Humor provides a means of navigating the race and gender politics of hip hop culture in several ways.
The Beastie Boys, a trio of white Jewish rappers, relied heavily on humor to mark their outsider status while mitigating claims of racial inauthenticity.
The triumphant career of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott shows how her humor—especially when aimed at the rapper herself—has functioned as an artistic expression of old-school legitimacy and as a means of empowerment for a businesswoman in the male-dominated music industry.
While the proliferation of hip hop parody relies on racial and gender stereotypes for much of its humor, it also offers outsiders the possibility to negotiate otherwise prohibitive social differences from within hip hop culture.
This according to “Pranksta rap: Humor as difference in hip hop” by Charles Hiroshi Garrett, an essay included in Rethinking difference in music scholarship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 315–337).
Below, Missy Elliott performs Work it, her classic send-up of sexual stereotypes.