Looking back to look forward

Intermedia Arts’ hip hop event celebrates women of the art form

by Keri Carlson

Rapper Big Daddy Kane sits on a throne surrounded by women who fan him, feed him and attend to his every need. These women wear short, toga-like white dresses and are unquestionably portrayed as sex objects.

Yet, the picture from the late 1980s seems pretty tame in retrospect.

Rachel Raimist, one of the main curators for Intermedia Arts’ B-Girl Be event and doctoral candidate in the University’s women’s studies department, points to this picture of Big Daddy Kane.

“This kind of stuff has always existed in hip hop,” she said. But the main difference between the early days of hip hop and now is its visibility and acceptance. If a video was too scandalous in the past, she argued, it wouldn’t be allowed on day-time rotation at MTV or BET.

Raimist then opens to a page in the current hip-hop magazine XXL. Rapper Snoop Dogg is pictured holding chain leashes attached to collars worn by two women in tight and barely visible clothing.

Misogyny in hip hop appears to have gotten worse.

“It’s a ripe time to do something,” Raimist said.

B-Girl Be is a celebration of women in hip hop, as well as an opportunity to discuss and, more importantly, confront issues facing women in its art and culture.

Programs manager Theresa Sweetland said the idea for B-Girl Be evolved from the program Encyclopedia of Hip Hop, which was founded by hip-hop and spoken-word artist Desdamona in 2001. She will also be one of the performers this weekend at B-Girl Be.

Sweetland said the event, which has been in the works for two years, will help build understanding, which is a part of Intermedia Arts’ larger goal.

Ashley Gold, performance artist as well as member of the B-Girl Be advisory board, said an important aspect of B-Girl is its visibility.

“It’s about making hip hop visible to younger girls so they can see it can be done,” Gold said.

Much of the summit this weekend will highlight accomplished women in hip hop from break-dancers to MCs to graffiti artists.

Well-known and respected artists include B-Girl Asia One, who has break-danced with Rock Steady Crew. DJ Kuttin Kandi is regarded as one of the best female DJs. And Lady Pink, a graffiti artist featured in the film “Wild Style,” will also be in attendance.

Sweetland and Raimist said the festival’s discussion panels will give attendees the chance to discuss such key issues as images of women in hip hop, misogyny and access.

In a previous forum, women mentioned access to equipment, money, studio space and time as major issues facing women in hip hop today, Sweetland said. The panel will discuss ways to work around and overcome these issues.

Another problem Sweetland, Gold and Raimist noted was the need for women to set their own standards.

“A woman shouldn’t have to deny sounding feminine,” Gold said.

Raimist said a huge inspiration for her was a group of female break-dancers who looked as though they were fighting.

“But at the end, they all hugged, and it was so great,” she said.