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Chicago rapper Pinqy Ring sees a shift in how women in hip-hop are viewed, pushing for systemic change

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pinqy Ring, like so many other creatives, has pivoted her business plan to further her brand.

Hip-hop artist Pinqy Ring sits in her home recording studio in the Logan Square neighborhood, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.
Hip-hop artist Pinqy Ring sits in her home recording studio in Logan Square.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

When hip-hop fans — mostly men — admonished superstar rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion for their 2020 chart-topping track “WAP,” some of them questioned why the duo had to “resort” to raunchy lyrics to generate interest.

That same subset, at times, historically fails to champion rappers like Rapsody, Rah Digga, Jean Grae or their Chicago counterparts Dreezy, Baha Bank$, Ang13, Psalm One, or Humboldt Park-raised MC Pinqy Ring — who says just because things are changing doesn’t mean she should settle for less.

“I do see a shift happening where — particularly women in the underground — are being paid more attention to,” said Marisol Velez, who performs as Pinqy Ring in English and Spanish. “Women like Princess Nokia, or Noname, or a Sa-Roc — you really got to do your research to know who they are, or to find them.”

Velez’s lament often plays out publicly when some of her male counterparts engage in a form of “throwing the stone and hiding the hand.”

Rap legend Snoop Dogg, who’s known for songs like “B------ Ain’t Shit” and “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None),” took to Instagram in December to walk back his original comments regarding his disapproval of “WAP” in a Central Ave interview saying: “... I’m [in] full support of the female M.C. movement so stop trying to make me a hater.”

Hip-hop artist Pinqy Ring rhymes a few verses in her home recording booth in Logan Square.
Hip-hop artist Pinqy Ring rhymes a few verses in her home recording booth in the Logan Square neighborhood in December.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

And earlier that month, Chicago MC Psalm One penned “Ain’t No Human Resources in Hip-Hop,” an essay detailing the alleged abuse she endured as the lone queer woman rapper signed to the independent hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment.

Velez, unfortunately, is all too familiar with the antics women in hip-hop put up with.

“Men hate to see a powerful woman with a voice because what happens is we start talking about the way in which men have been unfair, the way in which they have been misogynistic in the way in which they’ve stopped opportunities for us to excel and for us to grow,” she says. “Men have made their money off exploiting and sexualizing women. When it’s time for a woman to do it, there’s a problem?”

Instead of playing politics with hip-hop’s gatekeepers, Velez, a Lane Tech College Prep High School graduate, puts her energy into making sure the road is smoother for the next generation of young girls by teaching a hip-hop songwriting and entrepreneurship after-school course through After School Matters at Roberto Clemente Community Academy.

Her curriculum consists of topics in self-confidence, anti-bullying, body positivity, identity, creative writing and feminism, among other subjects.

“I share those experiences with them because of the pandemic. And we’ve gone virtual; they actually requested that we just have a day that we can talk about experiences and situations,” she says. “When I share these stories, it floors them because they just see me as their dope teacher who clearly can rap better than all these guys. …. A lot of them end up sharing situations in which they felt similarly.”

Those subjects are top of mind in Velez’s music, in songs like “Where Do We Go From Here?,” where she discusses “Chiraq,” the city’s infamous nickname, and representing women in the genre in the track “Lipstick,” while performing virtually in a live-streamed concert named “F*** COVID.”

Velez manages her own social media platform, where she has about 10,200 Instagram followers. Her home studio is funded by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ (DCASE) Individual Artist Program. She’s a 2018 awardee of an Illinois Arts Council grant.

“That’s the reason why my activism is so important, particularly around women in hip-hop, because I want to be able to provide a bridge over all of that bulls- - -,” said Velez. “And when I tell you that I’ve tried to quit rap several times, I’m not lying. … My platform is for more than sharing my own raps; it’s for creating an industry where women can actually function in.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Velez, like so many other creatives, has made the decision to pivot in how she decides to further her brand by fostering conversations on social justice issues, dating during an uncertain time, and pushing up the timetable on making dreams a reality.

“I’d like to start a record label that’s run by and made for women — predominantly staffed by women,” said Velez. “I have big dreams but I think right now I’ll use the microphone; I’ll release these albums and let my activism speak through that.”