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Women in hip hop

Women in hip hop

Hip hop has been largely dominated by male artists, but there have been some notable exceptions. Salt N Peppa and Queen Latifah were two early female exponents of the style. During the last decade hip hop has been partially absorbed into mainstream pop music, leading to the the inclusion of hip hop elements (such as rapping, break beats, vinyl scratching and sampling) within more 'mainstream' pop, and aiding the success of female artists such as Lauryn Hill and TLC.

Salt (b. Cheryl James, 1964) and Pepa (b. Sandra Denton, 1969) grew up in the Queens district of New York. While working as telephone sales girls at Sears, they were asked by co-worker and part-time producer Hurby 'Luv Bug' Azor to rap on a project for his audio production class at New York City's Center for Media Arts. The song was eventually released by Pop Art Records and was credited to the band Super Nature. It became a minor hit (reaching #46 on the R&B charts).

The duo, now 'Salt N Peppa', signed to the rap independent label Next Plateau, and releasedHot, Cool and Vicious under the guidance of Azor (who had now become their manager). The album spawned several singles including 'Chick on the Side', 'My Mike Sounds Nice' and 'Tramp' - all of which charted moderately on the R&B charts[1]. The band (by this stage using Pamela Greene, a female DJ, back- up singers and male erotic dancers) got their 'big break' in 1988 when 'Push-it' (the b side to the earlier 'Tramps' single) was re-mixed by Cameron Paul (a DJ at San Francisco station KMEL) and reached # 19 in the pop charts. The single became one of the first rap records to be nominated for a 'Grammy' in 1988.

Before releasing their second album, A Salt with a Deadly Pepa., they replaced DJ Pamela Greene with DJ Spinderella (b.Deidre 'Dee Dee' Roper). The album included the R&B hit 'Shake Your Thang' ( a reworking of the Isley Brothers' 'It's Your Thang') but it received mixed reviews and was only a minor success.

The group was accused by some rap fans of selling out and trying too hard to cross over to the pop market. These criticisms were answered with the 1990 release of their third album, entitled Blacks' Magic. According to Rolling Stone the album was a 'huge success [both] artistically and commercially...being embraced strongly by the hip-hop community'[2] . It featured several hit singles including the track 'Expression', which reached attained gold record status. Another single from the album, 'Let's Talk About Sex' became their biggest pop hit to that point, and in 1993 they re-recorded the song and renamed it 'Let's Talk About AIDS' as part of a safe-sex education campaign.

The success of the group's singles encouraged the band's record company to release the 1991 remix album A Blitz of Salt N Pepa Hits, featuring dance re-mixes of their songs. Salt N Peppa were by then the most successful female rap group, and were having disagreements with Next Plateau and Azor. The group terminated their contract and signed with London/PolyGram, releasing the 1993 Very Necessary.. This showcased the women as 'sophisticated but tough rap divas'[3], with songs such as 'Shoop' and the 'suggestive and salacious'[4] 'Whatta Man' and which also featured female vocal group En Vogue.

Queen Latifah[5] (b. Dana Owens, 1970) grew up in middle class East Orange, New Jersey. Initially working with Ladies Fresh as a human 'beatbox', she released her first solo single 'Wraith of My Madness' (Tommy Boy Records) in 1988. In 1989 she released her debut album All Hail the Queen. The album was only a minor success, but was described by Rolling Stone as having a profound impact on hip hop culture - partly due to the single 'Ladies First' in which she tried to counter the misogynistic lyric content of her fellow male rappers. The album provided an empowering message that emphasised 'girl love' and blended musical styles such as soul, dub reggae, hip-hop and dance. The recording featured guest performances by Monie Love, De La Soul and KRS-One, and saw Latifah nominated for a Grammy and named as 'Best Female Rapper of the Year' by Rolling Stone[6].

Queen Latifah, by now 'a media darling [who was an] articulate commentator on hip-hop and youth culture'[7], released Nature of a Sista in 1991. This was a more personal album, as she moved away from the role of female spokesperson for hip hop), but it still reflected Latifah's attitude to female empowerment with the song 'Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here'. The album saw Latifah moving away from the traditional rap format and using live instruments and a 'singing' vocal style. Nature of a Sista expanded on the cross-genre integration of All Hail the Queen with its use of house and dance rhythms[8] .

Embarking on an acting career, Queen Latifah joined the cast of the popular 'streetwise black comedy'[9] Living Singles.. Her diversification into acting, 'probably boosted'[10] record sales of her third album Black Reign ). Latifah signed with Motown and received a Grammy for 'Best Rap Solo Performance' for the single 'UNITY'.

Latifah continued her acting career and has starred in the films Jungle Fever, Juice, and House Party 2 and on the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She has also started her own record label and management company.



[1]Erlewine, 'Salt N Peppa on UBL.COM- Music's Homepage', [Online] http://www.ubl.com/ubl_artist.asp?artistid=12090&p_id=p+++++++92[1999, June]

[2].Rolling Stone,'Salt N Peppa Biography', [Online] http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com/sections/artists/text/bio.asp?afl=ubl&LookUpString=2273[1999, June]

[3]Rolling Stone,'Salt N Peppa Biography', [Online] http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com/sections/artists/text/bio.asp?afl=ubl&LookUpString=2273[1999, June]

[4]Larkin, 1995, p.3646

[5]The word 'latifah' is Arabic for 'delicate and sensitive'.

[6]Rolling Stone,'Latifah Biography', [Online] http://www.rollingstone.com/sections/artists/text/bio.asp?afl=&strBioType=EOR&LookUpString=1133 [1999, June]

[7]Rolling Stone,'Latifah Biography', [Online] http://www.rollingstone.com/sections/artists/text/bio.asp?afl=&strBioType=EOR&LookUpString=1133 [1999, June]

[8]This is best evident in the single 'Fly Girl' (#16 R&B, 1992), which Latifah sang with male crooners Simple Pleasure.

[9]Larkin 1996, p.3370

[10]Erlewine, 'Latifah on UBL.COM- Music's Homepage', [Online] .http://www.ubl.com/ubl_artist.asp?artistid=24568&p_id=P++++96755[1999, June]

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