“Right now, I hear a whisper echoing: You must go underground.”
(Aisha Durham, 2007)
Detroit’s underground hip hop community is vast and diverse. Like the city itself, it is spread out both geographically and politically. In the 1990s, the groups Slum Village and 5 Ela put Detroit’s socially conscious hip hop scene on the national map. Over the past five years, the women-centered collective known as The Foundation has received national and international attention for its artistic interventions into mainstream representations of women in hip hop. At any given time The Foundation consists of at least a dozen women who rap, sing, perform spoken word, DJ, break, or create visual art. In the quote above, Durham is heading a call for a return to more community based hip hop that speaks out against the commercial rap industry, dominant hegemonic representations of people of color, and other exploitative institutional structures. Through music, dance, and other art forms, Foundation members articulate their experiences of what it means to be women—the majority of whom are women of color—in contemporary Detroit. Their work addresses issues such as body image, love, sexuality, environmental concerns, poverty, and self-empowerment. These artists use hip hop culture and rap music to create spaces of resistance and community in a place that is known for being inundated with environmental ruins, race politics, and social alienation but is also beautiful, resourceful, and imaginative.
In doing so, they destabilize several gendered and racialized notions of what it means to be a contemporary hip hop artist.
All of the tracks included on this mix feature Foundation affiliated artists. Most of them are MCs but I have intentionally chosen to also include singers and spoken word poets because a number of these artists practice more than one craft. That is, many of them not only rap but also sing, produce, and/or DJ in addition to creating visual art, etc. Illustrating the breadth of the sonic hip hop spectrum that these artists cover also challenges the commercial industry’s focus on the MC as a solitary rapper, cut off from a community and hence hip-hop’s history as a socio-political movement. These performers are fixtures in the local hip hop landscape whose artistic endeavors and distinct messages advocating social change have the power to resonate across time and place. They have taken up the call of scholars like Aisha Durham (2007) and Tricia Rose (2008) who advocate for more community based hip hop and public outcry regarding the dehumanization of women in the commercial hip hop industry.
All of the artists included here are part of a larger, ongoing ethnographic project. While engaging in this research I have learned that artists’ access to recording equipment as well as their motivations to record tracks or otherwise archive their work varies a great deal. Since my goal in creating this mix was to showcase the range of voices in conversation in Detroit’s underground hip hop community, I purposefully have not given too much weight to sound quality when choosing what to include. Thus, the mix contains both hi-fi and lo-fi productions to give listeners as accurate a representation as possible of the range of women’s voices and sounds in the city, as well as its DIY sensibility. It is my hope that listeners experience both pleasure and inspiration to act as they listen to the subversive sounds from the women of the Detroit hip hop underground.
Rebekah Farrugia is a popular music scholar whose work explores the politics of gender, technology, and community in contemporary music genres such as electronic dance music and hip hop. She is the author of Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture and is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University. She is also an active member of the Detroit based hip hop collective The Foundation.
Durham, Aisha. 2007. Using [Living Hip-Hop] Feminism: Redefining an Answer (to) Rap. In Gwendolyn D. Pough, Elaine Richardson, Aisha Durham, & Rachel Raimist (Eds.), Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology (304-312). Mira Loma, CA: Parker Publishing.
Rose, Tricia. 2008. The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—and Why It Matters. New York: Basic Civitas Books.
- “The Foundation”, Ladies of The Foundation
- “9 to 5 (Fighter)”, Mahogany Jones featuring Michelle Bonilla
- “Looongawaited”, Invicible
- “The Riot”, Insite the Riot
- “Rise Up (Ft. Geno the Poet)”, ‘Nique LoveRhodes
- “Legendary”, Mahogany Jones and ‘Nique LoveRhodes
- “Who I Am (ruff mix)”, Miz Korona
- “100 Degree”, Jaci Caprice
- “Detroit Everything (Live)”, D.S. Sense