Definition: A woman who raps or freestyles. The feminine equivalent of an emcee.
In the pink corner all the way from Jamaica Queens, NY we have Nicki Minaj, sex bomb, Barbie and self-proclaimed ‘bad bitch’. From Brooklyn, NY we have rap veteran, Queen Bee and boss chick Lil Kim.
It’s a brutal first two rounds as Nicki delivers a few low blows with every hit taking jabs at Kim’s slightly older age. As an OG in the game, Kim knows how to use these moves to her advantage so they don’t do any real damage on her image (or career) and hits back just as hard. By the third round both parties begin to tire, Nicki is over it at this point, but Kim is determined to not let this disrespect go un-checked, she needs this victory. The barb raises her pink gloved fist and delivers a destructive blow to the Queen Bee forcing her to fall flat on her back, but just as Nicki goes to raise her triumphant pink glove (Kim’s eyelash stuck on and all), like a phoenix from the ashes, the queen rises.
Ok so that didn’t really happen, well only in the world of the Tumblr fan fictions, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that girls are extremely competitive they’re just not as overt about it. Girls are also very, very bitchy, but I guess that’s ingrained in our DNA.
2014 was supposed to be the year of the female rappers and yeah, ok, Nicki dropped her album and Dej Loaf dared a n*gga to try her but where were the rest?
Now, it’s definitely no secret that hip-hop is a male dominated industry and no one could argue otherwise. Whilst the males have no problem co-signing other unknown rappers and ‘putting them on’ they only tend to let a female rapper jump on the track if she’s established, has a big fan base and has made her mark on the game. In other words she has to have something to offer him, otherwise it’s a no-go. Ms Banks once broke it down the best “The three requirements to jump on a track if you’re a female are: be pretty, be good but don’t be better than the male. Coz if you spin him, you’re in trouble.” Even though it’s sad, it’s true; many male rappers have a problem with women being better than them. The men don’t believe rap is a sport for girls, so when the women come along and they play better, it’s a problem. Just last year in Atlanta, GA a woman was raped, set on fire and shot just because she beat three men in a rap battle. So although the issue of misogyny in rap music has been identified, people fail to understand the issue is much more prevalent in the industry than we see.
The history of females in hip-hop is a long, complex one and funnily enough a beef started by a group of boys (surprise surprise) called U.T.F.O induced the birth of the first femcee Roxanne Shanté in the mid 80s. Roxanne’s Revenge formed the basis of a series of back and forth between Shanté and ‘The Real Roxanne’ (who’s name wasn’t even Roxanne). In true rap fashion, the beef was encouraged and even propelled by the males of both respective crews. You know what they say; behind every good beef between girls are a bunch of boys (they don’t, I just made that up).
But though we might like to, we cannot blame the boys for everything because as we all know, girls are no strangers when it comes to causing drama and although they might forgive, 9 times out of 10, they will not forget. “Girls are bad mind you know. They don’t wanna work with other girls because they don’t wanna give them the opportunity to spin them. Girls never want to even give other girls the opportunity to be better than them”. Lioness argues that in her experience, it is always harder to get females to work with each other because they have to work ten times harder than the males to solidify their position and they don’t want to give another woman the chance to even take that spot.
It’s sad but that is the reality within the industry for the most part; the expectations for female rappers are either ridiculously high or offensively low. Lil Kim, in the 90s, said “To be a successful female rapper women have to want to be you and men have to want to f**k you” and most of the females MC’s today agree with that statement. As C-Cane put it “All men need to do is get a shape up, fresh white tee and borrow someone’s gold chain then they’re ready to go” but to the female in rap, image is everything. Whilst a man can get on a track with another male rapper and just rap better than him, females have to be prettier, have a nicer body, wear better clothes and on top of that sound better than the other female. There is also the fact that regardless of how they sound, both of their images are most likely to be compared and critiqued but with the men, nobody seems to care.
Many females have been open about pressure from the industry and consumers to appeal to both the male and female audiences for several years. That heavy weight has even driven some of them to drastic aesthetic changes. In an early documentary, Lil Kim talks about how her mentor, lover and the Notorious BIG consistently told her she was ugly because of her complexion and facial features. These shattering statements obviously cut a lot deeper than the surface, because Kim twenty years ago does not look the same as Kim today and that has nothing to do with ageing. Even though she’s one of the more extreme examples, she certainly isn’t the only one.
We’ve all seen plenty of femcees start their career with one look and as they progress we start to see new clothes, new wigs, new bodies and sometimes even a new nose. As tragic as it is, there’s clearly something slightly appealing about the Barbie look that all the rappers want to emulate so bad (*cough Nicki, Kim, Foxy cough*).
Even though we turn our noses up at the dirty ‘S’ word (surgery), whether we like to admit it or not, although we admired some of their traits, no one ever wanted to look like Missy [Elliott] or Queen Latifah because we loved them more for their music and not necessarily their looks. So when we moan about the pressures of image for the females in rap sometimes we have to delve into whether the industry is just giving us, as consumers, what we want to see.
Hip-hop has always been likened to a sport, because of how crucial the element of competitiveness is in order to keeping the genre alive. Lady Leshurr explained that with females in the industry they are under so much pressure that they tend to let their emotions get the better of them for the most part and this leads to them feeling extra competitive. “It’s always about being better than the next chick, never about being better together”.
Within every era of hip-hop we’ve seen the re-birth of a new femcee from Lauryn Hill the 90s hippie and socially conscious rapper to Missy Elliott the tomboy who took over the early 2000s and right now the harajuku Barbie herself, Nicki Minaj. All these women are extremely opposite at immediate glance (and listen) but they all have a strong image in common, they’re daring, fearless and appeal to the mass despite not representing them. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen women in rap break barriers and set records that even the men can’t compete with but they’re still seen as slightly inferior. Nicki recently expressed her contempt for the term female rapper and argued that it was insulting “don’t call me a female rapper, I can go toe to toe with the greats. I’m a rapper period”.
Such is the love story of hip-hop; it was built on struggle so I suppose in some ways, if it weren’t there it wouldn’t be the same. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be worse.
Misogyny has been prevalent within hip-hop from the beginning and although ladies have been trying to let the men know that they ‘ain’t a bitch or a ho’, they haven’t really been working together.
In a world where both Azealia’s are beefing and Kim is determined to turn Pink Friday black, it seems like the femcees are always too busy fighting each other to get together and fight the men. Everyone seems to think there’s only room for one although the men disproved that theory years ago. Note how there’s always a conversation about the top 5, because overall there isn’t a winner. Different music serves a purpose for different occasions and different (male) artists get to prove that daily.
I guess what I’m trying to ask all my beautiful femcees of the world is why can’t we just bake a cake full of rainbows and sunshine and all eat it and get along? After all two voices are always better than one.