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6 Women in Bay Area Hip-Hop Get Honors From Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao

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Pam the Funkstress performs at Hiero Day 2017. (Gabe Meline)

Thanks to Pam the Funkstress, The Conscious Daughters, Traci Bartlow, Mystic and Black, the Bay Area has a rich legacy of homegrown female rappers, DJs, photographers and dancers.

This Sunday, Sept. 10, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao will present these influential artists with official honors at the day party Naturally Dope at Oeste. (The Oakland mayor is on a hip-hop roll, by the way, and took the stage to honor Common and other artists at Hiero Day earlier this month.)

The Conscious Daughters, composed of CMG and the late Special One, were ahead of their time with lyrics that championed gender equality on their 1993 album Ear to the Street, which later earned them props from Nas. Almost ten years later, Digital Underground member Mystic came out with her debut solo album Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom, which led to a BET Awards nomination for best female hip-hop artist, a recognition of her artistry and deep reflections on joy and trauma.

Bartlow, meanwhile, grew up on funk and hip-hop in Oakland, became a principal dancer at multiple New York dance companies and returned to the Bay to work with the likes of The Coup and San Francisco theater company Cultural Odyssey.

In the ’90s, Black carved out space for herself and other queer DJs of color among the largely white LGBTQ+ nightlife scene. Last year, she served as Community Grand Marshal at Pride in San Francisco, the city where she met Pam the Funkstress as an aspiring, 20-something DJ almost three decades ago. The late Pam, who made her mark in DJ battles and with Boots Riley in The Coup, told her that with practice, Black had a place in San Francisco’s scene, a prophecy that continues to ring true.

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These women’s artistic prowess, camaraderie and triumphs over sexist double standards have paved the way for a more inclusive hip-hop scene. Mystic is still coming out with tracks about self-affirmation and love, which feature heavily in her 2022 album Dreaming in Cursive: The Girl Who Loved Sparklers. Black is a regular fixture at Oakland raves, art exhibitions and boozy brunches. The Conscious Daughters’ CMG still rocks stages, and Bartlow now hosts artists and tourists at her Oakland guest house and art gallery that safeguards hip-hop histories.

Naturally Dope: Celebrating 50 Years of Women Rooted in Hip-Hop takes place Sept. 10 at 12 p.m. at 722 Clay St. in Oakland.

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