I wrote The Emcee Inquisition in 2009. It had a staged reading at the Page-to-Stage Festival in Washington, DC, in 2010, but the text has never been published. The play explores pervasive misogyny in hip-hop (and in the mainstream intellectual sphere) through the story of a married couple. Naima, once a successful hip-hop photographer, has had her career—and life—derailed by a sexual assault some years prior. Sharif, her husband, is a globally recognized hip-hop emcee whose career may be on the verge of launching into the stratosphere. And Link, the professor of Hip-Hop Studies who shows up at their home at the start of this excerpt, may be tied up in both of these trajectories. Drawing on tropes of horror movies and murder mysteries, the play enacts a sort of revenge fantasy for Naima before she ultimately questions what justice or healing can look like.
I was moved to revisit the play now, more than a decade later, in light of the #MeToo movement and in light of female artists like Nicki Minaj, Doja Cat, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion becoming more dominant on the hip-hop charts. I was moved—as I was in 2009, when I wrote it—by the foremothers to their artistry, like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Yo-Yo, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and, of course, my personal favorite, Lauryn Hill, all of whom paid a hefty price, due to their gender and race, for creating something iconic in the hip-hop continuum.
Another inspiration for the play, one I still return to, is Pearl Cleage’s essay “Mad at Miles,” in which she interrogates our collective reverence—and her own—for Miles Davis’s music, even with the awareness of the abuses he committed against the woman in his life. Cleage’s work made me wonder: Should I also be mad at hip-hop? This is an art form that I grew up on, that I love and have a lot of respect for—and yet I have felt betrayed and denigrated by its “misogynoir” culture. How do I love you and hold you accountable at the same time? This is something I continue to wrestle with today. In this play I am attempting to bring the culture to a reckoning for its treatment of Black womxn.