Congratulations to my good friend Ava DuVernay, who recently completed a documentary about female MCs for BET. My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women and Hip-Hop—which is, apparently, the network's first music documentary. Huh?—screened privately last night and was chock full of satisfying, very candid interviews.
Being an older head (36! Put me in a home already), I was happy to hear testimonies from Yo-Yo and Nikki D, the Tom's Diner Slayer. But even Trina, whose music I've never cared for, was refreshingly honest and something of a minor revelation. The forty-one minute doc's centerpiece is a sort of tribute to Lauryn Hill in which other recording artists and music biz talking heads like Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson wax melancholic about the talented rapper/singer's disappearance and the void she left in the spectrum of popular music. The segment managed to get a few viewers weepy.
Aside from the belly-warming nostalgia, I was pleased that the filmmakers were able to slip in a significant nod to MCs like Jean Grae or Medusa who are not well known in the mainstream—not because I'm some underground apologist or because I feel like the indie acts are somehow more deserving than a popular artist like Nicki Minaj, but because hip-hop music is so universally gauged by how well it sells.
The reality is simply that most people who rap do not become rich, famous rappers. So, though there may no longer be as many Foxy Browns, Lil Kims, and Missy Elliotts at the top of the charts, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of female performers who are committed to their art and whose lyrics might just hit you right where you live.
To wit, I'm calling out some tunes that caught my ears and eyes recently.
With her bullhorn voice and mischievous sense of humor, Rah Digga has always been one of my favorites of any sex. Rumor has it she bowed out of hip-hop for a while to study film editing. Never in my life have I had to fight so hard not to utter the phrase, "You go, girl."
I don't know a whole lot about Psalm One, but I love the hazy, languid vibe on this song. For me, it evokes a little bit of Quasimoto/Madlib without having to artificially pitch the vocals up.
My wife has a problem with women rappers who she feels try to sound like men. Nemiss, as you can see, doesn't have that problem. I like that this feels commercially viable without being toothless. Also, kudos to teaming up with Daru Jones, a beast of a rising producer.
Anyone who has heard "Taco Day" knows that Jean Grae is incredibly ambitious about storytelling. I appreciate the narrative clip, too.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.