Since the genesis of hip-hop in the 70s, men have largely been heralded as the movers and shakers, excluding women from the narrative. Rappers from Roxanne Chanté (and even a few before) to Cardi B have used hip-hop to navigate both their womanhood and their Blackness. There is no world in which Cardi, Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie, and City Girls could exist as they do without the work of the women, visible or otherwise, who came before them. And now, there’s a book dedicated to the work of Black women written by a Black woman.
Clover Hope was 13 years old when she began searching for herself in music. It started with a Napster download of DMX's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot to better communicate the angst she was feeling. As she got older, she continued to look for her reflection in rap, buying Salt-N-Pepa's Very Necessary to find women whose voices were as resonant as their male contemporaries. Being a fan of hip-hop made her want to write about it. She went from listening to rap in her headphones to making a career out of interviewing powerful women like Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion to having a co-writer credit on Beyoncé's Black Is King. Hope's newest endeavor The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop, out today, is a comprehensive book celebrating the contributions of women in the genre. By centering the women who have often been reduced to a footnote in the rap's history, Hope is making that road to self-exploration a little easier for the next generation of 13-year-olds.
"Most of the inspiration for the book was the hip-hop I liked during my childhood," she tells me over the phone. "It gave me the innate material I needed to write this book. Some of it you can research and report, but some of it also came from memory. Like, What was that song I watched on The Box?"
Much can be said about why women have been given an unfair hand in rap, but Hope sums it up perfectly at the start of her book. "...History is what a dominant group decides is fact," she writes. "As hip-hop made platinum and gold out of an art form born from racism and poverty—and gave power to Black men to run a culture they could finally call their own—the women behind it battled twice as hard to even be recognized."
Ahead of the book’s release, VICE spoke to Hope—who has been editing at VICE for the past few months, and with whom I crossed paths at Vibe in 2014—about The Motherlode and the importance of getting Black women’s stories correct.
VICE: I would imagine that subconsciously you've been writing The Motherlode for a very long time. Can you talk a little bit about how the book came to fruition?
Clover Hope: I didn't realize that I'd been subconsciously writing this book until I started talking about the book and realizing that my trajectory in journalism played an integral role in the tone of the book. Starting out, working at somewhere mainstream like Billboard and going back to XXL, a rap magazine, and then Vibe, a Black culture magazine, and then going on to Jezebel, a women's site. All of those steps were preparing me for a project like this.
There must have been some parts that were not easy to obtain, largely because of what has been glazed over in history.
For artists who came up in the early/mid-70s when hip-hop was still brewing, it was hard. There's also this thing where people don't have the same kind of email responsiveness as the younger generation, but a few of them are on Facebook or Instagram. Like MC Sha-Rock was 12 when she started breakdancing and was in Funky Four Plus One. They're around, but they're not social media people.
I talk about it in the first essay about the matriarchs of hip-hop, they know that they have to be visible to keep their legacy alive. They want to be visible to let people know, This is who I am and this is my contribution to hip-hop.
There's a lot of erasure when it comes to documenting hip-hop which ultimately erases people's contributions—particularly those from Black women. But you have to also realize who is afforded the space to be in newsrooms with resources, and which newsrooms get funding to survive. How does music media contribute to the noise?
That was the beauty of places like Vibe, XXL, and The Source. Those stories were the life plug of those publications. The people who worked at those places lived hip-hop. It wasn't people who were just like, I need a job. Where am I going to work? Oh, I'll go to The Source. Most likely if you were a writer or editor at any of those places, you were dying to work there. When you deal with a publication that covers more than hip-hop and R&B, or doesn't have a niche, you're not going to have the same attention to detail as a place where that's the soul focus. There was a natural desire to track down those stories that music at large overlooked and ignored or didn't see as important.
The other thing that I really hate is that those magazines are not available digitally. Vibe is on Google Books which is amazing, but XXL wasn't. A lot of magazines have already told these stories in depth. There's so much history in those back issues. For a younger generation accessing that… you'd have to buy it. I bought the issue of The Source with Lil Kim and Foxy Brown on the cover. I bought a Missy and Lauryn Hill XXL and Source cover. Part of my research was seeing how places that actually cared about hip-hop were covering them, and also how they covered them by being constructively critical.
How do you think The Motherlode can help create an infrastructure so that the women who come up 20 years from now reap the benefits of the work that's already been done?
The book will present itself as a good index of history for not only who was successful, but also who was popular, for young women who want to get into rap. You can name someone like Solé, who had a song with Kandi, to someone who grew up in the 90s and they'll remember the song. But a 19-year-old rapper now might not know Solé's name. She was also part of that post-Kim and Foxy crop of women who had to deal with the burden of selling sexuality. It's not only important to know the main figures, but to know the people who fell in between and arose out of the search for the next Lil Kim or Lauryn Hill.
When I spoke to Megan [Thee Stallion] she talked about going back and doing her research about the Kims, the Foxys. There's a direct line of ancestry in terms of where you can make these connections between generations, like Trina and the City Girls. That's not to say they're copying but, it's about how they present themselves and the types of music they make.
You drew similarities between how Salt-N-Pepa and Lil Kim's images were heavily influenced by the men around them. Do you think it's possible for women in rap to create from a space that is void of the male gaze?
In the 90s, women had the machine that was doing that for them, and that was the label and execs and most of them were men. I didn't want to make it like the women didn't have their own agency and their own say, like Kim loved being sexy. There's part of that that she owned. There's this balance where you have that but also the men in the background, like Biggie picking the photo of her squatting in the bikini.
I hate being cliche in saying social media changed everything, but there are so many ways social media changed everything. Instagram is a visual platform. If you are a woman who raps and you want to create your own image and your own vision of yourself, here's a place you can do that easily. You can post your own picture, write your own caption, and create your own story.
For people like Megan and Cardi, their natural personas lend themselves to being DIY because they're funny and resourceful. It makes it easier to operate outside of the music industry versus relying solely on a label to push you. It makes it possible for you to have a predominantly female fan base and speak to women and girls instead of someone telling you to pose a way because that's what guys want to see.
We can't talk about the previous class or the new class without mentioning Nicki Minaj, who is a bridge between the two. She came up under the same formula as other notable First Ladies, but what would you credit to Nicki's staying power?
I think she recognized really early on what she needed to do to break a certain barrier and go beyond what any woman in rap had done: make music that appeals to men, women, and babies. She presented herself as animated and lyrical. She was able to synthesize what she grew up on and what she knew rap needed. She saw women on the charts. She saw Trina blow up and be this vibrant emcee who would talk about sex explicitly. I think she knew rap needed someone like her who could be the bridge and this voice of that old school feminist and the young ratchet.
Some women weren't as focused on selling records, and just wanted to get their music out, but she wanted to be that big. With that, she became that influence for the next generation who saw her success which came after a period where no women were popping in the mainstream in that way. That's part of why we have so many women now who are not afraid to be out there.
What do you think it is about today that allows multiple women to thrive simultaneously?
We had that briefly when we had "Ladies Night" with Kim, Left Eye, Angie Martinez and Da Brat. I have a sidebar in the book about female posse cuts and it's like five songs through decades of hip-hop. Now we're getting Doja Cat and Megan, Megan and Cardi, Megan and Nicki.; There are different permutations that can happen because there are more women voices at the same time. Maybe you can attribute that to the ease of access. You can tweet out that you want to work with someone and make it happen.
There's a ton of stories about the people who tried to get Lil Kim and Foxy to record the Thelma and Louise album together and there were just all these people in between. That never happened but decades later we get "WAP" with Cardi and Megan making this extravaganza of sex. There's a throughline there. We needed to be able to see what could be done, but here's how you do it right. Take this and run with it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.