Like the n-word and “queer” before it, “bitch” has been pretty thoroughly reappropriated. Urban Dictionary defines “bad bitch” as someone “mentally gifted and usually also fine as hell.” But don’t give credit to Iggy Azalea; give credit to another white rapper, Tairrie B, who was signed to a division of Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records and in 1990 released her debut, The Power of a Woman.
As a lady, it wasn't always pleasant hanging with Eazy's group N.W.A in those days. To close out her album, the act's members wanted her to do a track called "I Ain't Yo Bitch," in which they'd all call her a bitch and she'd respond. "That didn’t really sit too well with me," she said last fall over drinks at 4100 Bar in Silver Lake, where she arrived in all black.
Instead, she decided to do her own version, called "Ruthless Bitch," in which she turned the slur into a term of empowerment. "I thought, I’m going to put power into it, so you motherfuckers can stop calling chicks 'bitches,'" she remembered.
But the song, which attacked Dr. Dre — with whom she was feuding — did not go over well.
After hearing a studio version of it, a furious, drunken Dre confronted her at a post-Grammys party in 1990. They exchanged words, and then at one point, "He punched me in the eye. And when I didn’t go down, he punched me in the mouth.”
Dre, who was later found guilty of assaulting television host Dee Barnes, has previously declined comment on the incident, but it has been confirmed by Tairrie's former manager Linda Martinez, who witnessed it. Tairrie declined to press charges, in part so The Power of a Woman would actually come out, she says. When it did, Tairrie became the first white female rapper to release an album on a widely distributed label. But her relationship with Ruthless soured.
Twenty-five years later, after performing with a number of heavy-metal acts — including her best-known project, My Ruin, with husband Mick Murphy — she's finally back with a hip-hop follow-up, Vintage Curses. It's available Aug. 14 for free on her website.
Having recently turned 50 and endured just about everything one can endure in the music industry, she's intent on showing just how badass a middle-aged female rapper can be. First single "Beware the Crone" combines hip-hop tropes with the dark and mystical, taunting her adversaries and those who have written her off. "The hair got blacker, the voice got deeper/I got stronger, while they got weaker," she raps.
In folk stories or horror movies, a crone is a terrifying, witchy old lady who's come to put a spell on you. In the song's video, Tairrie B's crone is somewhat akin to a heavy-metal character. But the imagery also works to drive home her bona fides as a rap O.G.
"On one hand, calling myself the 'Crone' is meant with a wink and a bit of tongue-in-cheek. On the other, I’m making a statement," she says, adding that she faces new challenges this time around. "Ageism has become as real as sexism and racism but — just as gender and race — has nothing to do with ability. I have never felt my art came with an expiration date."
Debbie Harry is usually given credit as the first white female rapper, for her verse on Blondie's 1981 track "Rapture," and '80s pop star Teena Marie did a little rapping as well. But neither fully identified as an MC like Tairrie, who came out swinging on Power of a Woman tracks such as "Murder She Wrote," complete with its noir-style video.
She soon went in a different musical direction, however, founding the metal group Manhole in 1993. "I taught myself to scream by watching frontmen like Henry Rollins and Phil Anselmo," she says. The group released an album in 1996 on Noise Records before changing its name to Tura Satana.
She eventually began performing under the moniker My Ruin, first as a solo artist and then with her husband, Murphy, who these days also plays in projects including The Birds of Satan, with Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters. My Ruin found a strong following, particularly in the U.K., where they toured again last year.
"Many young women and men related to not just the heavy riffs but the lyrics ... promoting self-acceptance and personal strength in the face of adversity, and the media, which is destructively preoccupied with body image," she says.
But along the way, she never lost her passion for hip-hop. Recording a cover of Ice Cube and Dre's track "Natural Born Killaz" a few years back helped get her juices flowing. She's also now working on a memoir, which will focus in part on her Ruthless years, and will set the record straight on incidents like the Dre beating.
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In the meantime, of course, white female rappers are no longer such a novelty. But though Iggy Azalea dominated the charts last year, she's largely fallen out of favor after her beef with Azealia Banks. Tairrie B doesn't have much patience for Iggy and her ilk because, she says, they focus too much on sex. "Showing that ass like trash," she raps on "Beware the Crone."
Indeed, hip-hop undoubtedly could use fewer twerkers and more wizened truth-sayers. Half a lifetime removed from her days battling N.W.A, Tairrie B's re-emergence is inspiring. In a genre based upon storytelling, nobody's got more interesting accounts than she.