Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Young M.A.: Queer, Female, and Spitting Game

Feminism's clash with rap is not a new phenomenon (as highlighted in this previous post), but the talented artist Young M.A. and other queer women are claiming the genre for themselves and challenging our conversation on misogyny in rap music.

Young M.A. first gained popularity when her song "BROOKLYN" (Chiraq Freestyle) was released in 2014 and her song "OOOUUU" from the summer of 2016 has reached over seventy million views on YouTube. As this recent article pointed out, when listening to her lyrics for the first time two things will likely jump out to you as the listener: that she is woman rapping about other women. For example, the music video for her song "Summer Story" depicts scenes of Young M.A. singing while holding on to another woman, and the song itself contains lyrics such as:

 I’ma ride for my bitch, do or die for my bitch
Fucked around a few times on my bitch, woah
She said I don’t have no loyalty
Just cause the pussy just be calling me
And she don’t think I love her even when I say I love her

These lyrics also show how Young M.A.'s music does not depart from the objectification of women, violence, and the hustle that other street rappers are known for. For this she has not escaped from criticism, most notably from a social commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins who said in a Facebook post the he wonders "what kind of trauma has this society imposed on this poor child to make her think this is normal behavior?" and that he "would encourage her to use her talent in a way that will empower her". Yes, Young M.A. has undoubtedly suffered trauma that informs her song lyrics, but who are we to say that her music as it is now isn't empowering for her? And empowering other queer women of color who do not see themselves represented in rap?

In an interview with The BoomBox Young M.A. told the interviewer how when she first started out in the music industry she tried to be more feminine because of "how the game was, there was no dyking, none of that". Unhappy being told to be someone she wasn't, Young M.A. left the music industry until the passing of her brother, when she used music as a coping mechanism, and this time rapping and representing herself the way she wanted. Staying genuine to who she is has not come without scrutiny and hatred from the public, and she says that people often comment "What is this he-she?" In fact, while googling her upcoming album, google showed people also asked "Is Young M.A. a girl?" In the face of criticism and the weight of being an out lesbian rapper in the industry, Young M.A. brushes negative comments off, to her "its like a splinter, it doesn't affect [her] at all." 

Young M.A. finds her self in the company of other queer female hip-hop artists who are breaking out on the scene, and providing a new voice in music. While her music may perpetuate the violence and objectification of women that hip-hop and rap has been criticized for, it cannot be denied that she is pushing the boundaries of rap music. Young M.A. describes sex and relationships from a queer women's perspective, and represents herself as a strong woman that does not conform to the music industry's presumption of how a woman should dress or act. Her next album that is slated to drop is fittingly titled Herstory, and will hopefully give us a deeper look into Young M.A.'s life and the unique voice she brings to rap. 


Josie Zimmermann said...

I totally agree with your assessment about the empowerment aspect of Young M.A's music. I wonder what your thoughts are on the violence that is still present in her lyrics. I'm so divided on violent lyrics in music in general. To be clear, I'm absolutely against inciting violence against women. However, I do think that some violent rhetoric for angry music is not the worst? I'm not positive. There is a place for anger, and violent lyrics get that message across. But words also have power, so perhaps we should be more cautious about what the music we make/listen to says. I'm interested in other's thoughts.

Louise Trainor said...

I admire Young M.A.'s courage to infiltrate a realm that is predominantly driven by aggresive, sexual, male-domineering lyrics. While her music is no less demeaning to women than that of male rappers, she is giving her listeners a new perspective from which to contemplate the rap genre.

Josie, I experience the same inner conflict as yourself when I think of violence in rap lyrics. I find it difficult to understand the balance between the freedom of speech and the violation of a woman's integrity in the rap songs I listen to. I have been a fan of Eminem since I was a young teen, my brother would always have his CD's playing in the car when he collected me from school. In his hit "Love the Way you Lie" featuring Rihanna, he raps about an abusive, romantic relationship. One line sounds "If she ever tries to fuckin' leave again, Imma tie her to her the bed and set this house on fire." On paper, this is a sadistic, violent crime against his partner. However, in the context of the song, I believe it reveals his intense, unhealthy obsession with this woman which drives these disturbing, uncontrollable thoughts.

I too am completely against any euphemisms which demean or humiliate women.In the world of rap music, violent, misogynist lyrics are almost inevitable. These artists are giving us a glimpse in to their minds and do so in an angry manner which will impact their listeners. I do not believe their lyrics are intended to be taken seriously in isolation. Having said that, if I had a rapper boyfriend who spoke of me in that aggressive manner, I would most likely fear for my life.

Depsite my inconclusiveness, I admire the diversity Young M.A. is bringing to the rap game!

Flamingo said...

Thank you for this post, Joan! I did not know this artist and it is challenging in a stimulating way to think about the lyrics' meaning and implications.

I have to say I find myself in the same inner conflict that Josie and Louise mentioned. I think that art is a way to represent the world's diversity and there is violence in the world, maybe even in Young M.A.'s life. So it makes it acceptable for me because it is worth talking about. And the fact that it triggered this conversation in itself is great in my opinion.

Julie Maguire said...

Thank you Joan for such an informative post,

It is no secret that many male rappers over the years have used foul and derogatory language when speaking about females. Artists whose music I enjoy, such as Eminem, use horrendously sexist lyrics in their music to which the entertainment industry and the media seem to turn a blind eye.

Female artist, Iggy Azalalea, has spoken out about the criticism she has received, blaming it on her sex and race as opposed to her music. This article discusses this in more detail: < http://www.forharriet.com/2015/01/iggy-azalea-girl-bye-on-using-faux.html#axzz4Qlc8M8FS >.

Is it perhaps true that the hip-hop industry are threatened by the females that go against the norm of the black male stereotype?

Kyle Kate Dudley said...

Joanie I was so excited to read this post as I love hip-hop but have been stuck with the Lauryn Hill days with the exception of some poppy favorites like Nicki Minaj.

I'm very eager to get to know the Queer Female powerhouses in the Leaders of the New School article that you posted. I think it could open me up to some fun new rock-outs for my runs and more :). I am constantly concerned with the pressure that women of Color are put under in the recording industry, however, and think of Nicki Minaj a few months ago whose Madame Toussaud waxwork has been getting a lot of attention for the hypersexualized and stereotyped image of a Black woman that it puts into the world. This super-microscopic judgment of women of Color is, to me, another subtle form of oppression. (http://janetmock.com/2015/08/21/nicki-minajs-wax-figure/; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3203421/Anaconda-DON-T-Las-Vegas-Madame-Tussauds-forced-Nicki-Minaj-guard-visitors-post-inappropriate-photos-posing-waxwork.html)

It's a hard line to walk: hip-hop, just like many other genres, still seems to be a man's world, and women have to decide how much they want to "fit in" to it, and how much they want to revolutionize it. I love that this blog post looks at women who are doing both - maybe even at the same time.

Joan Maya said...

Thank you all for such great comments and the new questions you posed!

Julie: I think bringing Iggy Azalea into the discussion is very interesting, and the issues she brings up highlight the importance of intersectional feminism. While I don't necessarily believe all the criticism of Iggy Azalea stems from her being a woman, I think the way in which she is often criticized is gendered. First, I do think many of the criticisms of Iggy Azalea does genuinely come from a critique of her use of "blaccent" and racially problematic lyrics (discussed in this Mic article: https://mic.com/articles/107968/iggy-azalea-just-proved-that-she-s-learned-nothing-from-hip-hop-s-criticism-of-her#.X6cGX1gNC), and the fact that she does not acknowledge her place as a white woman in an industry and art form that was created by the African American community. However, I have seen the mechanisms for criticizing her as being shaped by her gender. For example, when discussing this exact issue over Iggy Azalea some of my male friends described her as being "money hungry" and "attention seeking". All words and phrases that are usually reserved exclusively for women. Of course I pointed this out to them!

Josie Zimmermann said...

Speaking of Iggy Azalea, years ago I got drawn into a heated discussion about her blaccent. Someone pointed out how she was embraced by male rappers, while simultaneously being criticised by rap and hip-hop fans. This article is similar to the one cited at the time, http://www.naturalhairmag.com/black-men-white-female-rappers-collusion-racist-sexist-mainstream/. TI has been mentoring Iggy for years, and she seems to have no trouble finding male rappers to collaborate with her. Those male rappers don't seem to see any issues with promoting a white woman within their genre, but they weren't pleased when Macklemore won best album a few years ago. It reminds me of Anita Hill's quote that during the Senate hearings, Thomas had a race, and Hill had a gender.