Hip-hop has had its share of forward-thinking, genre-blurring female rappers, but to look at the top rap and hip-hop sellers on Billboard and iTunes you’d think women were just singing hooks. There may not be an in-your-face presence like Queen Latifah or Missy Elliott dominating the charts, but women are still writing, producing and performing.
You might have to dig deeper to find it, but you won’t have to look far.
Triangle-area poet and emcee Shirlette Ammons and Berlin-based female rapper Sookee play Snug Harbor Thursday. It’s their second U.S. outing after meeting online.
“She’s a female emcee who is tackling issues of homophobia and misogyny in hip-hop … and doing it in a way that doesn’t sacrifice skill level and dopeness,” Ammons says. “She has this ability to bring an audience together of all sexualities and skin types and rock a show and also keep her politics up front.”
Her experience working in the male-dominated profession and sharing bills with male emcees has been largely positive, she says.
“People have been impressed that I can rhyme as well as I do for a girl. Which I think is ridiculous and hilarious. I’m like, whatever. Mostly I’ve been embraced and I work a lot with male musicians,” said Ammons, whose bands have included the mostly male Dynamite Brothers and Mosadi Music.
“I’ve worked with a very wide open cast of musicians in terms of the genres they represent. To me that’s how it should be. Working across genres we create something new and different,” she says. Ammons incorporates everything from her spoken word roots to rock, jazz, electronic and R&B into her own music.
She grew up in Mount Olive, where she and her twin sister would sing songs to the cornfields.
“Like the cornfield was our audience,” she laughs. “Being a twin you’re constantly on stage anyway. Two people who look alike – people want to gawk at you all the time.”
Thanks to the cornfields, singing in church choir and eventually getting swept up into the spoken word scene in college in Raleigh, Ammons gravitated toward the stage. But her experiences in Raleigh’s arts and music scene were really the catalyst for her interest in poetry and music.
“My first experience with rock ’n’ roll was live local music. I grew up with soul and gospel music. I didn’t know who Jimi Hendrix was until I went to college,” she says. She raves about the re-emerging hip-hop and indie-rock scenes. “The music scene is popping. You can’t be completely satisfied if you’re part of a local music scene and only going to see one kind of music.”
And that music might even include lyricists she doesn’t necessarily agree with. She admits she’s susceptible to a good hook even if the message is muddied.
“I’m no different. I find myself dancing to stuff that’s calling women bitches and hos. I celebrate the skill and the lyricism and cats being witty about calling each other (names) because the metaphors are catchy. We all fall prey to that. It’s a harder thing not to do it,” she says. “That’s when I find the kind of hip-hop I’m trying to embrace in my life. I wasn’t as critical when I was younger because I wanted to bob. I feel a different responsibility, now.”
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