One of the first rap songs ever recorded by a female MC was legendary Philadelphia DJ Lady B’s “To The Beat, Y’all” in 1979. Philly ladies have since made many significant contributions to rap. For starters, see Bahamadia’s Kollage (1996), Eve’s Let There Be Eve ... Ruff Ryder’s First Lady (1999), Ms. Jade’s Million Dollar Baby (2007), and Ethel Cee’s Dirty Samples (2010). There are also several young female MCs currently grinding on the underground scene, like Dope Dizzle, Zay Bucks and Lean Bean.
But there’s no denying rap remains a man’s world. It’s rare that a woman rises up the patriarchal—and, oftentimes, downright misogynistic—ranks. Scour posts about female artists on popular rap websites and you’ll inevitably stumble upon sexist rants as disgusting as the bile spewed by Philly.com commenters. It’s the norm, and it’s ugly.
Perhaps change will come this year, as several female rappers are gaining momentum. Harlemite Azealia Banks’ “212” displays the 20-year old’s impressive range and skill, and White Girl Mob leader Kreayshawn definitely has more than the “Gucci Gucci” meme hidden up the sleeve of her baggy Fred Flintstone jacket. Will these ladies threaten Nicki Minaj’s queen-status in 2012? Maybe. The only thing that could hold ’em back are the dick-centric rap fans and critics who guard the gates.
Here’s how many women appeared on the year-end best hip-hop album and mixtape lists made in 2011 by popular rap publications and websites: ZERO. It was dudes-only for XXL, The Source, Complex, HipHopDX, BET and Vibe. There was one exception, though, made for a lady DJ who dropped a mixtape called Bad Bitches Bomb First. It featured 31 tracks by female MCs—Banks, Kreayshawn, 19-year-old Floridian Dominique Young Unique, and 21-year-old Aussie Iggy Azalea were included—and the tape snagged the No. 34 spot on Spin’s 40 Best Rap Albums list. Guess what? Bad Bitches was made by Philadelphian Gun$ Garcia.
“I’ve always idolized women who are badasses—they tell the truth all the time and don’t sugarcoat anything,” says 30-year-old Regina Garcia, aka Gun$ Garcia. “And badass women rappers make songs about fighting, getting money and taking other girls’ men. This is why I listen to hip-hop—it makes me feel like I can do anything I want—and there are plenty of women doing it. I want to expose people to these women rappers because they aren’t being repped elsewhere.”
While growing up in Washington, D.C., Garcia spent nights at local hip-hop clubs like the Ritz and DC Live. She always dug mainstream rap—DMX, Jay-Z—but she went especially nuts after hearing a woman spit for the first time. It was Eve, and then came Lil Kim and Foxy Brown.
Soon after moving to Philly in the early 2000s to attend the all-women’s Moore College of Art & Design, Garcia connected with Philly Street Bass bosses Starkey and Dev-79 and started making silkscreen T-shirts and posters to help promote Seclusiasis’ dubstep/grime nights. In 2007, Garcia was the head stylist on the Mad Decent-produced “Shake It To The Ground” video for Baltimore’s DJ Blaqstarr and girl-spitter Rye Rye, and also on Dipset member 40 Cal.’s “The Big Boys” video. She was deep into music, but it wasn’t until 2009 that Garcia aspired to be the first woman to win a local monthly DJ night called Fight Club.
“I started DJing because there weren’t enough girls doing it,” says Garcia, who won three battles and eventually joined the Brick Bandits DJ crew. She’s been perfecting her skills ever since, straddling the line between rap and club music. “I stay on top of whatever’s new and exciting rather than affiliate myself with any single genre of music.”
In June 2009, Garcia and DJ Prowl launched Double Dutch, an all-female DJ/live performance night at the Barbary that happens about four times each year. The first one showcased then 17-year-old Bronx-via-Dominican Republic artist Maluca, and the second featured the Philadelphia debut of 2012’s Great Lady Hope, Azealia Banks.
“I want to represent the women,” Garcia says about Double Dutch and Bad Bitches. “It’s not a gimmick; it’s a mission. One day I wanna host this women-of-hip-hop Lilith Fair kinda thing. There’s just so many totally inspiring women rappers, and I want to bring them all together.
“When I was reading all this feminist stuff in college, I didn’t know how I would translate it all creatively,” she remembers. “If someone had said I’d be a DJ, I wouldn’t have believed them. But now, of course, I’m supposed to be a DJ and represent all these girls.”
Follow Gun$ Garcia on Twitter @GunsGarcia
Who’s hot in Philly hip-hop right now? That’s the perilous question we asked ourselves at the beginning of a long journey. It’s impossible to answer. Or, more to the point, impossible to answer succinctly. The list is lonnnnnng. So we’ve broken it down.
“Jahlil Beats. Holla at me!” If you didn’t hear those words kick off a song last year, you didn’t listen to rap music. There was no escaping it—the club, the car, the street—especially in Philadelphia.
“People always ask why I ain’t got a girlfriend,” says Young Chris during a break from working in a Northern Liberties studio. “I tell ’em, ‘Yo, rap’s my girlfriend.’” The North Philly-born rapper’s been devoted to the game since the early 2000s, when his Young Gunz duo with MC Neef Buck was signed by Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, and their first single, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” was nominated for a Grammy in 2003.
The Internet exploded at the close of 2011 with rumors that Planets were uniting for a new studio album. While talks are underway, nothing’s confirmed. “I’m down, no doubt,” says Irving about another reunion. “Planets was the best time of my life, but a gift and a curse. As a musician, I wanna spread my wings and not always be stuck as ‘that Digable Planets dude.’ I wanna try new things and experiment.”
In hip-hop, many of today’s rappers are putting out three or four or 40 releases a year. They’re shooting and editing their own videos. They’re their own publicity firm. They’re booking their own shows. They’re working smarter and harder than ever before, and doing it independently. And perhaps no Philly hip-hop act exemplifies this DIY spirit more than young upstarts Ground Up. They’re their own insulated, independent music universe.
Books are mostly how he makes his living, but the heart of Bookman’s street vendor operation, located just outside 52nd Street Station at 52nd and Market, is hip-hop. Most days, he’s bumpin’ beats from his tabletop rig—a CD player and speakers powered by a car battery. And those in the know know Bookman’s the man when it comes to getting your hands on the latest, greatest mixtape to hit the streets. Albums are nice, but underground mixtapes (they’re CDs, but the classic nomenclature sticks) have been the life-blood of hip-hop for ages.
Rusted Root's eclectic mix hits Coda