Hip hop’s Achilles heel has been the absence of the female emcee in two fronts;
1. The female emcee who is versatile enough to make her own music (sound and beats), engineer and master the songs in a way that elevates the gender in this genre to a position equal to male all-round emcees. There has never been a female equivalent of Dr Dre, Amu, or D-Rex even though the technology is out there for the taking.
The few women who have played the game have been largely vocalists and rappers who seem to shy away from extra-work in the game. They hate the other side of the studio. That bright one with a mixing console. Such a shortage cannot be attributed to cultural gender subjugation since Q-base and Fruity Loops are software every person, boys and girls included can play with and end up as good musicians. This is a result of laziness which no politician can address.
2. there has been a shortage of women emcees who are women. A lot of those who came and played were either in the game to settle gender scores, out to sound like men or to perpetuate the male stereotype of them being good at dressing skimpily and showing ass. The South African’s equivalent of Terror Squad’s Remi Martin and Flipmode’s Dirty Harriet are still lurking in the shadows. When one thinks about those who failed at take-off one thinks of emcees such as Queen Latifah, Foxxy Brown, Lil Kim or Da Brat. Eve can also be indicted of the same.
That is why it becomes refreshing to come across a woman emcee who is woman to the bone without futile aspirations of sounding masculine. The South African hip hop scene is full of characters who rap without themes; who think ‘swag’ is a theme one can stick to until they are 60. Swag is foreign in the townships while swagger simply means demeanour.
Bella B, who loves to call herself Bubble Bee is a rapper/emcee/poet who was born Thabang Mojapelo. She lives in Nelspruit and draws her inspiration from her own life and that of people around her. Bella B says that’s what she brings into her own Mbombela hip hop rhythms. Given the anthropological minefields presented by illiteracy in the province one is often left aghast when Bella says she raps in predominantly English; because ‘predominantly English’ often means ‘only English’.
If English is the identity of Mbombela hip hop rhythms courtesy of Bella B, then Mbombela might as well be Johannesburg where rappers such as L-Tido, Maggz, Morale, Psyfo etc also carry the same torch, maybe with more US Dirty South influence.
In her own definition of self this mother of two who says she best understand the effects of teenage pregnancy says, “Bella B’s outgoing and flamboyant personality is captured and encapsulated in the alias she has been given in representation of the alter ego ‘Mbombela’s bumble B!’ Mbombela’s bumble bee is the hourglass figure and honey bee. She’s also the girl next door but she can also be that B!@*# that everybody loves to hate. She’s not a work for tabloid controversies but her controversial past/history can be made a model to all those going through some struggle, especially adolescent issues that seem to overburden our youth and younger adults.”
Going through Bella B’s rap sheet reveals a career hustler who regardless of being academically inclined still holds her own down in the music sphere. She has done a lot of corporate work with various entertainment clients. She has been around, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and sold it to the highest bidder.
She has been anywhere at any given time of the entertainment calendar and contributed immensely to the growth of hip hop not only as a sound but a vehicle for social cohesion in areas outside of her comfort zones. Hip hop as a culture needs disciples who will figure out what they can extort from its multiple layers and Bella B seems to have figured out exactly where is the honeycomb hidden.
However the measure of every emcee, whether accredited by the streets or self-proclaimed is in listening to the music they make. Anybody can print a t-shirt and call themselves MC Hammer but it’s the lyrical delivery that wins one fans and followers.
I think Bella B’s Stereotype song does perpetuate the stereotyping of women emcees and rappers. The song would be a hit on a less saucy beat, with a clearly distinguishable hook and maybe; a HUGE MAYBE featuring a masculine voice that will make Bella B’s nasal deliveries less cocky.