Crackin' Nutz 

Women MCs struggle for a place of their own amid the misogyny and violence of gangsta rap.

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Then there's the music: On the last night of Matthew Zion's week-long Youth Revival, Jamaica leads the choir in songs about delivering poor souls to grace. The guest speaker, Reverend Nash from St. John Baptist Church in Richmond, advises everyone to spend the night talking to Jesus instead of yapping with a fine honey. Moreover, he continues, youth need to rechannel their musical talent, as they now "insist on using those gifts to write raps, instead of making music for the Lord. These young people," he says, pointing to the bassist and organ player, "are setting an example by using their talents to praise Jesus."

The two guys wink at each other, and the organ player furtively taps a Tupac bass line with his left hand, until a woman in the front row glares at him. Nobody else seems to notice.

During most of the service, Jamaica leans on her side in the back pew, punching numbers into a Nokia cell phone. What's striking about her cool attitude is that, whenever she talks about church, she confesses not only that she wants to be there, but that she needs to be there: "My life is music and church, and that's all that's important right now."

In fact, Jamaica situates herself a little outside of both settings -- the church and the street -- even though she seeks acceptance from both. There's security and authority in being "one of the guys" that the church can't offer. At the same time, religion provides a refuge from the violent world those guys inhabit. Jamaica says traditional girl roles are "too messy" -- you have to squabble "to have your voice heard." But joining the fellas means you have to prove yourself with your fists. And, as Jamaica assures, you can't let anyone get too close to you. Just like the tattoo on Goldee's forearm.

Love and trust are shaky concepts in gangsta rap, where misogyny isn't merely condoned -- it's also sexy.

Hip-hop aficionados exalt Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls as the most romantic gangsta rappers in the pantheon, but that romance is steeped in violence and debasement. When Tupac rhymed about his relationships with women, he sounded like a soul in havoc -- sometimes bitter and lascivious, and other times fawning.

"People like to hate on Tupac, because he doesn't always say what everybody thinks is right," Goldee says. "But I feel like he's telling the truth about his life. I love his music, because he reminds me of myself: someone who came up straight from the ghetto, and had to struggle."

As for Biggie, his glaringly misogynist "Me and My Bitch" imports all the characteristics of a classic love song or melodrama: At song's end, the "bitch" dies after taking a stray bullet meant for her man, making her a tragic, star-crossed lover who proves her virtue by suffering.

For women rappers, the romance of misogyny is a catch-22: It's hard to stake out your own place in a genre that sees the denigration of bitches as a heightened form of creative expression, especially when you're being treated like a bitch yourself. Late one night in March, after performing a show at the Black Box Theater in Oakland, Goldee and the Daughters went to record at a friend's studio. Goldee says she was cornered in the bathroom by a man who pinned her against the wall and hissed, "You're a beautiful bitch, aren't you?"

"So I pushed him against the other wall and damn near tried to tear his head off," the MC recalls. "When I go to a crowded studio with pimps and hos, people look at me and think that, because of the way I dress, I'm gonna be a certain type of way" -- in other word, the type of chick who puts out. "That's why me and the girls just like to go together, record our tracks, and leave."

Given the frequency of these confrontations, in rap studios and in everyday life, it's little surprise that a female rapper's relationships with men often form the emotional nub of her music.


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