Tag Archives: Women artists

All hail the queens: Women in rap (1984-97)

Roxanne Shante on the mic.

Women have been part of hip hop expression from its early days, primarily as part of MC crews such as the Funky Four Plus One and Sugar Hill’s female group, Sequence. For most of hip hop’s recorded history, however, women MCs were mostly seen as novelty acts, with a few exceptions. In the mid-1980s, some female artists were popularized momentarily through answer songs, which ridiculed popular songs by male acts. These answer songs included Roxanne Shante’s Roxanne’s revenge (responding to UTFO’s 1984 song Roxanne, Roxanne) and Pebblee Poo’s Fly guy (responding to the Boogie Boys’ 1985 song A fly girl).

MC Lyte strikes a pose.
The early rap group, Sequence.

Some of the most enduring female hip hop acts released premiere albums in 1986. Salt-N-Pepa was the most commercially successful hip hop group with its first album, Hot, cool and vicious. Queen Latifah emphasized strong social messages and women’s empowerment on her first album, All hail the queen. MC Lyte recorded her first album, Lyte as a feather, at this time. Many women artists who appeared or recorded during the early 1990s adopted the extant masculine-oriented hip hop images prevalent in hardcore rap music. MC Lyte, for example, recorded a hardcore album in 1993 entitled Ain’t no other–the album’s first hit single, Ruffneck, was MC Lyte’s first gold-selling single. After the decline of gangsta rap music in the mid- to late 1990s, women remained on the periphery of mainstream hip hop, apart from the occasional pop hit, such as the platinum-selling Atlanta-based artist Da Brat’s Funkdafied (1994).

Cover art for Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore and Foxy Brown’s Ill na na.
“Supa dupa fly” Missy Elliot.

By the late 1990s, artists such as Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown publicly celebrated or exploited female sexuality through explicit lyrics and widespread publicity campaigns that presented these scantily clad artists as sex symbols. For the most part, however, women artists failed to receive respect within the hip hop community as competent MCs and recording artists, although achieving mainstream success. Many of the writers and producers for the female groups were men, particularly through the late 1990s. The year 1998, however, was pivotal for women in hip hop, especially as rapper-producer-songwriter Missy Elliot began gaining notoriety with her debut album, Supa dupa fly (1997).

Learn more in The Garland encyclopedia of world music. The United States and Canada (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Below are some videos from this early period of hip featuring women rappers. First up is the music video for Queen Latifah’s Ladies first, followed by Roxanne Shante performing Roxanne’s revenge (on VHS tape from around 1984!), and a 1985 recording of Pebblee Poo’s Fly guy.

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Filed under North America, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Amália Rodrigues and the politics of fado

Amália Rodrigues was born into a family of immigrants from the northern province of Beira Baixa in 1920. She initially performed as an amateur at local clubs before starting her self-taught professional career at the age of 19 in Lisbon’s fado clubs. From 1940 to 1946 she appeared in various productions of traditional Portuguese vaudeville (revista), playing the lead in the two films in 1947 Capas Negras and Fado. The film História de uma Cantadeira consolidated her reputation as a fado star. Amália’s first international performance took place in 1943 at the invitation of the Portuguese embassy in Madrid. From 1944 to 1946 she had two major engagements in Brazil, where she made her first recordings in 1945 for the Brazilian label Continental.

In 1950 she began recording for the Lisbon music label Valentim de Carvalho, to which she returned in 1961 after briefly switching to the French label Ducretet-Thompson in 1958. In 1949, Amália sang in Paris and London under the patronage of the Portuguese government. As part of the Marshall Plan cultural program in 1950, she gave a series of concerts in Berlin, Rome, Trieste, Dublin, Bern, and Paris. Some of these concerts were broadcast globally by The Voice of America (VOA) radio network, which contributed significantly to making her better known internationally. Although the Portuguese government supported her first international appearances, Rodrigues’ career was not dependent on political protection, especially considering her performances in communist Romania and the Soviet Union.

In 1952 she successfully performed a series of concerts at the New York club La Vie en Rose over the course of several weeks. This was followed by tours of Mexico and the United States, where she performed in 1953 as a guest on the Eddy Fisher Show. In 1955, she appeared in the French film Les Amants du Tage and recorded her hit song Barco negro. The film achieved record sales in France which led to an invitation to perform at the Olympia in Paris, the most renowned music hall in Europe at the time. Over the next two decades, Amália gave concerts throughout Europe, Brazil, the United States, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East and performed at many festivals, including two appearances at the Brasov Festival in socialist Romania.

In the 1970s, Amália became a scapegoat for fado’s perceived ties to fascism after the genre became associated with the regimes of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the dictator who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968, and Marcelo Caetano until 1974. Contradicting her reputation as a fascist sympathizer, Amália tapped into fado’s earlier radical tradition staying ahead of the censors by singing artfully subversive songs with lyrics inspired by socialist and anarchist poets and donating to underground antifascist political organizations. She continued to record and perform until 1990 and retired from public life in 1994 for health reasons that had already affected the quality of her voice. Amália received numerous awards and decorations both in her native Portugal and internationally.

Read the newly published entry on Amália Rodrigues in MGG Online. Listen to her recording “Saudades de ti” below.

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Filed under Europe, Film music, Performers, Politics, Popular music

Love in the top 100

 

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s look at an article that analyzes the 100 most popular songs between 1958 and 1998 for performer demographics and expressions of love.

In the 1990s women and black artists recorded more hits than in earlier periods; over time, references to love in lyrics performed by women artists decreased. References to sex in lyrics peaked between 1976 and 1984, when women used sexual references five times more than men; however, between 1991 and 1998, men used more sexual references.

Later songs and songs performed by white female artists expressed greater selfishness; the quality of love expressed in the lyrics remained the same.

This according to “Expressions of love, sex, and hurt in popular songs: A content analysis of all-time greatest hits” by Richard L. Dukes, et al. (Social science journal XL/4 [2003] pp. 643–650). Below, the Beatles—with a little help from their friends—provide further analysis.

Related article: Sexual attraction by genre

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music