Boyfriends not included

Beyond just a booty, the B-Girl Be festival hands the mic to the ladies

Keri Carlson

When Desdamona takes the stage and rocks the mic, she’s not always accepted as a true artist.

“There’s the assumption that I’m somebody’s girlfriend,” said the local rapper. “Even as a performer you get put into the groupie category.”

It ain’t easy being a female in hip-hop – a genre not only dominated by men, but one that also is notorious in its objectification of women in lyrics and videos. And while the hope is that these issues improve over time, Desdamona often thinks things are getting worse.

She works with various schools and ages – from third grade to adults – teaching poetry and hip-hop skills with an emphasis on performance. Through this experience, Desdamona said, she has seen how younger girls in the classroom are less vocal than boys.

“I see girls that just want to be in the backdrop, or they think that they have to be a certain way to get certain attention from certain people. It’s depressing to me, because it’s such an old way of thinking,” she said.

But maybe with Intermedia Art’s second B-Girl Be event, female hip-hoppers won’t be disregarded as simply girlfriends for much longer. B-Girl Be, which Desdamona helped curate, promotes bringing together women in many elements of hip-hop – emceeing, deejaying, dancing and graffiti.

Desdamona helped organize the Encyclopedia of Hip Hop shows three years ago. The shows were meant to have an educational twist, each one focusing on hip-hop roots and influences. The all-women show turned out to be one of the best-attended, and this inspired the idea for the B-Girl Be summit.

“It was sort of a challenge at first,” Desdamona said. “Can I even find enough girls?”

Even though Desdamona has been a performer in the Twin Cities for more than a decade, she discovered many women in the local hip-hop scene she had never heard of before.

“Minneapolis isn’t that big, but we tend to run in these smaller circles,” she said. “Women are often secluded in their experience of hip-hop, when making one of the elements within the realm of hip-hop, they tend to be alone or with a bunch of guys. We also tend to feed into this idea that women can’t get along and you end up being that girl in the crew and that’s the way you want it. But once you realize there’s power in numbers Ö “

For a long time in the local scene, Desdamona was thought of as a spoken-word artist – she has won the Minnesota Music Award’s Best Spoken Word Artist four times. But her spoken-word notoriety came from Desdamona finding open-mic poetry an easier entry point into the music scene than straight-up hip-hop.

On the first track of her album “The Ledge,” she declares, “I realized this hip-hop thing wasn’t for me / So from then on I called all my rhymes poetry.”

“I learned how to be a better writer that way,” she said. “I actually became a better artist than if the thing were easy for me.”

Although Desdamona values the struggle it takes to be a respected artist, she nonetheless wishes it could be easier for more girls to take an active role in hip-hop.

“B-Girl Be is all about putting the mic in your hand, putting the spray paint in your hand, getting you the turntable. It’s about just getting girls to try it. Because the only way to get good is to do it and do it and do it.”