Not to blithely compare revolutionary protest to music criticism, because those of us who do both know it’s a long haul from staring at a Google doc and getting spread-ass to marching against the megalithic money machine with moms, students, organizers, and inevitably off-beat cowbell players. But in thinking about my number two album, London grime rapper Lady Leshurr’s Friggin L mixtape, Butler’s speech came to mind, too. I’ve been concerned with/cognizant of the visibility of women rappers ever since I first learned every word to my favorite song of all time, “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” and since there is never a paucity of women rappers, I have come to the conclusion that we are failing, as journalists, to be thorough in our coverage. I include myself in this. Particularly in the internet era, when bloggers seem to manage to unearth every obscure man-rapper in the US with half a bar to his name, but sites like 2 Dope Boyz can’t post a rap track by a woman without uttering the condescending, otherizing, and dated term “femcee.” (To that site’s credit, they just linked to a fairly thorough listicle of the top 10 woman rappers to watch in 2012.) The apparent myopia when it comes to female rappers, coupled with many writers’ burning desire to characterize late-2011 rising star Azealia Banks as “potty-mouthed”—because she’s a four-year-old, apparently?—gave me bad dreams all year (with a bit of reprieve here and there, including Banks’ triumphant re-emergence).
Back to Lady Leshurr: she was a firestarter and a salve for me in 2011, devastating beats with casual velocity and staccato incisions. It’s not inaccurate when she compares herself to Freddie Krueger in her riff on “Blowing Money Fast”—and witness her “Look At Me Now” freestyle, on which she sarcastically intros, “I don’t see how you could hate on a little girl, I look 12 years old!” The latter’s a Sun Tzu move; she presents herself as playing defense, then sneaks up and bodies the original rappers on their own track, including Busta Rhymes, finessing triple-time raps smoother and more agilely than the vet. Compare this to my beloved Nicki Minaj, who allows herself on recent single “Stupid Hoe” (a far lesser “Itty Bitty Piggy”) to underachieve into the “female Weezy,” and get an inkling how much more vital rap could be if the long-hungry lady players were invited into the billiards room. Just one “bad bitch,” however bad, is not enough to keep all our voices from getting swallowed up. In Leshurr’s own words, from her “Did It On ‘Em” freestyle: All these dudes is my daughters. Personally, I’d settle for siblings.
The rest of my ballot unintentionally fans out from this frame. Gang Gang Dance’s Eye Contact and Fatima al Qadiri’s Genre-Specific Experience lived as twins in my mind, both projects compelled by women in an audacious vanguard of visual art and feminine experience. While al Qadiri reconceptualized genres like juke and dubstep through the lens of her experiences growing up in Kuwait (check her latest video), GGD frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos offered a lush interpretation of her group’s love of global music. Both were open, freeing, vast, and embodied the kind of expansive world I wanna live in.
Meanwhile, Gloria Estefan became the first woman ever to debut atop the Billboard Latin charts (2011?! really?!) with an album that returned to party form, thanks in part to producer Pharrell. “Wepa”’s trilingual, cheerleading merengue was, in a year of amazing dancefloor jams, the most jubilant—and motivational enough to forgive that the stupid Miami Heat used it for their stupid theme song. (Go Knicks!) Houston noise-rapper B L A C K I E coincided with Estefan’s joie de vivre for me: True Spirit and Not Giving a Fuck, his second album, was exactly that, complete surrender to the punk clamor of his beats and the revolutionary nature of his lyrics. My favorite track “Warchild” is a protest against racist drone strikes that breaks down into a desperate, frustrated scream: “I DON’T CARE ABOUT AMERICA, NI**A!!!!” It’s as succinct a sentiment about 2011 as any, and one a lot of us can probably empathize with.
But on to the corporeal: Though I have ideological problems with its frontman, Big Black’s Songs About Fucking is the best album title ever, and that’s what Rustie’s Glass Swords was for me. Though it’s mostly an electronic album, every swoop of funk and glimmering pitch shift was a siren call to DO IT, from the swingy, fresh-to-death c-walk of “All Nite” to the eager, crystalline enthusiasm of “Ultra Thizz.” It’s the first time I can remember listening to a song and wanting to fuck purely based on sonics. Maybe it was emitting something like pheremones—the voices that do exist are a pitch-shifted melange of Rustie and his girlfriend, producer/singer Nightwave, so you can imagine they transmuted their chemistry onto the album. And, because you were thinking it: yes, the album cover looks like two giant crystalline boners both going for the same pristine a-hole. This year for me was about optimism, and the unending, silly hope that someday, the underdogs will get everything they ever desired.