When my best friend Natasha Daniel and I started Lost Lyrics back in 2007, we described ourselves as an “alternative education through Hip Hop” movement. Since then we have expanded our scope to include a variety of arts-based tools of learning. However when we were using that tag line, we would get challenged left, right and centre over whether we were “authentic” enough to be leading a movement that was based in Hip Hop. Countless numbers of men would approach us all the time and “test” our knowledge of the culture, creating all of these universal benchmarks that if we did not reach, then we were not “allowed” to name ourselves as part of Hip Hop.
Example: “Real talks, if you don’t know the lyrics to every single track on 36 Chambers, then I don’t know if you should be teaching the yutes about Hip Hop.”
It became even more consistent when I started working at The Remix Project . I was the only woman working in a full-time position at this organization that at the time was dubbed “the old boys club”. Since then, other women have been hired and the organization has grown immensely in a variety of ways, but that first year was all about testing: testing from fellow staff members, participants, graduates, mentors…testing to prove that I was “worthy” of occupying this space.
I have never named myself as a Hip Hop Head…but I am definitely invested and lay claim to this culture; this culture informs my politics, my art, my way of life. The very fact that me and Tash had the audacity/courage/ovaries to believe that we can build a movement from the ground up based in our own stories and the stories of our students IS HIP HOP. I am now confident enough to refute the attempts of any individual to define what my authenticity within Hip Hop is – regardless of how many albums they own, concerts they have gone to, articles they have written, or “temples” they have created.
I hold my own…but there are still spaces that remain elusive for me.
I am thankful that I grew up in the Queen Latifah-TLC-Aaliyah-Foxy Brown-Lauryn Hill generation. I know that the swag of these ladies helped me to shape my own layered and complex construction of femininity in Hip Hop and the world at large. I consistently borrowed from their who you calling a bitch-crazy, sexy, cool-age ain’t nothin but a number-Il Na Na-Ex-Factor-sensuality as I tried to navigate and define who I was in my style, my relationships and my sexuality.
BUT it still took me 8 years after high school to break my freestyling virginity and step into a cypher for the first time. Even (or perhaps especially) as an adult, there remained so much anxiety around whether this was a space I was allowed to/able to access and whether I was “authentic” or “skilled” enough to hold it down. That anxiety still exists to some degree.
I really wish that when I was in middle school, or high school or that even in 2007 when we were first starting Lost Lyrics, that I had seen footage like this: basement garage footage of really young ladies just a few blocks away from my home not proving themselves but BEING THEMSELVES, holding their own space and telling their own stories, without apology…and doing it with so much swag 🙂
Thank you to the ladies of the Jane and Finch Cypher: I’m definitely inspired.