RAP’s Answer to Misogyny: YoYo and the IBWC
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There is womanism in RAP music, but we have yet to explore most of it.
As I continue to go through my old RAP list, there is a part that I am totally disgusted with: the part where all Black women became gold-digging bitches and scandalous ‘hos. To write a whole series about the art of RAP and not address that would be disingenuous.
But while critics were busy dissing the brothers (and rightfully so) for their misogyny, we missed a few points. First of all, we live in a capitalist society. What would we do for sex aside from sell it? Second of all, we live in a society that says women are not fit for leadership, are apparently “too emotional” to be trusted with the nuclear code (at least that is what a couple of very poor brothers told me as they justified voted for Trump instead of Clinton), and are really good for only one thing. Why wouldn’t some women exchange their bodies for a paycheck? A come-up? A spot on a video and a shot at lasting fame? African American women are first and foremost…well…American. Sadly, we have internalized a narrative that says women are only as valuable as the titles men bestow upon them. And the quickest way to get a man to bestow a title upon a woman is to become an “object.” The way to become his object is to fulfill some need in him. And most young men seem to need sex. This is the narrative that capitalism/racism/sexism bombards women with. Everyday. From commercials to movies to songs to even billboards, women are told that only what’s between our thighs -not our eyes — makes us valuable.
When I listen to Cube, I hear real anger, though. They are angry at the women who would not give them the play before the record deal. They are angry at the women who objectify them. These men are no longer human beings once they are given dollars, but a big pay-off. They are walking, talking scratch-off lottery tickets. And nobody wants to be seen as a thing. No one. As all artists do, they put these emotions (albeit hidden) into their art. Once the words were put in the air for the whole world to hear, larger society used them to confirm the racist/sexist stereotypes of Black women that they’d been pushing since Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: Black women are hot-pussied sluts who CANNOT get raped and are therefore undeserving of protection -legal or otherwise.
And this hurt. It hurt in a place where, as a woman, I cannot always articulate. I am not looking to a man for a meal-ticket. Noone in my crew was. All of our lives, we had been taught to hold an aspirin between our knees (though we did not always follow that advice), walk with our backs straight, and keep our thinking caps on at all times. Our minds, not our bodies, would be our meal ticket. While I lived in Mississippi and the Blues dominates here still, we received the same music on the radio as everyone else. And for a hot minute, all I heard was brothers telling me that I was not to be valued, treasured, and loved. At the same time, they seemed to praise easy women who would give them the play: not every day, boring women like me who’d rather read than smoke weed (ha, ha! That rhymed).
It was exasperating. And for a minute, we had no answer. While I love Queen Latifah and MC Lyte for the craft they brought to the game, they were not at ground central with the disrespect, and often did not speak directly to these brothers of the West. No one could answer them for a while. Oh, but when Black women did! There was an answer so astute, so sharp, so young, and also so ladylike. The answer came from Black culture, spouting Womanist lyrics that should have made Alice Walker proud. The lyrics punished Black males not only for their misogyny, but for their choice of the beautiful (but easy) women that they chased, glorified, then dissed. She was a hardcore RAPper who “hit the 8-ball often,” but challenge Black males “any time, any rhyme and anywhere.” Even better, she introduced it on a hardcore RAPper’s album. Her name was YoYo, “ but [she]wasn’t made by Mattel. [She] was made by woman and male.”
As the Hip Hop’s first female gangsta RAPper, YoYo has been overlooked and understudied. In fact, many people’s first introduction to her came from an Unsung airing.
When YoYo stepped to the mic, it was epic. Here was a modern-day Sojourner Truth with green eyes and blonde braids unafraid to challenge one of the most formidable RAPpers/producers/political doyens in the game. And she wasn’t even 18, yet! Here we have a battle of not just gender talk, but also two people who were dedicated to craft! The first third of “It’s a Man’s World,” focuses on a battle of the sexes with the middle third focusing on sex. By the end of the song, the two realize that they are intellectual equals (Cube concedes to YoYo) and the interdependent nature of male-female relationships. We can all admit that RAP was male-dominant, but as long as it was an artform by Black people for Black people, it was never as misogynist as the moments before YoYo erupted on the scene like a green-eyed, volcanic, hurricane -dropping clever rhyme bombs and causing gale-forced winds of thought!
Though YoYo, born Yolanda Whitaker, was considered a hardcore, gangsta RAPper, the force of her style does not originate with her ability to run with the boys. YoYo has repeated throughout the years that she did not want to be seen as “one of the boys.” She was a lady, by God. In her lyrics, she even refused to use the same words as most of her male counterparts. She was sassy, but still classy.
In her debut album, Make Way for the Motherlode, YoYo explores life from a definite Womanist view, but tailored for young adults. For example, her song, “Put a Lid On It” advocates voluntary abstinence for young women and speaks to the teen pregnancy epidemic of the early 1990s. In addition to gaining dignity and respect from young men, young women decrease their chances of teen pregnancy. Her crew, the Intelligent Black Woman Crew, had its own anthem on the LP: “The IBWC National Anthem” in which they sharpen and define their purpose: to relate the truth about women and men, and to speak their own opinions loud and without apology. Now, ain’t they some women?
However, YoYo let the world know that she was not some kind of saint with a moral perch to look down upon women who found themselves heartbroken and/or with a child. Her song, “I Got Played” relates an experience in which she, too, gave up the goodies too soon and lost her respect to a guy she thought was cute. To matters worse, she really liked the guy, but a week before sex was too soon to develop a long-term, respectful relationship.
Sadly, I don’t think YoYo and her lyrics have been given the complex analysis that they deserve. In our haste to denounce/praise RAP, we tend to overlook the things that do not fit our narratives at that time. RAP is now almost old enough to be an AARP member. It has major movements and subgenres. Rather than rush to praise or denigration, why not look at the artform in all of its complexity? Certainly, YoYo alone provides us with enough material to enrich or boost the careers of several academics.
Not only did YoYo present an alternative, womanist lyrical beatdown, she also remained true to Black womanism personally. Black womanism is not about sharing power dynamics with men: it is about healing families and fostering nurturing communities. Contrary to what some male academics say, Black women have ALWAYS embraced feminism in that sense — even while we rejected mainstream, white-developed models. Today, YoYo still champions gender equality for Black people and self-respect for women. She opened the YoYo School of Hip Hop, an organization which teaches through incorporation of RAP lyrics and other Hip Hop manifestations.
Unfortunately, the website for YoYo School of Hip Hop is broken as I type this post. But, it is widely available on social media. Check out the Facebook Page!
If you like this post, press the hands and clap back. This does not come from class, but from my research ramblings.