2- Feminist Performance, Aesthetic Expectation and Fandom in Battle Rap - Sean Robertson-Palmer, York University

10:30 AM, Saturday 25 May 2019 (2 hours)
Lunch   12:30 PM to 01:30 PM (1 hour)

Female emcees such as Miche Mee and Roxanne Shante played pivotal roles in the emergence of battle rap, a competitive format of emceeing designed to lyrically outperform one’s opponent. However, in contemporary professional battle rap leagues such as the Toronto-based King of the Dot, female emcees remain vastly underrepresented. Furthermore, when women have performed on the biggest stages in battle rap, they have had to negotiate a plethora of challenges regarding the cultural assumptions that fans have about the role of women in hip hop culture, their physical appearance and the form and content of their performances.

Building off of Judith Butler’s theory of ‘acts' that explains the performance of gender as “the mundane way in which social agents constitute social reality through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign” (Butler 1988), this paper positions battle rap fans as the architects of a social reality that creates aesthetic assumptions about female performance within battle rap events. By surveying fan discourse in King of Dot’s official Facebook discussion group “Talkback” I will analyze how battle rap fandom creates a framework of expectation for how a female battle rapper should look and perform. I will then analyze specific battles involving female emcees to highlight the ways in which they perform “gender insubordination” (Butler 1996) by subverting the fans’ aesthetic expectations, thus undermining the sexual politics and gendered narratives that battle rap fandom attempts to impose.
York University
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