Feminism in Folk Music feat. Lauryn Hill

By: Demi Browder

What is Folk Music?

Folk is a genre of music much described as soulful, strong, imitated, and rhythmic. Folk derives from the early 1600s sang mostly by African descent people who were enslaved. Slaves brought over the banjo, bones, and the djembe drums used to create folk music. Through folk music slaves used their artistry to communicate with each other, express emotion, and share stories while working on the field. Folk music has been the basis of a lot of music genres today including jazz, blues, work songs, and even hip-hop. Although folk music was derived from African descent people it was also stolen and culture appropriated by the white man. Folk music was a way for slaves to express themselves and communicate emotions through the trials and tribulations they heavily endured. Today a lot of music is stemmed from that pain and has been used to share the problems in America the black community still encounters, specifically the stereotypes presented onto Black America, including the education, violence, socioeconomic status, and the of roles black men, and women.

What is Feminism?

You may be asking what Feminism has to do with music let alone folk music? Well feminism has a lot to do with it. Women, specifically black women are one the most degraded groups of people. They are stereotyped, over-looked, and expected to carry the world on their shoulders without breaking a sweat. The feminist movement first made its appearance in 1848 at the Seneca Falls convention to discuss the equality of women. Since, then the feminist movement has evolved politically, socially, and sexually. Music has been an outlet for women to express their devalue and discredit as a female in America. Specifically, black women have used their feminism to not only establish change for themselves, but as well as the black community. These changes included minimizing black on black crime, changing the stereotypes of black men, and promoting change for the education of black children. The feminism established in music created a safe space for more stories and emotions to be expressed in the woman’s point of view. Whether that was through the tone in her voice, the intricacy of the music, or the speed at which she played an instrument.

Lauryn Hill’s Impact Through Folk Music

Lauryn Hill is one of the most recognized artists in the hip-hop scene. She raps about her life’s pain and pleasure, fragility and humanity. She built her career on being the opposite of what the world expected her to be. Hill rapped about life lessons that lead to personal and collective empowerment like decolonization, self- education, self-love, self-determination, and spiritual salvation. Her album, “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is based on educator Carter G. Woodson and his work, “The Miseducation of the Negro.” She used his system of miseducation that served as an advanced form of enslavement that negates Black physical freedom from the shackles of slavery to criticize how it was being reflected upon the black educational system. Hill fought for black liberation through her lyrics, she established that in order to self-heal, educate, and experience mental liberation we needed to strengthen connections amongst each other and rebuild black communities. Lauryn Hill was categorized as a “rap artist” but displayed many folk qualities in her music. She didn’t use “head-bopping beats”, vulgar language, or over-sexualize herself to get her message across, but displayed her Afrocentricity through drums, guitars, and poetic tones. She spoke her lyrics with passion and intent, she was soulful and strong sharing her life and her lessons through music. She as well as plenty of other women before used their feminist experiences to teach the world through music, establishing a place for the next generation of young women to do the same until change is made.


Click to access The-songs-of-black-women-folk_-music-politics-and-everyday-l.pdf

Burnim, Mellonee V., and Portia K. Maultsby. African American Music an Introduction. Routledge, 2015.

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