Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ryeisha "Rye Rye" Berrain



Not to brag (but to brag), I have the greatest friends ever. One of the loveliest is my gal pal Gretchen. We lived together in college for a year and ever since, she has been unable to rid herself of me.  What I love the most about G is that she is truly her own person and really has an eye for unique and interesting things. Much to her chagrin, most of the stuff she loves, become in the moment trends months after she has made them her own. She is definitely ahead of the curve. Gustaf Hale, the tumblr she started with her husband is a perfect little window into her tastes as a creative person. It's a fun collection of the recipes, music, art, and fashion that decorate their lives.


Gretchen and Nathan


One of the many perks to being Gretchen's friend, are the super fun CD mixes she likes to send in the mail. Along with the mix, she usually will decorate the CD or make a fun play list cover and send along pictures. They are among my most prized possessions and while she will be the first to say much of her musical taste comes from what Nathan introduces her to, he would probably like it known that a lot of it is purely Gretchen. On a mix she sent me a few years back she included Rye Rye's "Shake it to the Ground".




Easily the most fun song on that particular disc, I quickly found out Rye Rye, 20, was only 15 at the time she wrote and originally performed it. This was the song that initially outed her to Blaqstarr and MIA as a potential new force to be reckoned within the hip hop scene. MIA said she was the new artist she had been looking to find.
"My arrogance knows no bounds and I will make no peace today, and you should be so lucky to find a woman like me."
Jenny Holzer's quote has become the motto of this blog. Women are often required to seek forgiveness simply for being female. Submission is guilt in action. Holzer's words are difficult for many people to read in a positive way because they fall out of line with the qualities a "good" woman should embody. We are supposed to be the peacemakers, humbly standing aside while the men get things done. The machismo these words express are out of place for what we acknowledge as appropriate female speak. Women have been taught to fear aggression, leadership, ego, and entitlement; all while being told to feel guilty. This quote confronts our guilt directly which attacks its legitimacy, thus broadening female capabilities.  Rye Rye is the perfect personification of Holzer's meaning. 


She doesn't fear power, and rap, at its core, is an expression and assertion of authority. While there are flaws in the power structure many current rappers choose to uphold, the art form began as an outlet used to speak out against the oppression of the black minority. Rye Rye reloads these revolutionary roots by confronting the suppression and silencing of females by the dominant male majority within the current hip hop community. 
"Who could ever know a chick that could spit as I do
I'm conceited; I take the cake from you fools
see your face is all blue yeah you know that I'm true."
                                                         -Shake it to the Ground lyrics 


She asserts herself with the same bravado any great Kanye song would require. She also wraps her message in an innuendo that takes a shot at the normal depiction of women in hip hop music. At first glance, "Shake it to the Ground" sounds like a song about a girl trying to get the attention of boys from her sexualized dance moves. When you really look into the lyrics you see that "Shake" means "Rap" as evidenced by the line; 
"All my ladies if you shake it then you know it's a rap."
The meaning is packaged in a familiar way even though it's a new, fresh message to girls offering depth. There is power behind this type of stealth feminism. You can't "see" it but the affect it has can be overwhelmingly positive. Almost like that clear Benefiber you can mix into water. Your body needs and wants the supplement, but it's easier to swallow without the rough taste. So think of stealth feminism as Femi-fiber. You don't have to spend time explaining and defending the feminist message because it just seeps in undetected. 


An intentionally in your face feminist outlet, like this blog, is a hard sell for the masses. Lot's of people hear the f-word and want nothing to do with it because of the misunderstanding or negative connotations surrounding the terminology. It makes it difficult to attract readers even if the actual content can spark a broad range of interests. Almost like the bran muffin version of feminism if you will; appealing to some, but not everyone. If you want to make a statement that reaches beyond those who already accept your views, the way Rye Rye has chosen to showcase herself makes a lot of sense. Instead of a subversive message teaching girls submission, she has subverted the positive message of female strength. 


Rye Rye is only powerful as a person because she has already obtained self acceptance. Her music isn't about getting boys to like her or achieving popular girl status, but instead showcases her superior skill as a rapper. This is a revolutionary message when you compare her to other young female performers her age such as Taylor Swift*. Swift speaks to people in a way that is trying to convince them of her worth; Rye Rye states hers out right. 


Female sexuality has had a tumultuous relationship with pop music and rap culture. Traditionally, women in hip hop are sexualized in an excessive way which is either completely misogynist or totally faux-feminist (overtly sexual, defined by male preferences; marketed as female empowerment). Most discussions surrounding this issue either vilify or overtly extol female sexuality, making it the sole focus of the argument. Obviously it is important for women to be sexually free; however, this should be a singular piece to the puzzle, not the entire picture.


Rye Rye is sexual without objectifying herself which is how men normally employ their sexuality. Usher, Justin Timberlake, and most male performers use sexual power to their advantage which is commonplace for their gender. Male heterosexuality, controlled by the individual, has always been acceptable. Women usually are relegated to two extremes that are equally problematic: Sexpot or Virgin. Placing sexuality on a hard to reach pedestal turns young women into "pure" objects, making them no different from those who are told sex will establish their only value.  Labeled "Pure princess" or "Dirty Slut", the woman is advertised as a thing to be conquered and consumed, therefore rendering her powerless. Rye Rye remains in control of herself as a being who can be sexual which is a major accomplishment for a woman in entertainment. She's a new role model for girls who haven't wanted to accept the either or option typically offered to them.


There is a proverb that says a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. Hopefully, with lyrics like "You can't buy me, I'm a priceless girl" and "Princess a dis, so bring my name", combined with fun beats and Rye Rye's obvious talent as an MC, she'll be able to ignite a new message within hip hop highlighting female self-worth and value. The best hope for feminism to have an impact is for it to become as commonplace as the patriarchal imagery we are accustomed to today. Rye Rye has positioned herself to be a fearless leader and it will be really exciting to watch her develop her craft.


*Full disclosure: I've been known to have moments of Taylor Swift music enjoyment. ;)




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