I’ve recently been engrossed in a book titled “Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap,” which highlights the ever-evolving definition of authenticity within the genre. Much of this discussion includes the evolution of the Black image in popular culture, particularly in the context of an artist’s “legitimacy.”
While a majority of the book’s analysis revolves around race and ethnicity with regards to authenticity, (with a heavy focus on African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and caucasians), the chapter on feminism (particularly Black feminism), machismo, and gender in hip hop music is equally crucial when considering our social framework outside of music. Artists like Sha Rock, Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, and Missy Elliot defied the hyper sexualized stereotypes of Black women in hip hop, and frankly society as a whole.
Feminism, like any formidable movement, relies on revolutionary action from those who are willing to denounce the historical marginalization of all females, but particularly Black women. In the confines of hip hop, Black women in the 80s and 90s carved a lane that was “more diverse than hip hop itself,” according to author Jeffrey Ogbar. Even as rap continues to function in a community that still sells (and ultimately values) hyper-masculine misogyny, the progress made by these women should be duly noted, and wholly celebrated.
One important aspect of the Black feminism movement is that it is not a monolithic concept. And in a nutshell, rap music has represented that notion. Foxy Brown’s version of ruthless bravado and hyper-materialistic raps are just as powerful as Hill’s contemplations on motherhood, industry politics, and social commentary. The latter essentially transcended the outdated “jezebel” trope from years past, marking herself as a dynamic singer, actor, producer and writer.
In a contemporary landscape, Megan Thee Stallion has been a shining light and voice of a generation for the past two or three years. She encapsulates every positive attribute of what it means to be a social activist in a system that continues to disappoint those who are marginalized.
Just in 2020 alone, Megan has dealt with industry mongrels, cis-gender conservative trolls, and a fellow rapper who allegedly shot her in one of the most bizarre stories I’ve followed in quite some time. The amount of bullshit she’s had to deal with is unprecedented, and quite frankly annoying. Her stellar 2019, which featured a fire-ass mixtape in Fever, and a “Hot Girl Summer” revolution that promoted a body-positive image for females all across the world, was almost stifled by the “gatekeepers” of the political and industrial underworld.
Rather than harp on these obstacles though, Megan has taken her brand even further. Disputes with her label (1501 Entertainment) thanks to “unconscionable” terms eventually culminated in her excellent Suga mixtape from March, a project that saw the Houston native effectuate her versatility as a rapper, singer, and hip hop historian. The project’s lead single “B.I.T.C.H.,” which flips the male-dominant tropes from Tupac’s “Rather Be Ya N****a,” is a great example of Megan’s ability to rewrite the conventional artifacts of rap’s past.
Another great example of this is her recent single “Girls in the Hood,” which is the trap counterpoint to Eazy-E’s “Boyz In the Hood.” Producers Illa Da Producer and Scott Storch maintain the song’s famous keys, while adding more of a modern bounce to the trap drums. Megan meanwhile uses materialistic gains and straightforward proclamations about her own persona (“Fuck being good, I’m a bad bitch”) to emphasize her individuality (“You’ll never catch me calling these n****s daddy”).
On “WAP,” which has been the most talked about song of the past year, Cardi B and Megan once again flip the common tropes of hyper sexuality on its head. The discussion surrounding the song has been monumental for a variety of reasons. Megan and Cardi essentially re-establish control over their bodies as other cis-gender white men antagonize them. These are the types of themes talked about in Ogbar’s book. While he mainly focuses on rappers from the 80s and 90s, a lot of his arguments apply to today’s landscape.
What Megan has done outside of music should be celebrated even more. As humanity appears to be on the brink of destruction, Megan continues to fight for social injustice. Her Saturday Night Live performance of “Savage” on Oct. 3 was stunningly humanistic. Her monologue midway through about protecting Black women and men was emotionally perceptive and perfectly backed by voice inserts from various activists. Synthetic gun shots rang as if to emphasize the nightmarish corruption minorities must face day in and day out. A black and white sign that read “Protect Black Women” dignified the background for reinforcement. It was one of the most gripping performances I’ve ever witnessed.
What makes her performance even more astounding is the fact that it was done on a program that’s had diversity problems since its inception. Prior to Megan’s appearance, Saturday Night Live’s most iconic performances usually entailed gimmicky mishaps and a stiff Lana Del Rey number. The closest anyone’s ever gotten to a worthwhile political message (outside of maybe Kanye’s “New Slaves” performance) was Sinead O’Connor’s decision to rip apart a photo of Pope John Paul II in a 1992 cover of Bob Marley’s “War.” It’s ironic how a program, who’s main goal at the beginning of each episode is to execute a spoof of important political and social events, has barely made any attempt at a progressive statement (or even diversifying their cast).
In that sense, Megan has broken an important barrier. Since the majority of people who tune into SNL are people between the ages of 30 and 45 (and most likely white), Megan has made the powerful notion of putting entertainment in the back burner, something I’m sure diehard SNL viewers can’t stand. On a nationally-televised platform that usually sticks to the script, Megan re-writes it to fit her own message. She forces viewers who will most likely visit SNL for satirical comedy to pay attention to the seriousness of our country’s situation. For the first time in awhile, she made SNL must-see TV.
Aside from the performance, Megan has also been integral when it comes to helping out with the pandemic and schooling. In April, she partnered with Amazon Music to help donate supplies, money, and Amazon Fire Tablets to a Houston nursing home. In June, she donated over $10,000 to bail relief for protesters, also in Houston. In August, her and Cardi gave away a whopping $1 million through CashApp to support powerful women. It was apparently the largest cash giveaway to appear on the Twitter timeline.
From an educational standpoint, Megan’s been pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Health Education in hopes of making her late mother and grandmother proud (they both unfortunately passed away in mid-2019). In early October, she launched a scholarship fund for Women of Color. It’s called, “Don’t Stop.” Two lucky women have already received $10,000 in scholarship money from the kickstart.
Megan is one of the few celebrities doing something meaningful with her wealth. Nothing she does is performative, especially since most of her energy is being put into things that’s near and dear to her (nursing facilities, education, protesters, etc.). She’s the answer to the contested question of why celebrities aren’t doing more with their wealth to help the community. She’s fixing problems that realistically aren’t her fault. More men need to follow in her footsteps, otherwise her activism inside and outside of music will be all for nothing. And that would be a huge travesty. Let’s appreciate Megan while she’s here, because she represents more than just a symbol and a short-term movement. She represents true authenticity within the genre.