There are far too few honest discussions about women in hip-hop. And even fewer are those which come from a multigenerational perspective. “My Art, My Culture,” the first installment in a new Betti Ono Gallery series called “Women, Media & Hip Hop,” was such a discussion. The event, a collaboration between the Daughters of Dilla Project, 70×30, and Beats, Rhymes & Life, featured interactive art exhibits and arts workshops aimed at kids and teens, live performances from up-and-coming femcees Young Niyah and Queen’s Delight, three panel discussions, and woman-centric art exhibits by Jessica Sabogal and the Daughters of Dilla. Best of all, part of the proceeds benefitted creative workshops for a new program entitled Developing Intelligent Girls.

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Sabogal’s art, which served as background for the panels and live performances, followed very much in the footsteps of the political poster art of the Taller Tupac Amaru collective. Sabogal comes from a graffiti art background, and her canvasses employed the aerosol medium. Social or political commentary addressing themes like identity/body identity, survival, and activism informed nearly every piece, from the propagandistic slogan “Women: Better Than Perfect” to descriptive titles like “mother,” creator,” “survivor,” “thick,” “bigger,” and “brown.” One of the most interesting pieces was a thermograph-like rendering of a pregnant woman; other works paid homage to the role of women in the Arab Spring uprisings in Libya and Egypt.

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The best part of “My Art, My Culture” was the panel discussions, which addressed the role of women in hip-hop from a female perspective, as well as a co-ed panel which deconstructed gender, and another panel which addressed media representation across the commercial and independent spectrums.

A lot of time was spent discussing attitudes around sexism and misogyny, including use of the B-word and the role of the mainstream media and the music industry in promoting ignorant stereotypes. Dawn-Elissa Fisher, who teaches a hip-hop class at SF State, noted the connection between misogynistic lyrics and rape, molestation, and body-image issues. One brave male panelist admitted he didn’t play his some of his more vulgar compositions around his mother; when pressed to elaborate why, he revealed that the context in which he used the word was also a self-deprecating one.

Ryan Nicole of Oakland hip-hop duo Nu Dekades had a confessional moment, admitting, “there are rachet days.” She went on to explain that she gravitates toward “rachet” music when “I’m not in a space where I can intellectualize my struggle, I just want the release.”

Another interesting comment came from Do D.A.T., who indicated a “need to create a dialogue about where we’re coming from… what our experience has been so far.” It occurred to me that the dialogue he was speaking of was taking place right then and there — which raises hopes for the emerging generation of hip-hop artists and a future where both genders can hold cultural space equally.

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Rooz café – the low-key java and sandwich joint on Park Ave. which is also a prime hangout spot for the local indie-alternative artist crowd – has a new mural. Painted by Marlon Sagana Ingram, the mural depicts an owl stretching out its wings to cover the building’s doorhang, plus a new façade. According to Ingram, the mural was inspired by an early Rush album, Fly By Night, which recounts the story of By-Tor, a princely owl and denizen of Hades who battles the Snow Dog for dominion of the Overworld. In addition to the owl, Ingram used scaffolding to paint Oakland’s iconic “dinosaur” shipping cranes above the doorway. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, swing by and check it out.

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Oakland was in the house at the recently-concluded SXSW, a Texas-based music festival which has expanded to include tech, film, and other contemporary aspects of culture. Perhaps the biggest local splash was made by the Coup, who played several showcases, topped off by a two-night appearance on the Carson Daly show. Daly described the group as a “revolutionary hip-hop collective,”  in announcing what may be remembered as their breakthrough performance after 20 years of making music.

Kev Choice, who played keyboards for the Coup during SXSW,described the festival as “sensory overload.” In his blog, Choice noted that the band played six shows in four days — not counting a Martin Luther performance he played keyboard bass on.

Via email, Choice provided an in-depth report-back: “This year’s SXSW was a crazy four days of jam packed line-ups, live music and party seekers, and corporate showcases. In one day I did four shows and [some] bands and musicians [were] talking about doing 6-8 shows in [a] matter of days…

“As a keyboardist for The Coup, I got to perform at a wide variety of events, from a taping of “Late Night with Carson Daly,” [to] a Vans-sponsored showcase, to an “Occupy SXSW” show on a corner of a downtown Austin street with a mobile sound system. I also got to see some incredible shows from Usher joining rock band Afghan Wigs for a surprise ‘mash-up’ set, to T.I. and Future rocking the Fader Fort, to Australian Jazz/Soul group Hiatus Kaiyote, to hip-hop up and comer Joey BadA$$.

‘With so much going on at once at SXSW, as many good shows you see, you’re also going to miss some,” Choice said.  “It’s just too much going on at once, all over the place!”

Choice also reported that “A lot of Bay Area fam was rocking down there too, like Souls Of Mischief, IAMSU! and his HBK crew, J Stalin, The Park, some of the Bayonics crew, Martin Luther, Los Rakas, and more.”

The focus of SXSW has shifted somewhat, Choice says, from independent artists to corporate-backed showcases, and there’s also an influx of party-minded “spring breakers.” Even so, he concluded, “it’s still beneficial to go and experience, as a band, artist, or a music lover.”

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Choice made it back to Oakland in time to play acoustic piano at the East Side Arts Alliance’s fund-raiser for Chioke Lumumba, who’s running for mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to Choice—who again displayed his versatility by rapping and playing piano at the same time, not to mention treating the audience to a nice blues progression with classical flourishes—there were some eye-opening music and poetry performances by Antique and The Clique – the latter being a poetry/rap collective comprised of Dom Jones, Cabral, Tiara, and Jazz Hudson.

We’re just about out of space for this week’s Oakulture, so let me leave you with a couplet from Cabral, which connected in my mind to the level of thinking around the My Art, My Culture event: “what is a gun trigger when given to kings and queens/ do we become ni**ers the minute we cease to dream?”

If so, dream on, Oakland.

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This week’s picks:
Youth Uprising presents “Miss Representation,” 3/26, 6pm, $10-$20, New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St.

Food Justice Film Salon Series: Migrant Justice is Food Justice
, 3/27, 6pm-9pm, $2-$20, Solespace, 1714 Telegraph Ave.

Womanopoly’s Recovery Relief Benefit Show, 3/28, 8pm, $5-$10, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

Fever Rising f/ Goddess Alchemy, Lila Rose, & Kings of Spade, 3/29, 9pm-2am, $10-$20, Uptown Nightclub, 1928 Telegraph Ave.

Got tips? eric@oaklandlocal.com

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