My thoughts on T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting’s “Pimps Up, Ho’s Down”

Cover to "Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women" (NYU Press, 2007); image courtesy of hiphoplives.org

I recently read T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting’s Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women, a book on women and hip hop. Overall, I found it useful and engaging. Until recently, scholarly analysis of hip hop’s gender politics (at least in the books I read) were often relegated to a chapter or two or a section of an anthology. To have an entire book on the subject is welcomed by me.

Engaging and accessible, Pimps Up, Ho’s Down weaves in interviews from both printed publications and field research, as well as the author’s own personal experiences with hip hop. It offers astute observations about well-reported news items like the student protests at Spelman College over Nelly’s degrading “Tip Drill” music video. It also covers less-discussed cultural developments, particularly the rise of African American men participating in sex tourism in places like Brazil, and how music videos like Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” may have contributed to the country’s sexual allure for many straight men in hip hop.  

I’d recommend Sharpley-Whiting’s book to anyone looking for an feminist entrance into hip hop scholarship. I hope it’s on some syllabi for the Feminist Hip Hop Studies courses that I hope exist in our universities. I also hope it’s getting into the hands of our tween and teenage music geek girls. I’ll make sure to assign it when I get the chance to teach classes.

I also look forward to continued reading on the subject. I’ve got Tricia Rose‘s Longing To Tell: Black Women’s Stories of Sexuality and Intimacy and the Gwendolyn D. Pough-edited anthology Home Girls Make Some Noise on the slate. If you’re just getting started, I’d also recommend Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks It Down.

Cover to "When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down" (Simon & Schuster, 2000); image courtesy of hiphoparchive.org

That said, I had a few qualms with the book.

1. Sharpley-Whiting’s gets so close to talking about girls, but she never really considers any listeners or cultural producers who aren’t at least college-aged. I would have valued the insights from younger women, as girls listen to hip hop and girls of color are often ignored when scholars construct or consider girlhood. For further inquiry into work on black girlhood, I’d happily refer you to Ann Ducille’s work on black Barbies and Kyra D. Gaunt’s book The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. I’d also offer up Jennifer Fuller’s essay on Flavor Of Love, wherein she considers season three’s twin contestants Thing 1 and Thing 2 as rare instances of black girlishness on television. If you have any suggestions, please share in the comments section.

2. I would have appreciated if Sharpley-Whiting had broadened her scope to include more opinions offered from female rappers, as well as dancers, graffiti artists, producers, deejays, on-air personalities, journalists, and other women in the game. I would’ve especially welcomed recollections from both mainstream and independent talent, as both sides of the game are dominated by men.

Jean Grae is one of my favorite MCs, and the fact that someone as talented as she is has struggled to stay on an independent label proves to me that we have work to do; image courtesy of djtimbuck2.com

Oh, and if we could get some queer women like Shunda K and Jwl B, formerly of Yo! Majesty, in on the conversation, so much the better.

Make some noise for Shunda K!; image courtesy of wikimedia.org

As such, she mainly talks to and about participants of the adult entertainment industry, particularly exotic dancers. She also focuses on female rappers like Trina and video star and rap groupie Karrine Steffans, who worked as strippers.

Trina; image courtesy of 24hourhiphop.com

Cover to Karrine Steffans' memoir "Confessions of a Video Vixen" (Amistad, 2005) which I fully intend to read in the not-too-distant future; playahata.com

Admittedly, Sharpley-Whiting offers up an interesting and valid point that the strip club has become an eminent cultural space for hip hop, both as a barometer for a single’s success and as a site for industrial networking. She also points out that scholarship and biographies on women of color in the adult entertainment are lacking, either from management or talent. Ihe majority of published work on the subject has been written by white women.

But she doesn’t (or perhaps wasn’t given access) to look elsewhere, which I think potentially skews her findings. Admittedly, there is a clear power imbalance along gender lines in hip hop, complicated further by issues of race, class, sexuality, and age. But some ambiguities are missing here and would be greatly appreciated.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Ella Fitzgerald and black girlishness « Feminist Music Geek

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