Long Live King Bey: Interpreting Hip Hop Female Kingship Through An African History

…any future and continuing African liberationist theory and activism begins with the effort to recover, herstorically and culturally, the complementary relationship of the woman and the man as the basis for self determination.

–Nah Dove

In recent years, with the surge in popularity of social media networks and the use of hashtags, circa 2006 with the creation of Twitter, the notion of a king has taken on new meaning in American popular culture.  King is now frequently used as a term referring to women.  While many people are often confused by the use of this term when it is applied to women, the confusion can be demystified or rebutted when one examines this popular culture phenomenon through an Afrocentric theoretical framework or perspective.

American Popular culture is now highly influenced or dominated by Hip Hop culture.  As Hip Hop artists have dominated and cultivated economic prowess in many ways –musically and otherwise- the term king is used often to denote success, however the term is no longer used to solely refer to males figures in Hip Hop culture, the term is now also used to refer to females in Hip Hop and contemporary R&B that is associated with Hip Hop culture.  This analysis is not suggesting that Ancient female kings in Africa are of any relation to female kings in Hip Hop culture but rather this analysis situates the trope of the female king in hip hop culture as an inherently African as opposed to a foreign or confusing concept, by illuminating the presence of female kings in Ancient Africa and the solidifying the contemporary use of the term in pop culture is nothing short of a mere replica of such culture while reflecting the importance of history and inherent qualities amongst African people that are imprinted into our memory.

Afrocentric theory can be used to examine the American popular culture phenomena of the female king as such exists in Hip Hop culture because place and location are determining factors in one’s identity (female king is indeed an identity) and Afrocentricity emphasizes on place and location as a theoretical framework. In The Afrocentric Paradigm Dr. Ama Mazama describes the conceptual apparatus relied upon by Africologists where she writes:

It is fundamentally based on the belief that one’s history, culture, and biology determine one’s identity.  That identity, in turn, determines our place in life, both material and spiritual” (25)

 

; this quote legitimizes the use of Afrocentric theory within such an inquiry.  Many people have criticized and examined the phenomena of the female king in Hip Hop culture through a Eurocentric gaze which negates or fails to recognize the significance, primacy, difference and importance of female kings in Ancient Africa in relation to African American cultural productions and identities.

The term king as a title bestowed upon females in or associated with Hip Hop culture gained popularity, or became a trending topic/ hashtag (in the jargon of social media) in the year 2013.  An article entitled “Why is Beyoncé calling herself King B?  was published on the Buzzfeed website in March 2013.  In this article the author discusses the reasons why Beyoncé began calling herself “King B”, the implications there in, and the reaction of fans and fellow musicians who also called the R&B star “King”. This article featured an abundance of Twitter comments from fans and celebrities alike who have used the hashtag, “King B” to refer to Beyoncé.  The author of the article provides the following as rationale for Beyoncé’s title of king:

She’s toyed with gender roles before (see: “If I Were A Boy,” “Diva”), but elevating herself to the level of “King” seems like Bey making a clear statement about notions of gender and power. Which is curious, though, considering her upcoming tour is called “The Mrs. Carter Show.

 

at this juncture it becomes evident, that many believe that Beyoncé’s title of king is predicated upon gender.  While this idea is not problematic for some people quoted in the Buzzfeed article, the title of king is clearly a phenomenon amongst those who engage with popular culture given the popularity of the topic and hashtag respectively on social media platforms. At present the hashtag “KingB” when searched on Instagram populates 97,147 posts and the hashtag search “Kingbey” gernerates 155,200 posts on the same social media platform respectfully; while every post included in the aforementioned totals are not all mentions of Beyoncé, a great majority of them are; such numbers demonstrate the use and infatuation or phenomena of the female king concept in popular culture.  While the notion of female kings in pop culture via Hip Hop (and R&B) is popular, this idea has also been viewed as problematic or eccentric because it disrupts American gender norms. This problematic phenomenon is made evident in many other articles including a text entitled “Should We Call Ourselves “King”?” featured on the Vibe magazine website where the author writes:

 

When did we start calling ourselves king?

As a child, I referred to myself as a Princess, and I looked to my mother as my Queen. My father was King, the head of our household, the ruler. That’s just the way it was, and I was content with that. Over the years, gender roles have changed, and it seems women aren’t feeling the title “Queen” anymore. As women, we can do it all, but does that make us kings?

A couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of chatter on the blogs regarding Beyoncé’s latest single “Best I Never Had”. The artwork released with the single featured Beyoncé looking into a mirror with the words “King B” written in lipstick in her reflection. King B?

Beyonce isn’t the first to start calling herself king. Think back to Nicki Minaj’s video for “Moment for Life” where, in the beginning of the video, it reads, “Once upon a time, there lived a King named Nicki.” Oh, and recall the lyrics in which she raps, “In this very moment I’m king…” King Nicki?

And before Nicki, there was King Va$htie, a woman who has directed, consulted and designed for hip-hop artists for years. When Beyoncé’s cover art was revealed she tweeted, “It’s so entertaining that broads are referring to themselves as “KING…” now. it’s cute.”

 

This quote not only brings other women into the discussion of contemporary female kings and the phenomena therein, it also makes it evident that one of the core issues people take with the notion of a female bestowing the title of king upon herself or another female is primarily related to the obstruction or dismantling of gender roles and norms; clearly many people’s lives are run by Eurocentric ideas of a woman but what if history could show them something else?

In American society the idea of a female being king contradicts established notions of gender, however, if one examines this phenomena of a female king through an Afrocentric framework the idea of women in powerful gender roles is made less problematic as it is given historical context for the existence of such figures (i.e. Hatshepsut, etc.).

African culture promotes the idea of complimentary male-female relationships.  Such a complimentary relationship also allows for a solid ground for African females to consider themselves kings, thus asserting agency.  Therefore, the notion of the female king as represented in American popular culture through Hip Hop is scientifically, historically, and politically justified when examined through an Afrocentric theoretical perspective.  Acknowledgement of female kings in Africa, an examination of the fluidity of gender in Africa, and the importance of balance created through complimentary male female relationships has the power to ameliorate the problems and confusion concerning the concept of the female kings, thus creating a sense of m’aat through harmony.

 

 

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