TO CONSTRUCT SPACE (ASTHE PLACE)

Me I'msupa fly, supa dupa fly, supa dupa fly (I can't stand the rain!)

Me I'msupa fly ('gainst my window) supa dupa fly, supa dupa fly (I can't stand therain!)

Me I'msupa fly ('gainst my window) supa dupa fly, supa dupa fly (I, I can't stand therain!)

Me I'msupa fly ('gainst my window)

IntersectingContemporary Black Female Hip-hop Cultural Vernacular: Missy Elliot and TheEmpowered Divas of Rap/ Hip Hop Music

The text Vibe Hip HopDivas is a compilation or archive of the rap and hip-hop mavens of the late90’s to the early 2000’s.  Vibe Hip Hop Divas travels through thegenealogy of female rap music, starting with Roxanne Shante werkingthrough Queen Latifah, Salt N Peppa, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, Trina, Missy Elliott,Erykah Badu, and various other musical mavens.  Not only does thiscompilation function as an archive, it attempts to trace constructed blackfemale identity. In Karen Renee Good’s Vibe Hip Hop Divas article on MissyElliot, Feeling Bitchy, Good presents a quote by former VIBE editor andchief, Hilton Als. Hilton Als states:

“The New Negro is aninventive amalgamation of past and future trends that are indigenous to blackAmerican style. Generally, the new negro who is “new” every decade or so --isfemale, a woman who considers her marginal status a form of freedom orchallenge: she takes the little she has been given and transforms it intosomething complex, outrageous, and ultimately fashionable (Vibe Hip Hop Divas150).”

 HiltonAls describes and relates the idea of the New Negro in terms of contemporaryblack female identity. Als proposes Missy Elliot as an example for helping usunderstand W.E.B. Dubois and Alain Locke’s concept of the New Negro. Theconcept of the New Negro understands black identity as being a rawconstruction. This construction of black culture/ black identity has emergedout of the tumultuous history of displacement. Like Hilton Als, I amunderstanding  black female identity as being a compiled site, where anoverlay occurs and many overlays occur. This compiling and codification emphasizesa ‘making of something out of nothing’; a clear formation of identity. Thisbeing essentially a strategic combination, compiling or piecing together ofscattered information or fragmented parts… assembled together …forming a newand transgressing into expansion. Just like Missy Elliot, the canon of blackfemale rappers are also uniquely comprehensive formations of contemporaryidentity. All of these women have taken what ‘they have been given andtransformed it’ into a vast array of complex universes … where in which theyare writing new multifarious mythologies and exploring  their own worlds; (that are distinct, spacesof freedom and simulative futurity.

They have used hip hopand style as a direct avenue to possibility through ways that they could andstill do form the frameworks of their transforming identities and progress.Missy Elliott is one of the many reigning  hip hop icons known for her innovativeprowess. Apart from her #mastry  in constructing rhymes, music, andcultivating style, She is known for her embodiment of constructed transformationalidentities. Throughout, Elliott has functioned as a shape shifter, donning newlewks and identities in her many performances and narratives that ultimatelypush our understandings of culture and imagination forward. A shapeshifter is abody whom is continuously taking new shape or form. Dr Aimee Meredith Coxdescribes the essence of the ‘shapeshifter’ in Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship by writing,“…the act of shifting spaces is a critical grounding concept. Black women areout of necessity, inherently shapeshifters. Thus, understanding the ways inwhich Black women make sense of their lives by theorizing the present andimagining the future is essential for supporting the ways of living that resistdehumanization implied in normative scripts… (Cox 25) Cox theorizes how blackwomen and girls shapeshift in navigating cultural landscapes, spaces and theworld around them at large. She examines realities of how in specific terrainblack women must shapeshift as survival mechanism in direct response tohardship and travails in setting or structure. Alternatively and expanding beyond notions of survival, Shapeshifting is an intuitively cultivated skill or Superpower that gives one the ability to exceed or transcend imposed limits, defaults, confines, and boundaries. Perhaps, in my practice, where I inhabitdifferent identities, spaces, and frameworks as well,  there is a desire or attempt to  encapsulate the shape shifter-ness of acomplex, changing, and moving body/self to gain further  understanding of identity, power, and space inits entirety.

 Elliott is known for navigating imaginativespaces of constructed blackness. In these spaces of constructed, imaginativeblackness, she moves and werks freely in a playful melodic manner  (likein her music videos Get Your Freak On, The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly]and countless others). Elliot shapeshifts to the pervasive yet steady beat ofthe erotic. In Audre Lorde’s essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,Lorde writes,  “The very word erotic comes from the Greekword eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energyempowered, theknowledge and use of which we are nowreclaiming in ourlanguage, our history, our dancing,our loving, ourwork, our lives (Lorde 55).” Elliottand the canon of black female artists rebel. They undeniably andunapologetically flaunt themselves, their sexuality, and their style  freely.In an attempt to navigate the male dominated space of hip hop/ rap, these Divashave cultivated that freedom themselves.They radically construct Space (as Theplace). They create a portal (where they leap and beam through time andspace) a clear space by making themselves heard,  re asserting their bodies and identities, reclaimingtheir sexuality, their stories, voices, and power as women within the frameworkof hip hop music. Missy Elliott has reconfigured and taken the space of challengeand transformed it into a free roaming space. Carving Out...Constructing... Creating free.

Audre Lorde. SisterOutsider: Essays and Speeches.   Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984. 55. 

Dr. Aimee Meredith Cox. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and theChoreography of Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. 25.

Karen Renee Good. Feeling Bitchy. From Vibe Hip Hop Divas.

2001. 

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