If stand-up comedians in the 80s taught us one thing, it’s that men never ask for directions. If female rappers in the new millennium have taught us anything, it’s that when it comes to giving women direction, they’re just as scared. As frustrating as airline food, the gender-bias that once plagued the oft-misogenistic genre of rap music has spent the past decade morphing into some mutant subversive institutionalized sexism. What was once a glass ceiling has become a glass cage with female rappers going from being seen as novelty acts to just being novelties. An overcorrection-caused car accident of post-Rawkus guilt, the present result is ladies’ night becoming the one evening Hip-Hop goes to bed early.
For all the heat the likes of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown have caught in recent years, it’s seldom mentioned that they were both parts of some pretty incredible songs. Such revisionist history, downplaying the importance of the actual music in favor of an unspoken morality, has been the catalyst for the lessened role of female rappers today. 15 years ago the dominant female voice in Hip-Hop was an overtly sexual one. While it did clear a path for women in the industry and could be deconstructed as a feminist equal-rights endeavor as women were freely able to express sexuality as much as men were, it suffered a backlash in the late-90s and that backlash is why there’s so few good female rappers today. Sexuality suddenly became a negative and women who even slightly differed from this path (involuntarily lead by Missy Elliot) became seen as “positive” without really expressing any positivity, just an absence of a “negative influence.”
More than anything, this forced female rappers to (more than any other group) have their “message” become most important and the actual act of rapping/making good rap songs took a backseat. Suddenly any female who wasn’t rhyming about sexual conquests and reached mere adequacy over a beat became heralded as a “Great FEMALE Rapper.” It’s a double standard that has been detrimental to this day. Look at a tremendous talent like Jean Grae who balanced doing disturbingly well crafted social issue songs like “Taco Day” alongside female-masturbation tales like “Hands On Experience” and was both critically respected as well as commercially viable and versatile enough to be the one to carve the dope modern female rapper niche in the marketplace herself and tragically got pigeonholed by an audience and industry that wanted her to just be a female Talib Kweli. It’s a
man’s bland world.
To better maintain estrogen levels, rappers need to think globally and act locally. I’ve spent time at many Hip-Hop open mics around the country and have noticed a disturbing trend amongst the reactions to female participants. If a female rapper is completely awful, she’s met with a polite golf clap and the night moves on. If she comes back at the next installment and is just *slightly* better, she’s then showered with praise as if she’s finally got *it*. This hinders the creative process and artistic progress as the female rapper in question now believes she has perfected her craft. This results in her output’s quality plateauing and then opens the door for her to put on any gaggle of female friends of equal or lesser ability to be embraced in the same way. Now the prospects of ulterior motives from male observers come into play and the circle-of-dishonestly spins again.
There was an article that came out two summers ago about “why are there no female rappers at Soundset” or any number of (their words) “supposedly progressive underground hip-hop festivals” and the answer straight up is because THEY’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. The reason they’re NOT good enough is because they’ve been told they were good enough for a long while now and nobody wants to tell them different. I’ve long believed that most underground rappers whether male or female are just a few honest friends away from making some incredible music, but while most criticism of males is written off as “haters,” females tend to have others preemptively writing off these critiques with an ingrained belief that “female rappers come under more fire” (they don’t) and now even the most novice of Gyno-American* steps to the mic with an unwarranted feeling of entitlement.
The best female rappers of all time (such as MC Lyte and Rah Digga, both of which I’m a long time devotee) are the ones who came up in the hardest of all-male environments and crafted their personalities to be more than either “the girl who has sex” or “the girl who doesn’t have sex because she’s too busy reading books or something.” It’s staggering how many she-rappers right now think bragging about themselves having a flat-chest or any semblance of sexual standards somehow makes them more Hip-Hop than thou. All this does is further enforce stereotypes by suggesting in order to be an exception to the rule one has to be the complete opposite. It’s a self-defeating mindset that attempts to craft an identity based on who someone isn’t rather than who they are. That being said, there are a growing number of female rappers now in NYC, New Orleans, Minneapolis etc. who seem to know the difference between “a great female rapper” and “a great rapper” and are striving for the latter. It’s a trend I hope continues to the point where its no longer a trend and a rapper’s gender becomes less of a definition and more of a dynamic.
I’d like to take a sec to say this jam here is dedicated to some of my favorites –
So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!
*A term I’m using for readers who believe the fairer sex is more than a “man” or “male” with two extra letters.