massively sexist. And not in a “my boss gave me an inappropriate look” or “I feel I may have been passed up for a promotion cause I took maternity leave” kind of way. Nope. Hip-hop is sexist more in that “so-and-so grabbed your ass, talked about porn, and suggested your meeting be continued at a strip joint” kind of way. (For the record, I have girlfriends that write about indie rock, and all the skinny rock people are just as bad, though their tortured artist pose serves as a decent cover-up.)

There are some very obvious pitfalls of ever addressing these kinds of things when it comes to hip-hop. First, you really don’t want to come off as some card-carrying feminist. Mostly because it’s these sort of women that have led the hysterical Parents Music Resource Center brigade, and have attacked hip-hop culture with a lethal combination of total obliviousness to context and openly hostile racism. And obviously you want no part of that. (Also, as an aside, these women tend to have no personal style. They’re famous for cheap polyester power suits and tacky shoes.)

Second, if you complain, the person you are complaining to will automatically assume you asked for it and assign you to the “whore” side of the running tally in their head that tracks all the women they come into contact with. Since there’s only two real roles for women in hip-hop—hold-it-down Good Girl and Scandalous Slut—you really don’t want to end up in the wrong camp.

The third reason you need to keep your mouth shut is because everyone in the business is connected to everyone else through a complex web of Sidekicks and MySpace pages, so if you shit on one man, you are essentially shitting on his entire social network. (You’ll notice that there are no names in this post. You won’t be getting any from me.)

So, to the aspiring young female hip-hop journalist, let me share with you some tips for handling sexism in the workplace. And by workplace I mean the club, the green room, the show, the video shoot, the photo shoot, and the listening party.

1. Understand that you will invariably be the only fully-clothed female in the room. Regardless of your Mennonite-inspired outfits, a good number of guys will still assume you know nothing about hip-hop and are only there in the hopes of hooking up with someone marginally famous and/or important. As such, many men will try to holler at you at any given time. Don’t take all this attention the wrong way. It does not mean that you are a supermodel or incredibly fascinating. It just means that you are in a room full of fellas who are bored and/or drunk, and who take your presence there as an indication that you have zero self-respect.      

2. Respond to wildly direct come-ons with strategic evasiveness. You are skating on ultra thin ice here. You want to make sure that the dude pushing up on you gets the point that you are not feeling his advances. But you don’t want to bruise any egos in the process. So, if he says something like, “Hey Ma, your ass is fat and I’m trying to hit that from behind tonight” you might want to come back with something like: “Can you believe it’s still raining?”

3. Know that having a personal life will be difficult. You will become so accustomed to industry guys attempting to coerce you into random hotel sex that when regular around-the-way guys ask you out for dinner and a movie you will find the notion surprising, quaint, and old-fashioned. When you date a regular guy, he will become insanely jealous, due to the fact that you spend 90% of your working hours around dudes that are blatantly trying to hit it, have no qualms about creeping, and are on the radio reminding him of this every time he gets in his car.

4. Be a heinous bitch. If you aren’t, you are sending out mixed messages. Acting warm and friendly is a luxury that only male reporters can afford.

5. Occasionally, you will meet someone in the industry mix that is attractive and/or interesting to you. Deny your feelings. Never forget that he has nothing to lose and that your credibility and/or entire career is on the line. He’s off limits. Period.

6. Really, the best possible game plan is to act like a nun. Actually, it’s far better if you really do become a nun, because industry guys are worse than high school chicks when it comes to gossip—and if you’re just pretending, they will find out and IM everyone they know.

7. You may slip up from time to time and flirt a bit. Deny it when you do. Point to all the scandalous groupies that are hanging around to divert attention away from yourself.

There you have it, young female hip-hop journalists. If you love hip-hop, and love writing about it, it’s essential to play your part. Print out this guide and carry it in your handbag at all times.

P.S. It’s best if you don’t ever consume alcohol, because it’s absolutely essential that all your inhibitions are up and running at full steam.

  • http://www.myspace.com/writeonpointmagazine janice

    Good advice

  • http://xxlmag.com Bol

    Girl, you know I was just kidding.

  • http://www.myspace.com/geoffdilkes G Off

    I bet there are plenty of stories there… maybe some good material for a book down the road???

  • http://www.unkut.com Robbie

    Brunettes really DO “do it better”.

  • bluerid

    to much trouble to be a hiphopchick.
    i am shy so i better shut the fuck up.omg

  • daesonesb

    You know, I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I’d say the sexism isnt limited to hip hop and indie rock … its the whole world, and i think that this advice prolly applies to any field.

    Except maybe the public school system … but then again, Teachers: female/ Admins: male. Cafeteria people, office people: female. College professors: more often male.

    Yeah and i didnt believe that Bol actually thought that … But xxl’s PR people must be on your ass now huh?

  • http://somanyshrimp.com David

    Real talk, Tara

  • http://www.myspace.com/thoro Caroline [Thoro]

    I am loving the article.I completely understand where you’re coming from.I am getting started on my own magazine and I’ve been wanting to do it since I was 11.I am 19 right now and from what I’ve seen in the industry and world itself,a woman have to work as hard as a man does to get where she wants to be.And,fight hard like a man as well.And,I completely agree with pointing out the groupies.We are women striving to the top and not girls finding an easy way to get a dirty “fame” within the industry.I really like this article.Much respect,

    Caroline

  • http://www.nowarian.com Susana

    ehhhhh… i hate to say it, but this “guide” seems to lean more towards fear-mongering than actual preparation. i’m hesitant to go against your overall post here because i know that things ARE tough for women in this business, and i would never want to make light of something so serious — i’ve experienced the sexism, the sexual advances, the intimidation, the disrespect, etc first hand myself in the five years or so i’ve been in the industry. but at the same time, i don’t think you’re painting a very fair portrait. this is ridiculously over-simplified and somewhat incomplete, and like one of my colleagues says, “rappers are people too”.

    off the top, i’ll add to the interviewing how-to by saying — #8 don’t ever arrange to interview someone after their show. post-show interviews are a doo-doo bad idea. not only will you get a shit interview, but people are people, and any dude with that much sweat and adrenaline running through his system is going to have… uh, certain things on the mind. and none of those things involves holding a quiet conversation about the state of hip hop over some tea. you’ll avoid a lot of stupidness just by being smart about where and when you interview someone.

    it’s true, even now, there still aren’t enough of us in the industry. beyond that, i’d go so far as to say that there aren’t enough of us that are GOOD AT IT innit. a writer is a writer, but there’s a difference between someone stringing sentences and Biggie quotes together, and someone actually making thoughtful and impactful contributions to the culture. taking risks, blazing paths, speaking up. i don’t know how a lot of y’all feel about her, but Julia Beverly, regardless of whether i agree with everything she prints or all of her approaches… she is a dang hero in this regard. i respect her.

    i have a big problem with #4 — “Be a heinous bitch. If you aren’t, you are sending out mixed messages. Acting warm and friendly is a luxury that only male reporters can afford.” — not only because it contradicts with your “don’t bruise egos” advice nugget, but also because i hardly think it’s necessary. everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, and walking into a fresh interview situation with your full battle gear and screwface on is just unhealthy. maybe it’s just a matter of semantics; where you say “bitch” i say “assertive”. self-respect is #1. no job, no interview, no article is more important than your self-respect.

    another thing — nowhere do you encourage these aspiring journalists to be themselves, which is the most important thing, above all. leave the frontin to the stage performers. if you don’t come real with it, how is anyone going to respect you? masks are easy to see through, and if anyone is good at spotting the fakeness, it’s the rappers, djs and producers on the other side of the interview mic. they’ve been around.

    if they (the aspiring female journalists you’re addressing) are smart, if they know how to carry themselves with confidence, and above all IF THEY KNOW THEIR SHIT, they will earn respect. hell, just knowing how to connect with someone and carry on a conversation is probably the most vital thing any journalist can carry with them — and that’s not necessarily something you’re taught. some people have it, some people don’t. and i definitely admire and applaud those who do.

    ugh, this comment has exploded into a rant. i feel like i’m all over the place here, but i hope i’ve made some sense. peace.

  • http://hattiecollinsclara.co.uk hattie

    Tara, that isht is on point. As a female journalist in this game I have been told to my face and via my blog that I’m just in this to ‘suck black dick.’ Literally. Don’t know what’s wrong with Em’s bits but I guess I’m racist too, huh? Too often we women in the game are viewed as being ‘in it for the wrong reasons’ (that came via a ‘collegue’ btw) when perhaps we’re just into the music and want to write about it so other people can listen with the same pleasure we do. I’ve listened to, written about and DJd hip hop and R&B for over 15 years now and I love it as much now as I did when I was a kid taping Tim Westwood on a Friday night or rocking to What’s The 411 on the bus to college. That’s why I buy Remy Ma or Lil Wayne albums the second (ok, slight exaggeration) my feet touch US soil – cos I want to hear that isht so bad but it’s not available in the UK. But you know what? I don’t actually care if people do think I’m in this for whatever reason they imagine, despite never having met me or spoken to me. All I know is I couldn’t have a better job; I get to talk to people whose music I love, hear their material in advance and travel the world in order to do this. That’s not to mention the gigs, the CD’s, the promo’s and the freeness in general. Put it like that, I guess you can see why people have to hate. If I weren’t me, I’d hate me too!

  • Vanna Whyte

    Er, so how do you expalin the shit interviews in XXL from the female staffers that play up to all the stereotypes you’re rallying against? i.e. ‘Hey Member Of G-Unit! You’re Cute! Do You Think You’re Cute?’ etc.

    If you’re that bothered about it all you should prolly take your blog to another outlet.

  • http://nationofthizzlam.blogspot.com staxwell

    You got Bol to admit that one of his offensive-ass posts was a joke! We knew that all along, but good job.

  • Tipper Gore’s Inner Sex Pot

    Hola! Thank you for not contributing to the raging, irrational, nonsensical, belligerent self-righteous feminist sect! You crack me up and empower me all at once! Keep up the great work. Good luck with the Nun plan! Don’t listen to all the haters.

    SUSANA-
    Enough, why don’t you go whine on Bol’s blog and trade ill-developed arguments with the rest of the nerds. Apparently someone stole your sense of humor along with your ability to spell correctly and form solid opinions. Describing your comment as a tangent is a wild understatement. You can’t even decide whether or not you agree and then you contribute #8?
    I’m going to jump on the “obvious” band wagon and say that I love Tara’s sense of fun and I applaud her witty ability to laugh in a tense professional situation, be it in hip-hop or, for that matter, any other industry where women have to battle against all sorts of ludicrous obstacles. To bad you missed out on the tongue in cheekiness of the post, it seems like you could use a laugh. I think time would be better spent supporting the few women who are successful in hip-hop (or anywhere) than bickering and cutting each other down. Lighten the “f” up and LAY OFF THE CAPITALS

  • http://www.nowarian.com Susana

    Tipper Gore – apparently someone stole your inability to read properly and distinguish a conversation from flaming (or “bickering” as you put it). nowhere did i whine, misspell, or shoot down her overall stance on the topic. i said i thought it was incomplete, which is why i tried to add to it, dig? it’s called dialogue, and it’s what journalism and community are built on – and Tara and i happen to belong to the same journalistic community. we’ve spoken about this very subject before, and my comment (part of a longer conversation on hip hop writing that we’ve been trading ideas on for a while) was addressed to her and only her. supporting is important, but so are checks and balances. it makes all of us better at what we do, and improves the overall climate for every female that’s struggling to have their work taken seriously.

    eeeease up, ferreal. put away them teeth and claws. and i’ll ease up on the caps, promise.

    peace.

  • Tipper Gore’s Inner Sex Pot

    someone has stolen my inability? That’s almost a double negative. Here I’ll try :You don’t not call yourself a writer?

    If you and Tara are so tight “we’ve spoken about this very subject before” why you writing (negative)comments on her blog instead of calling her up. Weird way to communicate with people who belong to your “journalistic community”.

    peace.

  • http://gingerale_blackstarrrogers.com gingerale

    All straight men would believe that it is natural for all black women who are slippery and succulant; to show off their beautiful body.
    For all highly evolved women (and men), sex is a “nine times a day” thing.
    The women in XXL Magazine are the highest evolved Portuguese-Azteken women on the planet. These women are also 100% hetero-sexual, and need men who are structurally-built the same as themselves.
    Highly evolved men are difficult to find.
    So, to all these women, XXL Magazine is the Cure to all your problems.
    It’s the only magazine that any of us are willing to buy.
    Some day XXL Magazine will allow these women to show us what we cherrish most. You call complete nudity soft-smooth-naked skin but I call it marriage.

  • Susana

    yow, you’re quite a piece of work.

    “why [are] you writing (negative)comments on her blog instead of calling her up.”

    because a public posting in a public forum begs public discussion. private correspondence undermines the purpose of a public blog. constructive negativity is still constructive – people are people, and we’re naturally going to disagree on some things. i disagreed with the overall portrait painted in this blog posting, and stated my case. was it a personal shot? no – i was musing on the overall situation of females in the industry. we’re all grown folks here, and it really should not be that big a deal.

    amor.

  • J

    Well said, Susana. Much respect to you AND Tara. Great post.

  • Dreux Dougall

    Its sad that this article needed to be written, yet it was so crucial that it was. The jobs as female journalists in hip hop are increasing everyday, but it seems as if men have not yet grown accustom to this so they still adhere to the fact that all females are sex objects. But for a budding journalist like myself who hopes to become a hip hop writer…this article could not have come at a better time.

    Good post.

  • http://www.ukhh.com lady c

    that’s an interesting article…and interesting feedback?!

    i’ve met a lot of really dumb male rappers and a lot of lovely male rappers through interviewing them.

    some dumb rappers it is maybe best to be ‘heinious’with as they are too thick to distinguish friendliness but other rappers are just straight up nice people i have respect for on a political/personal level.

    maybe it is different in the u.k?

  • Mrs.Jones

    THATS SOME GOOD ADVICE! AND ALL THA IS MAD TRUE…BUT BIG UPS TO THA GOOD FEMALE RAPPERS.

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