Queenz of Hip-Hop Gives the Throne to Women Artists

Elisa Silva, middle.
Elisa Silva, middle. Queenz of Hip-Hop
B-girl Elise Silva joined Queenz of Hip-Hop four years ago when she realized she wanted to give back to the hip-hop community. Queenz of Hip-Hop has become a way for women to engage and inspire one another through a range of hip-hop arts: breakdancing, graffiti, deejaying, emceeing and more. The group will host its annual jam, August 3 to 5, an event designed to empower women to use hip-hop in the fight for social justice.

The event will include performances by MCs, breakdance battles and workshops. We caught up with Silva to talk about the event, how Queenz of Hip-Hop has evolved, and why the culture needs more women's voices in the mix.

Westword: How did you get into breakdancing?

Elise Silva: My story is really not uncommon, and I wish it wasn’t the norm, which is: I got into breaking because of a guy. I was a gymnast and started breaking because I thought I’d be good at it and could get his attention. It worked, because we are married and have a kid [laughs].

But I’ve noticed how often women feel they only have access to this art through men. And I wish there was more of a community for women of support, mentorship and allyship that would give them a sense that this is theirs, too, and that maybe, someday, men might start coming into the scene because of the girls they are with ... That’s its own phenomenon: the girlfriend phenomenon. All of a sudden, we are all doing the things guys are doing. But why aren’t they doing the things we are doing?

How are you involved with Queenz of Hip-Hop?

My role now has a lot to do with the event coordination itself, connecting with community partners, and I facilitate a lot of the workshops, which is really an evolution of our collective. It used to be just about the event itself, and in the last couple years, we’ve been trying to examine how we can expand that impact throughout the year.

One of our community partners that is sponsoring the event, Think 360 Arts, pairs artists with schools and other institutions in the area to figure out how to integrate art into education and regular programming. We are collaborating with them and will hopefully have some programming in the upcoming school year to bring hip-hop into the schools.

Photograph courtesy of Burque Style Productions

Why do you think it’s important for the youth to have this interaction with hip-hop?

I think hip-hop historically has been the property of the youth ... It’s a queer avenue to become socially and politically engaged in a relatable way. And particularly for a lot of the people affected by our event and a part of this community – being young people of color, young queer people, people who don’t subscribe to the binary—that kind of impact on the world and having access to that sort of agency and empowerment is really significant.

Do you think Queenz of Hip-Hop has always had the mission to reach out to people with less visibility in the community?

In some ways that has always been the mission. If we think about empowering women, if we think about lending visibility to women within hip-hop, we are definitely talking about creating space for marginalized groups. If we are going to approach our activism with intersectionality, we can’t only be addressing women ... If that’s going to be our platform, then we necessarily need to include these other groups.

Even on a larger scale, the anomaly of the pop hip-hop artists like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, that’s not the hip-hop sphere we are relating to, but the fact that they are blowing up in the way that they are, it’s relevant to how much we need other female voices in this arena.

What can the audience expect from this year's event?

This year, we are screening a documentary from a B-girl in New York, Ana "Rockafeller" Garcia. She created a documentary about B-girling specifically. We are also featuring an evening of female MCs. We will have three females, either soloists or rap group MCs perform for the evening. That includes April Fresh, Bianca Mikhan, Koo Qua and Alisha B, who are all local hip-hop artists.

We are just attracting a lot of national and international talent, so it feels like it is expanding in a lot of ways. Not just in both numbers and who we attract and what we do here, but also an impact on a much larger geographical scale.

Photograph courtesy of Burque Style Productions

How do you think this event serves the Denver community?

That’s kind of the microcosm of it. On the one hand, we are really contributing to building here and enforcing the talent here, offering ways for talent to be seen, offering actual compensation to talent ... And on top of that, we are really creating a national network of women, and people, who are in this together to be seen and connect with one another through this event itself. It establishes the talent here and creates a broader community.

Lastly, just because it is a youth-friendly event, I think it makes the idea of it as a multigenerational effort a lot more tangible.

What do you think the hip-hop scene is lacking here?

I think that could be really broad. There’s a number of things I could point to, but I think specifically what we have room in addressing is it lacks locating itself within a broader context – letting the hip-hop scene here to be a part of a larger movement and larger community.

And I’m speaking in large part to the dance side of things, and I know with the MC side of things, there’s a lot more across-the-state-line connections and involvement in broader movements. Maybe that’s some of it, too. Of how segmented our hip-hop community is and how great it would be if we could unify those elements a little bit more.

I think Queenz is tying those elements together.

Exactly. That’s unique to Queenz. There’s dance competitions, hip-hop nights, open-mic nights, spoken word – but not a lot of where it all happens in the same building.

Photograph courtesy of Burque Style Productions

What’s a favorite memory of yours from a past Queenz event?

There was a really amazing moment, it was either last year or the year before, but at the very end of the event, we had folks here from Houston and New Mexico, and the whole Southwest area is pretty close-knit in term of the dancers, and when they were up here, they had some stuff going on with a studio down there with fundraising. We wanted to send a live video shout-out to them. So everybody in the room got together in one cypher, sending words of encouragement and dancing like crazy, and we were so connected to one issue that was happening in a different state, and it is so beautiful to connect with one another when we realize that we have a commonality with each other. You know, hip-hop is my struggle, too.

Queenz of Hip-Hop Film Screening + Performances, 5:30 p.m., August 3, Emmanuel Gallery, 1205 West 10th Avenue, free; Battles, 2:00 p.m., August 4, McNichols Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue, $12 or $10 with a donation for MotherHouse; Workshops, 11:00 a.m., August 5, School of Breaking, 14190 East Jewell Avenue, Aurora, $15 for one class, $25 for two classes, $40 for three classes, $55 for five classes or $70 for five classes.
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Taylor Heussner has been writing for Westword since January 2018. She received her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Colorado State University and writes for myriad literary magazines. When she's not attending concerts, you can find Taylor searching for music, writing poetry or petting the neighborhood dogs.
Contact: Taylor Heussner