Women and Hip Hop speak at the Fresh Paint

Edited by Hera Chan

“Are we ever really integrated?” replied b-girl Kate ‘Lynx’ Alsterlund rhetorically to questions posed by other members of a panel, regarding female integration into hip hop culture.

This year’s edition of the Under Pressure graffiti festival kicked off with a panel discussion at the Fresh Paint gallery last Thursday. With the discussion focussed on women and hip hop, the five panelists talked about a wide range of topics including female integration into hip hop culture, what femininity is defined as in a male-dominated society, and how to empower young women to engage in hip hop culture on their own terms. Panelists included graffiti writer Miss Wuna, b-girl Kate ‘Lynx’ Alsterlund, emcee Masia One, street artist Delphine Delas, and filmmaker and producer Idalina Leandro.

The discussion was hosted by Université de Montréal sociology PhD student Aude le Saux Slimane and Under Pressure’s Melissa Proietti. The panel took off with Slimane asking if women involved in hip hop culture had to reshape their so-called femininity to become more integrated in the community and how the male-dominated culture perceived them.

“You don’t get taken as seriously as a man who is making a film,” said Leandro. She continued to talk about her experiences being talked down to when she first began speaking with male graffiti writers about her film, which is titled “All She Wrote” and is in the process of being made.

Masia One connected her experiences working within the business and with gangster rappers, saying as an artist, that “if they want to mess with you as a female artist, they’re not really messing with the whole entity.” Masia One emphasized the importance for her to become integrated into the business in order to reach as many people as possible with her message, and to demonstrate that women of colour could be an emcee and write gangster rap.

Spinning her own recordings to make herself sound like a man was one way Masia One sold tracks at the start of her career. The rapper would come into the studio perceiving her to be a video girl, ask her for her thoughts. “I would buy this shit. This shit is great,” was how she would respond, Masia One said.

Occupying a space in hip hop culture as a respected emcee is one way to encourage young women to become involved with hip hop culture. Other ideas were talked about as well. Delas suggested creating an all-women graffiti and street writing festival.

“We need to have a platform because we are a minority,” Delas said in French.

Another barrier to young women fully submerging themselves in hip hop culture may be attributed to the current perception upheld by both men and women in the field. Alsterlund indicated that in b-boy and b-girl culture, it was common to say that there can only be one great b-girl in the field. However, she believes that hip hop culture has more space than for one woman.

“The hip hop ethic is do-it-yourself,” Alsterlund said, adding, “make your own employment.”