As a white girl, retired rapper, and proud owner of a black light Biggie poster, I was hesitant to see Sundance darling Patti Cake$, which follows an aspiring white rapper trying to make it big. I assumed the film would either make me feel ashamed for abandoning my former passion, or — worse — for my murky relationship with cultural appropriation. But on a recent lazy Saturday, I finally bit the bullet. Did I feel read by the film? Absolutely. But I was also deeply moved, both by its portraiture of the highs and lows of creative expression, and by its poignant demonstration of something I’ve had on my mind for a while: How rap can be used as a feminist tool.
A female hip-hop enthusiast is a strange space to occupy. In one of my favorite rap songs, Biggie details robbing a woman and then ejaculating in her eyeball. I’ve often grappled with my passion for a genre historically known for glorifying objectification of and violence towards women. My preference for female rappers like Lil Kim, who often flip the script–“I treat ya’ll n*ggas like ya’ll treat us, no doubt / Ay yo, yo, yo, come here so I can bust in ya mouth” — was a temporary fix. But then an Esquire interview with Ilana Glazer helped assuage my feminist guilt. Regarding her former status as a Nicki Minaj super-fan, she said:
I listened to her mixtapes over and over, I knew all her f*cking raps. Because it felt good to, like, bark cocky sh*t. It stuck in my brain. You know when you smile, your brain feels you smiling and starts emitting happiness, you know, serotonin? Kind of that. I feel like I spit her sh*t that was pumping in my ears for so long that I was able to feel that confident.