Set off warning: This story accommodates discussions of assault.
After I meet with author and filmmaker Dream Hampton to debate hip-hop’s fiftieth anniversary, she shares that she hasn’t listened to the style in “greater than 20 years.” This revelation surprises me, primarily as a result of her newest undertaking is the Netflix docuseries Women First: A Story of Ladies in Hip-Hop.
As we chat beside a stunning lodge pool in Edgartown, Massachusetts, Hampton explains she acquired uninterested in the content material. She even expresses, strikingly calm and soft-spoken, that she finds many male rappers of this period to be “snooze fests.” Nonetheless, the manager producer of Surviving R. Kelly and esteemed hip-hop journalist dove again into the style with a brand new lens, specializing in ladies. The truth is, her vital eye provides a singular and vital perspective to Women First, which she government produces alongside hip-hop legend MC Lyte and lots of others.
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Out at the moment, the four-part sequence is a dissection and celebration of feminine rap historical past, that includes legends like MC Sha-Rock and Queen Latifah along with this present technology of expertise: suppose Chika, Tierra Whack, Latto, and Kash Doll. However the sequence is a lot greater than a historic report: it’s additionally a poignant snapshot of the nice, the unhealthy, and the ugly misogynoir that always lurks within the depths of hip-hop tradition. Narrated by Rapsody, Women First nails it with its illuminating commentary supplied by titans of tradition storytelling: Kierna Mayo, government director of One World; Brittney Cooper, professor and writer; and Joan Morgan, writer of the Black feminist traditional When Chickenheads Come Residence To Roost and extra.
Hampton was approached to government produce by Carri Twigg, founding associate of Tradition Home, the Black and Brown women-owned manufacturing firm and consultancy that produced Women First. (They’re behind Hulu’s The Hair Tales, and Disney’s Rising Up.) Although Hampton initially didn’t need to be a part of the undertaking, she ultimately agreed as a result of she acknowledges that this is a crucial second for girls in hip-hop. “I don’t need to take heed to a Cardi album or Megan [Thee Stallion] album to see that they’re essentially the most fascinating, and never simply them. Younger MA is [also] a revelation,” she notes.
Initially from Detroit, Hampton is understood by many as a well-respected rap critic who started interning at The Supply whereas attending NYU movie college through the early ‘90s. Hampton labored on the rap journal for 18 months and later went on to write down for VIBE and The Village Voice. She additionally had shut friendships with artists together with The Infamous B.I.G. But even along with her proximity to artists, she by no means backed down from writing skeptical and detailed profiles and options. Her writings carved out a lane for Black ladies writers and journalists who got here after her who love hip-hop tradition and aren’t afraid to critique it.
In 1991, after overhearing some staffers at The Supply speaking about Dr. Dre’s assault of rap TV present host Dee Barnes, she wrote an editorial about it. (He was charged with assault and battery in 1991 and pleaded no contest. In 2015, he issued a public apology “to the ladies I’ve damage.”) She tells me that her budding relationship with Black feminist books was guiding her again then. “I used to be just a little child feminist studying bell hooks and Paula Marshall and Ntozake Shange, and simply taking in all that nice radical Black feminism from the ’70s and ’80s,” Hampton stated.
MC Lyte, a Brooklyn native born Lana Michele Moorer, is one other considered one of hip-hop’s trailblazing legends. Her golden voice took years to excellent, she tells me over a name from Los Angeles. She all the time saved composition books the place she wrote her rhymes, poems, and brief tales. By age 15, she was in a rap group with a rhyming associate. “We’d give just a little little bit of time, possibly a few times per week [and] we’d get collectively after college to write down,” she explains. “The title of the group was Pure Magnificence, and my rap title was Sparkle, and hers was Dazzle.”
Inside two years, MC Lyte started her skilled music profession in 1987 along with her debut single “I Cram To Perceive U (Sam).” By the next 12 months she launched her debut album Lyte As A Rock which might change into the primary full-length to be launched by a solo feminine MC. It was largely profitable too.
She believes Women First is vital as a result of it should create a second for girls who’ve felt unacknowledged for his or her contributions to hip-hop to lastly be seen and heard. She feels it additionally offers area for the following technology of girls rappers to shine together with voices like Coi Leray. These optimistic messages are largely seen within the first episode, titled “Shaping Hip Hop.”
Elsewhere, in episode three, “What Have They Misplaced,” Hampton’s vital perspective gives up questions grappling with the erasure and abuse ladies have confronted within the music business. This chapter options artists, producers and writers detailing unsavory, usually jarring, private tales. Dee Barnes cries as she displays on Dream’s The Supply editorial detailing the violence she endured by Dr. Dre. The sequence attracts parallels to Megan Thee Stallion’s capturing by Tory Lanez, who was discovered responsible on all expenses this 12 months, and the makes an attempt to disclaim her trauma. These are examples of Hampton’s journalistic rigor and her analyzing patriarchal energy buildings. They make the documentary a lot extra convincing.
Although the sequence already appears like a must-watch, Tradition Home founding associate Raeshem Nijhon says it took quite a lot of pitching to get Women First off the bottom. “Folks didn’t perceive the ability of centering ladies,” she shares. “The method of pitching this present emboldened us,” she provides. Although the undertaking was merely an concept 5 years in the past, fortunately, Nijhon recollects, Jamila Farwell, director of documentary sequence at Netflix, instantly resonated with their pitch. All of the work paid off.
Throughout a particular screening on the Martha’s Winery African American Movie Pageant on Friday, almost 500 visitors confirmed as much as watch Women First. The room erupted with applause and screams when the faces of Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shanté, and numerous others appeared on the ultra-large display. At occasions, some ladies start rapping alongside to tracks by Shanté and MC Lyte. It felt so good to listen to these rhymes, that are cultural signifiers in their very own proper, clicking instantly with viewers. However, it’s the ending applause that acquired me. It’s virtually as if each single particular person within the room felt how nuanced and down to earth the documentary is.
Forward of the discharge of Women First, ELLE.com spoke with MC Lyte and Dream Hampton about Hip-Hop 50, important hip-hop moments that impacted them each, and extra.
MC Lyte, when was the primary time you ever heard hip-hop?
MC Lyte: There have been two encounters. One the place I used to be unaware, and the second the place I used to be conscious. So I’ll say the second outing was in Far Rockaway, Queens. I used to be staying at my grandfather’s home in Hammell Initiatives, and there was one thing taking part in on the radio on someone’s boombox, Supreme Allah, to be actual. It was a gaggle downstairs surrounding this boombox. Though I used to be on the third ground, I skated down as shortly as I may. By the point I acquired down, they had been taking part in Salt-N-Pepa’s “Showstoppers.” What I heard from the window was Eric B. & Rakim, “Eric B. Is President,” and that encounter was every little thing.
I believe previous to that, I had heard Run-DMC’s “Sucker M.C.’s” and “It’s Like That,” and simply the wave of every little thing that they introduced in that was void of melody, however far more the boom-bap of all of it, and that encounter with Rakim and Salt-N-Pepa was every little thing ‘trigger I felt like they had been talking to me. Previous to that, I used to be being rapped to, which was cool, ‘trigger I liked every little thing. [Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s] “The Message” and [Sugar Hill Gang’s] “Rapper’s Delight” and all of it sounded actually like, “We’re placing on a present.” However Rakim and Salt-N-Pepa, this new section felt like they had been proper in my ear speaking to me. That was what actually spoke to me and what actually gave me the notion that I may even be an MC as a result of I used to be down with speaking to folks and educating and studying and having enjoyable and all of it.
Dream, alternatively, are you able to inform me what Brooklyn was like across the time you moved there in 1990?
Dream Hampton: It was wonderful. New York has buildings which are older than quite a lot of American cities, but it surely was wild to see folks on the streets and what the style was. Anyway, I couldn’t afford dorms at NYU, so I ended up in Brooklyn.
[I was in] Mattress-Stuy. I lived on Cambridge Place, proper across the nook from Biggie on Grand, on the opposite nook was Daddy-O from Stetsasonic. Chubb Rock lived on St. James Place, which is Biggie’s Road, however on one other block. Digable Planets lived not far-off. We had been all simply on this universe of being younger and in Brooklyn at a time that was going to later be known as the golden period of hip hop. Biggie used to come back to a few of these lessons with me.
It’s laborious to look again and say, “Oh, it was dirty.” As a result of it didn’t really feel dirty. It felt like itself. And any period you come to New York in, individuals are telling you you simply missed the period. So once I arrived in 1990, folks had been like, “Oh, the ‘80s had been wonderful. We simply had Paradise Storage and Jean-Michel Basquiat was strolling alongside the streets, and this restaurant known as Kansas the place Andy Warhol was.” So it was as if we had simply missed one thing.
What components had been most vital so that you can mirror in Women First?
MC Lyte: It’s actually fascinating as a result of it’s taken a very long time for girls to have their simply due in any discussion board. So to haven’t solely this documentary, however others come round right now, I believe is extraordinarily vital. For me, inside any of those documentaries, it’s vital to have illustration from not solely MCs however DJs, producers, and girls who work behind the scenes. I believe for them to all have a voice is de facto vital. That’s the wonderful thing about hip-hop—nobody can actually have possession over it, and everybody can become involved.
[I want to] encourage the following younger lady who decides that she needs to MC, or perhaps a younger woman who decides, “I solely like this kind of hip-hop,” however then she’s opened and enlightened to another ingredient inside hip-hop, and he or she didn’t even know that she needed to be a journalist, or she didn’t even know that she needed to work behind the scenes and be a director till she noticed somebody discuss it. So I believe all in all, Women First is about enlightenment and eventually listening to from the ladies themselves. I believe some ladies who’re showcased on this documentary have by no means spoken in this kind of format, and I believe it’s actually vital that we be capable of hear the voices of the ladies that make up hip-hop.
Dream Hampton: I positively was the Debbie Downer who [was] like, “Okay, we are able to have a good time and prevail, however there’s this different story that’s actually unhappy.” So my contributions [were] like, “Hey, y’all, can we glance critically at the truth that everybody went to jail?” It hasn’t all the time been a hit. This was a women-led, crew; Tradition Home constructed out this staff of wonderful younger ladies who simply got here into this wide-eyed, and so I needed to be that auntie, like “Uh-huh woman. That is some bullshit.” These ladies have been abused, exploited, erased.
MC Lyte, do you are feeling such as you all have conveyed an general message?
MC Lyte: Yeah, that’s one for certain. However it’s additionally, though it’s similar to your loved ones, you’ve acquired many cousins, some you’ve by no means met, some you have got heard of from afar. You heard about Auntie Lyte over there from Brooklyn and also you heard about little cousin Tierra Whack over in Philly. It’s all of this blood that runs by our veins that hip-hop retains us associated as a result of it’s a hip-hop household, however we’re very completely different. I believe for the issues that all of us have in frequent, we even have issues that make us very completely different from each other, which is one thing to be lauded, as a result of that’s what made up hip-hop again within the day. You knew who everybody was as a result of we had been distinctly completely different from each other. I believe that’s what we’re in a position to see additionally throughout the confines of this documentary.
How are you each feeling about Hip-Hop 50?
MC Lyte: I really feel excited. I really feel blissful. I really feel grateful. This 12 months is a win for us all, for many who have appeared to inform their story, and for many who haven’t had the chance like quite a lot of others. The additional we get inside hip-hop, the extra advantages change into accessible to those that are coming into the sport versus those that have been in it ceaselessly, having the ability to have these alternatives. So I believe there are such a lot of retailers [honoring hip-hop] proper now, given right here proper now as we discuss Women First being a documentary that celebrates ladies in hip-hop, on the mic, and off the mic.
Additionally, you’ve acquired concert events which are taking place which are involving a multi-layered roster that offers a possibility for these to come back see a present and see a multi-generational celebration of hip-hop, which I believe is vital. I believe Hip-Hop 50 represents a lot, however for me, it represents unity as a result of we’re all coming collectively in sure locations all through the nation in addition to overseas, and we’re in a position to present that we’re unified. I believe that’s an ideal factor to smile about, so I’m blissful for the tradition.
Dream Hampton: I believe [for] Hip-Hop 50, if it’s not asking questions concerning the three main founders, [the] three form of Mount Rushmore icons, are we speaking to Afrika Bambaataa [alleged] victims? Are we speaking to Russell Simmons’ [alleged] victims? Are we speaking to Dr. Dre’s victims? That’s an ideal alternative to do this.
Clearly, every little thing’s not doom and gloom. There’s a lot to say about this style of music. It’s not a tradition. Tradition has meals. However this style of music has persevered. A few of it’s not all good. How did we get to a degree the place this technology, my technology whose main form of contribution to Black of us’ historical past on this nation was to show away from respectability politics, and the way did we then get to policing youthful artists?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Robyn Mowatt is a author and editor. Her work covers the intricacies of Black tradition, designers of shade, music, and leisure. Mowatt has written for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, NPR Music, The Minimize, Nylon, Byrdie, Bitch, Essence, Teen Vogue, Racked, Ebony, and varied different internet publications.