Creating the BET We Wanna See: Network’s Original Doc Looks at Women in Hip Hop
CLUTCH was at a private screening at the Paramount Pictures viewing room in New York City’s Times Square for BET’s first original music documentary “My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women and Hip Hop.” The film takes a chronological look at women in hip hop and ultimately questions why over the past 10 years the culture has witnessed a near exodus of female emcees.
“It takes a strong woman to be a female in hip hop,” declares Roxanne Shante, a living hip hop legend who proceeded glam squads and six inch Giuseppes. The 40 year-old game changer is featured alongside MC Lyte, Nicki D, Salt-n-Pepa, Missy Elliot, Eve, Jean Grae, Trina among other female emcees in a film that tonight’s attendees are hoping will inspire a new generation of female rappers. Moreover the film is a bold and shocking step for a network many of us gave up on a long time ago. “My Mic Sounds Nice” is reminiscent of the pre-Viacom BET that once empowered and enriched on the regular. Who would have ever thought Debra Lee and Stephen Hill would green light a comprehensive narrative on the dearth of the hip hop female that implicates everyone from label heads to the very network itself.
The film is directed and produced by Ava DuVernay, an independent filmmaker who made her film debut in 2008 with the award-winning Showtime hip hop documentary “This is the Life.” DuVernay in partnership with BET captured 47 hours of footage, narrowing it down to 41 minutes in the final cut that will air August 30 on BET.
“My Mic Sounds Nice” takes viewers to school, dropping knowledge on early female rappers like The Sequence, Lady B, Funky Four Plus One–that one being Sha Rock whose obscured stories are at last given a main stage.
Following a trajectory leading up to female hip hop’s “golden years” 1996-1998, to the unofficial farewell to the estrogenic lyricism of urban America’s music that made the mic sound nice.
DuVernay and BET gives special attention to Lauryn Hill, who DuVernay said the film’s participants unanimously agreed represented one of the most critical turning points in female hip hop, and American music as a whole. Although Hill didn’t participate in the project, the film devoted significant time to her reign. Fellow rappers like Missy Elliott, Eve, Rah Digga and Diamond cited her as an influence while oddly many of the doc’s participants spoke of the artist in the past tense as if she were dead. But Hill’s retreat from the entertainment industry was indeed a death– the doc identifies Hill’s departure as a major causal factor for the lack of female talent we see in the cultural form today. Roots drummer and music critic Questlove says nearly moved to tears, “With Lauryn being gone it’s really quiet around here.”
The narrative moves on to Missy Elliott arguably catapulting her influence on the level of Hill. Although two distinctive artists, DuVernay examines Elliott’s unorthodox style and her rapper, songwriter and producer tripe-threat edge that virtually no other female emcee brings. Elliott, the best selling female rapper of all time was seemingly humbled by the recognition who also set the record straight that female rappers are not dinosaurs. “I tell people all the time, we are not dinosaurs! We aren’t going anywhere!”
This became the film’s next transition and conclusion–what is the fate of the female hip hop artist. Enter commentary on Nicki Minaj and the surprising 12 year run of Trina whose sex sells strategy has become the new and lasting formula for the bankable girl rapper.
The film’s screening followed a panel discussion moderated by Michaela angela Davis, a special creative consultant to the project. Panelists included DuVernay, rapper YoYo, industry maverick Sylvia Rhone, journalists Amy Andrieux and Smokey Fontaine along with BET’s President of Music Programming and Specials Stephen Hill. Davis stirred a lively discussion followed by a quick question and answer portion. Audience members gushed about how visually stunning the film’s aesthetic turned out to be, while some others questioned the project’s partial industry perspective–darkening the slew of contemporary underground rappers who media insiders roll called in the film’s last five minutes.
“My Mic Sounds Nice” may not present any new or groundbreaking content to real hip hop heads. The welcomed shocker is that is was even done at all. BET’s first original music documentary extends beyond the story of female hip hop and into a likely new look for Black America’s first and only music channel. Stephen Hill announced the network’s partnership with DJ Beverly Bond’s Black Girls Rock organization and will televise the organization’s annual “Black Girls Rock Awards” live in October. We can easily spend 47 hours plus on what BET doesn’t do for the Black community. Tonight shows us that we have the power to create the BET we wanna see. The network is very much ours as it is Viacom’s.
BET will make the doc’s original version available online soon. Stay tuned to BET.com for updates.
What do you think about this film? Do you plan to watch? Do you think BET will produce more specials like this?