Literature Brave Enough to F*ck With the Grays
Hip Hop, Black Feminism & Street Lit
Many Street Lit novels balance a precarious line of telling cautionary tales and glamorizing street culture, which is full of prostitutes, pimps, gangsters, drug dealers, and abusers. The Street Lit’s investment in narratives of hyper-masculinity and difficult depictions of black womanhood complicate how scholars have deconstructed and discussed the genre. The streets in Street Lit are symbolic contested grounds where people of color interrogate issues of education, class, gender, and race. The street has become a real, yet imagined, surface for writers to explore the rich textures, vivacious contours, and jagged edges of human experience. Street Lit novels like Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree and G-Spot by Noire grapple with navigating coming-of-age while contending with the competing the ideals of Hip Hop culture and black feminism. These stories create avenues to explore how urbanity impacts black girlhood and womanhood.
Street Lit, as a genre, is compelling because of its ability to pair Hip Hop culture and black feminist principles together despite their obvious points of contention. Hip Hop at the turn of the twenty-first century was seemingly synonymous with misogyny, sexism, and moral ineptitude while black feminist theorists like Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and Kimberlé Crenshaw called for the empowerment, sexual liberation, and pluralistic re-visioning of black women. Nevertheless, black women, especially in the United States, found themselves attracted and connected to Hip Hop. Black feminism, by its own design, needed to find a language compelling enough to reject inducements to make reductive choices between Hip Hop culture and feminist power. In short, Hip Hop, per Joan Morgan, needed “a feminism brave enough to fuck with the grays.” And, what both Hip Hop and black feminism received was a genre that could tell vivacious narratives using literary grayscale.