Birgitta J. Johnson

Birgitta J. Johnson, Ph.D. is an ethnomusicology postdoctoral fellow in the Art & Music Histories Department at Syracuse University in New York. She specializes in African American and African music and her research interests include musical change and identity in black popular music and music and worship in African American churches.



"Women of the L.A. 'Undergrind': Female Artists Creating Alternatives to Mainstream Hip-hop's Plastic Ceiling"

With the exception of Nicki Minaj, many have noted the deafening absence of female hip-hop artists in mainstream popular music. For those who remember rap music’s early commercial periods when women regularly rocked crowds and the Billboard singles charts, the lack of female artists is yet another indicator that hip-hop culture has been co-opted by corporate capitalism. For those whose view of women in hip-hop is limited to video vixens and references to artists of the 1980s, the absence of female artists reinforces beliefs that hip-hop is an all boys club mired in hyper-masculinity and misogyny. The absence of headlining female artist in the 21st century, however, is not due to lack of viable artists. The underground scenes of urban America include many skilled artists daring to have a voice in a commercial genre currently lacking a significant chorus of female perspectives. These women and the fans that support them have been aided by affordable production software, electronic social networking, artists’ collectives, and hip-hop feminist scholarship. So why hasn’t all this activity broken through mainstream hip-hop’s plastic ceiling?

This paper will delineate the myths about female hip-hop performers that have fostered a virtual gender lockout in mainstream hip-hop. Second, it will describe the response of female artists to being under-represented and how technology has empowered them to sidestep limitations to create alternative paths for artistic expression. Lastly, it will profile one teenage female emcee/songwriter and a west coast all female collective based in Los Angeles to illustrate this current era of empowerment for women in hip- hop performance culture.