Hip-hop has always been a genre of stories and lessons. Lately, however there’s been a powerful wave of independent and aggressive female rappers and artists, specifically challenging the male-dominated industry’s ideals of femininity and sexuality. Artists like MIA, Angel Haze and, more recently, Tink, Dej Loaf, Noname Gypsy and Nyemiah Supreme are preaching some achingly relevant lessons.
Not that female rappers haven’t projected alternate readings of gender and femininity in the past. Pioneers like Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa have paved the way for the fresh faces taking over the stage today. Nonetheless, modern society has its own special set of problems, and 2015 has seen skewed notions of feminism, such as the ‘I don’t need feminism because…’ movement, the reintroduction of lad culture, plus an influx of angry men’s rights activists. This, coupled with social media’s upheaval of traditional morals, such as the internet generation’s emphasis on likes equalling popularity, means that young people have a uniquely difficult time growing up nowadays. As older generations sometimes have trouble grappling with these new problems, today’s hip-hop artists - such as Tink and Dej Loaf - take on the role of youthful, badass guardians.
These artists’ lyrics have evolved to expand beyond money and sex, and this means their work has more reach now has more reach than ever before. Modern hip-hop is inclusive, and Tink acknowledges this, “You don’t need to be selling dope to be a hustler, y’know?”
What sets Tink and Dej Loaf specifically apart, however, is their clear focus on societal, gender and sexuality issues. Dej Loaf, real name Deja Trimble, a 24-year-old from Detroit, sermonises to young girls in an interview earlier this year, “Don't fall in love, live life, don't worry about a guy that treats you bad. Be a young girl and embrace life, enjoy it, don't get caught up being in love with a guy that doesn't care about you.” Tink wants to be able to rap about the same content as men: "It would have been different if I was a boy. But to be a female, so young and saying some of the things I was saying… the house was so cold.”
In terms of current affairs, Tink has her finger on the pulse. The 20-year-old from Chicago touches on society’s never-ending chronicles of cat-calling on her track "Around the Clock", “I hear these niggas woofing, I kill 'em with dead silence/I could reply but there's really no need for payback.” Tink takes the sassy high ground. It’s not that cat-callers don’t deserve payback, in a sense they do. It’s just that you shouldn’t waste your time and energy sticking it to them.
Dej Loaf hints at bisexuality in her song "Like a Hoe", where she growls, “I been acting up since an adolescence/No one can tell me shit, I had my own preference.” When interviewers then ask whether she prefers men or women, she replies, “I don’t date”, and they get pissed off that they can’t put her in a sexually defined box. Dej Loaf makes an important statement as she raps about this matter on her own terms, but when put under the microscope cheekily makes it a non-issue.
In her most recent track, "Me U & Hennessy" featuring Lil Wayne, Dej Loaf has sparked some controversy with fans over promoting her more seductive side. But Dej Loaf understands that you can still be street and sexual at the same time, “I got introduced in the game in a bucket hat, in all white, you know, the tomboy look. So it was definitely a different side of me that I wanted to show in the work because I didn’t want them to just box me in just as one type of girl.”
Tink radiates this notion as she dives deeper into society’s controversies on her song "Ratchet Commandments", where she spits about finance, infidelity and our obsession with social media. Perhaps her most vehemently relevant line lies in, “They rather be on the block than taking care of the crib/I'd rather be making money than taking care of some kids”. Here, Tink is implying that it’s absolutely fine not to want children. You’re not going to be banished to some reproductive gland wasteland where all the cystic ovaries and cancerous testicles went to wither away and die. If you don’t want to use your reproductive organs, then fuck it, don’t use them. It means you’re not playing into someone else’s interpretation of happiness, and this doesn’t make you any less of a human.
In regards to Tink's sometimes ruthless rhymes suggesting slut-shaming, the ammunition is weak. She fires back, "Nobody's talking about this… [and] I’m talking about males as well. It wasn't just all putting shame on women. My thing was, when I made "Ratchet Commandments", I was talking to myself three years ago. Young girls growing up, they need to hear this type of stuff."
Female hip-hop is more relatable and educational than ever before, and damn, didn’t it need to be. Tink and Dej Loaf are two hip-hop artists leading the way, teaching some of the most important modern lessons, in their uniquely sassy and succinct style. Issues like social media, gender equality, bisexuality and choosing career over children are finally being dissected, and it’s time we paid some respect to those confronting these important topics. Not only do rappers like Tink and Dej Loaf engage with modern problems, but they offer audiences pertinent and promising philosophies. Hip-hop artists have always been idols, but this passionate, educated generation of talent are fast becoming renowned gurus.
Grace Bullen is a Brisbane writer. You can follow her @graceannbullen.
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