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After Converting, Islamic Afro-Jamaican Rapper Challenges Feminism

"For every open-minded feminist I meet, there is another who thinks I am oppressed."

British MC Tanya Muneera Williams is here to change your perception of Muslim women. In an essay in The Independent, Williams details her conversion, and how she defies conventional expectations of what Muslim women look like: "I remember how society responded to me prior to my conversion. I was a girl about town and although I encountered racism and sexism I walked about hassle free, whereas now I face anything from micro-aggressions to complete disdain. For me, this is even more troubling than the overt Islamophobic name-calling on the Internet. That I can put down to bigotry, whereas the small everyday hostility from seemingly normal people speaks of the changing climate in the UK."

Williams is one-half of the Bristol-born hip-hop duo, Poetic Pilgrimage; she and her other musical half, Sukina Owen-Douglas, made their musical debut in 2002. Eight years later, Poetic Pilgrimage released their Star Women Mixtape, in which the artistic twosome sampled “Satta Massagana,” a prominent reggae track recorded by the Abyssinians, a dedication to staying true to their Jamaican heritage. The single from Star Women Mixtape, "Land Far Away," was filmed in West London, due to its heavy influx of Afro-Caribbean immigrants. The video, in William's words, was to “celebrate our Jamaican heritage and highlight the inclination toward spirituality that is naturally cultivated through the use of reggae music.”

Black Muslims, particularly Black Caribbean Muslim women, face erasure in the mainstream, especially in the hip-hop industry. “Sukina (my band member) and I often joke about performing to new audiences and how it takes about three songs before they get over the shock of hijabis running across the stage, telling them to throw their peace signs up,” wrote Williams in a blog post on Huffington Post UK in 2015.

The intersection of Black Muslim women's concerns remain also relatively invisible in discussions of Islamophobia. Fellow Muslim Safura Salam agrees, arguing for a reclamation of space for Black Muslim women, with the creation of #BombBlackHijabis. "In the conversation about Blackness in Islam and about women in Islam, the intersection of Black Muslim Women’s issues are often ignored. While South Asian and Arab women have many struggles in common, the struggle of the Black Muslim woman is unique. Often, speaking about us makes others uncomfortable. They aren’t sure how to relate. They want to sweep us away under the rug of an Islam that is 'color blind'."

Williams directly recalls experiencing discrimination from other Muslims concerning her faith and identity: "The additional element black often means I have to deal with discrimination from fellow Muslims. Despite the fact that Islam has a long history in Africa, there is a pervading idea that Arabs and Asians are 'The True Muslims'. Although the Koran teaches differently, we are not at a point where enough meaningful dialogue has occurred in order to ensure the text and everyday attitudes of people are in alignment, so racism prevails." The Koran itself is also written in a percentage of African languages, and the book describes the beloved Prophet Muhammad as beautifully "dark."

Reclaiming space as an Afro-Jamaican woman for Williams means challenging what feminine self-expression means, as the Western world still views the hijab as a symbol of women's oppression. "It has been said my hip-hop group Poetic Pilgrimage has feminist tendencies and this is something I am still grappling with. Yes, it’s true there is definitely a theme of female strength and dignity in our music, however since wearing a headscarf as a woman of colour, I am starting to wonder if feminism is really about all women expressing themselves," she notes. "For every open-minded feminist I meet, there is another who thinks I am oppressed by either my father, or that my husband forces me to wear hijab (if only they knew I’m still on the lookout for one of those and my father is a non-religious Jamaican)."

Prior to her conversion, Williams was raised in Christian home in the 1980s, explaining that Islam was the "furthest thing" from her mind. "I was raised in the church but left because I had questions on race and gender that no one could answer. I was not the typical teen, I enjoyed partying but I would much rather play jazz or reggae in an incense-filled room while discussing philosophy, world religions and the meaning of life," she confesses. Williams represents an early wave of Afro-Caribbean immigrants who are finding solace in Islam. Although Jamaica is predominately Christian in faith, the country is reportedly said to be becoming a haven for Islamic worship.

Although Williams was already on a quest for spiritual enlightenment with the musical creation of Poetic Pilgrimage, it would not be until 2005 that the group's musical direction would forever become transformed. "What finally pushed me was contemplating the life of Malcolm X and reading a book by Moroccan Feminist Fatima Mernissi. Their journeys to enlightenment intrigued me so much that I wanted to taste what they had. I converted to Islam on 16 June 2005, three weeks before the 7/7 terror attack. Being concerned for the safety of my loved ones, like all Londoners, I did not realize those tragic events would impact so deeply on my experience of conversion."

With the passing of Brexit, a wave of terror was unleashed in its aftermath, targeting the UK's immigrants, particularly those with an Islamic background. As women's hijabis were ripped off their heads on the streets and the burkini ban forbade women from wearing religious garments on the beach, Williams sees hip-hop as being the defiant force to provide empowerment for Black Muslim women, particularly in the Western world.

"A model that really gives me hope for the future is hip-hop," she says, "this community has always been embracing and inclusive - even the underdog is welcomed as long as they honour the culture. Through this genre my group has been able to break more stereotypes than any government policy. In the spirit of this, the one hope for the UK’s future that I see is an increased diversity of Muslims in the mainstream media. Not just [the] token black, female, disabled, elderly or Muslim voices, but a true reflection of the amazing wealth of experience one religion can include."

 

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Megan Thee Stallion’s Southern Rap 'Fever' Dream

Hot Girl Meg is already an urban legend. You can see her on the cover of Fever, looming over a luxury auto in skin-tight leopard print as flames and horses erupt behind her. It’s the undeniable movie poster aesthetic of blaxploitation icons like Pam Grier’s Coffy. It’s a perfect fit for rapper Megan Thee Stallion, whose music channels a Southern rap tradition full of larger-than-life figures like Trina, Gangsta Boo, and her hero Pimp C.

The 24-year-old born Megan Pete started rapping in childhood after accompanying her mother, Holly Thomas aka rapper Holly-Wood, to recording sessions in Houston. Megan’s career began with freestyles at college parties, and she released three mixtapes in three years with her mother as her manager, building her buzz while still completing courses. The rapper is slick and authoritative on the mic as she channels alter egos like Hot Girl Meg, who she calls “the party girl, the polished girl, the turn-up queen.” Her debut album Fever, released last week, is a showcase for this alter ego. Hanging with Hot Girl Meg makes for a fun 40 minutes.

Though her profile has risen to the level of Drake Instagrams and Khalid features, Megan Thee Stallion does not make pop music. She raps, she’s excellent, and she knows it. “I’m a real rap bi**h, this ain’t no pop sh*t,” she ad-libs victoriously on her first song “Realer.” Sure, pop music has eagerly siphoned from rap this decade, but rappers have been drawing lines in the sand since Q-Tip said “Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop” in ‘91. Nowadays, the A Tribe Called Quest auteur is still pushing rap forward as an executive producer for Fever.

“Sex Talk,” the album’s lead single, is a showcase for Megan’s bars. “I’ma bust quick if your lips soft,” she raps in short bursts around distorted bass and snaps. “Rock that ship ‘til ya blast off.” In her second verse, she accents the offbeat to boast, “I should be in museums because this body a masterpiece.” Though the song’s popularity was eclipsed by the video release for last summer’s more bombastic “Big Ole Freak,” it’s a fitting introduction to Thee Stallion: her range of staccato to elongated flows is catnip for heads like her who grew up on freestyle DVDs, paired with a blown out beat riding the minimalist wave that’s subsumed parties across the country.

Sex is the main concern in Megan Thee Stallion’s work, followed closely by money. Such confident sexuality from a black woman has unfortunately drawn criticism and retrograde questioning from some in the media, but she’s undaunted. “You let the boys come up in here and talk about how they gon’ run a train on all our friends and they want some head and they want to shoot everything up, and they want to do drugs,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Well, we should be able to go equally as hard. I don’t want to hear none of that ‘That’s offensive!’ or ‘All she talk about is p***y.’”

Megan’s mercenary demand for her pleasures is a refreshing gender swap of rap tropes. On “Running Up Freestyle,” she raps, “He say I should be nicer, well your d**k should be bigger.” She’s blunt enough to make me clutch my pearls on behalf of my gender before I burst out laughing. Later in “Sex Talk,” Megan kicks a would-be lover out when she cues up trap music and he asks “Girl, you tryna trap me?” She’s offended by the insinuation she needs to keep a captive, when she doesn’t need anyone she doesn’t want in the moment. It’s a role reversal that plenty of female rappers have executed previously, but few with the same raw skill.

“Hood Rat Sh*t” opens with a sample of a 2008 viral video, a 7-year-old explaining his desire to do “hoodrat stuff” with his friends. The uptempo drums bounce around cavernous piano chords with gleeful menace like a gaggle of unsupervised kids. Megan’s rhymes launch into double time in the lead-up to the chorus, which she spits like a playground taunt. In the third verse, she gives an evocative example of the title: she’s at the strip club drinking Henny from a champagne glass, “eating chicken wings with a thick bi**h” who’s dancing like the diamonds in her necklace. Her swaggering flow sounds like the reincarnation of Pimp C, with the tall tale verses to match.

Rising Charlotte rapper DaBaby adds a verse over bellowing 808s on “Cash Sh*t.” When Megan says “That’s my dog, he gon’ sit down and listen,” DaBaby describes fixing his partner’s weave during sex and incorporating headlocks into new positions. On its own, his verse might be too direct, like a stranger leering from the end of the bar. It’s perfectly absurd on Megan’s album. He works as a foil to the main attraction, like he’s just trying to keep up.

 

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Real HOTGIRL shit 😛

A post shared by Hot Girl Meg (@theestallion) on May 4, 2019 at 9:46am PDT

The only other guest on Fever is Juicy J on “Simon Says,” where he also supplies a beat that sounds like a house party in the middle of a home invasion. “Simon says bust it open like a freak,” Megan raps like a nursery rhyme, a fitting match for the originator of “Slob On My Knob.” The song was the center of a minor controversy over the album release weekend when singer Wolf Tyla implied she had a writing credit and drew an indignant response from Megan. The facts became harder to parse from there. Maybe Tyla wrote the hook, or maybe Juicy did and asked her to record a reference track. (A just okay hook to go to bat for as an unknown ghostwriter, frankly.) In an era where the world’s biggest male stars snipe at each other about fragments of songs they’ve written for one another, this shouldn’t be a story, but a rising female rapper can’t allow any question of her bona fides.

Even if “Simon Says” is entirely ghostwritten, the Three 6 Mafia homage is far from an aberration in Megan’s catalog, or even on Fever. Juicy J produced two other album cuts, future strip club anthems “Pimpin” and “Dance.” Fellow co-founder Project Pat contributes to “W.A.B.,” built around a sample of the group’s “Weak Azz Bi**h.” Three 6’s influence is apparent in so many strains of modern hip-hop, but on Fever Megan places the Memphis collective alongside Houston and New Orleans in a firmly Southern context. The album concludes with Megan declaring herself “Hot Girl Meg from the motherf**kin’ South,” and it doesn’t feel like a conclusion, just a tantalizing cliffhanger promising further misadventures.

Fever is not perfect. “Best You Ever Had” strays a little too close to pop. Halfway through an album of knocking beats, it’s jarring to hear Megan’s voice coated in electronic sheen, sharing space with a recorder loop. In headphones the project becomes a bit repetitive in the back half, but it won’t be noticeable blaring out of club speakers. Given how quickly she’s befriended so many other stellar young female rappers, it would have been great to hear her spar with some of them on her debut.

Nevertheless, Megan Thee Stallion is picking up the baton for Southern hip-hop with a quick tongue and trunk rattling beats optimized for twerking. She inherited the legacy from her mother, as well as an unstoppable work ethic, the kind that kept her from cancelling shows even after her mother’s tragic death this spring because “I know she wouldn’t want me to stop.” Not long ago, a buzzy mixtape rapper signing to a major label like 300 Entertainment was a one-way ticket to clunky albums overstuffed with radio bait. Fever’s cohesion is a testament to Megan’s talent and dedication. Look forward to partying with Hot Girl Meg all summer.

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Megan Thee Stallion Releases Fiery "Realer" Video

Megan Thee Stallion is truly prepping for a hot girl summer. Following up the highly-anticipated release of Fever, the Houston-bred rapper has officially released the visuals for the project's opening song, "Realer."

Red-headed Meg and her friends brandish toy guns, high karate kicks and body rolls as she talks her sh*t. And, much like her project's artwork, there were flames—both literally and figuratively—to be had all around.

Even some of her celebrity peers have expressed excitement over her video's release.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥❤️❤️

— TRINA (@TRINArockstarr) May 21, 2019

🐎 🔥 https://t.co/54S59MQ8fx

— Wale (@Wale) May 21, 2019

Watch Hot Girl Meg's spicy "Realer" video up top.

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VIBE Debuts New Podcast On Battle Rap Culture, 'The Chosen' (Hosted By Nunu Nellz)

THE CHOSEN Podcast, hosted by the battle scene's stage Queen, Nunu Nellz, is a show that highlights the artists, entrepreneurs and personalities that shape Hip-Hop battle culture. A lot of success stories may look like they started overnight, yet took many years of hard work and dedication...we will showcase that journey through their stories.

The first episode of THE CHOSEN is with SMACK WHITE, the leader of MC battle culture as founder of the  Ultimate Rap League (URL). This Queens, NY native is a great opening act for what The Chosen is about, success against all odds. A man who took the positive from his neighborhood and helped to create a global platform for people to exhibit their talent through battle rap.

And for some added flavor, the intro beat to the show is produced by none other than the infamous himself, Havoc of Mobb Deep.

Check the first of many great episodes to come of The Chosen Podcast.

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😢 THANK U to @smackwhite @beasleynyc @urltv for embracing me with nothing but love from the first day I met u guys. Thank you for making NUNU NELLZ a house hold name. From my start on “ battle rap arena “ on 15moferadio to writing my first column “what’s hot what’s not “in battle rap for 100barsmag then taking that same column to a printing magazine ( rydermagazineboss ) where it was sold at train station, online and at the legendary black star, I just been blessed. I been able to travel the world and meet so many great ppl bc of u guys. Thank u for any league that ever book me to host their event . Thank u to my fiancé @mr.guercy for pushing me to be the greatest woman I can be and introducing me to the editor and chief of @vibemagazine, @datwon . Thank u to @datwon for believing in the vision and giving me my very own show on the vibe platform #THECHOSEN. This is so BIG and I’m so excited about this new journey . I love media . I love learning about ppl grinds and how they became successful . It was so important to me to grab that @nickiminaj #vibemagazine cover for my first interview . I won’t allow anyone to give me pickle juice (barbs will catch that 🤣) but thank u to all those saying congrats . When the first interview drop im open to all feed back to be the best I can be for the people 💯 Hair @beautiibyday thank u for always stopping what u doing to get me together . I appreciate u

A post shared by URL Princess (@nunu_nellz) on Mar 28, 2019 at 8:11am PDT

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