It’s so fitting that Black History Month and Women’s History Month are right next to each other on the calendar. After all, the seeds of America’s feminist movement were planted during the battle against slavery; after the Civil War, many abolitionists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglass, turned their attention to issues like suffrage and property rights for women. As we say goodbye to February and hello to March, I want to pay tribute to the powerful historical and social bond that exists between these two tracks of our civil rights struggle…and I think the words of Tampa-based rap group Yo Majesty convey the significance of that bond:
Okay, maybe Susan B. would have been slightly taken aback at the bluntness of those lyrics, but undoubtedly she and the rest of her activist sisters and brothers are directly responsible for their existence. Without the exertions of true believers like them, black lesbian Christian hip-hop would still be an unattainable dream.
Yo Majesty (sometimes written “Yo! Majesty”) rocked the mic in various configurations for over a decade, but recorded just two CDs: an EP and a full-length album called Futuristically Speaking…Never Be Afraid. As you might imagine, that mouthful of a title reflects the fact that these women have plenty to say. The album kicks off with “Fucked Up,” a musical portrait of the most sado-masochistic relationship of all time. Vocalist Jwl. B threatens both property damage and physical violence against her lover while offering to take her share of abuse as well: “Hit me, I want some attention!” By the time she screams, “You’ll be missing on a milk carton!” you’ll be thoroughly disturbed…and, if you’re anything like me, laughing uncontrollably. (Yeah, I went there.)
There’s more social commentary and foul-mouthed satire in tracks like “Don’t Let Go,” a sapphic ode to a go-go girl (“Every time you turn around a n***a callin’ you a ho”), “Buy Love,” a lament for a generation lost to crack, and “Leather Jacket,” in which the ladies put a “jheri curl”-wearing lothario in his place (“Broke-ass n***a tryin’ to take my cash/Broke-ass n***a tryin’ to beat my ass”). However, Yo Majesty’s bread-and-butter is the combination of their ridiculous lyrical skills and crunk-meets-electroclash sound. Even when rhyming about the usual hip-hop topics—clubbing, drinking, women’s butts—Jwl. B and her homegirl Shunda K stake out musical territory all their own. One critic complained that the lyrical content is too typical of the genre…as if the fact that the MCs are women is irrelevant. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but “Ooh, girl, you smell so good…I’d tear that ass up” strikes me as somewhat different when the speaker is also a girl. Call me crazy. (If you need more info on this topic, Susie Bright can help you.)
Sadly, after Futuristically Speaking dropped in 2008, Yo Majesty’s recording career hit a snag: let’s just say the fury Jwl. B expresses on “Fucked Up” seems to have spilled over into her personal life, resulting in incarceration, group conflict, and a break with their label. Shunda K has spent the last few years self-releasing singles, touring with the similarly outrageous Peaches, and reuniting with Shon B, her original musical partner and collaborator on “Club Action,” the track that gave us the “Fuck that shit!” refrain. Her solo CD, The Most Wanted, was released earlier this year; its lead-off track is called “I Am Yo! Majesty.” I certainly hope that the same creative and political spark that animates Futuristically Speaking continues to live on. Sojourner Truth would want it that way.
For those of you who like your Women’s History a little more traditional, fear not…Random Play will be back later this week to bring you a two-part meditation on the longest running soap opera of all time, Guiding Light. Kelly Stitzel joins Robin Monica as a guest contributor!