The hip-hop cultural movement has taken hold of youth communities around the world. DJs, taggers/graffiti artists, rappers/MCs, and breakers/dancers exist in every corner of the globe; Dakar, Senegal is no different. Hip-hop has historically privileged male bodies, but female artists in Dakar “grab the mic” to unapologetically express themselves and disrupt the systemic silencing of their voices. I argue that Senegalese female hip-hop artists navigate and claim gendered spaces by carving out creative spaces of their own and grabbing the mic. Gëm sa bop, a Wolof phrase meaning “believe in yourself,” grounds the ethics — how an actor practices being good, broadly defined — that drive the actions of the individual artists with whom I spoke. Gëm sa bop has roots in historical Senegalese cultural values but also supports the outspoken, liberated values of hip-hop music and culture. In exploring how female hip-hop artists acted out the ethics of gëm sa bop by claiming space and grabbing the mic, I follow my informants across the spaces I observed them inhabiting: homes, hip-hop production spaces (the label/recording studio), other kinds of everyday hip-hop spaces, and concert stages. I identify key cultural values that women learned within their homes, characterizing the domestic sphere as a site of both identity construction and contestation. I follow my informants to the recording studio, examining female artists’ ethical relationships with Senegalese cultural values and hip-hop values as they navigated male-dominated spaces of hip-hop production. I analyze two major performative actions women used to linguistically claim space within the hip-hop community: ego trip and speaking up. Finally, I analyze women’s onstage performances as exemplifications of grabbing the mic, claiming space, and thus expressing their ethics. Ultimately, in this ethnographic analysis, I argue that Senegalese women have made critical creative contributions to global hip-hop culture via the platform that hip-hop has provided for their voices.


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