Arts·INT'L WOMEN'S DAY

This all-female rap group is promoting solidarity through hip-hop

"We're powerful, we're resilient, we're beautiful and we're all queens." Toronto's The Sorority bring the spirit of womanhood to life with their music.

Toronto's The Sorority bring the spirit of womanhood to life with their music

Behind the scenes of The Sorority Video Shoot for International Women's Day to raise funds for Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. (Alicia Wynter @awynterphotos)

International Women's Day is an opportunity to widen the discussion on how women, female-identifying persons and male allies can contribute to fighting the things that hold us back. It's also a chance for us recognize women's achievements and acknowledge what we all continue to face on a global scale: Misogyny. Inequality. Lack of opportunities. Sexism. Patriarchy. And the list goes on.

But, in order to do that, we must first acknowledge the need for solidarity amongst women. After all, that is what International Women's Day is all about, right?

Except...what does that realistically look like for all women? In a world where we range so drastically by social class, nationality, race/ethnicity, age, sexuality and faith, it can sometimes be tough to identify what it is that unites us.

As a woman hailing from one of the most diverse cities in the world, it can be especially tough finding commonalities between myself and people who do not look like me, share similar interests with me or come from a geographical background similar to mine.

Behind the scenes of The Sorority Video Shoot for International Women's Day to raise funds for Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. (Alicia Wynter)

And as a black woman whose sense of identity is largely influenced by hip-hop culture, it can be especially tough pinpointing female solidarity amongst all women.

But this band of female rappers manage to do it.

The Sorority, an all-female Canadian rap group, bring the spirit of womanhood to life with their music. In a music video called "Ladies Night" (an homage to the 1997 song originally featuring Angie Martinez, Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott, Left Eye and Da Brat), Toronto solo rappers Haviah Mighty, pHoenix Pagliacci, Lex Leosis and Keysha Freshh manage to not only to revive the spirit of hip-hop but also bring back femininity and solidarity amongst women in a historically male-dominated arena.

[It's about] putting aside our differences and realizing that we have one thing in common. We look at it as our strength, being a woman.-pHoenix  Pagliacci

"[The video] represents unity and a sense of togetherness, which is something we as a sorority want to represent with women," says Haviah Mighty. "It's paying homage to the greats who, before us, paved that way."

With retro 1990s flare, vibrant colours, a jungle gym and a whole lot of women, the video celebrates the beauty in femininity while having fun.

"[It's about] putting aside our differences and realizing that we have one thing in common. We look at it as our strength, being a woman," says pHoenix Pagliacci.

Behind the scenes of The Sorority Video Shoot for International Women's Day to raise funds for Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. (Alicia Wynter)

The video touches on the need for oneness amongst women and celebrates women of all shapes, backgrounds and colours. It also drops on the anniversary of their first all-female cypher originally airing on Team Backpack, an online hip-hop music platform, which received such positive praise online that the artists decided to come together again.

Unlike their original cypher, however, Ladies Night intentionally puts women at the forefront both in front and behind the camera. The production crew, makeup artists, security guards and even venue staff were all female-identifying persons.

"When people watch this video, I want them to see that women can do anything. We're powerful, we're resilient, we're beautiful and we're all queens," says director Ashley Iris Gill.

Behind the scenes of The Sorority Video Shoot for International Women's Day to raise funds for Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. (Alicia Wynter)

"A lot of the times, we don't have women-only spaces," adds rapper Lex Leosis. "That makes us act and feel differently because we can't openly express ourselves. It was about being comfortable around [other] women."

Prior to this, we thought we might've seen the end of sisterhood in hip-hop. Since the mid-2000s, female emceeing in the hip-hop world has largely rested on the shoulders of a single rapper whose longstanding one-woman act claimed a monopoly on the game.

The Sorority have rejuvenated a spirit that we haven't seen since the '90s — a peak time for women in hip-hop when solo artists like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill and Left Eye often collaborated and diversified what women in hip-hop could look and sound like.

We don't want to be a gimmick. We have an undeniable message that you can't run from.- Haviah  Mighty

What also makes Ladies Night so remarkable is its call for unity at a time when female rappers are not acknowledged outside of an underground subculture, are not credited for their contributions to hip-hop or are criticized for publicly feuding.

"Us doing this is to combat things like that. Us coming together is to shed a different light," Keysha Freshh explains.

"We don't want to be a gimmick. We have an undeniable message that you can't run from," says Haviah.

The very existence of Ladies Night is a microcosmic representation of what female rappers inevitably have to be in the industry: groundbreaking and dynamic. In Canada, where the music industry is a lot smaller than the U.S. and has largely remained the same for years, it's especially tough for upcoming artists. For female rappers in the city, opportunities can be far and few between as venues continue to shut down and remaining venues are reluctant to do hip-hop shows.

Nevertheless, it's what makes contributions from hip-hop pioneers like Michie Mee and Eternia (who also appear in the video) so vital for Canadian women in hip-hop.

"Just knowing that the female queens of Canadian hip-hop support us speaks to the fact that we can unify. We can come together. The fact that the premiere generation is now passing the torch is keeping that culture alive," says pHoenix.

This is part of a series of personal essays celebrating women in the arts that CBC Arts is publishing in the lead-up to International Women's Day on March 8.

About the Author

Lindsey Addawoo is a Toronto-based writer and emerging filmmaker with a passion for all things TV, pop culture, and Beyoncé. In the past, she has contributed to various online publications such as VICE, ByBlacks.com, Global News, and ScreenCraft.

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