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A Valentine’s Day Massacre: Women Put the Rap on Men

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” exclaimed rapper Yo-Yo, addressing a holiday crowd Thursday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Given the genre’s reputation for misogyny, a five-hour rap show may not have sounded like the most prudent place to take one’s honey on such a special day, but this was a historic, all-distaff bill--"Black Women in Rap"--and surely the lineup of female performers could be counted on to foster harmony between the sexes.

Bad assumption. Mere moments later, Yo-Yo was exhorting the female contingent in the crowd to “stop believing in the (expletive) man . . . (Expletive) a man’s world, you know what I’m sayin’?” These unsentimental sentiments were repeatedly echoed in her combative lyrics, like this rare printable representative sample: “Guys ain’t nothin’ but dirt / And they’ll flirt with anything dressed in a miniskirt.”

Who says romance is dead?

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Yo-Yo’s wasn’t the only mixed message of the night. Act after act took the Sports Arena stage to grapple--sometimes gropingly, sometimes fascinatingly--with a rapper’s idea of what it means to be a feminist, framing the solution mostly in relation and reaction to men.

That the attempt is even being made in a form that until recently had no noteworthy female participants is truly remarkable. (And truly still a commercial struggle, judging from the tiny size of a house that was no more than one-fourth full.) But this is more Madonna’s brand of feminism-- learning to take control, starting in the bedroom, where women already wield the most power--than it is Betty Friedan’s.

To many of these performers, the key to becoming a strong, bold, take-charge woman is in becoming aware of the fact that sex is currency , and learning how and when to barter it. “If you’re gonna give it up, get something in return,” Nikki D., the biggest champion of this sex-as-a-contract party line, repeatedly told her fellow ladies. “You’re wasting it.”

Performer after performer likewise urged women not to “give it up” so easily. And what are they to hold out for? True love, it’s implied, in many cases.

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But even as political a performer as MC Trouble--whose set was otherwise charged with intent black consciousness--mysteriously felt compelled to lead a sexist call and response. Men were requested to chant “Make money money money money money,” followed by the inevitable female reply, “ Take money money money money money.”

Another MC--MC Smooth--exited the stage with this closing benediction: “I want the ladies to look at the man next to ‘em and say: Where is the money? . . . Peace, I’m outta here.”

It would seem not so much time has passed since the days of Lysistrata, except no one on the bill felt cause to even mention the Persian Gulf War, let alone suggest it as a possible reason for the withholding of services.

Of all the acts to indulge anti-male feelings--or deadbeat-bashing, if you will--the most convincing, lack of holiday romanticism aside, was Yo-Yo, who genuinely seemed interested in promoting pride among the sexually repressed and urging an end to the passive acceptance of abuse.

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Given the fact that she’s in cahoots with Ice Cube, no friend to the other gender, one may suspect that a show-biz good cop/bad cop routine is at play to some degree. But Yo-Yo’s repeated calls to women not to allow themselves to be called “bitches and ‘hos” held the weight of conviction--and seemed all the more ironic when the following act, Nikki D. and her flygirls, referred to each other by the former epithet more than once.

For anyone looking for a true class act, however, there was no competition for headliner Queen Latifah, who energized the small crowd with the infectious anthem “Ladies First” and dance tracks like “Come Into My House.” Following so many performers confusedly trying to stand up for the gender in the best ways they knew how--profanely and pointedly reactive--Latifah’s easy, charismatic confidence, borne out of a more knowing feminism, made her seem like royalty indeed.


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