Nuthin' But a She Thing

Where women singers were among the biggest stars of the early blues era, the majority of female rappers are more like moons and satellites, recording impressive records that often go unsold and unacknowledged (Nonchalant, Bahamadia). Despite the barriers, they continue the blues woman tradition -- providing, as Davis phrases it, "emphatic examples of black female independence" -- from Roxanne Shante's sharp-tongued wit to Salt-N-Pepa's sexy self-esteem to Nonchalant's critical compassion to Lil' Kim's unabashed go-for-yours to Missy Elliott's dada worldview. As much if not more than celebrated white artists like Liz Phair, women rappers have looked at their relationship with men with eyes wide open. "The classic blues women," Davis writes, "sang of female aspiration for happiness and frequently associated these aspirations with sexual desire, but they rarely ignored the attendant ambiguities and contradictions."

It's this same lack of happy-ever-after lies that may be the female MC's greatest gift to her female fans. When artists let everything hang out, they invite their listeners to open themselves up and affirm what's inside. If LeShaun can talk about what it means to try to raise her kids while her mate's in jail for murder, or how it feels to have a lover who truly pleases her, as she did in "Wild Thang" and later with LL Cool J in "Doin' It," she clears mental room for other women to consider their own circumstances in a radically bullshit-free way. The century of work that blues women, soul women, and now rap women have accomplished has radically undermined the message America sends black women, and women in general, about how they and their lives should be. Talk about inciting a riot. As '20s blues diva Ida Cox taught, "You never get nothing by being an angel child/ You'd better change your ways and get real wild.

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