Women In Rap Are Back & They Don’t Dance. They Make Money Moves (Video)
2017 may prove to be a watershed year in Hip-Hop. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. married concept and advanced technical lyricism with commercial dominance in a way that forced the mainstream to conform. As recently as last week, artists from Logic to Bun B to Trae Tha Truth are taking action on issues and news events, literally saving lives. Another theme appears to be how in all corners of the industry, in nearly every style of Hip-Hop, from multiple generations, women are taking charge, creatively and commercially.
Currently, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” is at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Bronx, New York rapper’s major label debut single has climbed steadily since July. It’s the highest charting single by a solo female MC since Nicki Minaj’s 2014 “Anaconda” cut, which peaked at #2. Cardi, who has been pitted against Minaj by some members of the media, may best that if her hit continues its momentum. In this week’s TBD episode, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte argues that it is a great time for female MCs, and Nicki Minaj may no longer be in the elite class, even within her own city.
From Cardi B to Ill Camille, Rapsody to Trina, Remy Ma to Young M.A., Hunte examines the wins in the space as of late. “Cardi, Nicki, and M.A are the three female rappers that have charted in the Top 20 with solo records since 2010. All of which are from New York…another reason New York Rap is underrated right now, it’s the only city with women putting numbers on the board, and it’s definitely had the year’s best beef.” Going into Rem’s ongoing tirade against Nicki, Hunte details, “Remy Ma’s ‘SHEther’ made a statement, repping for all the things that so many had thought of Nicki Minaj for so long…What’s the last Nicki track that cut-through like ‘SHEther’ or ‘All The Way Up’ or ‘OOOUUU’ or ‘Bodak Yellow’? Is Nicki Minaj the fourth most interesting female rapper out of New York City right now? Whatever your answer, this is just one city. This is an incredible time for female MCs.”
A decade ago, the Grammy Awards and others cut the “Female Rap” categories reportedly because of low submissions. In the DIY, singles-driven era, the landscape is filling up and it’s very exciting. In ’14, an NPR report by Erik Nielson linked a low number of females signed in the major label system (20 in total) to costs of stylists and makeup.
“I once had a theory that Da Brat, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Remy Ma, eventually Lauryn Hill all going to jail played a role since the major advocates and benchmarks had left market,” says Hunte. “Everyone I’ve asked about this on record has disagreed.” He spoke to onetime major label artist Rah Digga on the subject. She said, “Once all the labels started merging and it really started getting hard for people to sell records. I think the one summer [Lil’ Kim] had the real big record [with] ‘Lighters Up’ and I don’t think it really moved any units, I think at that point labels really got scared. Arguably one of the most successful female Hip-Hop artists and she’s going to jail and can’t move any units right now, I think labels really got scared to get behind females.”
Justin continues, “The term ‘female MC’ arguably carries a stigma with it as well, strong enough that many hate being called ‘female’ emcee in the first place.” He spoke to Rapsody and Ill Camille about this. Rap’, who is now backed by Jamla/Roc Nation, said, “A lot of times it’s used today as a way to separate you. It just feels like, ‘Let me put you in the “Other” box. I have to label you a female.’ It kind of takes away from you just being a dope MC. I feel like when I was growing up, during that era, it was a badge of honor. I feel like there was some sisterhood and pride that went along with it because you had so many women out at the same time and they all were different. They worked together a lot, too. There was a pride in being a woman and it didn’t feel like you were as separated… When they were coming up, that was just some pride and strength and power in being labeled a female rapper. It’s changed now. It’s like we went from this era to that and it’s like ‘Women can’t rap and we only need you to be video vixens and for the look,’ And when we came back and tried to resurface, it had this negative connotation to it like, we were less than or other than. I think that’s the reason I shy away from it.”
But wait, as if stigmas, label apprehension over commercial viability, and reported costs of business weren’t pitfall enough, Rick Ross took it to a whole other level. Hunte narrates: “Rick Ross caught the media’s ire last month. During a July interview with The Breakfast Club, they asked him why he hasn’t signed a female rapper. He said: ‘You know, I never did it because I always thought, like, I would end up f*cking a female rapper and fucking the business up. I’m so focused on my business. I just, I gotta be honest with you. You know, she looking good. I’m spending so much money on her photo shoots. I gotta f*ck a couple times.'” The Maybach Music Group founder later apologized for the remarks. Hunte weighs in, “[Rick Ross] may have spoken out of turn, but his position is lockstep with the rest of the industry.”
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. Citing research from a recent Pitchfork piece by Sheldon Pearce, Justin states, “Out of 15 Hip-Hop-focused major subsidiaries, indie and vanity labels ranging from Def Jam to Mello Music Group to OVO to Cash Money, only three had signed female rappers. No roster was more than 36% female…even a smaller percentage are Black women. All the label heads are men.” Perhaps this is step with some of the inequity women face in jobs far beyond Rap music or its industry.
The Company Man contends, “Despite all of these challenges, both Rapsody and Ill Camille agree that right now is a great time for women in Hip-Hop. There’s more diversity. More independence. Both point to the impact playlists and the democratization of music as a possible reasons why more women voices are now finding ears.”
Ill Camille, whose 2017 release Heirloom features Camp Lo, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and SiR, agrees with that optimism. “I’m noticing anytime one of my songs is featured on a playlist, those are my most listened to songs. It increases my listeners then it increases my revenue, too. I’m starting to see the benefits of that. And I was gonna tell you that I’m noticing my [songs] are getting on some female-DJ-generated playlists. Maybe that has a lot to do with it, too. The homegirls gonna show love. They’re gonna put together playlists specifically for us.”
Women are supporting women, and pushing each other to the top of the charts, the playlists, and onto the label’s radars—even if women (or any innovative artist) no longer need the machine. 2017 is great for MCs who happen to be female, and as Rapsody announces her album, there is plenty more to come.
#BonusBeat: Finding The Goat: Why Are Women Excluded From Talks About Hip-Hop’s Greatest MCs?
This Ambrosia For Heads original (narrated by Rapsody), premiered in 2015.