White privilege (Online discussiuon)

How does Adam Mansbach discussion of white hip-hop and white privilege help us understand the smaller proportion of white hip-hop collegians (compared to hip-hop fans)?  Why on a campus like WSU are you more likely to see white kids listening/consuming commodified hip-hop than participating in organizations, spaces, and movements surrounding hip hop


Remember two hundred words
Discussion ends October 12, 2012


Race and Hip Hop (Online discussion)

Why has there been only one Eminem?  In other words, why have there not been more white MCs within mainstream rap?  How does this compare with the absence of Native American, Latino or Asian artists?  What about women?  Or GLBTQ hip-hop artists of color?  How does the visibility of black male rappers highlight the nature of racial privilege and inequality?


Remember two hundred words
Discussion ends October 12, 2012

‘Why White Kids Love Hip Hop’ (Particpation)

ED GORDON, host:

I’m Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Remember when mainstream music critics suggested that hip-hop would be a passing fad? Well, back in the day, a few cultural observers understood that hip-hop would become the dominant form of expression for young people of every color. NPR’s Farai Chideya talks with one writer who’s always taken hip-hop seriously.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Bakari Kitwana is author of “The Hip Hop Generation” and former executive editor of The Source, a magazine that was created to cover hip-hop and its culture. He’s back with his latest book, “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop.”

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. BAKARI KITWANA (Author): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So in your first book, “The Hip Hop Generation,” you defined a group of African Americans born between 1965 and 1984. Now you’re back to tell us it’s not just a black thing?

Mr. KITWANA: Absolutely. I wanted to begin with “The Hip Hop Generation” as a book about young African Americans born after the civil rights movement. There was a lot of criticism from people who are in the hip-hop that I defined in “The Hip Hop Generation” as African-American. I don’t have a problem with it, but some people did. I think it’s important that African-Americans take claim for what they create, and so that’s what I was trying to do in that book. This book kind of tries to take the conversation a little bit further to talk about the vast majority of Americans that hip-hop is influencing, including young white Americans.

CHIDEYA: So let’s talk about your new book. It’s titled “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and the New Reality of Race In America.” Now what are wangstas, wiggers and wanna-bes?

Mr. KITWANA: A wangsta is a term that–I mean, it was popularized by 50 Cent. Basically it means someone who’s a fake gangster. And this came to mind as I wrote the chapter on film, particularly the film “Malibu’s Most Wanted,” where you have this guy who grew up in Malibu who is taking on all of the personifications of hip-hop.

The expression `wiggers’ was a term that young white kids in the ’80s who were into hip-hop–it was a term that was ascribed to them, because in those days, it wasn’t fashionable to be a part of hip-hop, and many young white kids who were getting into hip-hop were ridiculed by their friends, and wiggers was one of the terms that was used to describe them.

Wanna-bes is a term long in the African-American community for people pretending or they’re aspiring to be something that they’re not.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me bring out a quote. You quote in the book Billy Wimsatt. He’s a white author and activist. He wrote a book called “Bomb the Suburbs.” And he said, quote, “I’m horrified by the aspect of the white hip-hop thing where you can be a white hard-core underground hip-hop kid in, say, Minnesota and not know a single black person,” end quote. Bakari, are you horrified?

Mr. KITWANA: I think not really. There is an aspect of what Billy’s saying that I think it’s important, because I think it starts to point at the complexity of this conversation. There was a time, I’d say, five years ago where that type of person that Billy is describing was not someone who was into hip-hop in a way that it was dangerous.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #1: Did you take your meds today?

Unidentified Singer #2: Twenty milligrams worth, but I’m still so amped, I could kill a damn verse.

Mr. KITWANA: I think that now we have something different going on in the underground where there is a young white audience being nurtured that prefers white hip-hop artists and thinks that they’re smarter and think that they’re better than artists by nature of the fact that they’re white and their material is more complex and the black artists aren’t as deep as them, and, you know, you hear people saying, you know, that artists like Aesop Rock are better hip-hop artists than people like Jay-Z.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #3: Well, do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?

Unidentified Singer #4: Well, my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back, and I know my rights, so you gonna need a warrant for that.

Mr. KITWANA: And, you know, I take issue with that, but I also think that we’re starting to move into a territory where the old racial politics are being imposed on another generation of young people, and this is one of the problems that we have in society, and it’s something that I try to deal with in this book.

CHIDEYA: What do you see ahead for hip-hop in terms of building racial coalitions?

Mr. KITWANA: I think that there is great possibilities. The organization that Billy Wimsatt and Kyle Stewart created, The League of Pissed off Voters, I think is one of the most progressive groups that’s working across race. They are creating a space for young white kids who are into hip-hop and who are political to get involved in the hip-hop political movement. If you look at the concert industry, there was a time in hip-hop where in terms of concerts, young white kids–you didn’t see them at concerts because it wasn’t a safe place for young white kids to be. I think that the possibilities are there. I think that we saw a lot of progress in ’04 with groups like The League of Pissed off Voters, the Young Voter Alliance and other organizations that worked across race, and I think we’re going to see more in the future.

CHIDEYA: All right. We’ll leave it there. Bakari Kitwana is the author of “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and the New Reality of Race In America.”

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. KITWANA: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Farai Chideya, NPR News.

The Cotton Club Black-conscious hip-hop deals with an overwhelmingly white live audience (Participation)

The Cotton Club

Black-conscious hip-hop deals with an overwhelmingly white live audience

Bakari Kitwana

published: June 21, 2005

Armed with messages of Black political resistance, Black pride, and opposition to militarization and corporatization, designed in part to counter the commercial hip-hop party-and-bullshit madness dumbing down the nation’s youth, hip-hop’s lyrical descendants of the “fight the power” golden era today are booking concerts in record numbers—far beyond anything imaginable by their predecessors. Problem is, they can hardly find a Black face in the audience.

  • photo: courtesy of Sony Urban Music

    Dead Prez

    Dead Prez

As the Coup (Pick a Bigger Gun), Zion-I (True and Livin’), and the Perceptionists (Black Dialogue) get set for a wave of touring to promote their new CDs this summer, the audience that will be looking back at them unmasks one of the most significant casualties of hip-hop’s pop culture ascension: the shrinking Black concert audience for hardcore, political hip-hop.”My audience has gone from being over 95 percent Black 10 years ago to over 95 percent white today,” laments Boots Riley of the Coup, whose 1994 Genocide and Juice responded to Snoop Dogg’s 1993 gangsta party anthem “Gin and Juice.” “We jokingly refer to our tour as the Cotton Club,” he says—a reference to the 1920s and ’30s Harlem jazz spot where Black musicians played to whites-only audiences.

Boots says he first noticed the shift one night in 1995, in a concert on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Opening for Coolio, he stepped center stage and grabbed the mic as usual, but then saw something unusual about the audience: a standing-room-only sea of whiteness. Some were almost dressed like farmers, he recalls. Others had their heads shaved. “Damn, skinheads are out there,” he thought. “They can’t be here to see us.” But the frantic crowd began chanting along rhyme for rhyme.

Zion, MC of the independent rap group Zion-I, agrees the similarities to jazz are striking: “Jazz went white, then Black, then white again. At this point African Americans aren’t the ones supporting live jazz [performances]. It’s the same in many ways with independent hip-hop. I’ve been to shows where the only Black people in the place are onstage. It’s kind of surreal.”

“I love Boots Riley’s music, but in general people in the ‘hood are not checking for the Coup,” says Brother Ali, part owner of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Rhymesayers Entertainment. “It’s hard enough to get some of our people to go to a Kweli show. It has a lot to do with the fact that the emphasis on the culture has been taken away. It’s just the industry now and it’s sold back to us—it’s not ours anymore. It used to be anti-establishment, off the radar, counterculture. People in the streets are now being told what hip-hop is and what it looks like by TV.”

According to industry insiders and most media outlets, though, the shifting audience isn’t just a Black consciousness thing—it’s prevalent in mainstream hip-hop as well. Whites run hip-hop, they say, from the business executives at major labels to the suburban teen consumers. But the often-intoned statistic claiming that 70 percent of American hip-hop sells to white people may cover up more than it reveals.

No hard demographic study has ever been conducted on hip-hop’s consumers. And Nielsen SoundScan, the chief reference source on music sales, by its own admission does not break down its over-the-counter totals by race. “Any conclusions drawn from our data that reference race involve a great deal of conjecture,” a SoundScan spokesperson insists.

Wendy Day, founder of the Rap Coalition, a hip-hop artist-advocacy group, says she’s attempted to pair up with several popular hip-hop magazines on such a study, but none would commit to help fund it. When she asked an executive at a major record label, she got an even more interesting response: “He didn’t see the value in writing that kind of check,” she says. “Because rap is selling so well, he didn’t see the value in knowing who his market is. ‘It’s not broken, Wendy,’ he said. ‘We don’t need to fix it.’ ”

And distinctions must be drawn between buyers and listeners. In terms of hip-hop’s listening audience, Nielsen SoundScan doesn’t weigh those passing on and burning CDs. (In July 2003 Nielsen SoundScan began tracking companies like iTunes that sell downloads for a fee.) Nielsen SoundScan, which claims to track 90 percent of the market, doesn’t take into account underground mixtape CDs, mom-and-pop store sales, or big retailers like Starbucks and Burlington Coat Factory that refuse to share their sales information.

Concert crowds are another matter. Looking for the 70 to 80 percent majority white audience? In most cases you won’t find it at a Nelly concert or any other top-selling hip-hop artist’s show. At large venues like Detroit’s 40,000-capacity Comerica Park, where Eminem and 50 Cent will headline the Anger Management Tour in August, estimates suggest that 50 to 60 percent of the seats are filled by white fans. By contrast, Caucasian concertgoers staring down culturally focused Black hip-hop artists topple these numbers. Although to date there’s been no attempt to track concert demographic data, fans, promoters, and independent MCs who play live more than half the year give estimates of 85 to 95 percent.

Backnthaday, artists like KRS-One, PE, Brand Nubian, Queen Latifah, Poor Righteous Teachers, and others coexisted with more purely party-oriented acts like Kid ‘n Play, Heavy D, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. They could also be found alongside those who got a little more gritty wit’ it, such as Schoolly D and Luther Campbell’s 2 Live Crew. In those days Afrocentric MCs rolled neck and neck with their counterparts, routinely reaching 500,000 units—the gold sales standard of the mid ’80s. By decade’s end, a few such records—Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, for instance—had gone platinum.

That’s no longer the case. In today’s mainstream hip-hop, the mark of success is multiplatinum sales. 50 Cent’s most recent release sold over 1 million units in four days; Nelly’s 2001 Country Grammar to date has moved over 9 million units. By contrast, dead prez, the sole contemporary political hip-hop group with mainstream distribution, struggled to top 500,000.

Dead prez aside, the most widely circulated conscientious commentary in mainstream hip-hop mostly comes in the form of surprise protest tracks from artists who would never be deemed “political”—Jadakiss’s and Eminem’s pre-election hits “Why” and “Mosh,” for example.

And whereas a decade ago artists consistently banged out social commentary with mass appeal, today the closest equivalents are Kanye West, Common, and the Roots, whose stance on wax focuses more on aesthetics than resistance—closer to A Tribe Called Quest, say, than to Public Enemy. PE’s more direct lyrical descendants have been ghettoized in the underground, with high-end sales in the 25,000-to-50,000 range—over months or years, rather than weeks.

“Today, there are no purely conscious MCs competing on the level with the top-selling artists in the game,” says Erik Smith of Critical Mass Consulting, a firm that does street-level lifestyle marketing for major labels’ new releases. But does this mean there is no longer a Black market for Black consciousness in hip-hop?

In the ’80s the gap between the civil rights generation and their hip-hop generation offspring was less severe. Culturally centered artists in that era were often steeped in the politics of the turn-of-the-’70s Black power movement. The lyrical content of the time didn’t venture far beyond those borders. Such was the case of Public Enemy’s 1990 Fear of a Black Planet. The CD jacket even extensively quoted psychologist Frances Cress Welsing’s “Cress Theory of Color Confrontation” that emerged in the 1970s, likening to white supremacy football, basketball, baseball, and other ball games where the color of the ball and what is done to it are subconsciously connected to America’s racial politics.

Welsing also had another, less-known theory, regarding the inferiorization of Black children. Welsing argued that soon white supremacists wouldn’t have to worry about making Blacks seem inferior—they’d just need to keep providing them with inferior education, housing, health care, child care, and the like, and in a generation or two they would be. After 15 years of gangstas and bling, perhaps hip-hop’s Black audience has been so inundated with material garbage that they don’t want an uplifting message?

Zion, who believes the withering Black audience reflects the diminishing discussion of Blackness in public discourse, thinks so. “I do so many shows in front of mostly white audiences that it’s the norm,” says Zion. “When I get in front of a Black audience it’s like, ‘Finally you’re here, feel me.’ We’ve done shows in Chicago and São Paulo, Brazil, and it feels good to be in front of our people when they are feeling it. But there are some thugged-out crowds where our message doesn’t resonate, and Black folks will say that they aren’t trying to hear hip-hop artists remind them of their problems.”

Brother Ali
photo: courtesy of Biz 3 Publicity

Today’s climate is indeed a far cry from the African medallion mania of the 1980s. In the academy, we’ve gone from 1980s discussions of Black studies and Afrocentricity to multiculturalism to current-day debates about post-Blackness and polyculturalism. At the same time, in the arena of mainstream politics we’ve gone from discussing the collective Black impact of Jesse Jackson’s run for president to the individual career successes of Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. In the streets we’ve gone from the Nation of Islam patrolling housing projects to whites reclaiming Harlem, South Side Chicago, and East Oakland, and Black scholars like Columbia University’s Lance Freeman arguing that poor Blacks aren’t significantly displaced by gentrification. “So many Black people don’t want to hear it,” Zion continues. “They want that thug shit. That’s why I’m thankful for the audience we do have.”

Mr. Lif, whose success as a solo artist led him to the recent partnering with Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One to form the Perceptionists, agrees. “It’s disorienting. It’s bizarre,” he says. “But no artist is in a position to choose his fans. Whoever is in the audience, I love them for being there. They are allowing me to make a living doing what I love.”

And the demand for art-as-a-weapon hip-hop music is so great that the best-known independent MCs are able to book from 150 to 200 concerts a year in venues where the capacity ranges from 200 to 1,500, all the while not breaking through to the mainstream.

Recognizing the success of such underground white MCs as Aesop Rock, El-P, and Sage Francis—all moving around 100,000 units per release—Brother Ali says, “Our genre is looked at as white rap. It’s almost like a white chitlin circuit of underground rap music.” The more popular underground white hip-hop artists are helping to nurture the audience at venues that now regularly feature conscious Black hip-hop artists. At the same time as political hip-hop’s audience has gotten whiter, audiences for old-school socially conscious hip-hop (think De La Soul) and politically conscious hip-hop (think Chuck D and KRS-One) have merged. It’s an audience that includes white kids, college students, and those tapping into what remains of the counterculture of hip-hop. This requires fans with the time on their hands to search out MCs in independent record stores and on the Internet.

The largely Latino concert turnouts for these MCs in specific areas of cities like Houston, El Paso, and Los Angeles, however, quickly reveals that none of this is an exact science. In Oakland, one MC reports a majority Black and brown audience, in contrast to a mostly white audience when he performs next door in San Francisco. In the South, in cities like Baton Rouge and Charleston, independent labels like Slaughterhouse and Pure Pain are posting Aesop Rock numbers and their concert audience is nearly all Black.

“None of these factors change the fact that the audience supporting Black hip-hop artists with a political message is mostly white,” says Nicole Balin of Ballin’ Entertainment, a Los Angeles- based PR firm representing underground hip-hop artists. Yet according to Wendy Day, no matter how many white kids are being drawn in, the Black stamp of approval is critical even when the audience is primarily white.

“I can tell you as someone who works with independent labels in parts of the South and Midwest that if you are breaking a record at the street level in these communities, and you don’t have young Black kids buying your record, you will not go anywhere,” Day says. “Unless it’s legitimized by the Black community, these kids are not buying a damn thing other than what their friends of color are listening to.”

the Perceptionists
photo: Maya Hayuk

Black hip-hop kids as the gatekeepers for what’s hot has long been the state of affairs for mainstream and cutting-edge hip-hop—but that may be changing in some parts of the country like Minneapolis, for example, where white MCs and white audiences have it on lock. And while there are countless white hip-hop kids supporting the underground who see Blackness as key to hip-hop’s sense of urgency, growing numbers believe white underground MCs are hip-hop’s avant-garde. More and more they insist without pause that their favorite white underground MCs are smarter and hence better.

“One of the hardest things we’re dealing with now is the underlying feeling of white supremacy among fans who feel they are a part of hip-hop, but are listening to and prefer mostly white MCs,” says Brother Ali, who recently toured with several old-school legends together with Atmosphere—a biracial independent rap group who, like Brother Ali, hails from Minneapolis. “They believe that Aesop Rock is better than independent artists who are Black and mainstream artists like Ludacris. These MCs are doing a lot with hip-hop artistically that they have learned from Black people, but [their fans] don’t want to hear from the old-school originators because they believe it’s the white MCs who created the styles they like. This isn’t an underground-versus-mainstream thing—it’s a racist thing.”


Bikari Kitwana’s book Why White Kids Love Hip Hop came out June 5.

Hip hop dreams: Asian Americans artists on the difficulties they face breaking out into mainstream rap (participation)

Hip hop dreams: Asian Americans artists on the difficulties they face breaking out into mainstream rap

By Steven Cong

Gordon Tsai, a rapper, is also known by his stage name, Gifted on West East, or G.O.W.E. (Photo by Jen Au)

“Right now, we’re at a time when we’re just bubbling. When all Asian artists come together and start to realize each other’s work ethics, it’s going to be great,” said Sonny Thongoulay, a local Laotian Ameri­can rapper. Thongoulay goes by the stage name “Sonny Bonoho.”

Thongoulay was born in Ubon, Thailand, but is ethnically Laotian. He has served as the opening act for rappers like Snoop Dogg and Twis­ta. His most recent album, Phone Phreak, was released on April 10.

Sonny Thongoulay, a rapper, is also known by his stage name, Sonny Bonoho (Photo by Anthony Frausto)

Thongoulay, along with Gordon Tsai, a Chinese American rapper with the stage name “Gifted On West East,” or G.O.W.E., are concerned with the current state of Asian Americans and hip hop. To them, there are certain challenges that arose from Asian American stereotypes.

“The first thing people think of when it comes to Asian emcees is that it’s almost like an oxymoron,” said Tsai. “Hip hop was created out of poverty, and this whole idea that Asian Americans are the model minorities leads to the belief that they can’t possibly have struggles to talk about.”

Tsai is a Beacon Hill native who draws inspiration from his Christian faith. He says he does not believe in conform­ing to the stereotypes associated with hip hop artists and that he finds value in networking with other rappers, espe­cially those in the Asian American community.

“In America, when you think of hip hop, you think of African Americans. So when an Asian American person tries to make it big, they get shut down because they don’t fit the image of what a hip hop artist should be,” said Gio­vonni Bruno, a Korean American fan of the music.

The mainstream

The artists also view the lack of media attention as an ob­stacle to mainstream success, as well as the reinforcement of conventional hip hop stereotypes.

“A lot of Asian artists out there are real creative in the mind,” said Thongoulay, “but it’s not like the media wants to look for an Asian rapper that’s real cool. I’m trying to figure out when a company is willing to put a million dol­lars or two behind an Asian rapper.”

Tsai points out that too many people perceive rappers to be individuals who live with limited economic resources. As a result, many Asian American artists are pretending to fit the archetype and produce music that address issues they are not actually familiar with and could not personally relate to.

“A lot of Asian Americans feel like, if they want to rap, they have to put on a certain gangster image and go all the way, or else they won’t be believable,” said Tsai. “I really wish more rappers would just be themselves, honestly.”

Despite the difficulties of establishing an image, both rappers agreed that there are limits to how culture should be stressed.

“I don’t think you should use your ethnicity as some kind of a gimmick to draw attention to yourself. If that’s your only crutch, you’re screwed,” said Tsai. “But please do not neglect who you are. You’re Asian for a reason. You should be proud of that; you should represent that, but you shouldn’t exploit that.”

An fact often overlooked is the fact that Asian Americans have been involved in the hip hop community for decades. The Mountain Brothers in Philadelphia and the Asiatic Apostles in California were pioneers of Asian American hip hop during the 1990s. Newer groups include the Far East Movement in Los Angeles and the Blue Scholars in Seattle. However, the only mainstream breakthrough in Asian American hip hop was Chinese American rapper Jin Au–Yeung, who found success in 2001.

Au–Yeung was the first Asian American rapper to enter the mainstream music industry after he retired undefeated on the Black Entertainment Television program “106 & Park,” a music video show. He was signed to the Ruff Ryders record label following his stint on the show. His debut album, “The Rest Is History,” was released in October 2004 and earned him a spot on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.

Dr. Oliver Wang, a professor at the University of Cali­fornia, Berkeley, attributes hip hop’s popularity with Asian Americans to the fact that it was the “dominant youth cul­ture” of the 1980s and 1990s.

Language of youth

“[Hip hop’s] more energetic and fun than everything else,” said Bruno.

“Hip hop is a language that a lot of youth today can un­derstand, and when they do understand it, it’s therapeutic to them,” said Thongoulay.

“If you’re stressed out with a bunch of different things, and there’s a bunch of stuff in your life, you write it down, you record it, you transform it into a dance. It’s literally your way of expressing yourself and getting that off of your chest in a positive way that influences others and builds community,” said Tsai.

Artists of the Northwest

Tsai and Thongoulay compared the Northwest to the rest of the nation by citing responses local Asian American rap­pers have received.

“In the Seattle area, I think everyone respects the Blue Scholars, but on a national level, people are still too scared to really support them because they are different,” said Tsai. “In the whole West Coast, there’s a really good Asian community. But the West Coast? Man, that’s only 20 per­cent of the whole nation. If you look at the rest of America, the majority is white people. They only understand Asian Americans from what they see on TV. All of a sudden, you’ve got this rapper, and on top of that, he’s Asian. You know, it’s completely foreign to them.”

Thongoulay elaborated on the need for Asian American art­ists to branch out. He described how Asian American rappers should not depend on their local communities for a fan base.

“It is the Asian American artist’s responsibility to go out. Do they have a faith factor of going to Portland, to Califor­nia, or wherever? I went on tour in Germany, and came back and made money. The sky is the limit,” said Thongoulay.

The rappers hope for greater success in the future of Asian American hip hop artists. The current status of Asian American hip hop will set the stage for what’s to come. ♦

For more information on G.O.W.E., visit www.teamgowe.com. For more information on Sonny Bonoho, visit www.myspace.com/sonnybonoho.

Steven Cong can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

Challenging Hip-Hop’s Masculine Ideal (Participation)

Challenging Hip-Hop’s Masculine Ideal

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Kreayshawn has a slow and cutesy approach to rapping.


K.Flay has a more melodic and semi-sung flow.

The cosmology of American celebrity requires several blond white women be major planets at all times. From Marilyn Monroe to Madonna to Britney Spears to Paris Hilton to Lady Gaga, our culture refuses to allow a void in the job called America’s Favorite Blonde. (Some might say the woman currently holding that office is Beyoncé.) Given that cultural law, how long will it be until some blonde — or any white woman — rises to fame through hip-hop? I daresay it’s inescapable. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already. Well, it may happen soon. We now have a small movement of white female rappers who want to be taken seriously, including Iggy Azalea, Kreayshawn and K.Flay.

There are too many cultural consumers who love rappers and who love blondes to keep a collision of the two from occurring, especially when the dominant hip-hop consumer is the young white suburban male. Imagine if Pamela Anderson could flow, allowing him to get his hip-hop fix and his soft-core pornography fix at the same time. That would blow his mind.

There is nothing about the skills required to be an M.C. that makes it impossible for white women to rhyme. It’s not that their mouths can’t do it. The true barrier to entry is that there is an essence at the center of hip-hop that white women have an extraordinarily hard time exuding or even copying. For many Americans, black male rappers are entrancing because they give off a sense of black masculine power — that sense of strength, ego and menace that derives from being part of the street — or because of the seductive display of black male cool.

Black women and white men who have been successful in hip-hop have found ways to embody those senses and make them their own. But hip-hop coming from a white woman is almost always an immediate joke. Take Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, showing how much she loves hip-hop by earnestly rhyming the lyrics to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” on a British television show or Natalie Portman furiously spitting rhymes in gangsta-rap style on “Saturday Night Live.”

As soon as white women start rhyming, no matter what they say, it’s seen as cute and comical, like a cat walking on its hind legs. Seeing them try to embody the attributes of hip-hop’s vision of black masculinity is a hysterical gender disjunction: they wear it as convincingly as a woman wearing her husband’s clothes.

Even when a talented vocalist like Lykke Li tried to make Rick Ross’s song “Hustlin” her own, she simply could not rise to the level of the song. The sense of danger or cool that black male rappers manifest so easily is hard for white women to display. Of course that won’t stop those who want to rhyme from trying.

If a group of white teenage boys conspired to construct their dream white female rapper they might come up with Iggy Azalea, 21, a sexy rapper with long blond hair, a model’s enticing looks and the detached, hyperconfident air of a dominatrix. She has an aggressive vocal approach and a silky flow. There’s nothing cute or comical about her rhyming. She lives in Los Angeles and grew up in a tiny Australian town idolizing Tupac and Grace Kelly. Now she’s a highly sexual M.C. in the tradition of Lil’ Kim and Trina. If the white women of the world can possibly produce one superstar rapper, Iggy Azalea could be it.

The best song on her mixtape, “Ignorant Art,” is all about her sexual power. It’s title is unprintable. There’s an ominous tone to the song, as if she could kill you in bed or turn you into a hopeless addict. “Hook ’em like crack,” she rhymes. “After shock/Molten lava drop/This should be outlawed/ Call me Pac.” Linking her bedroom potency to the power of the most important name in hip-hop is a bold statement but a familiar gesture in modern hip-hop.

The video features Iggy Azalea in yellow skin-tight, high-waist pants and high heels, flinging her ponytail and licking ice cream suggestively. It was shot in the same sort of South Central Los Angeles neighborhood we saw in the movie “Boyz N the Hood” and in Snoop Dogg videos, placing her in an area that is recognized by longtime hip-hop fans. She raps as she sits on a stoop and dances in front of an ice cream truck, surrounded by black people. The video begins with her eating breakfast as an older black woman watches. Although their relationship is not clear, all this proximity to blackness characterizes Iggy Azalea as a person who is no stranger to black culture and communities, suggesting it’s no anomaly for her to rock the mic.

Strangely, for a video so overtly sexual, she spends a lot of time with a black boy, maybe 6 years old, sweetly draped on her back or playing at her feet or making sexually suggestive moves on a toy horse. Is she bad at baby-sitting or does he represent a man she’s been with and dominated so completely she’s infantilized him? Iggy Azalea is unsigned, but she has high-powered management, so she won’t be for long. Expect a lot of noise to surround her 2012 debut album.

Where Iggy Azalea works at establishing her hip-hop bona fides, Kreayshawn, a 21-year-old from Oakland, Calif., plays with hip-hop signifiers but sees no need to establish her cred. She has black men in her video for “Gucci Gucci” but spends most of it with her white female D.J., who oddly looks like her twin, at her side. The first time I watched “Gucci Gucci,” which has become an Internet sensation with millions of views, my primary thought was “interloper.” Does she really understand or respect what hip-hop’s all about? I doubt it, but if her audience doesn’t, then it won’t hold her back.

She rhymes, “I’m lookin’ like Madonna, but I’m flossin’ like Ivana,” tying herself to rich white women as well as childishly simple rhyme patterns. The song is about a rejection of label worship. She says she doesn’t wear Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi or Prada because everyone does, explaining that she’s liberated from the fashion establishment and able to create personal style without buying it from them. But in the video she hangs out on Rodeo Drive and at a party in a room at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood dancing in front of Warhol-print curtains. She wears a large Minnie Mouse-inspired bow on her head as well as the door-knocker earrings that were stylish decades ago in hip-hop, making her look like a retro caricature.

The song basically attacks a central tenet of hip-hop: Many rappers embrace labelism as part of their celebration of upward mobility as well as a postmodern sentiment that you are the brands you wear. Her rejection of that reeks of white-girl privilege. But similarly privileged people may find her message refreshing.

Kreayshawn has that slow, nasal, staccato, cutesy approach to rapping that you might expect if a white girl was making a rap song as a lark. She doesn’t come across as sexy or even very sexual. She’s more nerd chic. She calls her crew the White Girl Mob (as opposed to Iggy Azalea’s White Girl Team), and in her songs she repeatedly refers to women she loves as “bitch,” making certain we hear her doing what black rappers routinely do, using a pejorative slur in a transgressive way.

At one point in “Gucci, Gucci” she says, “I got the swag and it’s pumping out my ovaries,” which is intended to sound hard core but is kind of gross and self-satirical. She attended film school, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this were part of a guerilla documentary making fun of hip-hop.

More skilled and perhaps more interesting is K.Flay, 26, a Stanford graduate and a talented vocalist who uses rhyming as a sonic technique. Culturally she is not trying to push her way into hip-hop; she’s more of an indie rock chick. Her rapping is melodic and semi-sung, and on her most recent mixtape, “I Stopped Caring in ’96,” she samples indie groups like the xx and the Vines and talks about alienation:

Mind in a permanent state of flux

Mental double Dutch

Had a bag of Cheetos ate ’em up

3 p.m. and I’m still waking up

Wishing I could save myself, but I’m not brave enough.

She dresses like an un-self-conscious hipster, wearing T-shirts and Nike high-tops, little makeup and barely styled dark hair. K.Flay has no black people or hip-hop signifiers in her videos. She represents a generation of white kids who grew up with hip-hop but who weren’t obsessed with it so they feel rhyming is theirs to use without needing to pay homage to the culture.

Does the slight rise of white women pose a threat to the soul of hip-hop? Will this moment be recalled years from now as a crucial step toward the whitening of hip-hop, toward a world in which hip-hop looks the way rock ’n’ roll does: a neighborhood that’s been so completely gentrified that the kids have to be reminded that rock was once a black space? I don’t think so. It will take a lot more than a few white women to fundamentally impact hip-hop, which remains unbreakably connected to the spirit of black masculinity, for which America continues to hunger.