Monday, March 5, 2012

Where'd She Go?: The Absence of the Female Rapper and MC

Female emcees are treated by audiences and participants in hip-hop culture alike as trivial, salacious accessories to all that is misogynistic and chauvinist about the music.
-MC Devynity, from The Crisis
Nicki Minaj
“You a, you a stupid hoe,” says Nicki Minaj in the chorus to her laters single, Stupid Hoe, off her yet to be released sophomore album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. As a fan, I was very much disappointed by the track not to mention insulted and a bit embarassed...for her. Then again, what was I expecting, right? Her debut album, Pink Friday, was hardly any different. (Her mixtapes before that were just a tad better.) Minaj is simply getting bolder as a response to the positive feedback she has gotten from her earlier antics from her newly acquired fanbase. Her earlier fanbase can hardly recognize her from the days of her Playtime Is Over mixtape. Minaj has never produced thought-provoking lyrics. She is little more than a modern Lil’ Kim reincarnation (although she, and everyone around her, seems to be in denial of that truth).

Although Minaj has been stirring up a sense of repulsion in me as of late (including her Grammy 2012 performance), I originally gravitated towards her because of the limited number of female rappers and MCs in the mainstream hip-hop industry. No one else was there to catch my attention. Although many of her opponents would beg to differ, there is not much that is wrong with Minaj and the type of music she chooses to make, but she is proof of the problem in hip-hop today: Why is she the only popular female rapper? Where are all the other female rappers and MCs? In addition to Nicki (and similar rappers like her, such as Diamond, Trina, Khia, and Jackie-O who are below the radar), there has to be a variety of female rappers and MCs who bring to the table different perspectives of the black female.

Lil' Kim back in the day
Having only one main female rapper in mainstream hip-hop industry is like a grocery store providing shoppers with only sweets as a form of sustenance. You need some fruits and lots of vegetables, too (perhaps some salmon for omega-3), otherwise you will get sick...and die. Well, maybe you will not necessarily die from a lack of female rappers, but you get my point. Where are the Missy Elliots? The Queen Latifahs? The Da Brats? The MC Lytes? The Left Eyes? The Eves? It is not difficult to find a multitude of male rappers and MCs with different styles and varying degrees of content. When it comes to female rappers and MCs, however, it is pure luck if you can think of ten with the same style and the same content. There is a void in hip-hop that is not being filled. How will the story of the black woman ever reach the masses when the only orator is...Nicki Minaj?

The lack of female rappers and MCs is nothing new. In the 1990s when female rappers and MCs were showing up on the charts, there were not that many in existence. Only 13 female rappers have been on the year-end chart out of 585 artists since 1991 (Concepcion, 2007). And several of them appeared on the charts more than once. What is keeping the female rapper and MC from being taken seriously? Is it not obvious? Hip-hop has been and still is mainly a black man’s territory and women have to, or seem to think they have to, play by men’s rules (Perry, 2004; Concepcion, 2007; Touré, 2011). Mainstream female rappers have never taken the initiative to come from an authentic black woman’s perspective. They have always attempted to come from an aggressive, black male perspective which they simply gentrified (Perry, 2004).

MC Lyte back in the day
In all honesty, black women (women in general) have always wanted the power of their male counterparts, while black males have always wanted the power of white males. So, it is no surprise that most of the few mainstream female rappers have blindly succumbed to perpetuating black male egoism in their music when their black femininity is what could set them apart. When have you ever heard a female rapper referencing her womb as, say, “the chalice of life” as opposed to gloating about her “fat pussy”? They either cannot (due to a lack of knowledge about their true femininity), will not (because the male rappers they are seeking validation from will not grant them credibility by “cosigning”), or not allowed to go that deep (because that is not the angle that their record labels are trying to sell about the black woman).

Speaking of “cosigning,” it is an extremely important factor in the rise and success of female rappers and MCs and can also be detrimental to the longevity of their career. Cosigning occurs when one rapper tells their core audience that another rising rapper is the next big thing by signing them to their record label, featuring them on a single, being featured on the rising rapper’s single, and/or simply talking about how talented that rising rapper is. All the female rappers from the past and even today have been associated with a male rapper/producer/executive.

Eve
MC Lyte admitted as much: “If you think about it, every female MC has come from a crew. I come from Audio Two, Foxy from The Firm and Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim from Junior M.A.F.I.A., Latifah from Native Tongues, and Eve from Ruff Ryders” (Baraka & Mitchell, 2002, p. 48). Today, we have Missy Elliott who was heavily associated with producer Timbaland, Trina from Trick Daddy and Slip-N-Slide Records, Diamond from Crime Mob, and Minaj from Lil’ Wayne and Young Money. The problem is that these female rappers oftentimes do not write their own lyrics and their entire persona has been created by a male. When the reign of these crews expire so do the careers of the female rappers.

Remember Lady of Rage (Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre and Death Row Records)? Remember Charlie Baltimore (Ja Rule/Irv Gotti and Murder Inc.)? No? Exactly! Not saying that Lady of Rage and Charlie did not write their own lyrics, but when their crews died out, their careers were quickly extinguished (Lady of Rage went to on play Coretta Cox on The Steve Harvey Show). Hell, even singer Ashanti's career was hanging by a thread once the Murder Inc. ship started sinking. Female rappers like Lil’ Kim and Da Brat were handcrafted by male rappers/producers (which does not make any less talented). For the most part, they had no advantage of forming their own identities from the beginning. When Junior M.A.F.I.A. expired, there was no room to deviate from the “monster” The Notorious B.I.G. had created as Lil’ Kim. I am not even sure Lil’ Kim could separate her true identity (Kimberley Jones) from her fabricated rap persona once she had to take her career into her own hands. Consumers are as much to blame as are the politics of the hip-hop industry. Most consumers will only give a female rapper or MC a chance if a male rapper that they enjoy listening to cosigns the female. Unfortunately, this is even true for female consumers who are the ones who can help to establish a female rapper.

Missy Elliott
Another cited hindrance to the rise of the female rapper and MC is the cost of maintaining the materialistic fashion sense of many women. Some blame rappers such as Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim for making it trendy to be materialistic (Concepcion, 2007). Material gains have always been regarded as a means for happiness and contentment and black people live by this code. Black women especially have continually been regarded as gold diggers by black males even though black males use their riches as a tool to attract them (and then get upset when they discover that that is the only reason we gave them the time of day in the first place). The high maintenance diva attitude perpetuated by Foxy and Kim took the depiction to a whole new level and its remnants are very visible in the lyrics and even more so in the fashion sense of today’s female rappers.

Constant provision of false hair and the care for it (including wigs which can cost $6,000, hair pieces, hair extensions, and relaxers), expensive name brand make-up (some of the luxury brands provide consumers with lipsticks that can cost up to $50 per tube), shoes and/or boots (which can cost at least $2,000 per pair depending on the designer), skin care, clothing, a penchant for luxury bras/panties, and other feminine products can make for a hefty investment. Male rappers, on the other hand, need jeans, shirts, sneakers, and a fade from a barber (unless you are Kanye West, in which case your budget will be just as bad, if not worse, than a high maintenance female). Labels are unwilling to invest in a rising female rapper if they are not sure their investment will be returned in full and then some (Devynity, 2008). The fewer labels that invest in female rappers, the less mainstream female rappers there are, and the less new and younger female rappers are willing to come forth.

Trina
Another issue with female rappers is the competition (mostly for male validation) between black women, which is multiplied a thousandfold in the entertainment industry than it is for black women living regular lives. If you take a look at hip-hop music videos from the 1990s, everyone made appearances in each other’s videos. Missy Elliott’s videos used to be the staple for camaraderie-ship. Camaraderie is a missing element in hip-hop today. Everyone wants to be No. 1. It has become very individualized, especially for females rappers. It is very rare to hear female rappers being featured in each other’s music much less making a cameo in each others' videos. I was highly surprised when Ludacris came out with the track My Chick Bad (Remix) featuring Diamond, Trina, and Eve (with Minaj rapping on the original mix, but she still made an appearance in the video for the remix). The ladies did not seem to be too friendly with each other though, but that might just be me.

Take a look at Minaj who continues to claim that she is opening doors for female rappers (last time I checked women like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah did that already and the foremothers before them), yet there was not one female rapper featured on Pink Friday (Kanye West, Drake, and quasi-singer Rihanna were featured instead). You would have thought a slew of females would have made appearances on the album. On Eve’s 2002 Eve-olution, there also were no female rappers featured on the album (Snoop Dogg, Jadakiss, and Styles P, along with singer Shonda, were featured instead). Even Lauryn Hill’s 1998 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill lacked a feature from a female MC (then again, there was not even a male MC featured on there either). Male rappers have no problem working with each other (except for the occasional childish beef) as can be proven by the heavy number of features on their albums. They will even extend their invitation to a female rapper if they wish to do so. Female rappers, on the other hand, seem to go out of their way to avoid each other. It seems they are more likely to collaborate with a female R&B singer because there is less competition.

Kreayshawn
If all of that was not enough, female rappers and MCs will soon have to keep an eye out for white female rappers without even having the opportunity to stand as true contenders against their male counterparts first. White female rappers are not making too much noise at this particular moment, but they are gaining a bit of popularity, which must be noted. The white female rapper is regarded as the ultimate sign of inauthenticity and, for the most part, they are viewed as a joke (Touré, 2011). The search for a white female rapper began earnestly around 2000 with little success (Beato, 2002). But lately, white female rappers like Kreayshawn and V-Nasty from White Girl Mob have been gaining a lot of mainstream attention. I do not care much for them (because they seem so...idiotic).

My only issue with them is their use of the term ‘nigga’ which has a long history of pain, humiliation and suffering for black people. But V-Nasty seems to think that she has the right to use the word because she has “struggled” (since when was struggling a requirement for using ‘nigga’?). She is unaware of how her whiteness transmutes the word back to its original meaning the moment it leaves her mouth (watch her here: Video: White Female Rapper (V-Nasty) Fights for Her Right to Say Ni**a). I suppose I cannot possibly expect a white, privileged female to understand that. I do like K. Flay, though, who is a 26-year old Stanford University graduate and a (white) female rapper/vocalist. There is something about her voice that is very intriguing (watch her work: White female rapper K.Flay spits flames (VIDEO). However, the white female rapper offers nothing substantially different to the hip-hop scene. If she is not masquerading as some tough and aggressive white-girl version of a black male rapper, then she is masquerading as the hyper-sexualized black female rapper (like Iggy Azalea)—who was in turn fabricated by a black male.

Lady of Rage and her...puffs
Time will only tell how female rappers and MCs will fare in the industry. The only sure thing is that more female rappers and MCs need to be in the mainstream. I applaud the few that are already out there, but they are not enough. Whether it is from a current female rapper, black male rapper or a white female rapper, the plight of black women will continue to be overlooked and/or ignored in the hip-hop. The black female rapper is looking for validation from the black male rapper and is unwilling to incorporate meaningful content into her lyrics; the black male rapper would rather subjugate the black woman; and the white female rapper is oblivious to the experiences of the black woman. It is up to the consumers to support various female rappers and MCs, thereby showing the industry that they are wanted and needed. If not, there are always the underground female MCs to listen to.



References

Baraka, R., & Mitchell, G. (2002, December). Lady rappers: How three TCB. Billboard, 114(49), 47-54.

Beato, G. (2002, February). Not bad for a white girl. Spin, 18(2), 84-88.

Concepcion, M. (2007, June). A bad rap?: Facing declining sales and limited opportunities, the female hip-hop industry ponders its future. Billboard, 119(23), 24-27.

Devynity. (Summer 2008). Makes me wanna.......screeeeeeeam. The Crisis, 115(3), 12-14.

Perry, I. (2004). The venus hip hop and the pink ghetto: Negotiating spaces for women. In Prophets of the hood: Politics and poetics in hip hop (pp. 155-190).

Touré. (2011, December 23). Challenging hip-hop’s masculine ideal. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/arts/music/white-female-rappers-challenging-hip-hops-masculine-ideal.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

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