10 badass women who changed music forever #soundcheck #girrrlriot

June 21, 2013

You may have heard about the GIRRRL RIOT show we’re putting on at the Knitting Factory June 24th. Natural hair maven Taren Guy, singer / songwriter Alice Smith and a super secret special guest (hint: she’s not on this mix, but probably should be.) will be hosting a night of conversations about identity, hair politics, and black women spaces. (RSVP here) To get psyched, we’ve made a mix of 10 badass women whose impact on music transcends time and genre. Check it out, and let us know who’s on your mix.

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

Nina Simone – Four Women

In “Four Women,” the great Nina Simone deconstructs four stereotypes of African American women. Aunt Sarah, Safronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches. A thread of rage builds beneath the haunting sadness of the song erupting in the famous scream “My name is Peaches.” Nina Simone offers no way forward. No solutions. But gives voice to a frustration of feeling forced to choose between one of four broad stereotypes. She identifies with all of them. She identifies with none of them. And she refuses to be bound by stereotype.

Donna Summer – Love to Love You Baby

Though Donna Summer later became a born-again Christian and disavowed many of her early singles, the bold sexuality of songs like “Love to Love You Baby” was unheard of on the radio at the time. Donna Summer’s recorded orgasm was an early declaration of pro-sex feminism. Betty Dodson with a beat. It wasn’t just sexy. It was revolutionary.

Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)

If there was any one album that defined the late 90’s it’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. For 3 glorious years it was everywhere. It was inescapable. And why would you want to escape it? Miseducation is one of those rare hit records that holds up decades later; basically perfect, a masterpiece of neo-soul. Written largely while pregnant with her first child, the record is a frank depiction of motherhood in the 20th century, finding Lauryn contemplating the world she’s bringing her child into and the world she wanted to create.

Tina Turner – Show Some Respect

Tina Turner earned her place in rock history as the first woman on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1967. But her unparalleled voice, bursting simultaneously with triumph and pain, made her a legend. Her classic 1984 album Private Dancer contained some of her best loved singles. On “Show Some Respect” Tina dispenses with notions of fairy-tale romance. Real love is hard work, and requires equal respect. And if there’s anyone who deserves your respect it’s Tina.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Down By the Riverside

Before rock n roll was a thing, there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. A gospel singer and early adopter of the electric guitar (most famously her white Gibson SG), Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s virtuosic guitar licks were a major influence on folks like Chuck Berry, and Elvis, while Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and even Johnny Cash all identified her as their favorite singer when they were growing up. So imagine rock without all of those people, and turn up some Sister Rosetta Tharpe in gratitude for not having to live in that possible universe.

Erykah Badu – Window Seat

Alongside Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu made the world safe for neo-soul in the late 90’s. On her 2010 single “Window Seat,” Erykah Badu makes a statement against groupthink and conformity. “They play it safe, are quick to assassinate what they do not understand,” she says in the haunting spoken word bit at the end “They are us. This is what we have become. Afraid to respect the individual.”

Grace Jones – Love Is the Drug

There’s a reason people are excited at the prospect of a new Grace Jones record in 2013. Since her first singles in 1974, every Grace Jones recording has been an event. Perpetually reinventing herself, Grace Jones’ unique contralto and androgynous look have made her an icon. Her take on the Roxy Music classic “Love Is the Drug” transforms and transcends the original into an electro classic.

MIA – Pull Up the People

Though MIA didn’t see much commercial success until “Paper Planes” from her 2nd record became an inescapable hit, her first record Arular still contains some of her best tracks. “Pull Up the People” is the rare dance track that addresses poverty and class inequality. It doesn’t get much more incindiary than this. Hell, the single artwork is 3 molotov cocktails. Boom.

Kimya Dawson – The Competition

Insecurity has always been at the heart of Kimya Dawson’s music. Ironically fearlessly singing about crippling fear and anxiety, Kimya Dawson’s music is empowering not because she does the Lady Gaga “you are all special” thing, but because she lets people know that feeling insecure and anxious is normal. “And on the days I stayed in bed / I sang and sang and sang / about how crappy I felt / not realizing how many other people would relate.”

X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage! Up Yours!

Opening with the proto riot grrrl slogan, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think: Oh bondage Up Yours!” X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” helped kick off the feminist punk movement. Singer Poly Styrene famously refused to be viewed as a sex symbol declaring “I said that I wasn’t a sex symbol and that if anybody tried to make me one I’d shave my head tomorrow.” Then she did just that.