In case you missed it, I had the opportunity to be on this awesome talk show last week with amazing presenters Pabi Moloi, Nina Hastie, Kuli Roberts and Dr Musa Mthombeni. I had so much fun with them. You can watch it below.
It’s a weird to say that I “grew up” in Braam. Back then, we called it regular Braamfontein and it was just a small, comparatively quiet CBD unlike its much louder and busier sister downtown. Having attended the best high school in the city, Braam was also our backyard, our neighbourhood and the big stretch of terrain I frequently journeyed across on foot on my way to my beloved, Newtown. Newtown used to be colossal; a place of great minds, art and energy before it became the sad little excuse of a money-driven capitalist art hub that it is now. In thinking about my own Hip Hop Herstory, in my beginning as wide-eyes and wandering, I can safely say that it was there where I met and made some of my favourite parts of myself.
After school, my friend and I would hurry to our boarding rooms, get changed and dash across town, across the Mandela Bridge and walk around Newtown, finding interesting people and listening to their stories. Outside the Market Theatre was where the Rastas hung out, the Photo Workshop had some of the most striking photographic exhibitions where I first encountered Zanele Muholi’s work, there would always be rap cyphers near the Worker’s Library and I recall one amazing afternoon when Mac Manaka was blasting Mos Def’s Umi Says, it my first time hearing both the song and him freestyling. On Friday and Saturday nights, I was in between Bassline and Songwriter’s Club for spoken word poetry shows. There I was 15 years old (with ) and wide-eyed, hanging onto every word recited by greats such as Afurakan, PO from Kwani Experience (Kwani Experience as a whole!), Natalia Molebatsi, Mac Manaka to name a few. I never got to see Lebo Mashile then but that’s what L’Attitude was for, right? Those were the days! I found such easy inspiration among Newtown’s many storied buildings and people.
This is where I became obsessed with poetry and Hip Hop. To my mind, there was absolutely no difference between them. I mean, even Dr Uhuru Phalafala’s doctoral scholarship on Prof. Keorapetse Kgositsile agrees. To write well and deliver poetry beautifully was Hip Hop. Tumi Molekane was living proof of my conviction being sound and I am still slightly sore that his collaboration with 340ml was way before I even knew what Bassline or Newtown was. I began to write dutifully. I began to care deeply about the construction of verses and how the perfect line could both be a work of technical brilliance and a teachable moment. I understand how you most likely feel about The Miseducation, but I’m saying that my life was never the same after listening to Lauryn Hill on The Score. She held the world perfectly in her mouth; each line delivered with the kind of precision that would make me screw my face up and pace around the room a little at the sheer perfection! I sought to embody that same spirit in my own work. I sought to make people feel me.
Writing became a giant block of marble and with every complete poem, I lovingly chiseled away at it slowly to reveal parts of myself that I was incredibly grateful to meet. I began to experience, in the laborious work of building sentences, a satisfaction in hearing my words moving in and out of my mouth and a resounding joy in being awarded with people’s applause, too. My life’s sculpture began to take on many forms over the years and at times what I thought it was shaping up to be would change, over what felt like a moment’s notice. With my beloved Lauryn Hill having faded from the spotlight and my own reckoning with the socio-political meaning of my femininity, I realised that Hip Hop did not have much for me. For years, I could overlook, nod my head and dance around every derogatory phrase and instance of violence that found home so easily inside and outside the music. One day, I just couldn’t do it any more.
While falling in love with all of the beautiful sounds that coloured my life, I also began to fall in love with Jazz music, which is foundational to so many great Hip Hop songs, anyway. There was something so soothing about the silence of the voice and the many ways that musicians made their instruments stand up and speak. Jazz is my comfort and sanctuary. Although my relationship with Hip Hop goes through changes, I find it admirable that there are women who can exist within the system and choose to nurture their craft, regardless of the misogyny they may face. I chose poetry and even so, it is looking like I may choose something else soon and I always welcome it. Whether I am writing an academic chapter or a children’s book, the magic of The Score and every braggadocio bar that Jay Z has ever dropped continue to light my path.
History hurts women who weave word, sound and truth to brew story.
Seen as lesser scribes, they fade from light. This ain’t a new story.
The house of Hip Hop belongs to all who live and love in it.
Divine residents build it brick by blessed beat through story.
From Godessa to Lee Kasumba, this black girl magic we
inhabit shatters each glass ceiling into debut story.
What’s a boys club to a god; to us? We birth worlds and verses
and rise to revise the lies and proclaim: this is true story!
Grateful for the glory of creation, Lebohang meets page.
In the beginning was the word. The world awaits. Cue: story.
— A Herstory Ghazal by Lebohang Masango
In “A Herstory Ghazal”, I use the upcoming #HipHopHerstory concert as a prompt to express my feelings on the creative power that most women hold, both biologically and artistically. The landmark event will host a selection of talents from South Africa and the US to celebrate women’s roles and achievements within the culture. While the introductory post to this series demonstrates multiple academic perspectives of women’s involvement in Hip Hop that appeal to my interests as a scholar, I use this week to continue that tradition of documentation in writing creatively, as a poet.
The ghazal honestly needs more flowers (while we can still smell ’em), which is to say, the ghazal is Top Two and I don’t mean number two. This underrated form of Arabic poetry has held me spellbound for a few years now. I find it so sad that I went through an entire high school career’s worth of poetry lessons, without encountering it among the usual classes about sonnets and iambic meter. When I first read Hip Hop Ghazal by Patricia Smith, my absolute fave, I was immediately delighted by the rhythms and its insistence on cleverly crafted repetition. I love how it has been a slow revelation; the more I savoured it, the more I realised how different parts have to exist in very particular ways to make it whole. It is an impressively simple-looking yet demanding piece of writing.
Read over my ghazal once more and see if you can identify the rules that dictate how a ghazal is constructed. Here is a short summary:
- Ghazal must consist of 5 – 15 couplets, that can each stand alone as separate poems.
- First two lines must end in rhyme – using the same word or phrase – this is called a refrain.
- The refrain should end the second line of every couplet that follows.
- Before each refrain, there has to be a word that rhymes consistently throughout the ghazal.
- The first line of the last couplet should contain the poets’s name, or a reference to the poet.
- Each line must contain the same number of syllables.
Do you see why I say it is not easy? It’s such a challenge! At the same time, I cannot explain how good it feels to know that when I apply myself, I too can write in one of my favourite forms. Today, my special contribution to the Hip Hop her story movement, also marks my second ghazal (ever!) and I am so excited that it exists. I love how writing this set a challenge for me to write a big story about the strides that women make each day and express it succinctly. I hope that you’ll be inspired to fall in love with the ghazal and to keep women’s stories well-recognised and alive in your own work, whatever it may be.
Quiet as it’s kept, Hip Hop has had an immeasurable impact on my personhood. I’ve always been fascinated with the powerful self-affirmations that constitute rapper’s braggadocio bars. From Notorious BIG to The Score era’s Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, my queen Lil Kim and even Jay Z, growing up while hearing how “I’m the best/ baddest/ hottest/ freshest/ dopest/ illest” on repeat has done some amazing things for my confidence and my insistence that I can make my dream life an everyday possibility. Through Hip Hop, this masterful tradition of weaving words, I continue to build and believe in the best ideas about myself.
As a baby Anthropologist, my life involves the deepest appreciation for knowledge production, particularly the scholars who respectfully theorise Black people’s vernaculars and art into the archive. Through the fruits of their intellectual labour in writing our herstories and stories, it is our collective hope that future generations will not have to endure the racist and existential drama that claims that we “didn’t have texts or science or complex political structures or knowledge”. For women and queer people especially, we hope to counter the lies of erasure that claim that “women made little contribution to Hip Hop” or that “there are no queer people in Hip Hop”.
Over the next few weeks, I will explore what Hip Hop means to me and, of course, I will use my words. To start, I’ve compiled some critical texts in Hip Hop scholarship to highlight women as producers, consumers, scholars, political agents and critical thinkers of the culture. I hope you read and engage with this work as we all open our minds and learn more about how difference has played such an important role in making the culture what it is.
1. Hip Hop Feminism
Read this because it is a discussion of the political sensibility that emerges from a generation that grew up with Hip Hop, an art form that has been simultaneously affirming yet marginalising, especially for women and queer people. Hip Hop Feminism aims to go beyond the gains of feminism’s second wave by doing the additional work of interrogating norms and the intersecting ways that representations and images are constructed in order to empower women to participate, critique, counter, enjoy and claim full ownership of the culture.
Peoples, Whitney A. (2008) “Under construction’: Identifying foundations of hip-hop feminism and exploring bridges between Black second-wave and hip-hop feminisms.” Meridians 8:1, 19-52. Read it here.
2. The Role of South Africa in the Origin of Hip Hop.
Read this because the work and life of South Africa’s Poet Laureate, the late Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile is examined to illuminate the golden, diasporic thread that runs between Hip Hop’s founding, through The Last Poets engagement with Prof. Kgositsile’s poetry as a freedom fighter exiled to the United States. Of course, Prof. Kgositsile was not just a brilliant intellectual and writer, he is also the father of Earl Sweatshirt. I have had the pleasure of reading and listening to Dr Phalafala, who is also his biographer. I love that she has taken it upon herself to document his immense contributions to scholarship and Hip Hop music.
“ “, The Journal of South African and American Studies, pp. . Read it here.
3. The Aesthetics of Black Women’s Sexuality
Read this because one of the most contentious debates is whether the misogyny inherent within Hip Hop is responsible for the hyper-sexualisation of women and the extents to which women’s agency in our own sexualised representations contribute to aspects ranging from the full ownership of our bodies, commercial viability and further marginalisation.
White, Theresa Renee. (2013) “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin ’Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?.” Journal of Black Studies 44.6, pp. 607-626.
Read it here.
4. Queering Hip Hop
Read it because in the same way that supposedly straight women have an equal stake in Hip Hop, it is necessary to know that queer people have contributed to this culture too. We know that Hip Hop is dynamic and multidimensional, so it cannot only emerge from black heteromasculinity with straight women as its relational figures. Hip Hop is comprised of many fluid and intersecting sexualities. According to Rinaldo Walcott (2013),
…a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be... I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.
Walcott, Rinaldo. (2013) “Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip Hop’s Queer Future.” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2:2, vol. 2 pp. 168 – 173. Read it here.
5. Representations of Women in South African Hip Hop Videos
Read this because it is a comparative analysis of how women are represented in a selection of music videos by Hip Hop Pantsula, Slikour and Zuluboy – artists who have been recognised as making music that acknowledges the disparities in society and would therefore be assumed to portray women in a progressive manner.
Nyirenda, Zgagula (2014) “Analysis of gender construction in South African hip-hop music and videos”. MA Thesis. Read it here.
Please note that some of these articles may be difficult to access. Please try to log in to your institution of higher education or consider signing up to the sites to read the work.
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Hormonal acne. Adult acne. The acne that, according to my dermatologists (plural), require just one more course of roaccutane/antibiotics/birth control/topical cream to clear up for good this time. Sure. I have also never been drawn to document my face through “before and after” selfies because my skin is consistent in being unpredictable. A few months ago, I was sent a skin confidence package by Skin by Norma. I was excited because it is an organic skin care range and while I have used oils, butters and African black soap over time, I had not used a full range of organic products before. The one I received is specifically for oily skin and, as pictured below, it contains African Black Soap, natural oil facial serum (drop bottle), a repairing night cream and a refreshing herbal toner (spray bottle).
African black soap
Use: morning and night
The soap leaves my skin feeling clean and moisturised without the dryness I’ve come to expect from many soaps for oily skin. I have used raw, African black soap before and it was too harsh and left my face feeling overly-clean (my hands could literally squeak over my face), dry and uncomfortably tight. The key ingredients here are the infusion of essential oils that allow the soap to wash away the dirt on my face while lightly replenishing my skin with good oils. One of my favourite things about this soap is that over the months, it has gently faded the blemishes on the sides of my face – which is the usual benefit of African black soap – except this one does it without drying my face and causing more breakouts.
The bar requires only a few rubs with water for the soap to form a nice lather, making it last for months! Make sure you avoid the soap coming into contact with your eyes because it can sting.
Use: morning and night
Need: Cotton ball
This toner is gentle and it feels so good on my skin. I have always avoided toners (just wash and moisturise) because their drying effect would always lead to breakouts. This one is made of completely natural ingredients such as rose water, aloe vera, apple cider vinegar and vitamin E. The used cotton ball always comes away with some impurities, as it should, but my face doesn’t feel tight and as though it will crack when the toner dries. My skin still feels like it is retaining moisture.
Natural oil facial serum
Use: morning and night
I was keen to try an oil serum on my face after regularly finding articles that speak about non-comodogenic oils are good for the skin and do not block one’s pores. It has a sharp, herbal and ash-like smell that I really like. It only needs three drops to moisturise deeply around the face. I love that it absorbs so well into my skin and doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m oily. I always follow it up with a good sunscreen.
Repairing night cream
This small tub of infused shea butter surprised be a lot because a little really does go a long way. Just one tiny scoop of my finger and it melts into the skin, spreads and absorbs so well. It has been slightly fading the blemishes that often appear on my cheeks, over time.
So while I accept that my skin often struggles. I wake up every day making commitments to be kinder to my skin, especially in what I eat, drink and put on it. I’m so glad that I came across Skin by Norma. Each time I put it on my skin feels like self-love in action because my skin feels so soothed and well-moisturised after each application. My skin is sensitive so finding handmade natural products that are indeed as gentle as one would expect is such a big deal for me.
Please go onto their Instagram to see more of their amazing products: @skin_bynorma.
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Thank you, to the Skin brand! Can’t wait to order and try out more of your lovely work!
Technically, you won’t be “coming” to see me because you’ll be viewing me from your couch. I’ll be on 1Magic (DStv channel 103) on Friday, 15 June at 19.00. I’ll be in conversation with Sho Madjozi, Sjava and Frypan/Mpumelelo about the state of youth in our country. Tune in!
Do you see this image? Mpumi’s Magic Beads is being translated into all of our South African languages and it will become widely available from August, September and October. You’re welcome to pre-order: here.
Even this moment starts with a story and I have to tell it because I have been smiling to myself when I think about how all of this came to be. It was a hot Saturday in December. My friend Lisa had invited me to her other friend’s house in Morningside for a day party. It was fabulous. Our hosts, some lovely Ghanaian men, prepared West African food in the kitchen while we women sipped on bubbles and shared good conversation. Later that evening, Shaka, whose acquaintance I had made before, arrived and we got to talking about my children’s book. He told me that his family owned a publishing house and that he’d put me in contact with them. I was still quite set in my desire to continue to self-publish but I also believe in the importance of allowing opportunity in, so I thanked him.
Thank goodness for that. Self-publishing has been an interesting journey. Would you believe me if I told you that producing the book is the easy part? The challenge comes when other people become involved and your expectation for common decency to be common is sorely disappointed. (When the legal proceedings are done, remind me to tell you about how unethical your fave is.)
I love everything I do as a baby Anthropologist and poet and a student and I would never want my literary and imaginative work to suffer because business admin in this particular path is sucking the joy out of me. So, after a good run with Thank You Books that had me taking the steps to conquer my doubts and do what truly makes me happy, I am ready to hand my baby off to David Philip Publishers/ New Africa Books! I’m excited to see how this dream will be nurtured by capable hands who have been giving worlds to children for much longer than I have.
I appreciate all of the support you have given me throughout this time. I hope you all go over to www.newafricabooks.com to place your orders and keep this dream growing and glowing for me but, most importantly, for little readers everywhere.
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Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Shaka. Thank you, Dusanka.
Rookie Mag’s theme for May is “Growing Pains.” Please head over there to read my latest essay on intersectional feminism, online conflicts and the lessons I’ve learned about how we hold each other through the difficulties of our politics. I am really proud of this.
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Thank you, Tavi Gevinson. Your patience and thoughtful critique while editing this really challenged me in the best ways.
Mpumi’s Magic Beads is featured today in a story about self-publishing. Read all about it!
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Thank you, Rofhiwa Maneta.
Please join me tomorrow on Saturday, 12 May for a reading of Mpumi’s Magic Beads at the Kingsmead Book Fair. We will be on at 11.00 in the Stories & Crafts Studio. All of the info is: here.