I recently spoke to Mogul about founding Viper Magazine, misogyny and the role women play in rap. Check out the interview here.
My answers were edited down for Mogul but you can read the full interview below…
1) At the London School of Fashion, you were honored for a project in which you explored the roots of our youth’s anger, and in general, often cover how this anger translates into hip-hop. What do you find the female MCs of today have to be angry about, and how do their concerns differ from those of their male counterparts? Do you find that the art that results — for the female MCs — is different from the work of their male counterparts? If so, in what way? Basically — why are women angry, and how are they uniquely expressing that anger?
Everything? I’m playing, but really there’s a slightly serious undertone even when I make a lame joke like that. Though women are definitely closer to equality than even five years ago, in general it’s hard not to resent various issues that only females face; from tampon tax to the high rate of women being killed by their partners.
I know some amazing female MCs but they resent the fact that 75% of the time there has to be a “female” before the “MC.” I even find myself referring to women that rap as my favourite female rappers and it annoys me that it’s ingrained even in my own mind. And regardless their sexuality will always be more of a focus, there sometimes seems to be a line for a female as in, are you a sexy rapper or a boyish rapper, you can’t just be a rapper the way that men in the industry can.
The females I know in hip hop tend to have more depth to their music as their emotions are more free-flowing so I feel that’s a big difference, although that’s not to say the men aren’t also able to bare their feelings and expose their sadness. I guess it just comes easier for women in some ways.
2) Continuing, on that note, what do you find influences female rappers? How do they fit into the overall evolution of hip-hop, and how have they influenced the art form?
Women have had an amazing role in hip hop, on a simple level, a lot of great musicians started rapping in order to impress a woman. But women have always been present in rap media and in notable positions too. People would sometimes comment on Viper being edited by a female but I would point out that two of the biggest rap publications, XXL and The Source, were edited by women for the majority of the last decade. Plus the first credited rap song to chart was orchestrated by a female; Sylvia Robinson. Musically, two of my favourite women that have influenced rap externally are Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey who undoubtedly brought the genre into commercial acceptance. I remember reading that Mariah forced her label to release the version of ‘Fantasy’ with Ol Dirty Bastard on it, even though they didn’t want to. I love her for that. If you don’t know how Mary played a part, you don’t know enough about hip hop. A lot of female rappers are missed off the Greatest MC lists too often, most notably Lauryn Hill and when it comes to Missy Elliott, she literally birthed a whole generation of creatives in rap.
3) In this day and age where print publications are dwindling, how does Viper benefit from both a print and online circulation?
Print is dwindling but prior to launching Viper, I found figures that show it’s only magazines with giant print runs and boutique journalism is actually doing well. For me personally, I’ve been collecting magazines since the age of five and feel that anything that’s not in print is pretty forgettable. I mean, I read some amazing articles online but unless I bookmark them, they’re gone forever.
I re-read books a lot and love the idea that our readers will come back and read Viper’s old issues again because there’s a timeless quality. Our print issue looks like a coffee table book and is released twice a year so it’s available for those that really love print and want something tangible. Likewise, our readership may not want to spend $20 on an issue and our website can be accessed for free. We’re also about to launch video content so Viper’s followers have options when it comes to investing in the magazine – you can be a fan and never spend a penny, but for the collectors, we produce a one of a kind publication that you want to keep forever.
4) Fashion and hip-hop are both means of self-expression and empowerment, so it makes sense that they’d go hand in hand. How do the outfits female hip-hop artists wear contribute to their art? How has and how does their sense of fashion influence female hip-hop fans around the world? Is the fashion just as important as the lyrics? If so, how?
I think fashion plays a huge role for women in the genre, but I think men in rap have traditionally embraced that too. Hip hop is the genre that cares about fashion the most. Incredible style has always existed in the black community, and since that’s the community that rap music originated from, it makes sense that the importance of fashion is present in hip hop. Many of the trends can be unisex, such as the trend for throwbacks and sportswear I don’t think the fashion is as important as lyrics but for many artists, that plays a role in their lyrical content.
5) When it was first emerging as an art form, hip-hop prided itself on being an art form which didn’t conform to radio expectations and pushed boundaries. Do you think hip-hop still fits this mold? Why or why not? How has hip-hop changed for the better and the worse?
Personally I think hip hop has expanded massively so while there is still music that fits that mold, it’s sadly the more commercial, thoughtless hip hop that prospers and there are many theories behind why that is. But I like to focus on the boundary pushing hip hop and there are more than enough artists out there that impress me on a regular basis. I think artists like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples are really important for the future of rap and I’m glad that they’re here but I do also listen to Future and Kodak Black and guys that may not be exactly conscious. Historically, hip hop has always been political so I think that side will remain there, it’s just not what people push in mainstream fields enough. I think the way that hip hop has changed for the worse is the heavy influence of drugs, especially prescription pills. I almost miss the days when artists were rapping about selling instead of taking!
6) Can you tell me about some underground artists we should be paying attention to? How are they changing hip-hop, and keeping its spirit alive?
Natia the God is my current underground favourite, he’s from Inglewood, LA and has a great way with words. Lyrically he’s really talented. Another one is G Herbo from Chicago. He’s not very underground anymore but is amazing. He’s from the Drill scene affiliated with artists like Chief Keef but his lyrics feature a lot of wisdom. He’s had a tough life so far and has lost a lot of friends, but his approach is really inspiring and he’s able to make great party tracks as well as the deep, reflective stuff he puts out.
7) There’s a pretty strong history of misogyny in hip-hop, rapped about by male and female artists alike. Do you find misogynistic lyrics damaging to women, or empowering if we reclaim them? Why do you think misogyny is still prominent in hip-hop today?
Sadly misogyny goes a lot deeper than hip hop and there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen before men and women view each other as equals. Basically misogyny is still prominent in hip hop today because misogyny is still prominent in life. Blaming rap is a simplistic view and a lot easier than addressing society as a whole. I find rappers can be a lot less sexist than they’re expected to be with artists like Killer Mike being vocal and speaking on sexual harassment being unacceptable.
Personally, I feel that Nicki Minaj is one of the worst things to happen to females in rap because the women rapping like her in the nineties, Lil Kim for example, spoke on female empowerment with sex, like on her song “Suck My Dick,” whereas Nicki is all about male sexual satisfaction and flaunting female assets. Growing up I listened to women saying it’s ok to enjoy sex but respect yourself and now my little sister is forced to endure Anaconda, a song literally about an erection. I think it’s going to be confusing for young women to find their own sexual empowerment when they prioritise the man’s happiness in the bedroom.
Reclaiming is messy because looking at the evolution of the N-word, reclaiming it hasn’t necessarily eased racial relations and now we have a problem with privileged white kids thinking it’s ok for them to use racist language because they’re “down with the culture.” I think referring to myself as a “bitch” is detrimental to female empowerment and disagree that reclaiming is empowering.
8) You’re based in the UK. What are the primary differences — whether lyrical or production-wise — in British hip-hop versus American hip-hop? Which do you prefer?
There are a lot of differences, our slang is way more influenced by Jamaican patois, plus there’s a lot more dance music involved thanks to Jungle and DnB. I’d say the primary differences are in race, there’s less segregation in the UK scene and artists say the N-word way less. The pace and flow tend to be different too, someone like Jesse James has a very different flow to anyone in the US. Same with Kojey Radical who’s influenced by spoken word poetry more than US hip hop.
I listen to way more US rap because there’s so much more available to than what’s coming out of the UK. But I love what the UK has to offer and there’s an amazing nostalgia in listening to rappers from your own city namecheck home comforts like Ribena or Rizla. I also love London slang more than anything, our music has a heavy Jamaican influence to it lyrically and that reminds me of home.
9) What do you see as the future of hip-hop?
I think hip hop is constantly evolving and is way more lucrative now than it was 20 years ago, but it’s a lot more oversaturated in terms of artists trying to break through now. I feel like money will continue to come out of the industry but more grass roots, political groups will use rap to push their message forward. Independent artists are thriving, which I expect to continue. Traditional labels are struggling to adapt and understand the new wave so I think we’ll see further evolution in how music is marketed and sold. Five years ago, it wasn’t common for music to be given away for free online but now it is, rappers are looking at other ways to generate revenue. David Bowie was right when he predicted that artists would be forced to tour to make money in the future. I don’t think it will be long until rappers create their own apps and other forms of communicating directly with fans, Rome Fortune is one artist that’s already done it, Lil B too, who made his own emojis.
10) Is there anything else you’d like to add?
In honour of rap freestyles, I’d like to end with some random shout outs and my Twitter handle. So… shout out to my mum, my dog Goldie, Li my nail lady and Nando’s as an institution. Follow me on Twitter @L-I-L-Y-M-E-R-C-E-R.