Femcees: Lyrics Decoded, at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art Thursday, January 23, will bring artists and academics together to talk about two things: women and hip-hop. Expounding on the museum's current exhibition, Craft Tech / Coded Media: Women, Art and Technology, and specifically, Kelly Monico's multimedia installation, "Bitches n' Hoes," the evening encourages discussion of the role of the female emcee in hip-hop today.
"We'll be talking about the state of rap and what the future of rap looks like -- and if there is a space for the female emcee to expand her role in the genre," says participating artist Kelly Monico.
The evening opens with performances by local emcees Kitty Crimes and D. Girl, followed by a panel that will include the emcees and Monico, as well as Dr. B. Afeni McNeely Cobham, professor of African American Studies, and Dr. Jessica Parker, professor of African American Literature, both from Metropolitan State University. The hour-long discussion will feature video clips played between topics; the audience is encouraged to participate.
"The event came about because I have a body of work at BMoCA right now about hip-hop and language, especially female emcees," says Monico. "There's three large-scale pieces that are screenprints and drawings and digital archival work. They are all pattern-like and each piece is based on a specific song -- like Nicki Minaj's 'Stupid Hoe' and Azealia Banks' '212.' What I did was analyze the lyrics of specific songs and specifically the words the artists are using. 'Bitch' and 'Hoe' are always being analyzed; every 'bitch' has a specific mark and every 'hoe' has a specific mark. Sometimes it's positive, like 'you're one of my bitches' or 'you're a bad-ass bitch.' Sometimes, it's used negatively, like 'you're a stupid-ass bitch.'"
Monico examined the relationship of the words visually. "I wanted you to be able to really look at this piece and determine what the song would look like," she explains. "So all of the imagery is based off of the patterns used in each artist's fingernails. I have a video component that plays each song and then animates the large- scale piece. I call it my translator -- most people wouldn't get it if they just saw the pieces. But if you watch the translator, the animation decodes it for you. So you know every time the word 'bitch' appears because it's a particular shape."
The artist sees this event as a way to talk about lyrics and meaning, the power of the female presence in hip-hop and the role of the woman emcee's presence in the past, present and future of the genre. "I think it is such an interesting topic -- language and power as it relates to hip hop and the voice of the female emcee," says Monico. "I think it is kind of an interesting time right now -- the female emcee used to be this sort of masculine representation to be taken seriously within the world of hip hop. Then it turned into hyper-sexualization -- you've got Lil Kim and then Nicki Minaj.
"There is definitely empowerment in what Nicki Minaj is doing -- she's sexualizing herself, but she's also talking about power," Monico continues. "If you listen to her lyrics and peel off a couple layers, you hear the self-empowerment. She's in control of the situation."
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Check out Femcees: Lyrics Decoded at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, January 23 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; tickets are $12 for members, $15 for non-members and $5 with a student I.D. Before the event, there will be a public reception and happy hour hosted by BMoCA's Friends With Benefits, as well as an exhibition tour with guest curator Deanne Pytlinski starting at 5 p.m. For more information, visit the BMOCA's website.