How hip hop and R&B can help us understand feminist perspectives that are different from our own

There are many ways to feel empowered. There is no feminism handbook, nor set of rules to follow. That’s the beauty of it! After traveling from waves of feminism to diverse schools of thought, we can assess how movements both protected and failed our communities. It’s a great moment for all of us feminists to reevaluate where we stand, and think about how we contribute to social justice beyond gender: how are we addressing sexism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and the institutional disadvantages of many communities?

First and foremost, becoming aware and acknowledging privilege means taking the time to listen and learn about experiences other than our own. What can help us unlearn and learn again?

Let’s start with music.

Music is a social document. It’s a portrait of the socio-cultural landscape of our society. We can learn, grow, and mobilize through art. In 1999, Joan Morgan coined the phrase “hip-hop feminist,” and has further explained:

"I believe pleasure is part of a fully realized humanity. I believe that the discourse of pleasure around black women’s bodies intersects with a whole lot of other narratives that could use mixing up, mixing up, and shaking up, shaking up. So that when we tell the truth about black women and pleasure, that means we have to revisit what has stood in as truth – about black men and their sexualized identities, about white men and power."

We wish to highlight and showcase women artists who have fiercely reclaimed agency of their voices and bodies. Here are songs that we can dance to, but most importantly, help us become aware that our feminism is more than our own experiences. Feminism must extend beyond our needs and address issues across the social justice spectrum in order to achieve inclusiveness and intersectionality.

Here are some songs that can help you start that journey.

Missy Elliott – “One Minute Man”

When it comes to reclaiming sexual agency, “One Minute Man” explores a woman refusing to accept less than what she wants.

Beyoncé – “Flawless”

Beyoncé needs no introduction. This song needs no introduction. It is a feminist anthem. From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words to Beyoncé message, we are introduced to an empowerment based on our choices. With a message of body positivity, Beyoncé asks us to embrace who we are.

MC Lyte – “Ruffneck”

MC Lyte is a legendary emcee and pioneer of women in hip-hop, being the first solo woman to release a rap album. In “Ruffneck,” MC Lyte  unapologetically demands a man in her life who can meet her demands, not settling for anything less.

Salt N’ Pepa – “None Of Your Business”

When it comes to understanding experiences other than our own, “None Of Your Business” is the benchmark of inclusiveness. “If I want to take a guy home with me tonight/ It’s none of your business /And she want to be a freak and sell it on the weekend/ It’s none of your business.”

Mykki Blanco – “Wavvy”

When we rally to support women, let’s unpack gender and learn the fluidity of identity. Mykki Blanco opens up a dialogue for music and gender to break paradigms, to push boundaries, and question identity construction.

PTAF — “Boss Ass Bitch”

This is an iconic gem of female empowerment. The first seconds of the song begin with PTAF singing: “I don’t like that bitch” —until they decide to highlight accomplishments, rather than channel energy to the unnecessary and negative. Instead, the girls change the lyrics to “I’m a boss ass bitch.”

TLC — “Unpretty”

“Unpretty” is an ode to self-love, and the revolutionary act of self-care. The song served as a backbone of late ’90s-early ’00s hip-hop feminism.

Whitney Houston — “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”

This is a song that teaches us to be in control of our actions, giving us the necessary motivation to find strength within. Whitney sings, “It’s not right but it’s okay/ I’m gonna make it anyway/ Pack your bags up and leave/And don’t you dare come running back to me.”

Khia – “My Neck, My Back”

“My Neck, My Back” reclaims the hyper-sexualized narratives about women of color. The song perfectly celebrates sexual agency and pleasure. No need to feel shame in loving our bodies and who we are.

Solange — “Don’t Touch My Hair”

“Don’t Touch my Hair” is a manifesto of identity, a powerful anthem to survival and existence, a song that serves more than music and points out the anti-blackness that still exists.

Lil’ Kim – “Queen Bitch”

Lil’ Kim is a legend. Queen. Icon. One of the first women to position herself in a male-dominated space. Lil’ Kim paved the way for many artists, but also became an icon of perseverance, allowing women to see themselves in the same spaces.

Aaliyah — “Are You That Somebody?”

Aaliyah’s talent and persona travelled beyond music, becoming an icon in fashion and pop culture. Her music was the bedrock to understanding the power of hip-hop in mainstream spaces. As an actress and singer-songwriter, Aaliyah impacted the lives of many girls who related to her music and identity.

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