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Still from She Rhymes Like A Girl.
(dir. J.T. Takagi, 2005). Used with permission from Third World Newsreel.

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Journal Issue 2.1
Spring 2010
Edited by Deanna Utroske, Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, and
Karen Alexander
Editorial Assistant: Katherine O’Connor


She Rhymes Like A Girl. Directed by J.T. Takagi. New York: Third World Newsreel, 2005.
Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes. Directed by Byron Hurt. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2006.


Reviewed by Ruth Nicole Brown and Porshe Renee Garner


I was inspired to write so they could hear me
I was inspired to write so they could feel me
But I don’t like writing necessarily…

 I rap like a girl but I’m not sure if I like that box
Seems so limiting and constricting
yet so liberating and powerful
Almost an excuse or rite of passage
what does “I rap like a girl” truly mean?

I was inspired to write so they could hear me
I was inspired to write so they could feel me
but I don’t like writing necessarily…

In a world full of misogyny, and sexism
where exactly do Black women find their voice
to say I am here, loud and clear
but will you listen to what this Black girl has to say?

Maybe I should open my mouth so you could hear me

I was inspired to write so they could hear me
I was inspired to write so they could feel me
But I don’t like writing necessarily…
-- Porshe Garner

She Rhymes Like A Girl and Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes provide a creative and analytical context for the muse that has come to define generations: hip-hop. Delving deep into conversations about the ways gender is constructed in and through hip-hop culture, both films are incredibly rich resources for feminist classrooms, particularly those on popular culture, hip-hop feminism, and youth culture.
            She Rhymes Like A Girl is a short documentary that inspires girls and women to write, rap, take up space in the world, and speak with authority. The poem that opens this review was actually written in immediate response to viewing them film, providing evidence that this film compels one to take pen to paper or power up the laptop. Toni Blackman, founder and director of Freestyle Union (FU), a positive space for youth to develop their skills as hip-hop artists, emcees, organizers, and visionaries, is prominently featured in the film and inspires the film’s do something and say something of transformational value charge. Ms. Blackman and Ije Soul (an FU member) share their insight on why girls do not readily identify as rappers nor honor their voices. FU member Nikki Reid from Brooklyn encourages girls to be proud of who they are and is also a featured emcee in the documentary. In the song that bookends the film’s dialogue, the catchy hook “maybe I should lower my voice so you could hear me” willfully encourages the audience to sit with the intentional contradiction of what it means to be a skilled, talented, and gifted female emcee that white supremacy and racialized patriarchy make it all too possible to deny with little regret. Yet, when the girls rhyme, the audience is inspired to act, and we the audience are aware that by not hearing their voices more, we are all shortchanged. Toni Blackman says, “In an ideal world, I’d like to spark a movement.” And so she does.
            Toni Cade Bambara asks “What role can, should, or must the film practitioner, for example play in producing a desirable vision of the future?”1 She Rhymes Like A Girl provides a creditable answer in its demonstration of how cultural work and hip-hop are interdependent. This documentary provides the necessary opportunity to witness how the FU and Blackman, in particular, transform the popular, co-opted, and sincere musings of everyday journalers and self-identified rappers into focused artists who recall the significance of their own singular self and social change with great fun and respect. The future demands that Ms. Blackman and institutions like the Freestyle Union are known and better supported. Ms. Blackman’s hip-hop is enacted through an intersectional practice that includes artistry, world travel, and community work that makes for a brighter future, if we listen, now.
            In Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, director Byron Hurt departs from the more grassroots impulses of hip-hop to analyze how the music industry enables dangerous constructions of masculinity that arguably promote misogyny, violence against women, and homophobia. Focusing on conversations with artists in the studio, interviews with prominent scholars and critics, and common consumers and producers of hip-hop, Hurt asks necessary questions, such as, “Do you have a problem with rappers calling women bitches and hoes?” Hurt’s experiences as a former football player and male feminist educator give him entrée into elite and street ciphers where he can question the sometimes blatant disrespect of women, homophobic slurs, and stereotypical representations of Black men as violent gangsters. Several scenes, including Busta Rhymes’ refusal to discuss queer politics and hip-hop, and the lack of rights afforded women attending the BET Spring Bling, are extremely unsettling and underscore Hurt’s position. Although the film does not offer any tangible solutions to end the violence, misogyny, and homophobia rampant in mainstream industry-produced hip-hop, there are several scholars and artists profiled in the documentary whose work, if more deeply discussed, would have offered the audience a more complex rendering of how many people who also love hip-hop are opting out of (and resisting) capitalist state-sponsored hip-hop/violence.
            The point not to be missed by both documentaries is the ardent attention hip-hop artists, scholars, filmmakers, and consumers give to promoting culture while simultaneously engaging critique. Hip-hop heads defy all commercial binaries and are not passively duped by the enduring legacies of white supremacist patriarchal imagery. Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes focuses primarily on black masculinities, a conversation that deserves greater attention. She Rhymes Like a Girl critically examines how women do hip-hop through rhyme, beats, and creating creative pedagogical communities, a much-needed vision of hip-hop’s future that demonstrates how independent female artists are currently maintaining and innovating hip-hop culture, radical subjectivities, and activism.

Ruth Nicole Brown is Assistant Professor in Educational Policy Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She is author of Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward A Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy (New York: Peter Lang, 2008).

Porshe Renee Garner is currently a senior majoring in Psychology at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana (UICU). Ms. Garner will begin the Educational Policy Studies graduate program at UICU during Fall 2010.


1Toni Cade Bambara, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations (New York: Pantheon, 1996), 139.



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