Last week, I watched Straight Outta Compton, a biopic of the iconic rap group, N.W.A. I started thinking about the influence women have had in Hip-Hop and how hip-hop has influenced me as a woman. I read the heart felt piece that Dee Barnes wrote about being brutally beaten by Dr. Dre and feeling that her story was being erased. I read the allegations of domestic violence that Dre’s ex-girlfriend, Michlel’le brought to light. I do not feel conflicted about my love for Hip-hop and I definitely do not feel conflicted about Dr. Dre and his violent tendencies. Your boy is a woman beater.
This is my ode to Hip-hop, it’s honest, that’s all I can say.
As much as this is an ode to Hip-hop, I dedicate this one to my brother. My brother would take me to his room and we’d go through all his CD’s and his closet because I wanted to try on all his sneakers and g-unit t-shirts. He taught me how to rap in a mirror, how to bob my head to the music with my own little swag, and the art of two stepping. I was not allowed any free time until I knew all the words to Big L and Jay-z’s ’97 freestyle. I love Hip-Hop because of my brother. He introduced me to a lifestyle that directly reflected what I saw outside in my neighborhood and what I saw inside my home, behind closed doors. It talked about the unspoken street rules that we all followed. It talked about pain, about young men falling victim to bullets with no names, about girls getting pimped out by neighborhood crooks, about eating sardines for dinner, and the thirst for power. It told me stories that my young self thought only the people in my neighborhood were hip to, and I loved it; I loved how our shared pain and struggles were served as raw as ever over a sick beat and sweet melodies. We could dance to it and not feel ashamed of where we came from, instead we celebrated. Hip-hop instilled in me the same values my parents did; respect, loyalty, and family over everything. Because of my brother, and because of hip-hop, I discovered the truest form of love and that was love for myself. Nas told me I could rule the world. Lauryn Hill told me I was a Queen. Jay-z gave me what I call “the come-up” music which motivated me to make moves for myself. KRS-one pushed me to continue my education, because knowledge was power and he also taught me that street smarts were essential, too. Pac helped me understand my mother better and taught me how to appreciate the women in my life. Queen Latifah told me to never allow a man to disrespect me, I mean, “Who you calling a bitch” changed the game for me when I first heard it. And Biggie, man, biggie allowed me to feel like it was all good, baby baby.
Sometimes I felt conflicted, as I’m sure my brother did. Inside our home was like living in another country, Dominican Republic to be exact. It was like taking a trip back to the Caribbean. We spoke Spanish, we ate platanos for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we woke up to Merengue tipico on Sunday mornings. In our culture, we struggle with our racial identities. I struggled with knowing my experience was black but being told by the rest of the world that being black was ugly, including in my own home. Yet, we identified with hip-hop because it is undeniably black. Hip-hop was everywhere from the neighbor bumping Wu-tang while washing his car, to the kids walking to the bodega with a limp, the same one we all adopted. I spoke that language and it was heavily rooted in frustration and anger. I was frustrated with my parents always arguing about money. I felt neglected at times because my parents worked so much. I was angry because the world was trying to define my experience as a black Latina. I saw myself in the lyrics of rap music, I saw myself in the fashion, the slang, and the movement, but when I turned on the TV I couldn’t see myself. Specifically, as I was coming into my own identity and understanding the position of women in society, I could not identify with the video vixens. It was difficult to hear my story be told for the world to consume yet they were purposely betraying my image. They were misrepresenting me. These images I constantly saw were being shoved down my throat as they were being shoved down the throats of other girls around my way. We had to combat those images and fight to not be thought of as “that girl”.
Still to this day, I find myself having to constantly defend my love for hip-hop and rap music. Yes, it’s an extremely misogynistic culture and sometimes man, it makes me feel like shit. Sometimes I feel like the culture that I know is mine does not love me back. It’s abusive, to say the least and it always has been. But, in all honestly, hip-hop is the reason why I am a feminist. See, I know that feminism goes beyond the overused and misused definition that “feminism is the equality for all women.” I know feminism is about the education system, the welfare system, police brutality, racism and colorism, immigration, and it’s about seeing the kids where I come from prosper. Hip-hop taught me a lot about all of that. Hip-hop has also taught me a lot about how women are constantly beaten down. And I can never forget the day I honestly became a feminist. The wise Missy Elliot said, “Ain’t no shame ladies do your thang, just make sure you ahead of the game.” The way I viewed women and sexuality changed that day. Shit, my perspective of women and hip-hop changed with Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown’, Trina, Da Brat, Rah Digga, Remy Ma, Queen Latifah, Roxanne Shante, Mc Lyte, Left Eye, Eve, and much more because they told me that hood girls like me can be princesses too and they taught me how to be a #carefreeblackgirl in a culture that wants to silence us. The music is by the oppressed for the oppressed and can be just as oppressing to me and other women. Yet, in this culture we allow ourselves to celebrate our lives and our pain. So, as much as young black men can express their frustration with the law and society and still believe everything is going to be, alright, Well, me, a black girl am going to raise my drink to some Kendrick Lamar and believe that everything is going to be alright, too.
In public school, we were told to look to our left and to our right, because that person next to us may not be here in a few years. It became cliché and routine for my public school teachers to tell us brown and black children that our friends will become criminals or end up dead. They did not tell us to cherish the person next to us while they were still here; instead they suspended us, the ones they could not beat down. They kicked us out of their classrooms and told us how they were doing us a favor by driving from their secure suburbs to our poverty stricken neighborhoods. They told us we were not shit. That we were not worthy of love. And the world told us that everywhere we turned. We should not be loved because we do not love ourselves. It was the beginning of the biggest lie that a lot of us will die believing, that we have no control over our own lives. They decided that their f*cked up perceptions of fate was much more important to impose on us than to tell us to simply follow our dreams. They decided that our fate was tragedy. Hip-hop taught me just how detrimental the public school system was to the lives of the kids in my neighborhood. Hip-hop showed me that it was a universal problem; it showed me how other people saw me. It served me the raw truth, no matter how much it hurt, that what people thought of me was much bigger than how I saw myself. And through that truth I learned three things: 1. question everything, 2. I can write my own legend and 3. that everything was going to be alright. I was 11 years old when I fell in love with hip-hop and from that day forward I learned the true meaning of survival.
Hip-hop allowed me to challenge myself and my perception of the world. It told me it was OK to be angry and frustrated. It made me look deeper into myself and ask what I was contributing to the world, to my city. It told me I was a voice in this world and I deserved to be heard. That kids just like me were young kings and queens in the making. It’s honest, it’s the truth and it’s f*cking real. I am not sorry for being a woman who loves hip-hop. I am not sorry for my Spanglish accent. I am not sorry for my parent’s accent. I am not sorry for having friends who sell/sold drugs or lived inside prison walls. I am not sorry for having to apply for scholarships on top of financial aid. I am not sorry for not trusting the law. Hip-hop is unapologetic and that is what it made me, too. It’s an essential part of me. At times I felt caught between fighting the war on my gender and fighting the systematic injustices against my race, conflicted not sure what side to choose. There are some things that trouble me about this culture, but if hip-hop taught me anything, it’s to always fight for my freedom, and I have intended to always do just that. Hip-hop is survival for me. It’s how I start conversations, it’s how I keep myself from smacking the shit out of ignorant folks, it’s how I navigate life. It makes me feel like I can be anything I want to be, and that my friend is happy and free.