Mia hopes you’re ready to rediscover City High.
One of the most embarrassing and revealing parts of my online history are the top videos that come up when you type youtube into my browser. You might get the impression that I only listen to The Dream’s “Rockin That Thang (Remix)” and “Wild World,” as performed by the cast of Skins (like I said: embarrassing!). But slowly climbing up the ranks of my most-watched videos is this clip by Canadian rapper Shad (lyrics here – if you’re like me, you’ll get a little weepy when he raps about his sister being “way too smart”). It’s sort of hard to go back to a Juelz Santana verse on a Dream remix after that, right? So I’ve been on the hunt for more lady-friendly rap, and I’ve asked a few folks for help. This’ll hopefully be an on-going project, so send your suggestions our way.
Arrested Development was an alternative hip hop group from 90s when gangsta rap was getting really huge. Their album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… was one of the first hip hop albums I remember owning (I think I stole it from my older sister). I liked it because it was positive, non-violent and groovy. A lot of the songs, like “Mama’s Always on Stage,” are also pro-woman: “Can’t have revolution without women/ Can’t have revolution without children.” – Audrey Mardavich
If there’s one thing I love, it is a good time girl. And Baltimore-based, M.I.A. protégé Rye Rye is a hardcore girl with a strong streak of ebullience in her rhymes and her style. Open and honest to discuss why female camaraderie is a rare entity in the hip-hop community and how motherhood doesn’t define her existence, expect good things for women from this femcee. She also knows how to take a pop tart’s summer hit and give it a fresh rebut better than the original. – James Worsdale
City High’s “What Would You Do?”, the chart-popping classic from 2001, offers a rare glimpse into the life of a young single mother involved in prostitution as a means to pay the bills and feed her baby. Claudette Ortiz, the trio’s lone female member, defends the allegations from her male counter-parts, “Girl you know you aint the only one with a baby/ that’s no excuse to be living all crazy” through careful explanation of the hardships which led her to their choice encounter at a Real Wild Party. She hymns, “The only way to feed him is to/ sleep with a man for a little bit of money /and his dad is gone/ somewhere smoking rock now/ in and out of lock now, / I ain’t got a job now /so for you this is just a good time, but for me this is what I call life.” This song is an empowering dose of reality, particularly when Claudette emphasizes “Every day I wake up/ hoping to die”. Like many popular anthems of the early 2000s, “What Would You Do?”‘s catchy beat was tragically co-opted. Dr. Dre, MD makes use of the male refrain for his seminally seminal video for “The Next Episode”. – Iliana Berkowitz
When I was in high school, I was depressed. Like, meds, psychiatrists and all that. That coincided with my discovery of 1980’s rap, including female rappers of the time. Listening to them was like an escape, I remember using words like “innocent” and “winsome”, completely ignoring the fact that most of these rappers had grown up in the roughest sections of pre-Giuliani New York City. To be fair, only a few of them mentioned any problems they had, besides feuds with other rappers. Then I discovered Jean Grae. On her album This Week, she’s all over the place, from nihilistic alcoholic (“competing with wino heathens to squeeze into a coffin”) to paranoia (“they hacked me/tracked me/ somebody’s gonna get me”) to being madly in love (all of “Supa Luv”). As skilled as she is on a technical level, her inner strength from track to track, her ability to stare her demons right in the face and conquer was a huge for me. It changed the way I viewed female emcees, and was an important early step to becoming a feminist. – David Grossman
Kalae All Day is a New York-based artist who I recently discovered on a list of female emcees not named Nicki Minaj compiled on Colorlines. All I can say is that I’ve been addicted to this song since I first heard it and can’t wait for her to get big, as I honestly feel is an inevitability with her embracing of her own complexities, her musical innovation, and her vibrant look. We may not know much about her yet, but after hearing the above, I’m sure we’re all waiting to know more. – James Worsdale