Steelo Magazine cover DJ D - feature in MTV music magazine 2005

Article Title: And ya don't stop
Written by: Simone Kapsalides
Location of Publication: Australia
Year: 2005

From b-girls to Sistas with Attitude, we have a look at the most prominent women of hip-hop's past, present and beyond..

Mother/Bitch.
Rap Diva/Gold Digger. Flygirl/Ho. The conflicting images of females in hip-hop have been a thorn in the side of the culture since its inception in the early '70s. Our male counterparts, it seems, just don't know what to do with us.

The first lesson you're given in hip-hop is that Kool Herc, a young Jamaican American DJ residing in the South Bronx, New York City, is the music's founder. By extending the break beats on his funk, sould an dpop records, Herc created a whole new musical style. People always seem to forget the fact that Cindy Campbell, Her's older sister, thre the actual party at 1520 Sedgewick Ave in August where Herc created history.

As hip-hop developed. it became a culture consisting of four main elements: break dancing, graffiti, DJing and MCing. In each of these creative arenas, women were celebrated participants. By the late '80s however, as rap began to gain greater visibility and mainstream influence, things began to change.

Groups such as Los Angeles-based gangsta rappers NWA and Miami's controversial 2 Live Crew became two of the music's biggest crossover senstations, acts who litteresd their tracks with crude and nasty references to their "sisters". As hip-hop critic Bakari Kitwana says, "Music videos with rump shaking, acntily clad young black women as stage props for rap artists soon became synonymous with rap music."

Heated debate, in the Unted States and worldwide, persists regarding women's roles in this male-dominated genre. Breaking down these negative stereotypes continues to be a long, frustrating process, as the ladies reppin all four elements will attest to. However the young, dynamic women who blazed the trails, and their eager, more aware successors, would have it no other way.

Graffiti
Graffiti precedes Kool Herc's turntable discovery as the inaugural element of hip-hop (later becoming a part of the wider culture). Documenting the history of 'writing', as it's known by graffiti artists, is invariably subjective.

Being an underground street movement, with the lifespan of some work as brief as days, most of its history is limited to word-of-mouth accounts.

A recognised starting point is 1971, when a young Greek-American writer names Demetrius, whose tag (signature) was "Taki183", was the subject of a New York Times article regarding the mysterious appearance of his tag all over the city.

Young women have participated in graffiti art from its earliest days, although in a much smaller minority. Female writers started to gain attention from the early '70s, with names like "Barbara 62" and "Eva 62" being the most prolific.

These women hit the streets, public parks and subway stations with their spray cans and markers with as much vigour as thei male counterparts. Luckily, along came Martha Cooper, a photojournalist now loved by some of the most recognised artists at the time for capturing their essence like no other.

Her 1984 book, Subway Art, co-authored with Henry Chalfant (Style Wars) is frequently credited as the catalyst for aerosol art movements worldwide.

In the 70s, Sandra "Lady Pink" Fabora came into prominence. The Queens, New York writer became the most enduring and accomplished female figure in graffiti's history to date, starring in the excellent 1983 hip-hop film Wild Style andshowing her work in gallery exhibitions across the globe.

On the local front there's Sharline "Spice" Bezzina who's not only renowned for her street art by for also being Australia's first female MC. She tutors young people in the art of graffiti and has been commissioned counteless times to do public murals.

"Painting is my release mechanism. Hip-hop is my life," she says. "Since the very early days there have been female graffiti writers, DJs, MCs and breakers. The popularity has definitely grown though, with more chicks taking interest.

Breakdance
"These days, it feels like elements such as graffiti art and breaking have taken a back seat and more girls are wanting to become MCs. I blame 8 Mile for that!" says Josie Styles, one of Australia's most respected DJs, who compiled the first Australian hip-hop album released on a major label, 2003's Straight From The Art.

B-grils, as female breakers [or breakdancers] are more commonly known, blow norms of femininity away with their strength and sexiness, yet sadly it's an activity increasingly discouraged among today's young women in hip-hop.

In its early days, breaking was the physical elemenet of hip-hop, making the music a media obsession, with countless films focusing on it [Wildstyle, Beat Street, Flashdance, Body Rock, Breakin']. Nowadays, you'd be hard pressed to see a commercial hip-hop music video incorporating and b-grils, save for some Missy Elliot-esque nostalgia.

There are a number of celebrated b-girls; most notably the Lo Angeles-based Asia One. Asia is best known for being a founding member of the annual US-based B-boy Summit and for being affiliated with the legendary Rock Steady Crew.

Being a b-girl has a long list of challenges. Along with strength, breaking requires solid self-belief, patience, and the ability to deal with discrimination.

"When I go to a hip-hop gig, I make sure to dress in high heel and tight jeans," says Shortcake, a Perth-based b-gril. "That way, when I kick my shoes off and start getting busy in the breaking circle, it shocks the hell out of all the guys."

DJing
'Manning' the turntables in hip-hop seems to be just that, with female DJs still rarely see nin the public eye. The history of DJing, or turntablism, spans 65 years now. However, nothing revolutionary occurred until the early '70s, with pioneers Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa showing exactly what could be done on the ones and twos [as the turntables are affectionately known).

Herc invented breakbeats, Flash and Bambaataa perfected them, and in 1977, Grand WIzard Theodore invented the scratch, the most well-known DJ technique.

Throughout the '80s, turntablism became the focus of DJ battles, where DJs were pitted against each other ina show of skills. Almost exclusively male affairs, DJ battles evolved into the elaborate competitions the are today, the two most notables contents being the ITF and DMC championships.

Although a traditionally male activity, more and ore females are stepping up to the challenge of the wheels of steel. In the US, well-known identities such as Kuttin' Kandi [the first female to reach the DMC finals in 1998], Cocoa Chanelle (the first female to appear on MTV's Spring Break], Jazzy Joyce (she recorded the pivotol hit "It's My Beat" with rapper Sweet T back in 1986) and Lazy K (New York mixtape personality and co-CEO of Murda Mami Entertainment) continue to represent the cause.

"Looking at my musical career as one of Australia's first female DJs in the hip-hop/RnB industry, I've seen many changes take place in the art form, the music and the roles us females play", says DJ D, a Sydney-based DJ who has supported R&B acts such as K-Ci & JoJo and Montell Jordan.

"I must say the response I've received after playing a club or trick set can be overwhelming for the male DJs, especially when I get so much encouraging crowd response from people who've never seen a female scratch, juggle and perform body tricks."

"I haven't really had any DJs to look up tp so I just try to better my skills and do my own thing," adds Styles. "I'm not trying to compete with the boys - I'm just doing what I love to do and I'm not trying to be someone I'm not, and that's where I earn my respect."

"Speaking from experience, it's generally harder for females to make it on this circuit", adds D. "However, I really believe if a female has developed her skills, her talent should be enough to advance over any superficial preconceptions."

Kim Barranjanos, international Publicity for Jive/Zomba Records, believes women who undertake a partiular hip-hop passtime need to understand perserverance in the key.

"It's up to us to strive for better and more positive representations", she says. "The bottom line is, the proof is in the pudding; if you're good at something, it's undeniable."

"I think women's roles in hip-hop have been somewhat dminished," says Grouchy Greg, the founder/CEO of the Internet's most popular hip-hop site, allhiphop.com.

"People tent to only think of women in terms of videos, but women have always repped in hip-hop. You can see them in the earliest movies, breaking, popping, rapping, even DJing and singing. Now the ladies have been somewhat objectified. Females used to challenge the status quo on the regular; it seems there's not a lot of variey in the way women are portrayed now."

DJ D believes things are changing, and not just in regards to respect behind the decks. On a recent trip to Oman in the Middle East, where she played a New Year's Eve gig to a room of sheiks, she realised how important her role as hip-hop ambassador is.

"I was the first female to DJ in the country, wearing a skirt and backless top. It was an event people of this culture would not have imagined in years gone by", she describes. "It was an amazing experience, one that I was told 'opened many eyes' and took a step in the right direction for 'womankind'. Although I could sense the traditional views of many of the older generation, the younger generation were totally accepting and really excited to see a female DJ from Australia/ I will never forget the from row of about 15 guys, holding up their mobile phones filming me while I was scratching away!"

MCing
Out of all the elements of hip-hop, females are most known for being rappers. It's also the most contentious issue when looking at their contributions to the music. Hip-hop essayist Cheryl L. Keyes (who wrote Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces) says that there are four distinct categories of female MCs that emerge from rap music performance; 'Queen Mother', 'Fly Girl', 'Sista With Attitude' and 'Lesbian'. Rappers can shift between these categories or belong to more than one simultanesouly, however these four divisions make up the urban female MC.

So it goes that hip-hop identifies like Queen Latifah, Sister Souljah and Yo-Yo are the 'Queen Mothers', the ones embracing black female empowerment and spirituality with their rhymes.

Salt N' Pepa, TLC and Missy Elliot are the 'Fly Girls' - the independent, around-the-way girls who create the most fashion trends. MC Lyte, Foxy Brown and Lauryn Hill are the 'Sistas With Attitude', and rappers like Queen Pen are in the 'Lesbian' category, choosing to rap about a queer lifestyle in a music form that is notoriously homophobic.

Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot in particular (bar a currently incognito Lauryn Hill), have been unwavering icons for young girls with dreams of rocking the mic and beyond.

"Queen Latifah is currently one of the most influential, visible, creatively diverse female influences in the industry today. She's made strides in music, film and media, not only in front of the mic/camera, but also behind", says Barranjos. "Life is about progress - we can't stay the same forever - so to have the ability to leverage your assets and redefine yourself accordingly is a great feat."

"Missy Elliott's talent has rendered her far more powerful than simply being a sex symbol ever could have," says Nancy Byron, a Los Angeles-based hip-hop publicist who represents artists such as Pete Rock and DJ Whoo Kid. "Queen Latifah has felt comfortable to branch outside of hip-hop and achieve success as well as creating a new sense of female glamour."

"Sure there's Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot... but I don't rate many others as good role models at all," comments Eter*** Canada's premier female MC whose debut album Where I Been - The Collection drops later this year. "I'll tell you this: more young girls, and we're talking mad young, like from ages five to 15, are emulating the girls in the music videos dancing half naked rather than the girls who make the music and the music videos. That concerns me."

Closer to home, our local female MCs have more diverse tastes when it comes to their inspirations.

"The dope MCs of our time are Trey, Layla, Liones, Thorn, A-Love, Eve, Jean Grae, Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Bahamadia, the list goes on," enthuses Maya Jupiter, a prominent hip-hop identity. "You don't have to dig too hard to find them. There's been lots of strong women since hip-hop began, and they have more than challenged the stereotypes."

"There are a lot of strong, intelligent women out there, both in Austrlaia and overseas," says Sydney's Trey, one of the country's most respected and hardest working rappers. "There's Apani, Jean Grae, Maya Jupiter, Estelle, Layla, Ms Dynamite, A-Love, Eve, Lady 6, La Bruha, and the greats like Lauryn Hill, Medusa, Sha-Key and Anomalies. I'd advise the young girls wanting to get into hip-hop to definitely draw from different genres, different art forms."

"I think if you've got a love for hip-hop as a music culture you can look up anyone as an influence despite gender, and let it stem from there," says Layla, a Western Australian artists whose debut Heretik has just been released. "There's dope shit everywhere you look now, so don't limit yourself."




Selected articles of DJ D in the Media {click to view}
DJ D feature in Howl and Echoes 2016DJ D feature in Steelo Mag 2015Soul Central Magazine 2015
DJ D feature in Ms Hennessey Speaks blog 2013DJ D feature in soul central magazine 2013DJ D feature in the TSLOA 2013
DJ D feature in Urban Hitz 2005DJ D feature in inthemix 2005DJ D feature in Blues & Soul Magazine 2005
DJ D feature in 3d world 2005DJ D feature in MTV Screen 2005DJ D feature in club flavas, 3D world  2005
DJ D feature in Inpress 2005DJ D featured in The Week 2004DJ D feature in 3D world 2003
DJ D feature in muma 2003DJ D feature in Groove On 2002DJ D feature in BMA 2002
DJ D feature in Hot Ashes 2001