Netflix’s Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop revisited the real OGs of the Hip-Hop movement for women and transformed Black culture through their poetry, art, and music. Directed and produced by Dream Hampton, Hannah Beachler, and Raeshem Nijhon, this groundbreaking series showcases how women reshaped the music industry and inspired generations. Despite Hip-Hop not being my favorite genre, what I appreciated about the documentary series is how it prompts us to contemplate the dedication and passion of these artists in pushing boundaries and becoming inspirations.
Even though many people around the world vibe with the music of contemporary Hip-Hop stars like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion, not everyone is familiar with the original trailblazers of the genre. In a male-dominated world, the story of how a woman became the first female MC is often overlooked. However, thanks to this documentary, we gain valuable insights into the Godmothers of this revolutionary, empowering, and artistic culture. Following the documentary, even as someone who wasn’t a big fan of rap and Hip-Hop, I felt drawn to explore the music and appreciate the art created by these MCs who profoundly transformed the Hip-Hop industry.
Pioneers of Hip-Hop for Black Women
This four-part documentary series conveys the very message that Hip-Hop evolution goes beyond the male narrative, especially shedding light on the late 1970s, when MC Sha-Rock, a young girl, emerged as the pioneer of female rappers. Her presence not only inspired fellow women to tread in her footsteps but also altered the trajectory for black women who aspired to share their narratives just as she did. It’s an inspiring journey through time, tracing the roots of a genre that emerged from the heart of the Bronx. In the midst of the societal turmoil, similar to the way MC Sha Rock did, many other pioneering figures, including Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte, rose to prominence as influential voices. These artists didn’t merely shape the music landscape; they also sparked discussions about themes like unity, sisterhood, and empowerment.
During a troubled period marked by societal issues like drugs and violence, Hip-Hop transformed into a potent means of expression. These visionary women used their poetic skills to convey messages of awareness through rhythm and music, becoming symbols of rebellion. Their songs didn’t just mention “unity”; they actively urged for unity in a divided world. Beyond music, their message of sisterhood empowered generations of women, transcending time and barriers. During this time, when street corners were filled with drug deals and senseless killings of black people, these artists chose to channel their frustrations, fears, and hopes into verses that moved the listeners. Their music became a commentary on the harsh realities they witnessed every day. But their verses not only depicted the darkness of society but also became a music of celebration, joy, and artistic exploration. Hip-Hop was born on the streets, but it soon rose to fame by becoming the voice of the women of black culture. At its core, this genre is poetry set to rhythm, a powerful form of commentary that sheds light on both personal struggles and broader societal issues. It allowed these women to become storytellers, using their verses to shed light on the stories of the unheard and the marginalized. While society often attempted to silence these narratives, these artists gave them a voice, a platform, and a chance to be heard.
“Roxanne’s Revenge,” a renowned track by Roxanne Shante, showcases the exceptional talent of these female MCs. It wasn’t just music; it was a response, a bold commentary on gender dynamics, and a befitting reply to those male rappers who doubted a woman’s capability to stand in front of a mic and own the hearts of her audiences. The 1980s brought another luminary: Queen Latifah. Wearing a crown of authority she crafted herself, she reigned supreme in the rap domain, using her music to uplift and empower. Queen Latifah’s message extended beyond the music’s beats; it was a declaration of self-respect, pride, and embracing one’s identity. Not only did she become a pioneering rap artist, but now she is a self-made businesswoman, a filmmaker, and a producer. She’s a true inspiration not only for women within the black community but for women worldwide.
The Fight Against Misogyny
There comes a significant moment for confronting misogyny and addressing the double standards present within the realm of male rap artists. These artists often degrade women’s bodies and existence in their lyrics, even going so far as to normalize problematic behaviors like drugging and objectification. But it stands in stark contrast to their inability to accept when it comes to a woman openly discussing her sexuality, desires, and choices in partners in her music. The glaring hypocrisy is undeniable.
Moreover, this issue isn’t limited to men opposing women exploring their sexual fantasies through lyrics. Many women also face criticism based on their appearance, complexion, and size, all driven by unrealistic beauty standards. While some women adhere to these standards, many are challenging them and refusing to become slaves to such ideals. One example of this defiance is the female rap star Chika, among others. This issue isn’t limited to only Hip-Hop; it’s found in different areas where women face criticism about their appearance. Just like Chika in Hip-Hop, the famous pop star Lizzo became targeted by individuals who aimed to demean and devalue her. Changing these standards to embrace diverse identities is still a big challenge in various parts of society.
The record business has seen its share of contract disputes, particularly concerning female rappers, who often struggle to receive proper recognition for their hard work and creative contributions. One notable example is Megan Thee Stallion, who faced a significant contract dispute with her record label.
Throughout their careers, these young and empowering women faced numerous challenges, including the struggle to be recognized for their hard work and dedication, even during times of pregnancy when they continued to perform at concerts and give their best. Unfortunately, their devotion often went uncredited. This documentary series spotlighted these issues and paid homage to the dedicated female rap stars who fearlessly demanded the respect they rightfully deserved.
The challenges these women faced extended beyond pregnancy; they also had to contend with the concerning problem of sexual abuse. In a male-dominated world, figures like R. Kelly and Dr. Dre, who were respected for their music, were revealed as assailants who inflicted harm on female rappers’ lives. Dr. Dre’s assault on a female host named Dee during a Hip-Hop show serves as a stark example of this. The documentary didn’t just bring these problems to light; it showcased the value of women and highlighted that assaulting a woman diminishes a man’s humanity.
Embracing Sisterhood and Queerness
Despite the challenges faced by various female rappers, the new generation is acknowledging and reversing them as pioneers. The young women coming of age aspire to follow in the footsteps of influential MCs like Lyte, Latifah, Nicki, and Cardi, learning from them the significance of unity and sisterhood. The documentary series stressed the importance of sisterhood within the Hip-Hop genre, clarifying that healthy competition enhances their artistic abilities without causing division. Each rapper uplifts others and takes joy in their successes.
The series also explores the acceptance of queerness and women embracing their authentic selves, along with their choices in partners. They reject societal labels that attempt to define womanhood and femininity, transcending these boundaries to express their humanity and love for others, regardless of gender.
Overall, Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop is a compelling documentary that explores the challenges and successes of female rap artists. It highlights their resilience against misogyny, underappreciation, and adversity and their emergence as revolutionary artists who changed all the dynamics of societal conventions regarding women. The series showcases their pioneering spirit, inspiring unity and sisterhood among the new generation. It emphasizes breaking barriers, embracing queerness, and authenticity. This narrative unapologetically celebrates women’s strength in Hip-Hop, deepening our understanding of the genre’s history and the battles that reshaped it.