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Teaching Young Women How to Rap and Produce in Oakland

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By Navya Pothamsetty

Lil MC presenting our “Woke to Wap Wokeshop: Women’s Empowerment in Hip Hop” at Hip Hop For Change’s Women’s Empowerment Summit that occurred on March 12th

Megan Correa has just finished teaching a lesson on Sarah Baartman. In the 19th century, Baartman was a South African woman on display as a freakshow attraction in Europe. With this story, Correa hoped to illustrate the long-standing history of objectifying women—specifically women of color. Instead, she was met with laughter by some of her high-school students.

A caricature of Baartman drawn in the early 19th century.  Source Wikimedia

“We view this younger generation as being more progressive,” Correa tells me, “but they have so much work to do.” In addition to making music under the name Lil MC, Correa teaches a women’s empowerment and hip-hop course through Hip-Hop for Change (HH4C). HH4C is a non-profit using grassroots activism and hip-hop culture “to educate people about socio-economic injustices and advocate solutions.” 

Their hip-hop courses include more than just beat-making and emceeing: they teach students about the history and impact of forces such as mass incarceration and institutional racism on the genre and society at large. Including Sarah Baartman’s story as a precursor to modern gender dynamics is just one example.


“In addition to hip-hop’s five elements, we talk about the history of race and gender in my classes,” says Correa, who co-teaches the class with fellow “femcee” Amani Jade. The curriculum includes hip-hop history lessons with a focus on female trailblazers.


“Students in my class learn about the unspoken women heroes of hip hop,” Correa says. She mentions that female hip-hop pioneers like Roxanne Shante, who’s credited with the first diss record, are often forgotten about. In elevating these stories, we learn more about the genre’s history and acknowledge barriers to marginalized populations. For example, Correa explains why it took so long for female DJ’s to enter the scene:

“You had to get all this expensive equipment and have someone teach you,” she says, “many women didn’t feel empowered to ask men for help.” Most artists face struggles before finding their big breaks. Correa’s curriculum emphasizes that female hip-hop pioneers had to overcome huge hurdles to even enter the male-dominated playing field. 

Lil MC conducting a panel discussion about motherhood in Hip Hop with DJ’s, MC’s, Graffiti Artists and Activists in the community, at Hip Hop For changes Annual Womens Empowerment Summit

Far from being a past issue, representation is still a huge problem in the music industry. For example, even as music production resources are becoming more available online, a huge gender disparity persists: a 2020 USC study estimates that less than 3% of producers are women. As one of the few female hip-hop producers, Correa was well-aware of the disparity in her field. 

Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Artists, Songwriters & Producers across 800 Popular Songs from 2012-2019. Souce:  @inclusionists

When she started working on Beats Unlocked, a curriculum that combines beat-making and coding, she noticed similar gender dynamics in two male-dominated fields: tech and music production. This inspired her to coordinate workshops featuring women in tech discussing their experience in a male-dominated field.

Lil MC performing with Iron Lotus Street dance at the very first Queens of the Underground Showcase at the starline social club in Oakland, ca.  Photo credit Suyen Averroes.


“We need more women in these spaces,” says Correa, “and we start by opening the access doors. We start by teaching.”


Thus, equitable representation is more than just increasing the number of women in a given field: it’s about making these fields more accessible to people of all backgrounds. Gender isn’t a binary, and it’s just one facet of our identities. Instead of meeting quotas for quotas’ sake, we should foster young people’s confidence to be and express their authentic selves. 

This involves challenging what we think empowerment looks like. For example, female rappers are often hypersexualized. Correa acknowledges that a sexualized form of hip-hop might empower some artists, but maintains that it has some disadvantages:


“If we continue to push a one-dimensional hypersexual narrative,” she explains, “we risk pigeonholing artists into one archetype.”


Disparities in music production and tech parallel greater societal trends regarding access and representation. Education, which empowers and elevates marginalized voices, is key to dismantling these inequities. Through her teaching, Correa stresses that hip-hop, like all other forms of art, isn’t just about creation: it’s about being confident in who you are and sharing it with the world.  

Queens of the Underground 

Correa’s work empowering women extends outside the classroom. She infuses a witty, anti-misogynist sentiment in her lyrics, complemented by a playful yet dynamic production style.  Since October 2021, she’s been putting on a quarterly showcase called Queens of the Underground

 

“There’s a lot of dope events in the Bay Area,” Correa says, “but not a lot of arenas highlighting women in hip hop.” While the event will involve female emcees and rappers, it will also encompass professional development and networking. 

“I want people to see what women can do when they’re given the space and support to shine,” Correa concludes. The next Queens of the Underground event will take place on June 3rd, 2022. 

Check out more info & concert dates at queensoftheunderground.com

 

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