An Afrikan Woman in Hip-Hop

Music | By Black Bird, Musician | 08 May 2015

Women living in modern day Afrika are constantly embroiled in the ongoing battle for equality and acceptance. Despite the growing number of women being employed in the various professions, Afrikan women in the arts still face a lot of discrimination. In my experience, the stigma is even more extreme for women in hip-hop, as the male dominated genre has come to represent a lifestyle that degrades and exploits women. This makes the majority of females who walk the path to hip-hop shy away from their talent when they discover that the Afrikan community doesn’t make it easy to be an Afrikan woman in hip-hop.
When I look at my own life it’s obvious that the demands that Afrikan society places on me as both a woman and as a mother tend to clash with my career as a rapper. I know several male emcees that have the unwavering disapproval of their parents. Imagine how much more disappointing it would be for the typical Afrikan family to discover that their “little princess” has no intention of finding a decent job and good husband, but instead she prefers to gallivant the neighbourhood with the local boys hopping from studio to studio, making unintelligible music that glorifies violence, promiscuity and drunkenness.
According to most if not all Afrikan traditions, girls who live the hip-hop life break several societal norms. Firstly, a girl is supposed to play with other girls and the thought of an adolescent girl spending all her free time with a bunch of rowdy teenage boys is just the beginning of the taboo. When I was 15 years old I began taking hip-hop seriously and discovered that I was the only girl in my entire high school who actually knew how to rap. Some girls could throw one or two lines out, but when it came to freestyles none could match me.  As a result of my decision to rap, the rest of my life generally saw me being the only girl in all-boy crowds. Needless to say, to most people, the situation left a lot to be desired.

As I grew older I thought that people would become more tolerant of my choice to be a hip-hop artist, but the reality revealed that the older people got, the more judgmental they became. Now, 12 years later, I still get the same looks of disapproval when I am spotted with my fellow emcees or other associates of the opposite sex.

Sometimes I feel like stopping all the glaring eyes and shouting out loud, “I just work with them, that’s all!” However, reality always kicks in and I keep walking ignoring the condemning looks from mothers, aunts and grandmothers.
What makes the disapproval  even more painful is that it’s never men who assume the worst; in fact they usually respect and commend me for my work. Instead, it seems that everywhere I go; it’s the women who rip me to shreds with their piercing glares and floating rumours. I find this so ironic, when it’s these very same women who protested and signed petitions for women to have the freedom to pursue whatever careers they desired. It’s these very same strong Afrikan women who raised girls like me to be independent, confident women who use their talents and abilities to feed their families. I am blessed with the gift of flow, yet the women in my community are the ones who parade plastic smiles.

The minute I turn my back, I overhear them speak about the unsuitability of my musical career and how those ‘poor’ children deserve a proper mother.

I remember an incident about 2 years ago, that triggered my first feelings of rebellion against society’s expectations of me. I got home from a show at around 3am and like I did every-time I came in late, I removed my high heels before walking up the stairs and through the passage of my apartment building.

After carefully unlocking my gate and front door, I quietly sneaked into my apartment and then went to bed. The next morning I got up and lay in bed for a while. For some reason or other, my late-night arrival ritual had bothered me and I was not happy with the fact that a grown woman like myself had to sneak into the house, the same way a teenage girl would sneak in from a night of unsolicited clubbing.
As I lay in my bed that Saturday morning I couldn’t understand why I had always removed my heels and subjected myself to the cold floors when I came home late. I couldn’t understand why I snuck into my home like a high school kid. I tried hard to reason why I didn’t want my neighbours to know the times I entered my home, but no matter how hard I tried, I really couldn’t understand my desire to get
their approval.
So what if I worked until 3am? Women who are nurses, security guards and other professions also work odd hours and every now and then they arrive home in the early hours of the next day. I knew that the women who stayed on my block were a bunch of gossip-mongers, so I guess I was sneaking around to avoid any talk about my movements. This however, was a futile attempt as I was already the topic of discussion for many a tea-party so my sneaking about achieved nothing really.

After about half an hour of lying in bed and thinking about my dilemma, I came to the conclusion that it was time to liberate myself of the chains society had put on me. I realized that as a grown woman, earning a respectable living, I had nothing to be ashamed of. Rapping is my job, but both my children remain healthy, happy little girls who everyone adores and admires. My choice of career certainly doesn’t mean that I am incapable of being a loving and responsible mother.

So I will continue to pursue my goal to take women in Afrikan hip-hop to a new level, beginning with myself. I strive to break down all the barriers that stand in the way of an Afrikan woman’s ability to realize her dreams. Being a woman should not stop me from using the gift that God has entrusted me with. Commercial American hip-hop has made the genre become associated with crudity, vulgar language and the sexual exploitation of women. This makes breaking into the mainstream with morally acceptable Afrikan hip-hop an even more exciting challenge. Perhaps our Afrikan mothers and fathers will start to support Afrikans in hip-hop when they see more rappers making music that uplifts and empowers the Afrikan youth. Maybe then will they consider it a viable career option for both Afrikan men and women alike.

Until then, the Afrikan hip-hop artist continues to swim upstream against all opposition, to create a distinct style of hip-hop that can only be found on this continent. The few women who have chosen to make hip-hop their profession now have to deal with numerous challenges thrown at them and find a way of making motherhood, marriage and hip-hop work for themselves and their families.

In as much as Afrikan women in hip-hop may try to please the community, there’s always someone who will disapprove. As long as that person isn’t your children or your spouse, then I say to the female Afrikan rapper “Trod on sister!”. Just like Angola’s Queen Nzinga broke centuries of tradition to become a powerful military general when it was unheard of for a woman to be on the battlefield, Afrikan female rappers have the world at their doorstep and its time that more of them realize the power that they have. The time to break out of their cocoons and follow their passion for hip-hop is now. No matter what the rest of society says I know that nappies and microphones can co-exist. If I am doing it and living the reality right here in Zimbabwe, then I believe tomorrow can only get better for the female hip-hop artist in Afrika.