How do female rappers find the balance between embodying traditional hip-hop qualities while also maintaining their identities as women?
That’s the question at the heart of the documentary Say My Name.
“And when I ended the film, it was more about the role that hip-hop has in their lives,” she said after the film played earlier this month at South by Southwest.
The degree to which hip-hop drives their lives varies from person to person. For those like Detroit rapper Miz Korona, it’s all-encompassing. Every word, piece of clothing and story seem to be grounded in a hip-hop identity. For others, like New York’s Chocolate Thai, it leads to what feels like a split personality. At the start of the film, she’s a tough talker, swilling a Heineken while throwing out as much bravado as any gangsta hustler. But later we watch as she cheers no her young son on the playground, doting on him as only a mother can.
One point that nearly everyone agreed on is that they wanted to be known for their talent, not their looks. Foxy Brown, they’re not.
“We want to be known as LYRICISTS,” says Monie Love, who was featured on Queen Latifah’s 1989 breakout “Ladies First”
The focus on these personal perspectives leads to a distinction that should be made about Say My Name: this is not “the history of women in hip-hop.” Many of the most recognizable female rappers are not interviewed, including Salt and Pepa, Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah. But those who are featured represent the spectrum of women in hip-hop. There are teenage amateurs spitting lyrics on the playground. There are rising stars, including Britain’s Estelle. And there are those of have left their mark on the field (MC Lyte, Remy Ma, Roxanne Shante, Monie Love). Dallas’ Erykah Badu even makes a brief appearance, raising some questions as to where hip-hop ends and soul and R&B begin. It’s an ever-blurring distinction, and some artists – Badu included – move fluidly between the styles. Had the filmmakers attempted to nail down a definition of what they consider hip-hop, it might have lead to a more finely focused document.
Still, the strength of the film is in the stories these women tell about determination and heartbreak. About trying to make it in a man’s world. And about how they’ve fought to make sure that terms “female” and “rapper” aren’t mutually exclusive.
Art&Seek will sponsor two screenings of the film: Sunday at 10:30 p.m. at the Magnolia and Monday at 5:30 p.m. at NorthPark.