Where the Ladies at?

The battles and breaks behind the first female hip-hop festival

But Shampel C deserves credit as the first local woman to record a nationally distributed 12-inch single, 1989's "Posse in E-F-F-E-C-T" (for Jerry Sylvers's Wide Angle Urban label). Produced in the Chicago hip-house style then being pushed by local DJs such as Man-X (Tom Spiegel), a friend of Shampel's, the b-side "G-G-Get on Down" looped a sampled male grunt over electronic beats: "Come on, stop acting like you're scared," she taunted shy b-boys. "You're playing the wall while I'm having a ball/And I don't see no damn chairs."

Shampel C eventually gave in to the mispronunciation "Champaign," now shortened to Pain, and still raps in Sacramento, California. But despite abundant mix-tape play, she remains largely unknown in her hometown.

Other local girls in the '80s tackled other "elements" in the hip-hop quadrathlon: breakdancing and graffiti—though not, apparently, DJ scratching. (Early Twin Cities house music and jungle DJs included Miss Miss, Code Blue, and Bionic. But until recently, few if any female hip-hop DJs beat-matched.)

Graffiti had the advantage of anonymity, and the list of known practitioners is necessarily incomplete: SERIOUS of LBS (Latin Bomb Squad), CREST (from the AKB Crew), SNEK, PHANT (known for tagging with nail polish), ESKIMO (from the West Coast), MS. RED and M13 (names used by future B-Girl Be graf curator Melisa Riviere), RUKUS, SHIVA, POST, and newcomers SHVE and RUST.

These names don't include the first taggers, among them DeAnna Dodd (now DeAnna Cummings) and her foster sister Stephanie Stewart, who had brought back a Cholo writing style from the West Coast after visiting relatives there. One day in 1985, Stephanie, DeAnna, and DeAnna's future husband, Roger Cummings, went to visit a friend at Washburn, and discovered that the high school had just installed shiny new lockers the day before.

"Classes were in session," remembers DeAnna Cummings. "So we decided that each of us was going to tag every single locker in the school in the half-hour before classes got out."

She had scrawled "DEE" with her fat marker down half a hallway when the loudspeaker announced, "There are vandals in the building." Everyone ran, but DeAnna lost a flip-flop on the staircase. She was grabbed one floor down by the hall monitor, none other than future Fitness King Ron Henderson.

Her career in graffiti ended there, after a suspension and some community service. Like other girls, she moved on. But as Cummings tells the story, she's standing in the north Minneapolis aerosol-meets-high-art education center Juxtaposition Arts, which she co-founded in 1995 with Roger Cummings and their Washburn friend and artist, Peyton. With wide brown eyes and a brilliant smile, she points out the graffiti-style sneaker and textile art created by girls and displayed against white walls. One artist, "Asha," has painted a Nike with an anime image of a baby dinosaur emerging from its egg.

Having women as mentors at Juxta has made a difference, says DeAnna Cummings. "We noticed that when we got a female assistant for the class, suddenly more girls came. And they would go to her, too."

Presently, a boy and a girl in their early teens appear at the door. The boy, who wears immaculate white Nikes, has spotted the sneaks and jean jackets through the glass storefront, and asks about the class for painting clothes and shoes. Cummings answers his questions, then turns to the silent girl.

"What about you?" she says. "Are you interested in doing art?"

The girl hesitates, and shrugs shyly. "I do it for fun," she says. "At home."

"Well, we have a lot of girls in the class," says Cummings. Then she tells them about B-Girl Be.

Across town, 26-year-old b-girl Seoul (Stefanie Aasen) is doing a "baby freeze" on a stool in front of Intermedia Arts on Lyndale Avenue South. She balances her muscular body horizontally and facedown, her hands flat on the stool, her legs bent to the blue sky. Her cornrowed head is turned toward the camera as she smiles for a Lavender photo shoot. Some of B-Girl Be's other participants strike curious poses around her, goofing around in front of the building's bright Lady Pink aerosol mural.

Another b-girl stands between Seoul's legs. "This looks really sexual," she says.

Seoul is one of the girls now, but she's used to being one of the guys. When she started breakdancing in the late '90s, trekking nearly every week from Woodbury to First Avenue for the all-ages Sunday Night Dance Parties, most Twin Cities b-girls had disappeared. A tomboyish Korean with adopted white parents, she found her identity in hip hop ("Seoul" is now tattooed on her arm in Korean). She took up the b-boys' obsession, practicing footwork and power moves every day after school in someone's basement.

Like Seoul's b-girl dance partner, the b-boys mostly turn sexual suggestiveness into playful repartee. "I think there's joking sexism," Seoul says of the breakdance scene. "Like in battle, there's a gesture we call the 'cack.' In layman's terms it's"—she mimes holding out a giant cock. "Even girls do that. Or they'll slap it down and do the whole boob shake to the guys. It's just a clever way of saying, 'Come up with something better.'"

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