Meet The Rapper Taking Body Positivity, Self-Love, And Female Empowerment Center Stage In The Digital Age

"You don't have to change to be visible."

Shanthony Exum is no stranger to being underestimated. Speaking to A Plus in a self-described "Valley girl accent," the rapper is quick to recall the many times male audience members at her shows have written off her musical ability before Miss Eaves (Exum's pseudonym) even takes the stage. After her performance begins, however, she'll take a moment to look out into the crowd. "And then just seeing their face," Exum said. "It's like the best 'I told you so.' "

While she's proud to be one of the many examples of successful female rappers, Exum wishes there wasn't a "rule" to which she must constantly prove herself an exception. "It does suck that that's the assumption going in — that if they see a woman, she's not gonna be good," she explained. "... But this happened to me a lot, so it's nice to [show] that yeah, women are just as capable at doing everything that anyone else can do. We just have a vagina." 

Her anatomy has never been an obstacle to overcome, it — along with her voice — has always been a source of strength.  

Ever since Exum was a teenager listening to Biggie Smalls and Missy Elliott, she has loved rap music. But she didn't consider pursuing a career as a rap artist herself until 10 years ago. "I was in a relationship with a musician and —  I really like attention —  so I was like, 'I can't sing, but I can rap, so let's start a band,' " Exum said with a laugh.  

She began rapping about funny topics, such as the Smurfs and spandex pants, until the relationship, and consequently the band, broke up. "Then I started writing about things that were more personal to me," she explained. One of those "more personal" topics, namely body positivity, became universally popular when she recently released her song "Thunder Thighs" on her first full-length album, Feminasty. "I've had my own body image struggles and my own issues," Exum said. "So a lot of the work I'm making, it's just like a pep talk to myself in some ways, and then it also trickles down and helps other people." 

Even though Exum tackles difficult, personal topics, she's found a way to do so that's not only fun but catchy as hell. When a rap begins with "Chub rub, the day is just heating up" as "Thunder Thighs" does, you know you're in for a good time. And when another, "Ms. Emoji," proudly declares, "Next time he starts to think that I look better when smiling, I'll paint a pretty Cheshire cat and shove it up his ass!" you can't help but, well, smile. 

"When you can laugh, it makes life easier," she said. "... There's a lot of people who maybe had some of the same struggles that I've had in my life, and that will help them get through those moments, knowing that they're not so alone." 

By creating art, Exum has also created a community that accepts anyone and everyone for who they are. "So many times in media, you won't see a reflection of yourself and that's really hard," she said. "But [when] you see someone just being themselves, completely genuinely and honestly ... that helps people realize that it's not so hard, they can do it, too." 

"I think each person has such a unique perspective, so that's always what that person can offer. Even me, as a female rapper, I'm gonna offer a different perspective than another female rapper," she explained. "I would like to see just more people being honest and making work that's truly from their heart and what's on their mind ... What's cool about the internet is it's giving people the ability to produce their own work, so people are less tied to labels and less tied to these more conventional ways of getting out your message." 

That's not a slam to the mainstream music industry or the labels that fuel it, but simply Exum's recognition that, having never worked with a label herself, she imagines those artists are more likely to navigate a balancing act between maintaining creative control and reaching a wider audience. Beholden to no one and nothing except her own ambition, Exum is the driving force behind her work from concept to execution. 

Whether it's writing songs, shooting music videos, or designing her album covers, she embodies the message she advocates. Because Exum uses her unique voice to encourage others in finding theirs, Exum always pushes herself to "be really honest with [her] work." As a multimedia artist, that work might be her latest song, or it might be her inclusive, body positive style blog The Every Body Project, or her collaboration on scripted web video series about relationships. "I don't let the medium define the message," she said of her creative process. "I let the message tell me what medium I want to use." 

Whatever Exum creates, she hopes whoever comes across it will look at her and think to themselves, "This is a person who's being themselves, who's having fun, who's showing their friends in videos ... and this is what I can do as well. I don't have to do it like this person, but I feel empowered to be able to uniquely be myself and to share my ideas." 

Her final words on the subject: "You don't have to change to be visible." 

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