I never thought we would be here, with a former reality TV star fascist as our president-elect, a hateful sociopath with the countenance of a Dorito. Before November 8, I was angry with the media for capitalizing on our collective anxieties, terrifying us into thinking we were nearing political apocalypse. I don’t trust the American government. I grew up in D.C., where idiot bros who once cheated off me in school now hold prominent positions in the Democratic Party. I’m politically jaded, bordering on nihilistic, and immensely suspicious of the establishment. Until Thursday, I thought Trump was a Clinton pawn, and my favorite thing about Hillary was her extensive knowledge of UFOs. Part of me even respected Trump as a provocateur. I didn’t want him to be president, but I truly didn’t think it was possible.
Several friends have said to me in wake of the election: “I don’t know who I am right now.” Compounding my feminist heartbreak, I continue to watch my female friends turn this pain inwards, blaming themselves for what has happened. Trump’s victory has catalyzed a mass identity crisis penetrating us on an individual level. Trump is so unhinged and across the board offensive, his politics so vague, that this disaster has become a chance for everyone to vent their own personal political struggle. As Lindy West put it aptly in the The New York Times: “now, more crystalline than ever, we have an enemy [….] We have the smirking apotheosis of our oppression[.]”
For me (and you know us millennials love to make it about *us*), it is a glaring example of patriarchy at its most pronounced. Watching a less qualified man surpass you professionally while being publically ripped apart is the story of being a talented, ambitious woman in America. And I am heartbroken for Hillary. I am mourning for her, for myself, and all my fellow alpha women who are just tired.
Feminist icon Ilana Glazer, a fervent Hillary supporter, perfectly articulated the reason I’m drawn to female rappers in an Esquire interview last year. Regarding her status as a Nicki Minaj super-fan, she said:
I listened to her mix tapes over and over, I knew all her fucking raps. Because it felt good to, like, bark cocky shit. It stuck in my brain. You know when you smile, your brain feels you smiling and starts emitting happiness, you know, serotonin? Kind of that. I feel like I spit her shit that was pumping in my ears for so long that I was able to feel that confident.
This is my plea to my alpha women to turn it outward. This is our time to speak louder. Be strong. Control your narrative. Keep going. As Hillary herself urged the rising generation of women in her heartbreaking concession speech: “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to achieve your own dreams.”
Below is a list of contemporary female artists who have resisted their social conditioning and been outspoken, confident and fierce in ways that women have been told not to. Blast these women, vampire their swagger, and keep fighting. I realize my optimism partially comes from a place of privilege, but I nonetheless wholeheartedly believe that the matriarchy is imminent.
2016 has been shitty in a lot of ways, but it’s been phenomenal for music. Kamaiyah, James Blake, Kanye, Danny Brown, Kaytranada, Young Thug, Frank Ocean, Jessy Lanza, Beyoncé—the list of artists who have dropped perfect albums in 2016 is extensive. But these releases pale in comparison to Solange’s heartbreakingly beautiful, brilliantly executed A Seat at the Table, which feels like an instant classic. Sonic mastery aside, Raphael Saadiq told The FADER that the album is “a true testament of healing.” Solange conveys her intensely personal, black American experience in a voice that is melancholic, but not bleak; angry, but not hopeless. Solange told NPR that the track “F.U.B.U.” is meant to counter the “breaking down that people do on a daily basis”—“when you exist as an unafraid and powerful black presence in this country, what happens as a result of that?”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kamaiyah this year, shortly before A Good Night in The Ghetto dropped, propelling the 24-year-old from “the first lady of Oakland’s Big Money Gang” to a semi-household name. In granting “How Does It Feel” Pitchfork’s coveted “Best New Track” status (the resulting album was given “Best New Album”), hip-hop tastemaker Meaghan Garvey wrote: “in a year dominated by paranoid, depressed rap anthems, this beat is pure ecstasy.” Much like her catchy hit, which she told me she wrote in 15 minutes, Kamaiyah is high-spirited and, for lack of a better word, normal. She’s like your best friend from summer camp who happens to be able to craft bangers more quickly than most people make dinner. Despite lyrics detailing a party lifestyle that would make Lindsay Lohan jealous, she tells me on the phone that her favorite leisure activity is drinking green tea and reading. “I just like to be smarter than other people.” I’m excited to see what’s next for this hard-partying scholar (no wonder I like her so much…).
Nothing makes me happier than listening to Nicki Minaj slay a male rapper on his own track. On “Monster,” the self-proclaimed rap newcomer (“wait I’m the rookie?”) spit pure fire onto an otherwise unremarkable track, blowing veterans Rick Ross, Jay Z and Kanye West out of the water. Rick Ross described watching Nicki record the verse as “a moment in history,” but more significantly, world-renowned narcissist Kanye West himself admitted in a 2013 radio interview: “I thought of taking Nicki’s verse off of ‘Monster,’ because I knew people would say that was the best verse on the best hip-hop album of all time.” Nicki references inspiring envy in Mr. West on her later track, “Want Some More,” a Metro Boomin-produced banger from The Pinkprint: “Who had Kanye saying ‘She a problem?’” She also references her entry into the highest ranks of hip-hop: “You seen that list?” She asks, referencing Forbes’ Hip-Hop list, on which she was placed as the No. 4 top earner: “It was me, Baby, Jay Z and Diddy.” Finances aside, any list of top rappers that omits Ms. Minaj is motivated by the same institutionalized misogyny that allowed Trump to win the election.
I know, I know. Azealia is a controversial figure. I’m typically a fickle person, but I support Ms. Banks with a Passion of The Christ, even after she canceled numerous shows on me, and even after she snapped at my best friend and fellow Azealia superfan on the street. I even found myself justifying her recent support of Trump’s success, arguing that she is rightfully angry with a government that has historically degraded black women (in her Playboy cover story, she spoke to “misogynoir,” a term describing “the unique ways in which black women are pathologized in popular culture.”) While Azealia’s anger often feels misplaced, I’m in no position to judge. And I’m sorry, but her calling Russell Crowe a “boring white man” after laughing out loud at his music taste at his own house is funny to me! Think what you will about her public feuds, no one can doubt her lyrical dexterity, genre-bending beats, and unique vision. The Playboy interview reveals a thoughtful, passionate woman experiencing a great deal of inner turmoil. If alleged sexual abuser Woody Allen still gets to open Cannes, if Kanye can steal an award out of Taylor Swift’s hand, we have to give Azealia her artistic due. And if you haven’t yet seen her live, I think you might be surprised by just how much fun she’s having.
Junglepussy is among few rappers to have lectured at multiple Ivy League universities. Yale and Columbia reached out to the rapper this fall to speak on her womanist lyrics (JP prefers the term womanist to feminist because the former is a more embracing of diverse viewpoints) and commitment to healthy eating (“I see you eating Mickey D’s / knew you didn’t love yourself / I’m up in Trader Joe’s / shopping cart full of health”). While I’m often frustrated by the myth that art must come from a dark, painful place, Junglepussy told Vice: “I know a relaxed mind is a creative and productive mind.” But don’t be fooled by her zen attitude, JP’s bars are fierce. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Bling Bling,” a song that subverts the mythologized female thirst for monogamy: “Bling Bling bitch / do my own thing bitch / fuck a wedding ring / that ding-a-ling was just a fling bitch.” And that’s what I call controlling your narrative!
Cam & China
Pitchfork deemed L.A. duo Cam & China’s self-titled debut EP to be among this year’s “fiercest, most viscerally exciting rap music.” The artists hail from L.A.’s Inglewood neighborhood and their ability to seamlessly meld their voices into one another has spawned comparisons to Mobb Deep, Clipse, and OutKast. Partially explaining their sonic chemistry, the women share DNA—they’re twins (rap game Tegan and Sara). The 23-year-olds once belonged to all-female rap group Pink Dollaz, whose track “Tasty” appeared in my favorite movie no one saw—Starlet, by Sean Baker of Tangerine fame. The girls channel that raw feminist energy into their breakout debut. To Noisey, they spoke of a phenomenon that continues to surface as I write about fierce female musicians—whenever they enter a studio or venue, the men assume they sing. In hip-hop, the world tells them, women are there to sing hooks; to provide the soft counterpart to the man’s bars. Cam says hip-hop’s institutionalized misogyny can “break a woman,” and it motivates her to go hard to give women more confidence. China says: “The game is made to destroy women. You have to stand up and say no.”
Cardi B is neither critically heralded nor explicitly political, but she spits with a confidence that evokes Hardcore-era Lil’ Kim and makes me proud to be a woman in my own skin. A former stripper, the 23-year-old Bronx rapper got her start on Love & Hip Hop: New York and became visible when she was featured on Shaggy’s “Boom Boom” remix with Popcaan last November. She followed up with her debut mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1, about which Complex wrote: “Cardi stands up for women to be themselves in a man’s world filled with double standards.”
Chicago rapper cupcaKke’s third and most recent album is appropriately called Audacious—she tackles raunchy content in a feverish register (her voice is almost shaking) in songs with titles ranging from “Spider-Man Dick” to “Keep Hoes Alive.” Given her sexually-charged lyrics, it may come as a surprise that the rapper got her start rhyming by writing Christian poetry as a teenager, and toldThe FADER that she associates with few people aside from her childhood best friend and her mom. While it may be hard to take seriously someone whose debut album was called Cum Cake (in fact, the rapper once considered quitting because people saw her as no more than a meme), MTV News detailed the importance of cupcakKe’s point of view in the wake of “Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy,” at a time where it is “horrifying to live in a woman’s body.” MTV continued: “It’s not that CupcakKe is devoid of insecurities or unafraid of how she will be received; it’s that her work does not indulge those fears in the slightest.”
Any queer party worth attending in 2016 is sure to blast Princess’s Nokia’s “Tomboy,” a hypnotic celebration of androgynous swagger. About the track, the Bronx rapper toldMass Appeal: “I am one captivating son a bitch, and ‘Tomboy’ is about that juice. Who I am and what makes me me, the New York City project rat; the messy but beautiful; the sloppy but still sexy.” She unapologetically embraces her whole self, the good with the bad, concluding that her goal is to “manipulate the male gaze.” She addresses serious subject matter, such as police brutality and her own diasporic identity, with a playfulness and charm that makes her music truly addictive.
A few days ago, Abra tweeted: “somewhere at the intersection of sade soulja boy and enya today.” The self-proclaimed Darkwave Duchess has a sound that’s hard to pin down. Her music is lo-fi and shadowy, eschewing convention and at times evoking witchcraft. Like CupcakKe, she has a Christian background – her parents were missionaries, and the artist spent her early years in London where her parents were building a church. Moving to Atlanta at the age of eight, Abra felt like a misfit with her British accent; she found solace in music and in writing fantasy novels. Abra remains in Atlanta today, where she is a rare face on Father’s male-dominated Awful Records. She creates all her music solo, in her bedroom using a laptop and a USB mic, leading The Guardian to announce that she is among “the most distinctive singers and producers in any genre today.”