Growing up in a white family and predominately white area, there wasn’t exactly a lot of black representation going around. We lived out in the country and only had television sparingly. We watched a lot of movies, and even though we had a diverse collection, still, most rolls of black people were secondary, especially for black women. I had no idea about all the amazing things that black people had done and are still doing. According to media, your options were selling drugs, athlete, rapper or video vixen. None of those things interested me. In turn, I had a really hard time figuring out holding onto a dream. Blinded by white privilege, as most WAPs are, my parents didn’t exactly make a huge effort to make sure we had representation. Why would you? If you’re white, that is something that never even crosses your mind. You’ve always had representation; all media is catered to you. For the rest of us…we really had to search for the positive representation. That is where hip hop & R&B came into my life
I always have had a “thing” for music. I started dancing at a young age, I have musicians in my family, sang in choir and all that good stuff. But there was something about black women in music (hip hop & R&B in particular), that taught me about my full potential as a bigger, dark skin black woman. Music has stuck with me throughout my life, to the point that I work in the industry now. But anytime someone asks me about my “favs”, I always go back to women in music. Women were the ones giving me relatable content about not giving a shit about social standards, not caring about gender roles, fuck conforming to men’s standards and loving yourself the way you are. Something that I had not seen anywhere else in media. Black women in music saved my life. These are the women who were the most influential to me.
5. Toni Braxton
I have a deep voice, always have. I have always been made fun of and ridiculed for not having a “high” feminine voice. I was jokingly called a man for most of life, and it still happens every so often as an adult. As a result, it is one of the only things about myself that I still am very insecure about. I hate hearing my voice, I hate my laugh, it makes me uncomfortable to hear my voice. I’m much better about it now, but growing up, it was absolutely mortifying. The first time I heard Toni Braxton, I nearly lost my shit. It was the first time I heard a woman, sing with a deep ass voice and still sound sexy, feminine and with undeniable talent. Of course, we all have our light-hearted jokes about her deep voice, but no one can deny that she is an icon. This was one of the first times I saw something about me reflected in media. I was in complete awe that someone who looked like her could have a voice like mine. Toni was one my first introductions to R&B, which still today, is my favorite genre of music and she is still one of my top 5 favorite artists of all time.
4. Lil Kim/Trina
I put these women together because they were influential to me for essentially the same reasons, and more during my teen years. Lil Kim and Trina are still two of my favorite rappers. They were so important to me growing up because they were completely unapologetic. Both rocked that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, owned their sexuality and they were some of the first artist I saw who switched up the “bad bitch” narrative, taking ownership of it rather than let it be used against them. And to top it all off, both women are extremely talented. Lil Kim’s verse on “Get Money” is still (in my opinion) top 3 best female rap verse of all time.
3. Lauryn Hill
Despite the absolutely embarrassing current state of Ms. Lauryn Hill, she still will forever be a legend. My first introduction to her was Sister Act 2, which I watched at least 458 times. I didn’t learn until I was older that she wasn’t known at that time. She was approached my Pras after Sister Act 2 came out. It was jaw dropping to me that she was the lead in a rap group of men. I don’t think people fully realize what I meant to be a woman in hip hop. Hip hop was and still is, a very male dominated industry. To be virtually a nobody, a woman, be the lead of a group of men, AND able to outperform them, it was unheard of. Lauryn also was my introduction to black power and black womanhood. From the Fugees to The Miseducation, she was influential to me in providing a context for pro-blackness. I guess I could say she was my early introduction to social justice/activism.
I grew up in the country, homeschooled and on a farm. I wasn’t exactly a what you would call a “girly-girl”. I wore a lot of baggy clothes, overalls, jeans and T-shirts. Not the typical feminine type clothing girls we’re expected to wear. When I saw TLC, the best-selling American girl group of all time, in their “out of the norm” clothing, it was life changing to me. They redefined femininity for me. From the Galactic themed No Scrubs video, the one strapped coveralls with baseball caps and condom eye patches, to the sexy silk outfits in Creep, they showed me that it was okay to not dress how people expect you to dress just because you’re a girl. Additionally, they made hit after hit talking about female empowerment, sex positivity, and various other serious issues. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was signing “Unpretty” in the mirror at the top of my lungs.
1. Missy Elliott
Melissa Arnette (Misdemeanor) Elliott. I could write a whole article on just her, in fact I already did, so I will try and keep this as short as possible. Missy Elliott is by far the #1 most influential person in my life. She is my favorite rapper, past, present and future. I would sell both my kidneys and cut off my left foot for her. I have literally ended friendships over Missy Elliott slander and I do not regret it. No one, in their right mind, can deny the raw talent, impact and importance of Missy Elliott’s career. Missy was a fat, dark skin black women who wrote, produced, rapped. She made mind blowing videos, wore weird outfits, and took ownership of her narrative. Missy Elliott is the one who made me realize it was okay to be, to be okay with being a big girl, to not rely on men, to chase my dreams. Missy Elliott was also my introduction to dance. I grew up a pretty religious household, we we’re not allowed to listen to secular music. As you can imagine, music videos were also out of the question. I remember sneaking up at night, to go watch MTV, (when they actually played music videos). I would wait up all night just to see a Missy Elliott video or see what video she was going to appear in. I memorized Missy choreography and that was what made me interested in a life of dance. I wanted to be just like her. I remember walking into my hair stylist and throwing down several pictures of Missy, demanding to make me look like her. I had never seen someone rock short black hair like Missy, and I had short black hair too. Missy Elliott was also a woman who came into an industry of men, immediately demanding respect…and she got it. Her work spoke for itself. Missy was giving us 2028 level content and visuals back in 1999. When she withdrew from the scene, I was devastated. I had been patiently awaiting her returned. So, you can imagine that when I heard that “Get Your Freak On” intro drop at that tragic Katy Perry Super Bowl performance…Chilleeee when I tell you, I launched myself out my bed with a force that Psychics can’t explain, and proceeded to scream for a full 35 minutes in my dorm room. When she dropped “WTF (Where They From)” I actually cried and demanded my college professor to show it to the class. I then proceeded purchase both the video and song and play it from my phone, shoving it into the faces of any passerby, shouting “MISSY THE GOT DAMN MISDEMEANOR FUCKING ELLIOTT WAS BACK”. Missy was the perfect embodiment of female empowerment, sex positivity and body positivity that I needed. She was the representation I needed to see. Everything I had every questioned about myself, about if black women had a purpose in this world, Missy answered. Missy Elliott filled every single void I ever had as a young black girl, and as an adult, she still does.
Women in music were my introduction to realizing how much representation matters. Being raised in a white family and living in white America, there wasn’t media representation for someone like me. Music was my “get away”. I have always had a connection to music and to see these amazing women being able to have a voice through their music, made me realize that I had options. Obviously, this list is not all the women who have influenced me. There are many others but that would take entirely too long to write about. Living in a white centered world, I needed that representation that showed me black women we magic. That showed black women being in charge, running businesses, having a voice and that we are valid. Black women in music accomplished that for me.