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Ten p.m. Sunday is not the ideal time to have a raucous breakbeat banging in your ears and three MCs spewing lyrics, if the scene at the Metro Cafe is any indication. A head count reveals about 15 folks in the club. Most are the fanatically faithful, but a few look as if they have simply meandered into the medium-size cafe for some wholesome Sunday quiet time.
They didn’t count on Toni Blackman or Daughters of the CipHer. Onstage the group is hard at work: Mocha, Kprofile, and Blackman are belting out freestyles while Marla Mac pours herself into the sax and J-Scales strums an electric bass. The crew is oblivious to the fatigued crowd, which can barely muster a shred of call-and-response. Kprofile’s boyfriend is the only trouper, cheering the group on like a Little League mom.
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It is a familiar scene for female MCs, who in hiphop are viewed almost as sideshow freaks. But Daughters are more than three sisters with a band and a bad time slot. Blackman has headed the rap collective Freestyle Union for almost four years; her name is virtually synonymous with D.C.’s hiphop scene. But after running monthly freestyle ciphers (gatherings in which MCs rap improvisationally), she noticed that the females were gun-shy. “Women come to the cipher all the time and don’t participate,” says Blackman. “Just recently, there was a woman who would come…but I would never hear her rhyme. Then we had an open mike a few weeks later, and the girl was rhyming her ass off.”
Blackman started running ciphers in January. They eventually came to revolve around a solid performing core of MCs and musicians. The group has become a staple at clubs like State of the Union and the Metro Cafe. “There are female MCs out there but no true female voice in hiphop,” says Blackman. Daughters’ style combines traditional freestyling, singing, and freestyling in Jamaican creole. It’s an eclectic, if slightly unrefined, sound. If only for the raw electricity they exude onstage, Daughters almost always pull people out of their seats.
At least, most nights they do. Tonight, no amount of voltage could rock this crowd. But Daughters are content to rock themselves and to be themselves. “People think to have female MCs onstage with self-respect and clothes on is a radical notion,” says Blackman. “We’ve had industry folks say we’ve got a great gimmick. But there is no gimmick.” Indeed, the group eschews wild costumes and layers of makeup. For Daughters, the stage is a playground, and even if only decked out in street clothes and playing in front of a dead crowd, they’re still having a ball.