A pop-up exhibit celebrates 50 years of women in hip-hop

This weekend marks hip-hop’s 50th birthday. A pop-up exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle highlights the contributions of women in the genre. The exhibit is named for the 1986 track “My Mic Sounds Nice” by female group Salt-N-Pepa.

Guest curator Adeerya Johnson is a scholar of hip-hop feminism. She said women have a unique connection to hip-hop. Women have often been depicted in a degrading way in the music, but it’s also been a source of empowerment.

“We are kind of born to the culture, but also how we have existed and live within this culture, whether it’s through the critiques of how some male hip-hop artists talk about women, but also how women choose to express themselves within hip-hop that kind of grappled with notions of sexuality,” Johnson said.

Johnson said one of her favorite artifacts is The Sequence’s record “Funk You Up,” from 1979. The all-female group was one of the first groups signed to the pioneering Sugarhill Gang record label. Their song “Funk You Up” became the first rap hit from women. Rappers like Erykah Badu and Dr. Dre have sampled the classic.

“I want to make people, you know, realize that 50 years of hip-hop includes everybody,” Johnson said.

Johnson organized the exhibit into three sections: The first two explore the history of women in hip-hop from the very beginning up until the present. And the last part recognizes the influence on fashion that female hip-hop artists have had and features outfits worn by modern superstars Cardi B and Nicki Minaj.

Daudi Abe, a local scholar who wrote a book about Seattle hip-hop, said one thing that has set local female artists apart is their indifference to the hypersexualization often seen in the mainstream.

“It doesn’t seem to me like the rappers who are women who have come from here have had that as the center of their presentation,” Abe said.

As examples, Abe pointed to Erika Kylea White – who many consider the godmother of Seattle hip-hop – the queer duo THEESatisfaction, and current act Gifted Gab.

“My Mic Sounds Nice” will be on display at MoPOP until November.

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