Hip-hop advocates and appreciators are preparing to watch VH1’s Hip Hop Honors, a celebration of women in rhyme, on Monday, July 11 at 9 PM EST. After 12 years, the first ladies of hip hop will be recognized again through this special. And as celebrants of the culture wait for this moment, I recall how a woman whose mastery of the craft and journey to her joy remains inspirational.
The lyrical and loving, pretty but gritty, rapper turned actress and entrepreneur Eve always led by example. As a girl from north Florida, it’s not that her Philly life paralleled mine. Instead Eve’s confident storytelling boosted me to occasionally string words together on paper and in my head. Above all, Eve reminded me to be experimental, confident and creative.
“Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure … it just means you haven’t succeeded yet,” Eve tweeted recently. This optimism matched the tenor of her mid-April interview with the Breakfast Club in which discussed everything from her role in Barbershop 3 to married life with Maximillion Cooper to the realities of navigating life in America and abroad as a black woman. She also gave the sage advice that people are allowed to be proud of and transcend where they come from. See this. This mindset also shined through her xoNecole interview in which she said, “I think a lot of times we forget that a person falls in love with you for you, and that most times that’s when you’re your genuine self. And as I got older I was like, I come like this. This is who I am, but I also don’t have the energy to hide it anymore.”
One could easily paint Eve’s narrative as a fairy tale that started when her mainstream presence increased or when she became a wealthy man’s wife, step-mom to his kids and established a luxurious life in London. But Eve has been hustling her talents for a long time, teaching listeners that complexity does not mean contradiction and growth should be inevitable.
The Ruff Ryders’ First Lady album dropped in 1999. At that time, I was squarely in elementary school and under parental limitations, the kind that monitored and limited my brother’s and my TV time, rendered CDs with explicit stickers forbidden, implemented phone curfews and would later set the dating age at 16. And despite all of those rules, I found ways to get my ears attached to E-V-E.
Of course, part of Eve’s allure was the seeming no-no nature of her moves. Being the only woman in the Ruff Ryders crew, the blonde haired bandit had a yo-yo flow that often bested the boys, and expressed comfort with and showcased her femininity. She came up battling rappers in ciphers. She flipped the gender politics that cultivated a generation of girls — many who wanted to be trophy-types as urban models instead of mic-thumping oral historians like her.
And as we know, history is not always happy. As an adult I understand the censures my parents had with regards to music when I was little. They would have had interesting discussions with me about “Scenario 2000,” in which Eve refuses to water down her verse. She is as rugged as the boys, and so potent she elicits a call and response –while she is mid-flow—from Jadakiss. Eve neither acknowledges the encouragement nor allows it to lull her into spitting weaker.
Every song, however, didn’t skew gangster. In “Gotta Man,” Eve showed a competitive spirit and healing hands, the convenient coyness women can save for romantic interests, the possessiveness love can inspire and how fly women (now called baddies) with options can pick one special man.
She spat, “Can’t compare, could’ve been left, but when it’s mine I never share, fight to the death If need to be prove that, wounds from your war, other chicks couldn’t soothe that.”
Part of Eve’s allure is visual. She is beautiful like the video models, but commands respect from the depth of her thoughts and her comfort with herself. When her voice began molding parts of my mind, I was awkward and bookish, the friend who facilitated romantic connections and not usually the one sought.
I was obsessed with women who had it, however they so-deemed, together. Eve accepted contrasting parts of her identity and encapsulated them in bars. She wore low cut, feisty outfits that showcased a modest bust jazzed up by paw prints. Eve was unafraid to be tough and talk about love. She was blonde, she was fire red. She was a chameleon who established where she wanted to blend.
Eve did not adhere to conventions that required female rappers to look more masculine to be deemed thoroughly lyrical. She could swing a pointed, manicured finger as aggressively as anyone else. She did not sacrifice her sex appeal to teach sisterhood and feminism. Actually, she let her songs in the early 2000s do what TED Talks do now.
In “Love is Blind,” Eve is the sage home-girl who supports her sister friend through an abusive relationship. Eve asks her girl how a man who actually loved the friend could blacken her eye, make her cry and make her wish she would die before slinging shiny things as temporary peace offerings.
In the video, Eve sought retribution in a message that was not to be taken as a literal call to arms for displeased home-girls. It was a reminder that love should not be unilateral and an endless source of pain. It was a reminder that girls do not always scrap with each other over dudes or sit on the sidelines hating when one becomes coupled. Sometimes, a home-girl is just spot-on about a dude and will love you through and past him. See this clip from Queen Latifah’s show featuring Eve and the best friend, Andrea, whose life fueled “Love is Blind.”
“Let Me Blow Ya Mind” Eve gave audiences genre convergence with No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani. Eve spells out a blueprint of designing fashion, building wealth, remaining culturally relevant and consistent with hip-hop showiness – looking good, and well-fed, while doing it. She was “still stallion, brick house, pile it on.”
As time passed, Eve lessened her stronghold on the rough rhymes and had girlish fun. She boasted on “Who’s That Girl” with a sound that foreshadowed the decidedly hair-flip tip of “Wanna Be” with Missy Elliott and Nacho. Who could forget cross over Eve in “Tambourine,” encouraging ladies to wave their hands in the air from “the hood to Dubai?”
Eve showed that womanhood is a journey and not a destination. When I listen to old music, I hear something new every time. In the beginning, Eve presented harsher because femcees could not afford to have respect for them and their craft compromised.
Even so, people do not stay in the same place forever. After demonstrating her staying power and diversifying her resume, Eve still rings of individual freedom. It’s empowering to see her gush in interviews about her experiences, how she still works but does not have to, and how she lives a comfortable life. Somehow I hope the former pitbull in a skirt knows I am one woman of many still grateful for her growl.