Documentary explores the state of hip-hop for women

Fri Aug 27, 2010 7:53pm EDT
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By Gail Mitchell

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Missy Elliott says she was 14 when she did it the first time. Eve was 11. Diamond was 14, Yo-Yo 15 and Lady of Rage 12.

These and other female MCs -- including MC Lyte, Trina, the Poetess and Salt-N-Pepa -- reminisce about the first time they reeled off rhymes, one of several topics they address in "My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop." Premiering Monday (August 30) on BET, the hourlong film is the network's first original music documentary.

The film covers artistry, imaging and the thin ranks of professional female MCs (from more than 40 in the early '90s to a handful on major labels now), and explores whether there's still a place for women in hip-hop. Ava DuVernay, who directed and executive-produced "Mic" through her Forward Movement Films, says she was most surprised by the vulnerability of the women she interviewed.

"These great MCs are seen as invincible. But when you sit down and talk to them about their lives in a male-dominated field, being bruised and maybe not as appreciated as they would have liked, their great voices stifled by a change in tide ... I saw a vulnerability I wouldn't have expected."

"Females in hip-hop made a big mistake by becoming Robin to Batman when they fought to be Batman," says Roxanne Shante, another rap pioneer who appears in the film. "There's absolutely still a place for female MCs. But now it seems like it's being built on lipstick and eye shadow, which can be washed away. We have to go back to the talent and skills, how it was originally built."

In addition to emerging solo rappers Diamond (ex-Crime Mob) and Tiye Phoenix, the film features comments from musician Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, producer Swizz Beatz and industry vets Kevin Liles and Russell Simmons. Noticeably absent are such faces as Queen Latifah and rising star Nicki Minaj. DuVernay says, "Everyone that you think should be in the film was asked."

<p>Missy Elliott performs onstage during the 44th Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux July 5, 2010. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud</p>