James Brown wailed that ''this is a man's world,'' and nobody in pop music boasts that boast like a male rapper: Only in rap has the word ''bitch'' become an accepted everyday word for ''woman.'' But a recent five-hour women's rap show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena the biggest all-female lineup in rap's history may signal a change.
The show, held on Valentine's Day, featured established stars like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, along with Yo-Yo, a fiery newcomer, as well as many of rap's honorable ladies-in-waiting women like M.C. Trouble, Harmony, Nefertiti, and Nikki D. This was an event full of heat and self-respect; it went far beyond mere political correctness.
Nefertiti railed an intense rap, built on Edwin Starr's 1970 hit ''War''; she questioned the high proportion of blacks among ground forces fighting in the Middle East. Yet while this was a party, it didn't have a party line. If Harmony rapped that she ''ain't no slut/Selling records with a butt,'' you could also see MC Lyte's male dancers strip down to their skivvies and shimmy as if they were auditioning for a Chippendale's revue.
There was Jamaican rap courtesy of Michie Mee and rap for making out in the basement from MC Smooth. Queen Latifah, a stocky, round-faced potentate with easy charisma, showed once more that she's one of the few rappers who truly dazzles live. Her short stint was supple, a beaut. But the show's highlight was Yo-Yo. Playing before a hometown crowd (she comes from Compton, home of many of L.A.'s best rappers), she tore into a set that, short as it was, still gave her ample time to tell off the guys who tell off the ladies. ''F--- a man's world,'' she shouted. ''Guys ain't nothin' but dirt/And they'll flirt with anything dressed in a miniskirt.''
Staging the show in a 15,200-seat arena was a reach. Only 3,700 people showed up, though they were vocal teenagers, many out on dates, who kept the energy level high: Rarely have so many hands been raised into the air so many times in the course of an evening. ''We knew we wouldn't fill it up,'' says Michael White, who promoted the L.A. show. ''We did this because we thought it should have been done a long time ago.'' The next step is for the show to go national; arrangements for a multicity tour starting in June are being negotiated, though no firm dates have yet been booked. If the tour comes off, call it an extended consciousness-raising session, stretching from coast to coast.