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2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, a culture born in the streets of the South Bronx with DJing, emceeing, breakdancing and graffiti at its cornerstones. But it is still a male-dominated space. Even though women who rap or DJ may not be on the radio as much as their male counterparts, plenty of talented women are creating hip hop culture, and right here in Buffalo.

Women of hip hop: Words matter to Pretty Bulli, so don't call her a girl

A black and white photograph of Buffalo emcee Pretty Bulli
Rasheed Jones
Pretty Bulli is an emcee from Buffalo, NY.

In the second installment in this series on Buffalo's women of hip hop, WBFO features emcee Pretty Bulli. Hit the 'Listen' button to hear Bulli's story accompanied by clips of her music.

Words matter to Pretty Bulli. That means you should choose yours carefully when in her company.

Firstly, don’t call her a rapper. She’s an emcee.

“To be an emcee you have to be a master of ceremony. You have to be able to control a crowd and care about the lyrics that come out of your mouth, putting metaphors together, wordplay. Rappers don't do that,” Bulli says.

Secondly, don’t call her a girl.

Bulli recalls a time that happened in the studio, “I’m gonna leave names out,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.

She had just laid down a fiery 16-bar freestyle on a track with a male artist, when the man, likely still stinging from Bulli’s lyrics, turned to her and said her work was, "nice for a girl." Bulli was not happy.

“It charged my soul something terrible. Because it’s so demeaning. What does my gender matter? Did I body you for a girl, or did I just body you?” she says, frowning.

“You’re not supposed to have anything to say back. You’re not supposed to have a smart mouth. You’re supposed to sit pretty and be quiet. No. You ain’t gonna get that over here. I am not a Barbie doll!”
Pretty Bulli

That frustration was the fuel for Bulli’s 2020 single Not a Barbie, which sums up the emcee’s essence and no-nonsense attitude in the lyrics, “I’m not a video vixen I’m a regular chick… sweatpants Timberlands you can take your pick, I’m not a Barbie, I’d probably be more like Harlequin.”

Bulli says that she goes against the grain of how many men in the industry expect women to behave.

“They want the women in the industry to be like Barbie dolls,” she says. “You’re not supposed to have anything to say back. You’re not supposed to have a smart mouth. You’re supposed to sit pretty and be quiet. No. You ain’t gonna get that over here. I am not a Barbie doll!” Bulli laughs.

Pretty Bulli sits on risers with a duffel bag in front of her.
Rasheed Jones
Pretty Bulli has been freestyling since she was 13 years old. Her 2022 single Duffel Bag captures her essence as a working Mom balancing her creative life with a 9 to 5.

Bulli was raised in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood and always had a way with words. As a child, her father regularly sent her to her room as punishment for talking back, and she whiled away that time writing poetry and messing around with a tape recorder. Around that same time, she used to hang out with a couple of boys from across the street who made radios and recorders out of car parts, “How we did it, I don’t know."

The back-talk, poetry, and recording all synergized when one day, she heard the boys recording themselves rapping. “I’m listening, I’m like, wait a minute I can do that!” She went away, wrote a few lyrics, and two days later Bulli marched across the street and freestyled with those same boys. She was 13 years old.

“And the rest is history,” Bulli says, grinning.

That history includes releases of multiple singles, mixtapes, EPs and albums. She also ghostwrites for other artists. But nowadays, rather than freestyle battles on the corner, Bulli is battling expectations of how a woman in the industry should look.

“If you lead with sex, it’s easier for them to get an audience to gravitate towards you. Versus me coming in, and I’ve got a hoody on just like he does, it’s like, ‘oh well, we can’t really sell her,'" Bulli says.

She also finds herself fighting for proper credit on other artists’ records. She recounts a time when she wrote and featured on a male artist's project, but upon its release, learned that she was not credited.

“I never want to lose control over my creativity. Ever.”
Pretty Bulli

“I was on four tracks. He didn’t even have my name on the tracks…I didn’t even get a writer’s credit or anything,” she says.

When asked why she thinks this happened, she shrugs and responds, “It happens a lot with women. I don’t know why but they try us. Yes, they try us a lot.”

But Bulli says she doesn’t let herself feel pressure to present herself in a sexualized way. With a teenage daughter of her own, she believes it is important to set an example by staying true to herself.

By day, Bulli works as a travelling phlebotomist, which means she spends a lot of time in her truck. Just like those days stuck in her bedroom, she spends it writing. There’s no pen and paper involved, just a background beat on loop until Bulli begins to freestyle. She memorizes the lyrics as she goes. Her 2022 track Duffel Bag captures this life as a working Mom balancing a 9 to 5 with her art.

But you’ll hear no complaints about this juggling-act from Bulli, “Busy is blessed,” she smiles.

As an independent artist, Bulli has full control of how she presents herself, “I never want to lose control over my creativity. Ever.” There’s a pause before she breaks out into a huge laugh, “I don’t like people telling me what to do!”

Pretty Bulli is no doll sitting silently looking out onto the world, she’s out here, still talking back and wielding words, one freestyle at a time.

Tracks featured in this audio story:
Not a Barbie (Single, 2020)
I'm Really Nice (Duffel Bag Bulli EP, 2022)
Duffel Bag (Duffel Bag Bulli EP, 2022)

Releases by Pretty Bulli:

Duffel Bag Bulli (EP, 2022)
Looking A** (Single Feat. Fever Moore Fire, 2021)
Not a Barbie (Single, 2020)
The Burial Song (Single Feat. L Biz, 2020)
Dope Chick No Soda (Mixtape, 2019)
The Break Up (Album, 2018)
Respect UR History (Mixtape, 2017)

Holly Kirkpatrick is a journalist whose work includes investigations, data journalism, and feature stories that hold those in power accountable. She joined WBFO in December 2022.
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