Female Emcees ain’t nothin’ to fuck with, and Rock the Belles (yes, as in woman folk) proved that last weekend. The event, presented by Bluestockings Bookstore, encompassed every aspect of hip hop. Female dancers, MCs, graffiti artists, and DJs worked their magic and wowed the sold out show at Gowanus Loft in BK.
Rock the Belles originally kicked off in 2010 in Olympia, Washington. This was the first year the event hit NYC, but Sky Cohen, one of the original organizers and part of the collective that owns Bluestocking, assures there will be more to come in following years. Cohen, a west coast native, says he and others created Rock the Belles as a “place where women artists aren’t marginalized to the lesser stages and the earlier crowds. Bluestockings is proud to host an event that seeks to de-commodify women’s contributions to hip hop and create a space where their work is taken seriously and without compromise.”
It was a night where female MCs, graffiti artists, illustrators and B-girls were able to showcase their skills in a space prioritizing underrepresented voices. The main focus of the night was the music, but graffiti artists and illustrators were simultaneously painting while the emcees spit rhymes on the main stage.
The event was not only geographically diverse, but racially as well, with every ethnicity present on and off the stage. However, more interesting than their origins, were the wide range of ideas and feelings these women expressed about being a female emcee in a male dominated arena.
Evening host, Boog Brown, a veteran female spitter from Atlanta by way of Detroit, kicked off the show by performing a few of her own songs. Later, Brown candidly explained how she deals with sexism in the game. “I don’t even pay attention to that shit,” she said with a smirk, “so I don’t have any obstacles. I’m good.”
This sentiment wasn’t shared by everyone. When asked the same question, Rocky Rivera, an MC representing hard for The Bay, responded “you have to really make up your mind, because there are so many obstacles against you…I didn’t even think this was possible until I was like no one else is doing it. I had to fill that void for myself… I had to be the artist that I was looking for, otherwise nobody else was going to do it.” DJ Roza eagerly chimed in on her own experiences with sexism in hip hop, “I’ve had someone come up to me and say ‘Hey, you’re pretty good for a girl,’ so it’s like, what’s that supposed to mean? You don’t just say ‘Oh there’s a male DJ!'”
When Svpreme and her crew hit the stage, they brought it to the streets with a flow reminiscent of MC Lyte. Off stage things were no different. Svpreme maintains the same Brooklyn swag whether she’s performing or not. I asked her to explain what it was like being a woman in a male dominated industry and her response was as fierce as her rhymes; “It’s fucking awesome! Niggas always doubt you; they always think they’re better than you. So you hop into one of their cyphers and you hit them with some shit and their minds are blown”, she added with a laugh, “I want to take it past that level, I want to be on top of the best niggas in the game.”
Niña Dioz, who hails from Mexico City, gave props to the women that paved the way before her. She recalled her admiration of American female emcees, “When I was like 10 years old I used to listen a lot to Lauryn Hill and TLC. Missy Elliot was super hot in those days. I was really inspired because I think they were really brave to do that, to be an emcee. They were bad-ass.” Dioz added, “They just had amazing fashion sense with a real roughness and powerful lyrics. That’s what really got me into rap music.”
Best known for her YouTube success with videos like “My Vag,” and “NYC Bitche$,” Queens native Awkwafina brought the fun side of hip hop out for her much anticipated session. Rapping about issues that women could both dance and relate to, the crowd sang along to lyrics like; “Awkwafina’s a genius / And a vagina is fifty times better than a penis.” In person, she showed a more serious side, explaining that, “whether it’s me being Asian or me being a woman, people don’t like something that doesn’t exist [in the mainstream]. I think I’ve been lucky enough to have people more or less embrace it and be fans of mine instead of just straight up hate, but I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t gotten any.”
B-girl Ferraro also had some thoughts on the event and why she came out. “It’s to show what we got, to show that we’re better than the guys. I mean, shit, you know girl power.”
Bluestockings Bookstore is located at 172 Allen St. on the Lower East Side. It is a collectively owned organization managed by a volunteer staff. They describe themselves as “a bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center.” They pride themselves on their events as well as being a safe space for women and other marginalized groups to express themselves intellectually and creatively. Check out all of the upcoming programming at bluestockings.com/events for info and co-hosting opportunities.