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Women Hip-Hop Artists and Womanist Theology

Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland, ME 04102, USA
Religions 2021, 12(12), 1063;
Submission received: 5 September 2021 / Revised: 30 October 2021 / Accepted: 10 November 2021 / Published: 1 December 2021


Hip-Hop is a cultural phenomenon steeped in the conservative ideologies of individualism and capitalism. It sells a lifestyle and its most recent surge of rap music and popular culture spotlights Black women more than ever before. Although Black women have always been significant piece in Hip-Hop culture, their artistry has jolted its systemic capitalism and patriarchy to engage intersectionality through a discourse of classism, sexual orientation, and racism while upending White supremacy’s either:or binary. Applying the principles of Womanism, Black female Hip-Hop artists negotiate cultural identity politics as activists to innovatively expand thought on gender performance and produce a fusion of contemporary Blackness for the 21st century. Their artivism builds a safe environment of differences within society using conscious thought, language, and performative methods to defy the White American ethos of sexism, misogyny, and materialism. By garnering a better knowledge of their existence through Indigenous African spirituality, Black women reclaim ownership of their bodies from Western European standards, including race, and gender to challenge Christianity’s meaning of martyrdom. This act of reclamation provides a reformative tool of inclusion and being fluidity through Hip-Hop music and its culture.

1. Introduction

Roles in which men and women traditionally perform and the qualities they must possess for grouping among “men” or “women” are debated throughout history (Marx 1951; Ortner and Whitehead 1981; De Lauretis 1987; Bederman 1995; McGinley and Cooper 2012; Wallace 2015; Moraga and Anzaldúa 2015). These varied opinions, established from a White Western society (i.e., Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian culture), reveal sanctioned policies that significantly impact marginalized populations (i.e., women, racial minorities). Today these policies continue to affect these minority communities (Hayes 1953; Solomon and Higgins 1996; Perry 2012; Perry et al. 2012; Woods 2012). Within the Black minority community, there is also male domination, specifically in Hip-Hop Music. This domination in the Black community suppresses the Black woman’s ethics, femininity, and intersectionality to reinforce what she is already subjugated to in White culture and alienates her existence based on race. Due to this double subjugation from the White Western culture and the male domination within her race, the Black woman must claw her way to gain power.
In this article, it is argued that Hip-Hop’s female artivists1 apply principles of Womanism to challenge Western culture and White supremacy. This specific article will address the topic of intersectionality from the social and political sciences to navigate the historical Black American experiences and the music and performance art fields using Black women in Hip-Hop from the early 1990s. Combining conscious thought, language, and structure across these varied disciplines will illustrate how the exposure of new practices and ways of thinking through shared knowledge produces innovation of style. Through this framework, the Black female Hip-Hop artist can reclaim herself from the dominant male gaze2 established by the White Western culture through religious archetypes (i.e., Christianity). By channeling her historical indigenous roots and asserting her respective cultural standards, the Black woman controls what is and how much is visible to the male gaze through performative measures, sound, and dress. Simultaneously, she defies the non-inclusive construct of Christianity which serves as a trench to aggressively divide the country so White reign supersedes equality of gender and race.
This research addresses Womanism through the stylistics of Hip-Hop culture and lyrics. It explores some of its female innovators as a symbolic disruption to the White patriarchy of American culture. Womanism is a movement grounded in the inclusivity of the community and void of ostracism of the other. It does not differentiate on sexual orientation, gender, race, and social concerns. It does speak to the misogynistic treatment within the constructs of America.
Additionally, in Womanism there is no hierarchy or singular responsibility assigned to any group based upon their biological existence in the same constructs. Both females and males are actively engaged in the strategic advocacy of the community’s social and economic advancement. The inquiry gauges the plausibility of contributions made by Black women to Hip-Hop. These inquiries end up shaping the overall structure of a new 21st-century human rights movement. Do Black female artivists in Hip-Hop repossess the hypersexualized imagery of the Black woman’s body by emphasizing the intersectionality of her being and elevating the understanding of womanhood that breaks free from the male gaze embedded in White supremacy and channeled through Christianity?
Moving beyond the Black/White and male/female either:or self-identifications, Black women shift between multiple identities for survival within the limitations of constructed institutions to function more efficiently within the cooperative conjunction and of Womanism. Black women of Hip-Hop use the performative to address the vital presence of intersectionality in Womanism and the fluidity of gender identity as a modifier of the establishing principles of Hip-Hop. The in and out of character performances of “acceptable” social roles within society playing a man’s game challenge the status quo of American feminism as it continually prioritizes the White gender binary. These same binary gender systems directly link sex (maleness and femaleness) to gender (masculinity and femininity) and place them above the varied intersectionalities found within the foundations of community.

2. Suppression: Western Culture and Its Religion

Kluckhohn and Kelly (1988) define culture “as all those historically created designs for living, explicit and impact, rational, irrational, which existed anytime as potential guide for behaviours of men”. Akama (2012) suggests culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, society.” The study of culture, particularly Western culture, originates from Europe and signifies its ethical values, beliefs and relics, traditions and customs, social norms, and technologies. Western culture has permeated modern culture through colonization, Christianity, education, and technological revolutions, arguably resistant to globalization. Western culture juxtaposed to non-Western cultures (i.e., African, South Asian, Native American) positions non-Western cultures into a binary logic of Western thought without considering their respective notions of socialization, histories, and social constructs.
In Theology, Violence and the “Other”, Anthony Reddie (2014) recounts his Black experience as a member of the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain. He posits that assimilating into British society, more poignantly into the Christian church, causes one to negate their Black self and all its complexities. He states:
Attempts to reify Christian culture and learning have led, almost axiomatically, to the exclusion, marginalization and oppression of others. When Christianity has insisted on parading human constructions as metaphysical, essentialized truth, this has often led to the reification of the aesthetics and conventions of the powerful, whilst marginalizing and oppressing those outside the traditional hegemonies that govern many societies. This tendency is exemplified and has had deadly consequences for Black people when we assess the seemingly rigid determination of mainstream Christian thought to cling onto patriarchal, Judaeo cultic beliefs and doctrines such as our often violent, bloodthirsty doctrines of Atonement. The corollary of this for Christian education has been the reification of suffering, mutilation and servitude for Black women and those groups whose existential experiences would seem to suggest such eventualities as being their normative lot in life.3
Linking these same sentiments to the Black community in America, the counteract of Christianity for Black women is reconnecting to their indigenous African spirituality to combat America’s many constructed polarizations. The Black female artivists of Hip-Hop delve more deeply into the culture of indigenous African spirituality to confront the binary of Western cultured inhibitions and expose White America’s true self. In an attempt to homogenize society through constructs of Christianity, race, and gender, the arrogance of White domination fails to factor in the limitations it brings into the equation. Through natural resistance and muscle memory of her ancestral inflicted scars, the Black woman’s defiance of White America’s repetitive performances throughout history foretells of its supremacy reign and its bearing of a marked timestamp. The Black woman serves as a visual reminder of America’s lack of progression due to the inhumane treatment of her natural being. She speaks to the social and governmental façades to reveal broken agreements and failed commitments to the Black community. She analyzes White America’s Fair Housing Act when it restricts Black families to desolate areas, limiting access to resources and amenities needed for everyday survival. She protests against America’s self-destructive edicts, illustrated by Congresswoman Joyce Beatty’s support of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to avert future issues for America’s democracy.
Nevertheless, it is in their understanding of Hip-Hop’s holism that some Black women know no boundaries. Their audaciousness sustains the Black community, their inventiveness preserves its Black stories, and their integrity champions the African ancestral legacy as the preferred all-inclusive culture. These Black women are unequivocally synced with the infinite because they are a reminder that all things come from them and end with them. Yet, in the dominant power’s attempt to rid the world of any trace of the Black existence, these Black American women consistently give White America a hundred and one reasons to remember their name through their contributions. In Hip-Hop, they set communal precedence, taking direction from the thriving successes of Black American music; these Black women dig more into the meaning of family and community to hone their natural ties to African religion and its spirituality. Their notoriety is the original soundtrack and from it are produced samples which are the framework of America’s true greatness. In their Black essence, they birth the spontaneity and spirit-filled songs of Black enslaved beings as they mapped out their escape route to freedom through the encoded messages of “Hold On”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, and “Wade in the Water.” They endure the defamation of the Black divine image in the Jazz and Blues sounds of Carmen McRae, Gloria Lynne, Melvina Allen, and Dakota Staton.
This article is in no way meant to essentialize Black women as possessing a singular narrative. There is no one story coming from the experiences of individuals who share similar communities (i.e., culture, gender, family). Neither does this article infer the identities of Black women are exclusively socially constructed or that solely their character is based upon a biological essence. But, in understanding intersectionality and applying its concepts to Black women, both essentialism and socially constructed roles address an existence that aligns with the principles of African Indigenous Spirituality. Particularly in Yoruba tradition, for example, it is believed that each individual chooses their body inhabitant and family before birth. This perspective bears no distinction between the various scriptures found within Christianity, which speak to predestination. In this article, however, essentialist phrasing that may be perceived as binary would suggest that some Black women have strong connections to the practices and traditions of their ancestors. This association enables them to tap into their ancestral resources for a direct sustaining force of leadership as community educators, griottes, and healers.
In the analysis of Christianity’s performative [see p. 5 for a definition of performative] alongside Womanism principles and Hip-Hop, its narrative has brought a consciousness among Black women to initiate a repossession of the old African spirituality and their lost identity to their indigenous heritage. Understanding that Christianity was imposed upon the enslaved Blacks of the African Diaspora as an act of forced compliance and to initiate the practice of removing home connections and memories, Hip-Hop’s novelty leaves room for reclamation but also an entrance of the imminent. The African indigenous ties indicate the performative song and dance found within Hip-Hop, tracked through the traditional Jamaican movement and features of Revival, Gereh, and mento in dancehall, and rooted in the ancestral African memory and its oral tradition. Kariamu Welsh-Asante (1985) identified seven foundations to preserve Indigenous African tradition—repetition, holism, polyrhythm, polycentrism, curvilinearity, multidimensionality, and epic memory— in music and dance that unified the past with the present. Despite the varied geographies, people, languages, and cultures, each of these foundations aligns with the ancestors’ spiritual presence and manages solutions to endure the tumultuous standards of colonialism (p. 72). The enforced practices of Christianity suppressed body movement and rhythmic beats, imposing European social and cultural stratifications, which ultimately are rejected by Black female Hip-Hop artivists as a way of reclaiming their roots and finding empowerment.

3. Indigenous Spirituality: Womanism

Indigenous spirituality, or Indigenous African religion, as referenced by Jacob Olupona, denotes the native religious beliefs of the African people before colonization occurred with Christianity and Islam (Chiorazzi 2015). Indigenous African religion is the blueprint of one’s identity and resonates directly with the familial demographics. For example, the Dogon religion represents the region of Mali in West Africa, and the Bantu religion is associated with various ethnic groups of Central, Southeast, and Southern Africa. The distinctive qualities of African spirituality show through its lack of separation from daily life, its plurality, and adaptability to an environment. In the introduction of Another World is Possible: Spiritualities and Religions of Global Darker Peoples, editors Hopkins and Lewis (2014) convey the fluidic energy of the supernatural within humans. They offer a comprehensive reality to the societal dealings for people of color different from White people and how they have othered. Hopkins and Lewis states, “[t]he gods, God, and ancestors give life to peoples and their cultures, ecologies, and economies, all in the service of aiding the human community to be more fully human…” (Hopkins and Lewis 2014, p. 1) Reality disconnects from the spirituality of one’s culture, environment, or society. Spirituality for people of color are inclusive of, but not limited to, the reality of the present, its politics, the body’s health and wellness regime, marriage principles, apparel, and death and the after-life.
For African people, spirituality is no makeshift persona simply for public consumption. It is their way of life, whereas the culture of White people distinctively isolates identity from the ecology, the progression, and the complete spirituality of being. The understanding of spirituality transfers to Black Americans, as descendants of the Black Diaspora, through America’s cultural and ecological experience. Albeit varied by individual, how Blacks move in and out of White spaces is spiritual. The framework of Womanism supports this model throughout its structure in a way, unlike American feminism. For Black women, there is no separation of racial equality from gender equality; any form of inequity has a significant effect on everyone and everything. Lorde (2007) expressed this sentiment clearly in her keynote speech at the 1981 National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Connecticut. She stated, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”, this acknowledges the relational ties and bond to others regardless of their racial or cultural difference. Black women innately know that standing in solidarity with White women will promote freedom for all women but White women, in their actions, only choose to see color and their White race as the determining factor in fighting for women’s rights. This action pejoratively deems Blacks inferior to Whites, furthering racial segregation and elevating White supremacy above all else.
Before exploring the particulars of Womanism as an adjuster of what performance studies scholar Schechner calls “gender performative”, it is crucial to differentiate it from American feminism. It is also important to distinguish performance from performative. Particularly within art culture, performance and performative possess overlapping qualities in principle, but each bears a distinct action. Performance requires the physical “doing” or execution of an action, whereas performative manifests as an action in the simplistic expression of a statement. For example, when one says, “You’re hired”, that alone performs the act of hiring. Pioneer Richard Schechner (2013) of performance studies suggests that performance is a kind of action occurring in different instances. He states:
Performance must be construed as a ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘continuum’ of human actions ranging from ritual, play, sports, popular entertainments, the performing arts (theatre, dance, music), and everyday life performances to the enactment of social, professional, gender, race, and class roles, and on to healing (from shamanism to surgery), the media, and the internet…there is no historically or culturally fixable limit to what is or is not ‘performance.’
(p. 2)
However, sociologist Brian Roberts distinguishes the performative from the performance by including and emphasizing the “processes and ‘tools’ from all of the arts and humanities and social sciences.” (Roberts 2008) He sees the performative as a way of dealing with the scientific descriptions of communal identities or perceiving them from the lens of an art enthusiast and acknowledging its reference to the communicative influences and audience engagement of the performance. Consider a rapper’s wardrobe or their mannerisms as an extension to their personal and community representation. Simply, performance is a noun (with performing as a verb, which produces a performance). Performative is an adjective, which describes the ‘manner in which’ (performative approach, performative attitude, gender as performative, performative act) the identity and repetitiveness of an action and its performer. Womanism speaks to the discourse of gender as a performative. Not only are the similarities found within the diversity of humankind acknowledged, but it also celebrates the differences. Womanism specifically defines diversity as everything and everyone, without the exclusion of anyone and anything. Its responsibility differs from American feminism by dedicating its purpose to the inner value and significant contributions of diverse styles of people instead of society’s external, superficial associations. The internal value represents the foundation of a being, according to the gospel of Luke4. It is of this character that each being reflects the external and the external back to them. Womanism bears a deep, ancestral link through the sounds of the resonating Black music to tell a diverse and complete American story despite many attempts to destroy the trace of its essence. However, the construction of the American feminism script draws from a single, monolithic patriarchal system that dictates its every performance down to the very root of societal views and language. It conveys to the world a predominantly Protestant Christian, White, middle-class image that is oppressed economically, socially, politically, and psychologically by the dominant male power.

4. Womanism: Hip-Hop

The collective perspective of Womanism translates from the natural elements found within Indigenous African culture into Hip-Hop’s essence of “‘Come as you are.’ We are a family” (Chang 2005). It distinctively expresses the Black American struggle for human dignity and social justice while not separating it from the struggle of global darker skin people. Hip-Hop and the Black women artivists communal diligence to the world of Hip-Hop draws from the continuing ancestral spirituality to create a complete bond beyond touch (tactile perception), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory)5, sound (auditory), and sight (visual). They structurally organize lyrics on the initial elements of Hip-Hop and build on the knowledge and sensory integration of the natural with the supernatural. This creativity enables them to engage in everyday life without considering White supremacy’s subjugation through tainted Christianity. Deeply invested in the history, the culture, and the newness of Hip-Hop, they allow their bodies to represent Hip-Hop without controlling it. Hip-Hop stands as a separate entity, just as their positioning, with full latitude to code switch and shapeshift to become an entirely different essence.
Their differences embody the aurality of deejaying (DJing), synching it with the body’s sound (auditory) sensory to transpose ancestral rhythms to a newfound manipulation of sound and keep the community inspired but attentive. The inventive breaks and isolated percussive beats join the vestibular sensory to the physicality of breakdance (B-Boying/B-Girling), balancing the body’s wheelhouses of energy. This acrobatic style of expressive movement informs the head and body of its duty of maintaining a resilient presence when sitting, standing, and walking while Black in America. Always remembering, as prophesied, that Proverbs 18:16 guarantees one’s talents will make room for them and present them before great leaders of power. Their abilities have indeed permitted them a stage in distant lands and connections with global influencers. Hip-Hop pairs graffiti with the visual sensory to influence an artistic representation, “tagging”, to keep account of its story by leaving names and artwork in public places as a reminder for future generations despite past erasures of its Black people. Its narrative is verbalized aloud through the orality of emceeing (MCing) and “rapping”, merging all of its elements through the spoken word with the taste (gustatory) sensory, for “[d]eath and life [are] in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). These Black female artivists manifest the social conditions of the time, modernizing the struggles of the Blues and utilizing the proprioception sensory for awareness of the Black body in this moment of space and time. The cadenced vocal rhyming and its rapid-fire wordplay demonstrate life as honey-sweet and death as venom through the descriptors of the communities shattered by White American supremacy. The Womanist mothers and their descendants, Hip-Hop’s female artivists integrate their self-knowledge with the spiritual and political consciousness of the Black American experience to inspire a movement more significant than themselves.
The Black members of the disadvantaged communities within the Bronx redirected their frustration towards the fight of social inequities (Chang 2005) and the major overhaul of systemic and structural changes (Caro 1974). Womanism, like Hip-Hop culture, possesses a community foundation. Still, unlike Hip-Hop, it has a “mother-centered matrix” that governed many African societies before being colonized by western patriarchy. Mother-Centered Matrix dates back to Kemet (modern Egypt), aligning both the feminine and masculine fluid energies (Abdullah 2012) found within the human being while negating the positioning of a hierarchal order. This alignment, native to African cultures and represented by the spirituality found within the female Goddess Ma’at, is symbolic of “an interrelated order of rightness, including the divine, natural and social” (Karenga 2004). However, in the western world, the patriarchy is constructed in the placement of a supreme creator. It represents a means of domination and is indifferent to the needs of the other. The White, western European worldview goes against communal living and cultivates a separatist ideology to preserve their identity and racial configuration at the expense of the other.
This separation by choice spills over into every aspect of the White culture, from government acts indicative of the United States constitutional law and the legal state-sponsored segregation cases to gender and religious separation. The forced separation also conflicts with the parable of the wheat and tares found within Matthew’s text (see Matthew 13:24–30), the instruction to inform all nations of the gospel regardless of race, color, or creed (see Matthew 28:19), and the unifying of all people in heaven (see Revelation 7:9). Author and 17th-century theologian Matthew Henry writes an opposed commentary to Christianity’s specific utilization of men’s suppression of women to show a more relational perspective to a creator’s words. He suggested the woman was created “of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved” (Henry 1721). From this assessment, man’s need to segregate goes against every supreme ordinance given. This need to segregate places White nationalists more at a disadvantage with the biblical principles they claim to uphold (see 1 Corinthians 12, verses 12–26).
The performance of man and woman’s creation was an autonomous but normal functioning codependent relationship that served as the model for the community. Adam comes from the earth, and Eve comes out of the rib of Adam, yet both are independently operational. As a solo entity, Eve can walk on her own and provide sustenance for herself; Adam, too, can survive on his own. However, as a pair of human beings, their joined efforts bring more power and effectiveness to a task. Additionally, the companionship of one another as similar beings leads to a more fulfilling life. Adam’s loyalty and love for himself reflect Eve, and together their presence is intensified to be mirrored back to a creator. If the creator of both female and male crafted each out of the ground and utilized its image, this same creator would not, in turn, set its self against itself. That action would be counterproductive and marked by defeatism. The understanding of this action is where, nonetheless, Christianity gets it wrong. By implementing a hierarchal format without the proper checks and balances, a dysfunctional codependent relationship becomes an imbalanced power. One entity places value on things and ultimately becomes self-indulged without considering all perspectives, the before and after consequences of their desires. Man emphasizes submission and puts the woman’s frame behind his own to “protect” her, claiming ownership of her body and dictating her every movement. This action offsets his existence with the perceptions of a creator God because his attention redirects to the woman. But this even posits a concern to his intention. Could it be that man only disguises his true nature to maintain a specific power and control over the women? Man focuses on her being and her daily routines, confirming his position and identity as the self-imposed steward of her body and actions. However, per man’s initial instructions in Genesis chapter 2, verse 15, he is ordered by a creator to tend to the earth and maintain the garden’s upkeep. The man indeed deviates from the original plan and seeks to elevate his status above the other, the woman.
The woman, whose creation performance begins from the man’s side, is puzzled by her responsibilities as instructed by the creator and interpreted by man. Her being knows she is to uphold the words given to her by the man, but her being also knows that in man’s focus on her routine, he is not managing his duties assigned to him by the creator. With this awareness, the Black woman’s human existence endures voluntary and involuntary martyrdom. Specifically, in approximately 100 Bible verses, she is requested to worship and (1) honor the creator as an independently created being. As a contributor to a standard, functioning codependent relationship, her task is to (2) assist the man as a “help meet.” As a part of a community, she should (3) nurture her interconnected presence with her surrounding environment (i.e., family, friends), and (4) self-care for sustainability. Historically when considering the life of a martyr, thought is given to someone who chooses to devote their life to a cause in which they are passionate for life. In this manner does the Black woman position herself for martyr status and offers reverence to her perceptions of a creator when she chooses to fight for self and the community’s well-being. The Black woman is perceived to take on each given responsibility with little to no effort, and her strength is commendable, even to the brink of her extinction. Not until she chooses to place limitations on her work and opts out of the burdened expectations depicted by White supremacy does she become vilified for her unwillingness to submit to the man as the constructed head.
This oppression links to the audacity of the willful defiance of the Black being with its White oppressor. The Black body was and still is seen as the sole property of its colonizer, its captor, and their said legacy, which could easily be transferable to any White descendant of their family’s will. To resist the supremacy of the White being, regardless of age, gender, or religious affiliation, was and is the same as rebelling against their perceptions of a creator who is the assumed authority of their totalitarian. For example, historian Glenn M. Linden in Voices from the Reconstruction Years, 1865–1877, wrote of a local sheriff and an ex-Confederate soldier Christopher Columbus Nash. With 150 Whites, he retaliated in Colfax, Louisiana at the voting of Black elected officials into office. He would later come to establish the White League and admonish Whites to unify for “the maintenance of our hereditary civilization and Christianity menaced by a stupid Africanization (Linden 1999).” Author Jemar Tisby in his book, The Color of Compromise, details Black resistances and the retaliation of these resistances by Whites, particularly as they pertain to the created and maintained racist practices within the White American church from the early colonial days to its current performative of complicity. He covers the successes of the Civil Rights era coupled with the adversity of Jim Crow laws to address the White supremacy’s use of biblical rhetoric intertwined with constitutional policy. He states, “racism among Christian believers was much easier to detect and identify. Professing believers openly used racial slurs, participated in beatings and lynchings, fought wars to preserve slavery, or used the Bible to argue for the inherent inferiority of black people” (Tisby 2019, p. 155). Connecting this to a delusional justification known as the “color-blind conservatism”, he quotes Lee Atwater, former campaign strategist for President George H.W. Bush. He states:
By excising explicitly racial terms like’ black,’ ‘white,’ or ‘nigger’ from their language, practitioners can claim they ‘don’t see color.’ As a result, people can hold positions on social and political issues that disproportionately and adversely harm racial and ethnic minorities, but they can still proclaim their own racial innocence. As Atwater articulated, it is clear that the switch from racial language to supposedly color-blind discourse was once a conscious and deliberate choice. Today, it has become second nature—and the unconscious practice of many American Christians.
These adaptations from the vulgar to the abstract retain their brash tones yet with a subtler and more sophisticated flow, but the nature is still White American supremacy. Historian Carol Anderson (2021) in The Second brings the context even closer to home with references to professor Robert O. Self and his investigative research on the 1950s inquiries into the Oakland Police Department and the even more recent performatives in opposition of the Second Amendment as a performance for anti-Blackness. The multiple cases of brutality at the hand of law enforcement garner the story of Andrew L. Hines, a Black musician who “‘was beaten severely’ when officers learned his wife was white” (Anderson 2021, p. 128). It acknowledges the stories of Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. While a more significant number of documented tragedies speak of Black men, the moment a Black woman exercises her right to be a woman and human, her words and life are at the very mildest ignored. At the extreme, her life may be snatched away in a single moment without a trace.
Christianity for the Black body, specifically the Black woman, targets her and is utilized as a weapon for her lack of support to the complementarianism model. While “less dignified than patriarchy”, Russell Moore supports the complementarianism model but is not a fan of the terminology (Moore 2007). As the current president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Moore spoke with Mark E. Dever, senior pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., to provide a Christian leadership perspective. Unlike the American feminist paradigm, Womanism did not support the separatist ideologies or practices to exclude men, subscribing to hierarchy. The Womanist movement expected men to engage in the work because they too were recognized as a part of all contributing voices. They realized the need for their influence as allies were very instrumental to the uplifting of the community, especially in the patriarchal American society. Many of the Black women who were active in the politics of the American feminist movement in the 60s and 70s spoke out regarding female subjugation and the exclusion of Black women voices during the Black Power Movement. They felt a trickling effect from Black men within the community as a subsidiary of White American patriarchy, then yet another trickling from White women as an outgrowth of White supremacy.
These doubly marginalized experiences compelled author Michele Wallace to share her perspective of the marginalization of Black women in her book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman and the masculine biases within Black politics that emerged as a subculture of White patriarchy. She writes, “[C]ivil Rights Movement tactics were deserted because they depended too much upon the goodness of whites. But the Black Movement turned out to be even less independent in its notion of freedom. There was a great deal more marching around with rifles and combat boots, of badmouthing and threatening whites, than there was of actual revolutionary planning and action” (Wallace 2015, p. 78). In her interpretation of these occurrences, Wallace emphasized the romanticization of the Black Power Movement by many. At the same time, less focus was given to the actual work done in the trenches and primarily maintained by the activity of the Black women. The attention placed on the male’s abrasive speech and his need to reclaim power from the White man dismisses the contributions of the women and rewrites them from the narrative. However, the female artivists of Hip-Hop chose not to sit idle in wait for the men to acknowledge their presence. They specifically chose to creatively operate beyond the barriers set by the patriarchal institution and navigate the world to set trends and inspire both men and women alike in the entertainment industry.

5. The Black Female Martyr Experience

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2021) defines a martyr as “a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.” The term martyr attributes Black women’s sacrifice of self (think Mary J. Blige)6 and presence (think Cindy Campbell and Sylvia Robinson)7. The use of martyr affixes to Black women in surviving White America’s criticism regarding their lack of appropriateness in western fashion (think Misa Hylton)8 and style (think Missy Elliot)9. So, these martyrs advocate for social change, even to the detriment of their holistic care and sometimes dignity. While some may perceive it as a purposeful pursuit, these Black women’s American journey would have differed had their ancestry directly linked them to European origins. But as descendants of enslaved Africans, the Black women of Hip-Hop reconstruct and widen the scope of communication to make it inspirational, inclusive of an American encoded language, and simultaneously gender-neutral. Their existence is a direct link that transcends the rhythms of reggae and dancehall, the legacy of the early negro churches, and the politics of the Black American communities to become a transnational performance culture, just as much as a global performative.
To know the Black American experience is to be acquainted with the diversity of its music. Its variation of styles—Spirituals/Gospel, Blues, Soul/Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, and Rap—are explicitly linked with the scars indoctrinated into the memory of enslaved Africans’ minds, physical bodies, and their descendants. Of these traces, Hip-Hop is an imposing and transcendental creative expression deeply rooted in the Black Diaspora experience and comparatively weaves an understanding of the realities of Black Americans with the colonized oppressed. This connection disregards the need for a racial or gender divide but gives precedence to the Black kinetic existence as members of the human race, synced with creation’s natural and supernatural elements. The global sound of Hip-Hop connects enslaved Africans and their descendants to the ancestors of their African Indigenous spirituality to [represent] “the grittiness of life” (Miller and Pinn 2015). When applying Hip-Hop’s universal representation to the philosophical thought of Womanism, it critically identifies American feminism associated solely with western White-European culture and its idyllic perspective to life. Womanism, much like Hip-Hop, is the most unrepentant culture of Black America in that it elicits the good, the bad, and the ugliness of everything American from the perspective of the marginalized populace. While feminism in Europe and its subset within America may be cynical of patriarchy and its capitalistic grip on women, it fails to acknowledge the lingering effects of colonization on marginalized communities. Still, more directly, White feminism disregards the hardships it causes for Black women. The construct of race is still the great divide of feminism in Western culture, whereas Womanism provides a more plausible and interstitial perspective. As a musical performative, Hip-Hop differentiates from other Black American genres. For example, Gospel music and its content is more forgiving of White supremacy. Its singers’ function to “testify, in song, to the power of their religious experience, to their very close and personal knowledge of their Jesus and to his ability to carry them through the worst that the society and the conditions of the time could do to them” (Small 1998, p. 105). Hip-Hop cuts through the subtleties of the friendly dialogue found in this content. It skirts the dreary and extensive Black struggle of Blues music to speak to the root of the “blues”, which in most cases is some form of White supremacy, to demand the denied reparations of America. While Jazz is more subversive in its message to shape activism, unifying individuals through the lack of lyrics in songs, the flexibility of improvisation, and “a strong element of playfulness and humour” (Small 1998, p. 152).
Womanism, just as Hip-Hop, in its resistance offers no limitations. Its intersectionality expands human’s understanding of the complexities found within the world and its people. It grounds itself in the family to tackle racial, class, and gender inequities; something like connecting Gospel music and its indoctrination of the sacred to the destructive power of Blues with its seductive “devil’s music” sound. The Black women of Hip-Hop sacrifice their reputations, their privacy, and frequently their lives to go against societal norms and create a sound that personifies both feminine and masculine self-images for the sake of divine principle. Their understanding of martyrdom is ancestral reverence, and the belief of multiplicitous is the makeup of our existence which empowers us to live harmonious with the community and with nature. Their perspective of martyrdom unbridles the female body, which is subjected to the childlike fantasy of the male gaze, to reveal a being much like the dominant power, as one and with many members (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

6. Female Artivists Claiming the Power of the Gaze

Politics, academia, and other ideologies confirmed the woman’s place to be in service to men. Yet, the tone set by Hip-Hop’s artivists lyrically and visually defied the roles consistently enforced upon them. Rappers such as Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Da Brat, and Lil’ Kim tell the world how it will be and how they will choose to live their lives. Not only did the lyrics contribute to the auditory concept of their identity as performance artists, but video culture was also becoming more prominent with shows such as Yo! MTV Raps and BETs Rap City. These platforms were another space for them to showcase their image and add a fuller performance concept through visual and auditory performative. On the second studio album of MC Lyte, Eyes on This, she writes with more confidence in her attacks on “Survival of the Fittest” when she says:
Never does one know the force that is in them
Till some puss jumps up and offends them
Then I have to subtract, minus and eliminate
Those that try to front and try to perpetrate
- - - - - - -
Those who try to know me before they meet me
You can’t grow on me, so don’t greet me
I’m sick of the prentendin’ and all the make-believe
Pronto, move back, give me space to breathe
I’m not a push-over, so don’t push up on me
I’m not a sidewalk, so don’t try to walk on me10
Her lyrics were her disclaimer to the industry of the perceived “damsel in distress” role, a position often attributed to women, confirming that her words were the product of her shared experiences and sometimes more personal encounters. Her voice, a threat against the constructed binary that politicians, theologians, and academics had gone to great lengths to prove women’s subordination (De Beauvoir 2011), is now charged and motivated for success. The fear and insecurities of men that had been the burden of Black women now emphasize the destruction within the Black community. She rapped skillfully to distinctively weave Black realities to depict the world of drug dealers and senseless murders within marginalized communities. Her words not only gave power to the voices of many mothers, daughters, and sisters who felt silenced and remained hopeless, but her words uplifted the principles of Womanism by reiterating its obligation “to survival and wholeness of [an]entire people, male and female.” (Walker 1983, p. xi) This repetitive performance was antithetical to White supremacy and critical to patriarchy. Lil’ Kim focused on promoting sex-positive femininity and the woman’s obligation, just as the man’s, to fulfill gratification through another lens of power. She shelved the timeless tales of the male’s need to conquer her being as his property physically. Lil’ Kim gains control of his thoughts through her alluring dress and resituates the gaze to follow her winding pathway in and around her luscious curves. She becomes the mastermind and designer of the sexual fantasy, paying homage to the woman who controls the narrative through her explicit rhymes. She gives women the option to make decisions that bring them happiness without any apprehension to the contradictory double standards.
Her studio album Hard Core debuted at number 11 on the US Billboard 200 when she was a teenager in high school and was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Its impact lists it as one of the Best Rap Albums of the 90s, but the songs and lyrics portray Lil’ Kim as a sensual woman beyond her years. Lil’ Kim was intense and commanding in her bedroom capabilities but even more expressive with what they garnered for her in “Big Momma Thang.” It was her song “We Don’t Need It” when she conveyed her lack of patience for a man who did not reciprocate the work and allow her to reach her pinnacle of ecstasy just as she did for him. She rapped,
I like a nigga like to put his back in it,
If it’s a weave f—around and pull a track in it,
All I get, few strokes that’s it,
This bomb a—sh—’s got your cigarettes lit11
When interviewed and questioned in the Fall 2016 issue of XXL Magazine about her explicit lyrics and the effect they had on the world of Hip-Hop with her over-the-top provocative style, she stated:
The sexy part was just me…[m]y mom, to me, was super sexy when she was young and vibrant and I always thought she was fly. I just tried to mimic my mother. My mother had mink coats and all of that when I was a little, little girl…[s]o, I would sneak and wear her stuff to school. She would know though because I would leave something in there. I always liked older stuff. I would watch and try to hang out with the older girls and they loved me.
Her sex appeal materialized in the imagery of her album covers and her overall fashion. Lil’ Kim played to the male’s imagination through her model poses and directed the viewers’ gaze to ideal places of interest in which she solely controlled. Even with her visual guidance, she left just enough mystery for a repeat performance as the fantasy. Lil’ Kim was at the helm as the woman in the performance and the performative, calling the shots while reaping the benefits. Journalist Jake Hall of British magazine i-D referenced Lil’ Kim as the forerunner of female rappers in Hip-Hop who owned her sexuality beyond the industry’s depiction of “video girls cast to dance around the male breadwinner” (Hall 2016). He contends, “Kim reversed this notion, announcing her arrival to hip hop with a provocative promo poster that saw her clad in a leopard print bikini and matching feather-trimmed robe.” She knew the importance of the body and the source of her feminine power, but more importantly, she knew how to use it to her advantage.
In acknowledging Lil’ Kim’s mid-teenage introduction to the world, even in her young experiences as a Black woman, she advocated for Womanism. Her radical self-celebration, more particularly, was and is the embodiment of “women’s emotional flexibility and women’s strength” (Walker 1983, p. xi). Her sensual awareness was critical to her emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health. Lil’ Kim exposed society’s criticism of the “working girl” performative in her self-relationship and revealed its closeted fascination with the trade. With knowledge of the body’s power and sacredness, Lil’ Kim was in opposition to the angry and “bra-burning feminists” imagery and their need to quell the patriarchy. Her nature mirrored the passionate desires of the patriarchy back to itself without guilt. Her actions were secure and sound, purposing to repossess the hypersexualized imagery of the Black woman’s body and promote the understanding of womanhood beyond the physical gaze of objectivity to the spiritual presence of her perceptions of a creator God. For to see the Black woman, her Black body, and her Black essence is to see the beauty in everything that a creator made, especially his sixth-day creation of intersected fe/male, and to confirm that “behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The White gaze sees only the imperfection of the being’s external appearance. Contrastingly, the Black woman gazes into the heart and soul of an individual to reflect the purity of the earth and its regenerating powers. Living in the intersectionality of her being, knowing its limitations and powerful energy, Lil’ Kim and the Black woman accentuate their connection to the divine. They filter their tears for healing and dedicate themselves to the community’s revitalization by “orchestrating their symphony of furies” (Lorde 2007).
Other female artivists such as Missy Elliot with her songs “Hit ‘Em Wit’ Da Hee” (Remix), “Work It”, and “One Minute Man”, and Da Brat’s “Let’s Get High” and “That’s What I’m Looking For” symbolized the voice of Black women. These songs were of Black women who were confident of the ask and unapologetic in their aspirations. These heavy-hitting anthem songs for Black women served as reminders to maneuver one’s being with ease and knowing when to root oneself because instinctively, there is a prosperous progression within the community. However, in the same instance, be attuned to the body’s need for transiency due to the White patriarchy’s lack of service to the progression of the Black community. The motivation of the patriarchy is to conquer and possess, something Missy Elliot challenged when she stated in “Hit ‘Em Wit’ Da Hee”, “you’re not good enough to satisfy me, even with yo cars and all the fly whips, I won’t trip.”12 Despite being a part of a culture that insisted women minimize their power at the expense of men, Missy’s words took direct aim to man’s need for validation and his fundamental interest to possess. She set new trends along with Queen Latifah and Lil’ Kim because they went against White supremacy and its institutional structures predicated in a misinformed theologian perspective and governed from an exclusive masculine vantage point control. When Queen Latifah asked rhetorically, “who you calling a bi—?” in her notorious song “U.N.I.T.Y.”, her objective put to trial man’s interpretation of Mark 12:31 and questioned if America’s sexism, racial bigotry, and religious intolerance were a real example of Jesus’ simple instructions? In her defiance of the man’s stance to her Black being, she uncovered the hypocrisy of White America and its Christian community. The blatant verbal and physical abuse Queen Latifah rapped about, whether speaking on gender or race, expected women to consent with appreciation. To go against the performative script of the White patriarchal construct would result in male anger and retaliation13. Her simple identification of a woman or a Black being did not deny her the same respect and privileges afforded to a man or a White being. By understanding who she was—a human being—and who she embodied—the divine creation—Queen Latifah could stand within her truth firmly. Her self-knowledge would apply similar arguments the White Christian colonizers would have utilized when they seceded from Britain to secure their civil rights and liberties as citizens of the United States.
The declaration of America as one nation under God and its affinity towards Protestant Christianity is to be educated on a hierarchal authority of the sexes and dedicated to using 1 Corinthians chapter 11, verse 914. While its interpreters eradicate the free will of the woman’s presence from their analysis, making them the other, the Christian teachings sanction policymakers to confine women to the scope of the family and burden them with the responsibility of man’s original sin. In this way, they eradicate the man’s free will to decline the offer to partake in sin. Just as many colonizers protested the laws passed by Parliament because they believed them to go against their civil rights and liberties, Black people in America felt and continue to believe the laws passed by White men similarly violate them as human beings. Further, Black women are still not even considered for the space of men—White and other—or White women due to their double strikes. In her words and actions, Missy informed White men that the past permitted women to be treated as a piece of property, granting men constitutional rights and responsibility to the extent that the woman could be imprisoned or beaten. However, her Black body, Black spirit, and whatever she deemed pleasurable are at her discretion.
Missy balanced a divine style of both the masculine and the feminine, prohibiting her from giving up too much of one exclusive power. She is intersectional in her mannerisms. Her composure identifies with the Portsmouth community from which she came while also speaking favorably to the gender fluidity commonly found within the skillset of Black women. Her agility at code-switching indicates her southern church roots and represents everything about the matriarchal “Big Momma.” When she first hit the Hip-Hop scene, she was a beautiful, voluptuous brown-skinned woman who “cross-dressed” with the big and baggy and or the bedazzled form-fitting; a bit of edginess but not oversexualized. Missy is very atypical of the Hip-Hop cookie-cutter models found within the video performatives; her talents allowed her to shape a space for another different kind of Black woman within the constructed Black narrative of White society. Although Missy has since physically changed her weight, her dominant sociological presence symbolizes a clear contrast to White America’s female depiction. This imagery does not support the White adult male fantasy. Her psyche is beyond this earthly realm with its alternative sounds. Missy is the personification of pure spirit and pure earth, making a further declaration in “Hit ‘Em Wit’ Da Hee” when she raps:
Cause I got many guys that wanna buy me
French cuts for my wrists to keep me hooked smooth out and dip
I keep hittin’
- - - - - - -
Just ’cause you cash a check and put it in da bank
That don’t make me want to go out and sleep wit’ you
I got my own ride and gas in da tank
Thanks, but no thanks, I won’t be needin’ you
I hit ’em wit’ da15
In knowing her value as a Black woman, in America, Missy can set her standards with others while simultaneously maintaining allegiance to the Hip-Hop community code. She promotes the authenticity of her complete form and style, devoid of the dominant culture and its influences, to openly and intuitively create as a forward thinker. Her Womanistic strength mystically weaves a web around each individual who came into her presence. She expounds on the meaning of community, its influence on others, and its care for others. Missy’s confidence in her sexuality and her spiritual capacity to activate her desires represents the complete opposite of mainstream and its patriarchal expectations.
Missy Elliot’s confidence in who she is as a Black woman, as an artist, and her American experiences were the driving force behind her failure to conform to the standards of White society. She resisted French writer Simone de Beauvoir’s notion of becoming a woman because “becoming” for a Black woman configures Western European standards and is more restrictive in America. De Beauvoir believed “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman” (De Beauvoir 2011), leaving it to society to draw from its forces an element strong enough to definitively create its ideal woman. Gender theorist Judith Butler (1998) summarized this notion in her essay “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”, stating that, “[t]o be female is, according to that distinction, a facticity which has no meaning, but to be a woman is to have become a woman, to compel the body to conform to a historical idea of ‘woman,’ to induce the body to become a cultural sign, to materialize oneself in obedience to a historically delimited possibility, and to do this as a sustained and repeated corporeal project” (p. 522). For a Black woman in America, even if she does conform to the ideals of western culture (i.e., straightened hair, homemaker), her Blackness still negates her story. It prevents her from being the face of America. So, she must remedy this matter by making her space and setting her table. The Black woman knows with certainty there is nothing accredited to her, but everything is profited from her to build the wealth of others. Not only do Butler’s historical ideas speak to the antiquated constructs within America—the demand for the woman to adapt to practices not aligned with her independent voice as a separate entity—they talk wholly to the lack of care given to the woman in her care of others. Inspired by the Corpus of Civil Law, these laws suggest that modern legislations directly connect from the Corpus of the community laws around 450 B.C.E., during Rome’s Republican era, to more customary laws of the 11th century on women. These laws addressed dowries, divorce, and inheritance to relegate property to male family members (i.e., husbands, brothers) and even the subjugation of lower-class and slave women (Franco 1999). They reference women’s exclusion from health or legal professions, their strict upkeep of household responsibilities, and married women’s expected concern for pregnancy, birthing, and lactation. Each of the laws favored men, giving no rights to women, and the wives’ dowry was often the income of the man to live (Franco 1999, p. xv). It was and still is the standard practice to channel from woman’s power without expectations of reciprocity.
In modern society, these women’s laws have filtered down into the 21st century with little to no change but with the full intention of restricting feminine license and even with further assurance to subjugate the “nonhuman” Black woman. In proper American form, the patriarchy, as the dominant culture, continues to obstruct power from women by weaponizing religion and misrepresenting the creator’s words. They deny women equal access to the pleasures and influence they believe to be favorable. Furthermore, with this form of action, Black women have no recourse as the doubly marginalized being. Butler goes on to say:
Discrete genders are part of what ‘humanizes’ individuals within contemporary culture; indeed, those who fail to do their gender right are regularly punished. Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis.
The basis of gender, race and socioeconomic status are subjugated concepts purposely instituted to maintain a hierarchal presence within society and impose a continual divisive structure resistant to the community’s objectives. Anyone seeking to speak out against these inequalities, choosing to hold the dominant powers accountable, is vilified and relentlessly endures constant suffering for those principles. Black women at the forefront of these and other social justice causes lay the groundwork by tapping into their divinity to instinctively channel the force of this life. The Black woman understands her commitment to her connections to the earth and her ties to other human beings. Still, most notably in dedicating her multifaceted experiences to the core of who she truly is, she empowers others to be themselves. The intrinsic nature of the Black woman is wrapped in a melanated pigment that stands out from all other humans, that the very presence of her ignites a conscious introspectiveness to reveal one’s innermost being.
This intrinsic nature bears a transferable covenant with African spirituality from the ancestral line through the mission of Womanism. It then touches on the origins of Hip-Hop as a disruptive force for the refinement of activism and its cause for social justice. Queen Latifah and her fellow Black female artivists worked diligently in upholding their principles and explaining, primarily through their actions, how White supremacy conflicted with their perceptions of a supreme creator. By creating a unified body through communal space (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–27) and void of “othering” beliefs (see Matthew 13:30), these Black women operated in the total capacity of their fluid being, both the feminine and the masculine. Their strategized discourse is justifiable in the dismantling of the patriarchy and its culture of White supremacy by embodying the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke (see Luke 4:18–19). Their actions not only exhibit a love of self and to self—by acceptance of and love for their created body—but love for its sensualness and supporting its primary senses towards constant healing. The Black female artivists of Hip Hop mentioned in this article—Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Lil’ Kim, Da Brat, and Missy Elliot—along with countless others are something of a unicorn. To be in their presence is to be consumed by an intense glow that exerts a welcoming “come as you are” kind of vibe while also personifying the truth of Ma’at and her Indigenous African entourage as guides for its descendants. When these women rap, they channel their ancestral divinity as a contemporary performative to educate on the woman and the feminine power she possesses for and to the community. The knowledge they hold unifies them with the community as an active member and advocate who opposes the social injustices of others in America but with a more significant commitment to the Black community. As members of the human race, these women contribute to society by utilizing the principles of Womanism alongside the performative of Hip-Hop to develop a reformative practice for gender performance and create a comprehensive understanding of Blackness in America. It is precisely within this discourse that these Black women move beyond a single monolithic narrative of the Black woman to provide a better representation of intersectionality while also expanding future exploration towards a greater need for tolerance of differences within society.
When we consider women such as Missy Elliot and Lil’ Kim, who both deviated from the feminine normalcy as scripted by White patriarchy, they reconstruct an image of the woman and illustrate a perspective of gender fluidity at its best. Missy Elliot embraces a futuristic existence within Hip-Hop culture to present herself in a controlled environment of her doing. In her space, her performance entrances the viewer, and the gaze is satisfied without thought of possession because she is ultimately revealed while simultaneously exposing the viewer’s inner thoughts. She protested the hypocrisy of White Christianity in terms of the fluidity of gender identity alongside a creator whose androgynous nature upended the status quo of feminism. This pretense seeks to confirm contemporary heterosexuality as the natural, default sexual orientation (McGann 1999) while criticizing anything else as abnormal and deviant. Her eccentric attire and femme persona opened up other avenues for Black women to reclaim ownership of the gaze and resituate the viewing of their bodies as a direct link to their views of a creator. Lil’ Kim applied a different approach and took the sensuousness from the words of the Song of Solomon and brought them to life. By opting out of the practices of White Christianity, are both women able to reclaim their lost identities as enslaved beings of the Black Diaspora and live as intended. Only in the constructed systems of White American patriarchy is the Black woman required to suffer abuse and viewed as a masculine woman for choosing to stray from the controlled façade of White supremacy. In making the conscientious efforts to unify the past with the present, the Black female artivists continue their traditional Indigenous African spirituality teachings. This spirituality protects those Black celestial beings who are alive and places protection around those waiting to be born. The legacy of Black women establishes a newfound connection to undo her subjugation and fully open her body to her denied pleasures. Author Regena Thomashauer (2016) indicates that there are encrypted sensors of the body fixed to receive a burst of energetic messages as forms of pleasure and evidence of human existence. She speaks directly to the woman’s “8000 nerve endings dedicated to pleasure” found well-protected and hidden but offers a caution of its exposure and contact with touch. She states that when “engaged, this little bundle of flesh awakens our dead places, ameliorates our self-doubt, connects us to our divinity, and replaces our stress with simple joy” (p. 48). So, what does the complete manifestation of the Black woman mean for Hip-Hop and its relevancy to American culture? What does her artivism contribute to the establishment of Hip-Hop?
Simple enough, the Black woman’s advocacy and willingness to assemble the community regarding matters of importance is the rubric of which many social campaigns have built upon and flourished. Gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans says it effectively when he says:
Undying love you’ve given to me
Seen in me things I would never have seen
I don’t understand why you care so much, it’s all a mystery
- - - - - - -
In wanting to save me
In order to save the day
Because of love you placed yourself
In harm’s way16
The Black woman characterizes unconditional love to the world, to the community, to the cause, and the sole individual, even if it brings damage to herself. She knows that in elevating herself, she promotes others. Hip-Hop’s musical expressions give her a more global platform to voice the grievances of her erasure while also educating the world of her presence. Through Hip-Hop, she takes ownership of her actual existence and centers its intersectionality as a gift of truth. Although marginalized in America as a background performative, she uses Hip-Hop as an interpretive tool to examine the language of “martyr” as an oppressive assimilation thread of resistance. Her distinctive grace within the auspice of the Black American community filters through the language and applications of White Christianity to reconceptualize the Black American experience—social, political, and religious. Often finding herself ostracized by White Christianity and its supremacy, she takes her experiences as a part of the untainted American experience to incorporate language that reflects the inclusivity of community and America. This is Hip-Hop. The diversity of gender performance navigates the Hip-Hop female artivists to usher in a new perspective to its performative. It opens different venues and renews creative flows for artists such as Mother Nature, Oshun, Syd tha Kyd, Lizzo, and Cupcakke to innovatively produce art and lift their voices to a livelier style of artivism.
Although it is clear that White American supremacist rationale asserts a binary existence through Christianity to eradicate all forms of African culture, to acknowledge the premise of Black culture, however, is to know of a layered, multifaceted existence with a supernatural foundation secured in a creator. As a human being designed and understood by a creator, the Black woman suggests an intrinsic viewing into the soul and story of a creator’s existence. Her Hip-Hop narratives circumvent temporality to embody the supernatural elements of ancestral griottes with music at its heart. The hands of each Hip-Hop female artivists intuits the pulse of a creator’s presence to track time. Space and time, particularly the past, plays a significant part in the shaping of Hip-Hop. Francis Bebey (1975) says, “not only the history of [the] people…but also, the wisdom of its philosophers, its corporate ethics and generosity of spirit, its thought-provoking riddles, and the inherited proverbs that serve as a reminder that everything on earth is destined to pass, just as time itself passes” (Bebey 1975). Hip-Hop gives a stage to issues of the past, present, and future as a performative, offering a more practical alternative for defining communal and cultural narratives. The descendants of the Black Diaspora connect to their perspective of a creator God through their experiences in the creator’s world. To enforce their removal from the world is to detach their existence from the creator. Their bodies do not work exclusively for the soul or the mind, but conversely for both the soul and mind. It advocates for the intersectionality of the individual being while also harmoniously weaving the spirits of the past to its words of the present, rhythmically bringing greater awareness to the struggles of womanhood, Black womanhood. The artistry and observations of the female artivists of Hip-Hop exhibit a commonality between their being and a creator. It reveals an understanding of a pluralistic yet singular shared language, a dialectal dance that goes in the ears and straight to the heart of an open being.
Not only does the divinity of the Black woman through the principles of Womanism challenge western culture’s fixation of White supremacy, it consistently thwarts the malicious destruction of the community. As she heals and regenerates, the Black woman understands her commitment to her connections as a being of the earth and her ties to other human beings. But most importantly, in reclaiming ownership of her body, she redefines womanhood in her image after the likeness of her perceptions of a creator God. She redirects her multifaceted experiences to the core of who she truly is and resituates the gaze to align with a creator. In genuinely seeing her, the Black woman empowers others to be themselves and align with a creator as spoken by the Apostle John (see John 14:9–10). In expanding the principles of Womanism and the understanding of community for the 21st century, Black female artivists of Hip-Hop fulfill the preordained prophecy and reshape the overall structure of the human and civil rights movement.
In purposely redirecting the physical gaze towards the complete spiritual found within and of the body, the artistry of Hip-Hop rappers like MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah, and countless others speak to the transformative power of a creator and its extraordinary creation, the Black woman. Her various talents navigate beyond the great sufferings she endures in America as a Black woman. Still, of her abilities, the most unyielding power she possesses is the use of her voice. Through the wields of White supremacy, the White man seeks to control all forms of life as a means to instill self-worth within himself. This authoritarian “Whiteness” performance assumes a superficial perspective and soothes his fears of his actual presence. In doing so, it turns the spotlight away from his inadequacies. It deters the other from fully being while performatively sequestering his White body into a repetitive performance of “Blackness” with a White camouflage, even at the expense of the White woman.

7. Women of Hip-Hop

The women of Hip-Hop, through dynamic wordplay, take on the same concepts of Womanism to transform the scripted gender performative of America’s narrative. These women redefine womanhood for the world with its distinct uniquities. These Black women refuse to downplay their character at the expense of appeasing White culture or even succumbing to its enforced expectations within society. They self-create and innovatively campaign to recenter the discussions of social justice and activism for the Black culture driven by communal reasoning and the enthusiasm of their youthful energy. Through a different lens, the artivism of Black Hip-Hop women presents an understanding of the inescapable nature of White patriarchal ideology in America to challenge scholarly summaries on Genesis’ “in the image of God” in respect of the Black Indigenous physical, intellectual, and spiritual aesthetics and she becomes a martyr for its cause.
Although the very essence of the Hip-Hop language has been appropriated and capitalized by White culture, it contributes to the story of a Black American lived experience. An understanding to which the Black female artivists utilize Hip-Hop culture to repossess ownership of their bodies from White America and set the standards revealing their bodies to the world. They embrace Hip-Hop’s artistic elements to celebrate themselves while disrupting the binary normative of right versus wrong and good versus evil. For them, Hip-Hop brings a more prominent spotlight to the destructive qualities of White supremacy, and as the most unrepentant of the Black American music genres, [it] benefits from the comprehensive and developmental methods of Womanism. It extracts the disparate worlds in America from the perspective of the oppressed while adhering to its “keeping it real” code. This practice of authenticity within the Hip-Hop community provides an individual with a skillset to psychologically shapeshift through life as an ostracized member of America’s dominant society while showing solidarity with those who know and understand the language of oppression (Emdin 2016).
While the men of Hip-Hop mostly rapped concerning material possession and the racial injustices experienced within the Black community by police, Black women added commentary closer to the heart and home. The men arranged revolutionary tracks for NWAs 1988 protest song “F—tha Police” from their Straight Outta Compton album and Public Enemy’s 1989 “Fight the Power” from the It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back album; the women also dug into the trenches. East coast lyricist Queen Latifah created a fusion sound rapping with De La Soul on “Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children”, and west coast rapper Yo-Yo united the ladies through the lyrics of “Sisterland.” The Black woman’s moral code centers on the care of the community, and her self-alignment always rests in the well-being of others. Black women do not limit their influence by the biology of sex or the performative of gender. They realize that to have power, one must work beyond a public face and assertively personify its character in confidence to wield it for change. Queen Latifah said:
It was inevitable that this joint venture would be incredible
We never put ourselves on any pedestal
But the rhyme is so good it’s practically edible (Say what?)
- - - - - - -
As I relay the story untold
And if you’re wondering why I got kids so big
They weren’t born from the body, they were born from the soul17
Queen Latifah’s consciousness of self and confidence in herself rejected the need for a hierarchy because her essence reflected from the man, and she dismissed his need to represent her before the world. She was quite capable of her feats but still aware that she was inspiring him and others alongside her in uplifting herself. The work she presented to the world and her messages was more profound than the physicality of a performance, but “born from the soul” was an abstract performative handed down from the ancestors. Simultaneously, on the west coast, Yo-Yo urged young women to be wise in how they move in life, remembering to be respectful of their minds and bodies. Her words aligned with the “keeping it real” code when she said, “I’m aware that everybody wants to find a true man, but a man wants nothing lower than himself….”18 These lines are upheld against the patriarchal backdrop to address the societal standards of obliging a man’s wants versus his needs. Yo-Yo confronts the assumption of men to pursue a docile woman as the ultimate goal because, in doing so, her accommodating nature is unable to reflect or represent him in truth to the world.
The wisdom of Proverbs 27:17 declares that “[i]ron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” to illustrate the purpose of a relationship is to develop one’s character in community with others. Contrary to this truth, the American woman is instructed from early childhood to be submissive and restrict her presence to uplift the image of a man. Her grooming is for the objectivity of men due to the Christian interpretation of patriarchy and its scriptural context. Like the Womanists, Queen Latifah and Yo-Yo advocated for collaborative efforts without downgrading themselves in negotiations for equal footing. These Black female artivists of Hip-Hop came fully equipped and ready to advance the community through the balance of power and a cooperative effort against the enemy of White supremacy. They never believed their purpose was to diminish their presence to secure the man’s status or for the man to shrink his existence. Yo-Yo emphasized these ideals in the sampling of music found within “Sisterland”; she used samples from Esther Williams’ “Last Night Changed It All (I Really Had A Ball)”, Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”, and James Brown’s “The Payback.” These songs communicate through rhythms to transport a lifeforce from the elders and ancestors to uplift the message of community. The sounds affirmed the performative of resistance more significantly than themselves and a unified consensus to resist White supremacy. This collaborative of the past with the present acknowledged the communal foundation of Hip-Hop and its advocacy for inclusion. It spoke directly to the language of oppression.
The Black female artivists of Hip-Hop and their knowledge of double marginalization (Warhol and Herndl 1997) as both Black and female addresses the interconnected challenges in America using the mirror of Womanism to reflect their perspective and that of other ostracized groups to the world at large. The Black woman shows commonality and the whole face of the oppressor, White supremacy. The overlapping forms of oppression (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation) experienced by her to create an intersecting within constructed power systems, allowing critical race theorist and philosopher Kimberlé Crenshaw to coin the term “intersectionality.”19 The premise of intersectionality supports Alice Walker’s complete definition of Womanism. To be a Womanist was to be a “‘black feminist or feminist of color’ who loves other women and/or men sexually and/or nonsexually, appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility and women’s strength and is committed to ‘survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female’” (Walker 1983, p. xi). In Walker’s use of the conjugation words “and” and “or”, she emphasized a relational transaction of people with indicators that one or more or all of the cases connect to Womanism and its movement. Walker specifies the targeted demographic with the phrase “black feminist or feminist of color”; she highlights sexual orientation in the phrasing “who loves other women and/or men sexually and/or nonsexually”; and addresses humanity in saying, “male and female.” There was no differentiation as to who could or could not join. Still, Womanism gave preferential treatment first to Black women and other women of color, then to those who chose to recognize the woman’s value and advance her culture, emotional flexibility, and strength.
In moving forward from this article, it is crucial to bear in mind the endless possibilities of Hip-Hop as more Black women embrace a fuller and richer perspective of nonbinary constructs. The contributions of Womanism and its overarching themes as a reconnector for Black women to their Indigenous African spirituality translates these ancestral beliefs into a more contemporary and accessible way of life. In the reclamation of the gaze and control of the Black female body through Hip-Hop, Black women have undoubtedly taken the given tools of the man’s world and unabashedly created their respective platforms. They also proved the need to transcend the current either:or binaristic semantics. This antiquated language stagnates social development by placing beings in a competitive dichotomy and opposition to another. Black women are labeled “angry” and “aggressive”, yet men with the same attributes are fast-tracked for executive leadership. Black women deduce that their being is bound to how they exist and the language of that existence, beholden them to a “do as I say, not as I do” model, which stipulates a child/adult interaction. As Hip-Hop and its Womanist principles strengthen the existence of the Black community, the controlled storyline narrated by dominant power fails. This collaborative effort acknowledges the varied perspectives from this article (i.e., advocacy, healing) and the more specific avenues of discussion (i.e., economic wealth, healthy blended household) needed to redefine community for a younger generation. Looking to Hip-Hop and championing its culture as a transformative tool exemplifies a conduit for authentic consciousness and continual empowerment within the Black community. It connects generations through critical thinking and mutual humanization of those within and outside of the community. Through the ancestors’ guidance, the Hip-Hop female artivists function as modern griottes, instructing and performing in the Art of C-A-R-E20 to address the concept of objective relations between an individual and society. Author Toni Morrison (2017) wrote in The Origin of Others that stories, particularly narrative fiction, function as a “controlled wilderness” and a space for being and “to become the Other. The stranger. With sympathy, clarity, and the risk of self-examination” (p. 91). Morrison believed that giving voice to the Other in the juxtaposition of the majority utilizes an unbiased model for its existing structure and prohibits control to a specified group and marginalization of the rest. Her ideals propose a progressive change not solely based on individual accountability but on the dissonance which shows citizenship in action. The modification of the overall system bypasses the individual and requires all participants to come together for a common and communal foundation. Black women, as the martyr, as the artivists of Hip-Hop, and as the writer of her story, she challenges with purpose and demands the dominant powers to engage in dialogue while actively progressing society in the performative of change. This is Womanism’s Hip-Hop.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not Applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

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Data Availability Statement

Not Applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


A term introduced to academic writing in 2008 by Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre “Chicano/a Artivism: Judy Baca’s Digital Work with Youth of Color” to define the integration of artists who engage in both activism and art.
The male gaze is constructed from Freud’s concept of the psyche and women such as Laura Mulvey, Judith Wilson, bell hooks, Lorraine O’Grady and more have linked it to the voyeurism pleasures often found in film. This viewing, however, is often in exclusion of women and the gay or lesbian viewer but the Black woman’s oppression of the original gaze it tied to resistance of White male supremacy and her fight of empowerment.
In Hopkins, Dwight N.; Lewis, Marjorie. Another World is Possible (pp. 99–100).
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. (Lk 6:45).
Researchers from the Bern University of Arts discovered in a culinary art experiment that cheese when exposed to Hip-Hop music produces a unique, and more favorable taste. See (Miley 2019) and (Daley 2019).
Dotiwala, Jasmine. “10 Reasons Why Mary j Blige Is One of Life’s Warrior Women.” Metro. (accessed on 20 June 2019); Murrell, Morgan. “Mary J. Blige on Her ‘My Life’ Album: ‘I Was Depressed, Ready to Die.’” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed. (accessed on 20 June 2019).
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MC Lyte. “Survival of the Fittest”. Genius. (accessed on 23 July 2021).
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See Jennifer Wright’s “Why Incels Hate Women”; Elizabeth McRae’s Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy; Kathleen Blee’s Women of the Klan; Hawes Spencer and Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s “White Nationalists March on University of Virginia”.
Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
Lil’ Kim, Mocha, Kelly Price, Missy Elliott & Timbaland. “Hit ‘Em Wit Da’ Hee” (Remix)”. Genius. (accessed on 25 July 2021).
BeBe Winans. “In Harm’s Way”. Genius. (accessed on 25 July 2021).
Queen Latifah. “Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children”. Genius. (accessed on 23 July 2021).
Yo-Yo. “Sisterland”. Genius. (accessed on 23 July 2021).
Terminology initially utilized in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s paper written for the 1989 University of Chicago Legal Forum titled, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.”
The Art of C-A-R-E taps into an individual’s wellbeing, showing Concern for and connection with them; engaging in managed Actions; establishing Reciprocity with boundaries through a mutual exchange; and promoting Empowerment for individuals to respectfully and independently be assertive within society.


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