Women of Hip Hop: #2 Monie Love
You’ve probably heard of The Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul of the Native Tongues collective but how much do you know about Monie Love?
One of the pearls on the long necklace of under-celebrated Women in Hip Hop is MC Monie Love. Monie Love is an iconic figure in British and American Hip Hop who is best known for her Grammy nominated songs ‘Monie in the Middle’, ‘It’s a Shame (my sister)’ and her collaboration with Queen Latifah on ‘Ladies First’. Monie was born in London but emigrated to the US in her late teens (1989) which, birthed her unique and iconic English/Brooklyn/Jamaican accent. The US audiences gravitated towards her for her wit, rapid delivery, and love and respect for Hip Hop. She has carved her place in hip-hop history individually but also as a member of the Native Tongues, a positive-minded Hip Hop collective that included Queen Latifah, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, and a number of other acts, though she is rarely discussed in main stream Hip Hop media.
Monie stands out as an icon and role model of strong female independence. One of Monie’s other greatest achievements would have to be her collaboration with Queen Latifah on ‘Ladies First’ (1989). The song is part celebration – an exercise in recognising the importance of self – and part resistance, a demand for respect. The song is a landmark for women in hip-hop and heralded a wave of Afro-feminist, forward-thinking, awareness that continues to reverberate across the genre and opened doors for emcees coming up after them. At the time of “Ladies First,” posse cuts were neither new nor anomalous. What was rare, however, was seeing (two) women with creative control, making records for and about themselves while garnering praise and respect, especially without a male MC at the forefront. Love and Latifah embrace and admire each other in this collaboration, we see no intimidation, nor competitiveness. The background is seeded with photographs of black political heroines like Winnie Mandela, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis. With a sound that resembles scat as much as rap, Queen Latifah chants ”Stereotypes they got to go” against a backdrop of newsreel footage of the apartheid struggle in South Africa. The politically sophisticated Queen Latifah seems worlds apart from the adolescent, buffoonish sex orientation of most rap. These two women were trailblazers and neither of them, nor any female in this video, had to talk about sex, or sexualise themselves to sell the song. They chose meaningful background imagery to educate and encourage engagement with politics and social justice, true to the socio-politically conscious ethos of the Native Tongues collective.
Monie’s hit song ‘Monie in the Middle’ is about Women having the right to determine what they want out of a relationship. The song was inspired by Big Daddy Kane, who on tour, wanted to ‘get to know her’ but sent his friend to approach Monie in a true, ‘player-safe’ style. Monie was not impressed by this risk-averse approach to interacting with women and replied his friend ‘I guess you’ll be giving him his food then because I actually want to chat to you’. The song is about a love triangle, Kane fancied Monie, but Monie fancied the friend who Kane sent as the messenger.
Monie’s powerful, witty and sharp MC style was inspired by other female artists such as Roxanne Shanté, Salt-n-Pepa, Sha Rock, Lisa Lee and Debbie D. Her male inspirations included Afrika Bambaataa, KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane. Monie herself inspired a next generation of rappers, though she is not credited for her contributions that often. Nicki Minaj shouted her out on the first mixtape and Da Brat has also spoken to Monie’s flow and quick delivery influencing her sharp mic skills and the ways she puts her words together. She was a pioneer of so called ‘conscious hip hop’, and jazz rap.
Fun fact!: In the song, ’Monie in the Middle’, the voice saying “Where she at?” during the chorus is LeShaun. If you don’t know, LeShaun was an underground female rapper in the 90s and is the iconic voice on LL Cool J’s “Doin it”. In true sexist fashion, LL Cool J thought LeShaun didn’t have enough sex appeal to feature in his music video, so replaced her with a bunch of models that lip sync’d her lyrics.
Monie has gone on to credit Kendrick Lamar and Rhapsody for continuing organic and ‘persuasive’ Hip Hop spirit. Speaking to their ‘convincing’ nature in their approach to music. I wonder what the future of rap will hold. Often socially, politically or economically challenging times are reflected in popular music. The 2000s/10s have been saturated with excess, materialism and escapism. The 2020’s have kicked off with impending economic collapse and entire paradigm shifts and the largest collective civil rights movement in history, will there be a return of socially conscious music?