Last week was a whirl of wind. This week is whipping up quite a gust of air as well. But I don’t want any more days to pass without referring you all to a post I wrote for In Media Res. Wrapping up the site’s excellent week on hip-hop cinema, I curated a post on Lizzie Borden’s film Born in Flames in relation to Invincible, Jean Grae, and Tamar-kali’s tour of same name. Do check it out.
Last night, I got my nose out of the book I was reading (Ien Ang’s Desperately Seeking the Audience, for curious parties) and went out to shake a tail feather. The Majestic, a local venue in Madison, hosted a hip hop-themed 80s vs. 90s dance party.
Obviously, I don’t need to defend the merits of hip hop’s golden era. OutKast’s ATLiens, Tribe’s Midnight Marauders, Queen Latifah’s All Hail the Queen, Wu-Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Nas’ Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready to Die, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, De La Soul’s Stakes Is High, Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly, Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride, Goodie Mob’s Soul Food, Salt ‘N’ Pepa’s Very Necessary, Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, MC Lyte’s Lyte as a Rock, and The Fugees’ The Score all belong in the history books as much as they do in my car. Since this music scored my adolescence and many bedroom dance parties, I was happy to raise a glass and toast myself on the floor.
As this was the music of my youth, it was also the music of my feminist awakening. While I recognize that many female MCs don’t associate with the term “feminism,” their commanding presence and demand for self-respect and sexual autonomy was hugely influential on how I came to understand the world and my place in it as a teenage girl and later as an adult woman. Later I’d acquire a copy of Tricia Rose’s definitive Black Noise, a tremendously influential piece of hip hop scholarship that I believe has only been surpassed by her more recent effort, The Hip Hop Wars.
Lest we encase this era of mainstream hip hop in amber, there are a number of contemporary female MCs whose careers and artistic contributions warrant attention, including Psalm One, Dessa, Las Krudas, Nicki Minaj, Invincible, Miz Korona, MicahTron, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Lady Sovereign, JNaturaL, Rita J, and Jean Grae, among so many others. Let’s also not forget the veteran female artists who rose to prominence during this point in popular musical history and are still in the game. Missy forever.
Last night, the deejay represented Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets, Lauryn Hill in Nas’ “If I Ruled the World,” along with Janet Jackson, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Queen Latifah, and (after I checked in with one of the deejays) TLC. But c’mon–this was a monumental time for women in hip hop, as well as female R&B groups who were influenced by hip hop and hip hop culture. A handful of songs hardly suffice when you could devote an entire night to women’s contributions to hip hop during this period.
To be fair, I didn’t hear Positive K’s “I Got a Man,” Bone Thugs’ “First of the Month,” or the Bad Boy remix of Craig Mac’s “Flava in Your Ear” either. But as fine a time as I had last night, there were a number of voices I’d like to have heard from folks like Amil, Erykah Badu, Eve, Lil Kim, Rah Digga, Foxy Brown, maybe even dig deep into the crates for some Sparky D. Some of them may have gotten their due after I left. But all of them necessitate future dance parties. Maybe some clips can help get one started. Feel free to make requests.
SXSW 2011 kicks off today. I’ll be diving into the music portion of the festival with abandon next week and reporting on it for Bitch. For those interested looking for suggestions on what to check out, here’s my rundown.
But before we get started, let’s check some things off our list.
1. Are you wearing comfortable, close-toed shoes that can weather days of walking and standing?
2. Do you have earplugs? Some shows are really loud. You don’t want to be yelling at people during polite conversation days later.
3. Are you staying hydrated? Sure, Lone Star flows freely (and is marked up, though Brooklynites don’t notice), but make sure you’re drinking lots of water.
4. Have you checked the weather before going out?
5. If you’re especially susceptible to cedar fever and the like, did you take any allergy medication?
6. Do you have a schedule? More importantly, do you have several options for each time slot? A lot of us want to see Raphael Saadiq, which means many of us won’t. It’s nice to have contingency plans.
7. Do you have a little bit of sunscreen handy for the day shows? Remember what Darlene Conner learned from her grandmother. Skin is a gift!
Also, some industrious folks can pull a Hilah and make potables to nosh on and barter. I will not be one of them, though, as I’ll most likely be macking on Kebabalicious. For a guide to vegan-friendly fare, check in with Vegan Smurf.
Oh, and musicians. Please don’t spend your set futzing with tunings. You aren’t playing an evening at the Paramount. Yes, I realize that SXSW is a bit of a grind and no doubt showcases feel dehumanizing come Saturday. But if you’re really great, we’ll see you again in an actual concert where you can dazzle us for two hours. For now, you have maybe 50 minutes. Make it count.
Okay. So here is who I’m excited to see.
First, there are the acts that I already know I like. Folks like Thao Nguyen, Jean Grae, Invincible, TOKiMONSTA, Dessa, Glasser, Screaming Females, Julianna Barwick, Grass Widow, tUnE-yArDs, Nite Jewel, Smoosh, Andreya Triana, Indian Jewelry, Sharon Van Etten, and Schmillion.
Then there are legendary types. Did you see that Hazel Dickens is playing? What? Yes, I’ll try to see her. Thanks, “Hot Topic,” for nudging me toward all kinds of important women and/or queer artists.
For better or worse, hype is a big part of what drives SXSW. Hell, it’s what drives the music industry writ large. In addition to all the people lining up to see James Blake, Gold Panda, Weekend, Dum Dum Girls, Tennis, and maybe Fang Island, I’m sure folks are going to try and catch Cults, Yuck, the Joy Formidable, and Ear Pwr. I hope Butts catches some of that buzz. At first, I firmly classified this duo as a novelty act. But their 20-second songs about things like running out of toilet paper are pretty catchy and basically the kind of music I’d want to make with my friend Curran. Also, this band came together after some drinking. The B-52s formed while getting drunk at a Chinese restaurant, and if you call their first two albums “novel,” I’ll fight you.
I’m not sure where Big Freedia and Esben and the Witch are in their careers at this point. I feel like they might be waning a bit. I thought Freedia’s performance at the Kool Keith show was underwhelming and Esben’s debut record was poorly received. Yet I’m still interested in seeing if Freedia will pull out a great show. Also, I heard that Esben gave a great performance at the Matador anniversary weekend in Las Vegas, so I’m still interested.
There are also acts I’d like to see get more attention. Big Freedia’s celebrity has somewhat eclipsed Katey Red, another artist associated with bounce who I actually like more. Wye Oak is a longtime favorite and have steadily built a sizeable following. Their new record is also making me itch to do a comparative analysis between them and Beach House. White Mystery have gotten some good reviews and were a festival highlight for me last year, so I’m going to check in with them again. I haven’t seen the Shondes, but I’m so excited to see them that I encouraged readers to donate money to replace their van so they could play here.
I also like to find a few acts I think have a shot at universal appeal. Folks like Thao Nguyen make accessible, interesting music that I think most everyone I know would like. Maybe you can think of it as “the NPR vote.” Some contenders this year are Carla Morrison, Quadron, Wonfu, Gold Motel, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, Khaïra Arby, and Frazey Ford. I’m also interested in seeing Japanese funk group Zukunasisters.
Supergroups are important too. It’s nice to see awesome musicians come together on a new project. Wild Flag is getting much attention, and “Glass Tambourine” is a rad song. However, please note that Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda, that dog.’s Petra Haden, and Shimmy Shimizu of Cornelius have a promising act called If By Yes. Their songs are breezy and refreshing, like a glass of lemonade with a shot of Tabasco.
Alongside Glasser and Barwick, some ladies are tending toward the dreamy and the mystical. I’ll refrain from comparing any of them to Kate Bush because that’s lazy. However, I’m planning to check out Braids, Grimes, Phantogram, Tamaryn, and Austra. I’m especially interested in artists who do interesting, unsettling things with atmosphere. Lookin’ at you, EMA, Lower Dens, Las Robertas, Blank Realm, No Joy, Christian Mistress, and the White Eyes.
SXSW is a festival that prioritizes rock music. Unfortunately, dance acts and hip hop artists tend to get the shaft. There’s a shocking dearth of hip hop this year beyond what I already listed, though I strongly recommend you follow Scratched Vinyl‘s coverage (founder/editor/personal friend Chi Chi Thalken will be giving a rundown on KOOP’s “Hip Hop Hooray” this Sunday at 2 p.m., so tune in). However, while I don’t want rock to be the festival’s default genre, I do upon occasion enjoy a cold beer and an electric guitar. For folks looking to rock out, might I suggest Heavy Cream, Fever Fever, Puffyshoes, Those Darlins, and Le Butcherettes?
Austin is a thriving music community in its own right, so check out some of our local talent. Christeene‘s an international superstar, but she’s ours. Schmillion are opening for the Bangles, so they’re due to break huge any day now. Agent Ribbons and Soft Healer spin a moody, beautiful tune that befits our vast landscape. Most everyone can get down to Akina Adderley and the Vintage Playboys‘ retro soul.
Likewise, there are some great showcases being put on by locals. I already mentioned GayBiGayGay, which will nurse you through your Sunday hangover. Mess With Texas has become a big-tent tradition. Girls Rock Camp Austin is partnering with Bitch for their day show and is holding a benefit where attendees can receive a guitar signed by Susanna Hoffs. Veronica Ortuño is holding her third annual Night of Rage. KVRX and Party Ends are putting on some good shows as well. And even though Terrorbird Media isn’t a local promotion company, it’s run by some very nice people with good taste. Also, apparently the good people at Karaoke Underground are doing their thing at Dive on Saturday, the 19th. Belt your favorite indie rock tunes, regardless of whether you have a voice left.
I attempted to be comprehensive here, but I’m sure I forgot some important people. Feel free to leave endorsements in the comments section and I’ll see you on the fairground.
We’re a week into my favorite month of the year. In Austin, we’re finally getting some semblance of autumn weather. We’re also in the midst of a season where lots of new music gets released. Thus, it seems time to celebrate some music that represents that idyllic time when the air turns crisp and cool and brittle burnt orange leaves gather with shades of ocher and rust and juxtapose with a sky that’s the complimentary shade of a robin’s egg. The Sea and Cake and Van Dyke Parks are two seasonal favorites. Everything on Tavi Gevinson’s witchy music mix would apply. The new one from Mike Watt, Nels Cline, Yuka Honda, and Dougie Brown is sure to make it into rotation. Here are some blog-appropriate selections. Yours are welcome too.
Few acts provide better aural companionship for scarf weather better than Stereolab, an opinion I’m proud to share with media scholar and Twitter acquaintance Derek Kompare. If fall represents, among other things, returning to academic pursuits, than this band make intellectual rigor look easy, obscuring the cross-outs, highlighter stains, and eraser skids that suggest the educational process as surely as they bury their socialist politics under analog kitsch.
Twee gets a bad rap with detractors often missing the politicized amateurishness, irony, and resistance surrounding all the saccharine. Heavenly suggest its irresistible qualities while Thee Headcoatees gleefully bring the subtextual smut to the surface.
Don’t let the college radio staples fool you. Jean Grae is the smartest person in the room.
Singer-songwriter Judee Sill recently got a critical renaissance after decades of obscurity. Her elegant introspection is perfect for solitary walks at dusk and makes the case for why we should listen and remember her.
I’ve been listening to Georgia Anne Muldrow on a consistent basis since spring. I may as well extend it into another season.
Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosóig capture the season’s hazy qualities.
Austin’s own Soft Healer make music that’s perfect for getting lost in the woods. I was at this show, to the right of the camera.
Magik Markers ramp up the dread when those woods turn ominous and the nocturnal temperature drops.
Sharon Von Etten’s assured vocals will guide you out of the woods. Sandy Denny’s crystalline voice is the clear sky above it all.
Slumberland’s once-forgotten Black Tambourine reminds you that winter’s long dark nights are just around the corner. By that point, I’ll be cozying up to Wooden Shjips and Christmas albums from James Brown and Ze Records. I’ll also be sipping cocoa while revisiting icy offerings from Tim Hecker and Fever Ray, as well as El Guincho’s Pop Negro and Q-Tip’s The Renaissance.
On Monday, BET premiered My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth about Women in Hip-hop, which was posted in full on Miss Info’s Web site. Unfortunately, the first two segments have since been taken down, but you can see clips on the BET Web site.
In truth, I’m waiting for Rachel Raimist to drop some science on it for The Crunk Feminist Collective next Monday, as she promised on Kristen at Dear Black Woman‘s Facebook page. I’m pretty sure the director of the fantastic Nobody Knows My Name, the forebear of BET’s inquiry on gender and hip hop, has some exquisite criticism plotted out. I’ll read, re-tweet, and provide a link in this entry when the blog post goes live.
Also, if you aren’t following The Crunk Feminist Collective, consider this your call to action. rboylorn’s piece this week about black women and depression was one of the best things I read in recent memory.
But I did see My Mic Sounds Nice and, as a feminist hip hop fan who is also a big fan of Nirit Peled’s Say My Name, feel I should use this space to comment and start a dialogue about it. Overall, I liked it.
1. I’m happy BET felt the need to address this subject matter at all. As far as I know, this was the first documentary made for the network and, not unlike Mad Men‘s Birth of the Independent Woman documentary included in the DVD set for season two, the network’s larger programming context was incorporated into the documentary’s narrative. They could’ve done this quite a bit more — say, launch into a discussion of BET: Uncut — but I’m happy a discussion’s starting.
2. Ava DuVernay directed My Mic Sounds Nice. If that name is familiar, you might have seen her documentary This Is the Life: How the West Was One, which I recommended in a previous post.
3. There’s a good mix of mainstream and independent female MCs. I like seeing Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte, Lil Mama, and Jean Grae share screen time.
4. In general, the documentary is a good primer for the development of women in hip hop. And early in the documentary, there’s lots of great context for nascent female involvement through battle rapping and emphasis placed on now-obscured female acts like the Sequence.
5. The overall approach to talking about women in hip hop is refreshingly discursive. DuVernay frames each voice and opinion as distinct and weaves differing or contradictory viewpoints from each subject. For example, it puts Yo-Yo’s intimations that she felt pressure to project a hyper-sexual image in the wake of Foxy Brown and Lil Kim’s mainstream success in the mid-90s in sharp relief to Trina and Nicki Minaj’s lucrative construction of their personae.
There are some things I felt a little strange about, though. These issues don’t speak to the documentary, but rather internal struggles from within a music industry conditioned toward conventional business practices, which hinge on patriarchal thinking.
1. Many mainstream artists — particularly EVE, who came up through the Ruff Ryders crew — have no problem with male mentorship and don’t feel any need to challenge or question it. Conversely, some male recording execs frame certain female MCs’ success as inherently positive, regardless of their views on gender and sexuality.
2. Likewise, there’s some strange pathology around mainstream female rappers being more of a financial drain on the music industry because of conventional beauty ideals. I don’t want to pathologize women of color any further by making essentializing claims about the upkeep of black hair and will instead refer you to Dear Black Woman’s rules. However, I find Missy Elliott, EVE, and Trina’s unchallenged claims that female hip hop artists have to be glamorous and therefore financially burdensome against the idea that male MCs just have to throw on jeans and a t-shirt in need of greater complication. How might fashion-forward MCs like André 3000 and Kanye West challenge this? And why do female MCs have to be conventionally attractive in order to be successful? While the latter is a rhetorical question, I’ll continue to keep asking it.
3. I love Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott. Also, I know how Hill’s absence from the music industry speaks to a profound loss within the genre, but I would’ve liked a) less time devoted exclusively to them, b) more conflicting opinions about them beyond universal praise, and c) a larger context of what other female rappers were doing — particularly in the underground — during their commercial reign.
4. A key idea that is both perpetuated and challenged is that female MCs don’t sell. I would have appreciated more nuance about the state of the music industry in general. Hip hop’s boom crested into pop music’s record-breaking commercial success in the late-90s. However, the 2000s have largely been defined by the ubiquity of digital music culture and a bankrupt music industry. Surely this speaks more to low sales than the cost of hiring and maintaining a glam squad for a female MC.
Best of all, though, the documentary ends with a look toward the future. The interview subjects plug female MCs they think will continue the legacy. Refreshingly, and with not a little business savvy, much consideration is given to underground artists. Jean Grae name-checks Iris and Psalm One. Fembassy editor-in-chief Glennisha Morgan recommends Invincible. A genre with all of them working in continuum with Nicki Minaj is one I’ll continue to follow.