Where Are the Black Women in Hip Hop Media?

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I love Hip Hop with my whole heart--the culture made me who I am today. I enjoy a great rap debate with fellow Hip Hop heads and I love having listening sessions in which I revisit the classics or personally review newer artists. From time to time, I even write about it, doing what I believe is my part to keep the legacy alive. Unfortunately, as a Black woman writing about Hip Hop, be it for major publication or my own platform, I belong to a small sorority of women because the media has a serious problem. Six years ago, I asked "Where Are The Women In Today's Hip Hop?" and now, with more women climbing the charts and getting airplay, I'm asking a new question:  Where are the Black women covering Hip Hop culture?

I recently wrote my first long-form piece on Hip Hop culture for Medium.com and in doing my research, I found myself frustrated with how white and how male the coverage has been over the years. When I finished the piece, I decided to conduct a separate survey of Hip Hop writing, as it appears online, to see if it was all in my head. After pouring over recent articles about Megan Thee Stallion, a female rapper who is making serious waves in the industry, I was terribly disappointed. A culture whose music is ripe with misogynoir continues to fail Black women when Black women are all but locked out of covering its newest artists and music.

I started by looking at major outlets: The New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and MTV. Then, I dug deeper into more niche publications: The Fader, Pitchfork, XXL, The Root, The Source, and SOHH.com. Of the thirty-three articles I found written in the last month about Megan Thee Stallion, eleven were written by women and twenty-two were written by men. Of the ones written by women, only three Black women provided coverage. Of the fourteen writers responsible for the thirty-three articles, Black women made up twenty-one percent of Hip Hop culture writers writing about Megan Thee Stallion. Overall, Black women wrote a mere twelve percent of the articles covering Megan Thee Stallion.

This is unacceptable.

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Women, generally, have had a difficult time breaking through in the Hip Hop culture writing market. I’m not surprised by this, personally, because even when I tweet about something Hip Hop-related, without fail, there is some man, often significantly younger than I am, challenging my opinion or wanting to disregard what I’m saying. I’ve even had men write things like “This is why no one takes women seriously” with regard to Hip Hop opinions. Some of my girlfriends have said they’ve experienced the same, and I’ve witnessed it time and time again with online Hip Hop conversations--women are not seem as credible sources for Hip Hop opinions and ideas. 

This refusal to assign credibility to women writers is part of Hip Hop’s misogynistic legacy, though. Female emcees have had to constantly prove they’re just as good as men, and even when they’re better than their male peers, we often see people add some kind of caveat to their assessments. Even the idea of “female emcee”, as part of casual conversations remains problematic, as we never use “male” as an adjective for rappers; it assumes that an emcee is inherently male, and that women who rap are some kind of special. So much of women’s Hip Hop music is about how they keep up with men, are better than men, or proving how dope they are, not only as rappers, but as women in general. It has been forty long years of this show-and-prove compulsion hitting the mainstream airwaves and charts, and while we seem to be in an era where this is changing for the artists, it only seems to be getting worse for women, especially Black women, who cover Hip Hop culture.

There are several factors that play into this trend, and it appears that sexism and ageism are two of the biggest culprits. However, we have to consider how music journalism has changed over the years, particularly with the advent of digital platforms and preference for video content. Despite having no real ownership over any major music publication, Hip Hop-focused or otherwise, there was, once, a greater appreciation for Hip Hop as a culture with its various art forms. Unfortunately, mergers, acquisitions, and capitalist colonizers eventually decided Hip Hop didn’t need or even deserve significant coverage beyond record sales, awards, and the latest videos. In fact, when I surveyed the articles for this piece, I found that only one woman (in Rolling Stone) had covered Megan Thee Stallion in a long-form piece for a major publication (MTV and NYT had no women at all). And less than a quarter of the articles were substantial or in-depth interviews or background, “rise to stardom”-type pieces.

I have this saying, a mantra I live by, “If I want something done, I know I can find a Black woman to do it.” Being intentional about centering Black women in their efforts and labor is important to me, as is tangibly or monetarily supporting their work and creations whenever possible. I understand, rather well, how underrepresented Black women are in print media across genres, and as digital media continues to dominate and influence mainstream journalism, and more career journalists and staff writers find themselves laid off and looking for work like the rest of us freelancers, things will only get worse. We can expect for men and white people to be go-to “experts” and we have enough research and data about race and gender bias in both hiring and in media to support that hypothesis.

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What makes this particular issue especially upsetting is that Black women are once again dominating the charts; it’s a renaissance of sorts. Yet, Black women are not the primary people covering the goings on during this period. I’ll never assert that Black women should be doing more of the reporting simply because they are Black women--a talentless hack doesn’t need to be given such a weighty responsibility, regardless of race or gender. However, I know plenty of Black women who are Hip Hop experts in their own rights, or who may not be experts but can write well enough to cover any assignment given to them. They are my peers and colleagues, my friends, and people I look up to myself. So why aren’t they getting more bylines? We can’t say they aren’t pitching because that isn’t true and I’ve yet to hear back from Rolling Stone or Billboard with any of the ideas I pitched. I found out that you gotta know somebody who knows somebody to get on in those spaces, which is often the case with publications. But when the somebody you know looks like you or can vouch for your work (or is even willing to look at it), you have a better shot at getting the opportunity to write for them.

I’m fortunate enough to have authored four books, have numerous bylines, and have been able to command a decent rate for my work. I’ve been at this for fifteen years, though...but who’s counting? I’ve “paid dues”, as is a Hip Hop cultural requirement, and I’ve produced plenty of music content that showcase my writing chops. This isn’t about me, not specifically; I’m (hopefully) headed to graduate school next year to study Hip Hop culture on a doctoral level. I’m writing this in support of all of the women, especially the Black women, who live and love Hip Hop culture and want their voices included in its documented legacy. For the Black girls who dreamed of their mic sounding nice and learned to never let a man call them a “bitch”. For the Black women who have felt degraded and abused by the culture in which they grew up. For the women who have their own stories to tell and their own perspectives on Hip Hop’s enduring legacy. 

It’s time we demand that Black women get their props and are respected for everything we’ve contributed to the culture and it begins with being proactive about making sure Black women are called upon to tell Hip Hop’s story.

XOXO,

FJ

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