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V/A - Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware: Revenge Of The Super Female Rappers!

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Artist: V/A

Album: Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware: Revenge Of The Super Female Rappers!

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Apr. 10, 2009

Like race, gender has always been a volatile, hotly-debated issue in hip hop. From its inception, women have held a precarious position, whether as participants or as the targets of their masculine counterparts. Often fueled by contradiction, the culture has embraced The Feminine Mystique while at the same time pushing an often misogynist agenda. For every “Ms. Hill” there’s a “Black Vagina Finder,” and countless tracks exalting the agility of strippers. Album covers like U.T.F.O’s Doin’ It! and Spank Rock’s 12” Put That Pussy On Me illustrate a proliferation of ass-related content that found a manifesto in Luke’s “Face Down Ass Up.” The flipside attracts way less publicity. Buried on a Lyricist Lounge comp, KRS dropped this jewel: "I want all my daughters / To be like Maxine Waters." Of the ladies, moms have garnered the most respect, with everyone from Tupac, Ghostface, Whodini and Food For Animals writing Mother’s Day cards on wax. Willie D, however, had other ideas with “I Wanna Fuck Your Mama.” Bobby Digital’s “Domestic Violence” act is a prime example of hip hop’s paradoxical gender war; before RZA rails against a defiant Jamie Sommers for not reading to the seeds, he lashes:, “I’ll slave trade your ass like Kizzy Kinte.”

This defiance is all over Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware: Revenge of the Super Female Rappers! Rooted equally in Black Power, the feminist movement and the emergence of hip hop as a forum, Fly Girls! coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first hip hop single by a female. By 1979, Sylvia Robinson had already spearheaded the business side by founding Sugarhill Records. Tania and Paulette Winley made history that same year with “Rhymin’ and Rappin,” produced by their mother Anne on their father’s independent Paul Winley Records (also known for releasing the Super Disco Brake’s compilaions.) “Viscious Rap” is the choice here, a more seasoned second single by Tania.

The compilation reaches even further back. The earliest female rappers were erudite, radical poets in the political vein of Elaine Brown and Angela Davis. Detailing the unique position of being both black and a woman, activists like Camille Yarbrough adopted the occasional sing-speak styles of Shirley Ellis or Laura Lee and cut records. Yarbrough’s songs were based on a solo spoken word performance called Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot. Anthopologist Sarah Webster Fabio, author of Black Talk: Shield and Sword, presents a linguistics lesson on the level of Chomsky with “Glimpses.” Professor Nikki Giovanni is represented by a repurposed version of “Ego Trippin’” that graced Blackalicious’ Nia. The line “I can’t be comprehended except by my permission” typifies this melding of black self-determination and women’s rights.

The first female MCs would echo their sentiment. Former cheerleaders the Sequence exemplify this evolution on “Simon Says.” Predating New Amerykah by almost three decades, Tina B’s “Funky Sensation” was the B-side to Bambaataa’s “Jazzy Sensation.” Princess MC showed that women were not only rump-shaking in videos down in Miami – they were gripping mics. Following the lead of the Black Arts Movement, the second generation of female rappers were dissecting The Education of Sonny Carson and basing albums on The Mis-Education of the Negro. Flexing both finesse and fortitude, they provided an antidote to records like Akinyele’s “Put It In Your Mouth.” MC Lyte confronted hip hop’s patriarchal bent and was quick to dismiss sexism in her lyrics. Over a Cerrone break on “Cha Cha Cha,” she personifies this duality: “More tender than a Roni / But harder than a Jawbreaker.” Bahamadia keeps the tradition moving by reinterpreting Lyte’s “Paper Thin.” (Although not included, PE-affiliate Sista Souljah would take the same mindset to the extreme as “Sister of Instruction/Director of Attitude” in the group.)

Not strictly an exercise in women’s lib, Fly Girls! is also about skills. And Roxanne Shanté was probably the most successful in subverting male’s dominance over hip hop. Now a PhD in psychology, she’s more famous for battles with The Real Roxanne, Sparky D and JJ Fad that wound up lasting five rounds and ended with Shante’s final blow “Bad Sister.” Her “Bite This” appropriately wraps the set. After tossing off all female perpetrators, Shanté shifts focus, undressing Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow and LL – with her voice.

By Jake O'Connell

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