As I watched the BET special, My Mic Sounds Nice – The Truth About Women in Hip-Hop,
I realized that along with my homegirl, Starrene Rhett, I have become somewhat of an advocate for the female emcee in this modest blog-world. Upon a quick review of this site and it’s stats, I see that my most popular posts have been the ones in my series of Top female rapper lists, ranging from Top failures to Top hopes for the future. I accept that responsibility humbly, something like a masculine feminist, simply because I couldn’t imagine hip-hop without women.
What I do like about this delicately edited and thoughtfully put-together documentary is that it addressed all of the relevant issues that have arisen for the female M.C. Although it flashed past the whole early 90′s era where you might have seen the most diverse cavalcade of estrogen-infused rappers and jumped right into the mid-90′s, it accomplished so much in its one hour time span.
I was surprised and delighted to see unexpected faces like Eve, Ladybug Mecca (so damn beautiful), Nikki D, Tiye Phoenix and even Rage and Medusa. Despite having to endure my favorite, Mc Lyte‘s twisting lips every time she spoke, and listening to almost every participant damn near eulogize Lauryn Hill, I just kept wishing Foxy, Da Brat, Monie Love and Kim were apart of this as well. It would have felt more complete. And Why the fuck doesn’t Queen Latifah ever Come out for these kinds of things??!
Actually, this topic is so big that each segment really deserved its own half hour. This could be a Planet Earth – like series that goes on and really delves into the details of everything. Female hip-hop enthusiasts, writers, rappers and directors – you listening out there??
I was wondering if Nicki Minaj would come up, and of course she did. Things were approached from the angles that you would expect from a special on this level. Remember, this is a network that has turned its program marketing toward a young pre-teen to late 20′s demographic, so at most, I hope it taught lots of young’ns that there was life before Nicki. It was a very surface investigation that didn’t give us answers or surely didn’t teach hip-hop historians such as myself, but if anything, should have inspired us to do better, or at least find out the whys and hows.
I know from being in this world that there are in fact more female rappers now than ever! And on a super diverse scale. What I haven’t seen, however, is a wealth of appeal.
Let’s put the burden of being a female aside and just take into account the value of appeal and grind for any artist on the come up. Now Iam no guru on this being that I as an artist trying to make it myself haven’t really been able to crack the magic formula to be an overnight smash. But the few strides that I have made thus far in my fledgling career can be attributed to a healthy understanding of and dedication to both. As I pointed out in one of my top female rapper posts, the number one Achilles heel of Female rappers is focusing too much of their energy on one aspect of their artistry or personalities. Sex sells, but there’s only so much you sell yourself before you’re used up. Battling is cool, but after you’ve won all the battles, where’s your deal? Lyrics are dope and all, but where’s your stage presence?
The reason Lauryn is the Holy Grail of female hip-hopdom and her name garners the same reverence from both new and old rappers is because she displayed so many facets of her personality in an honest, vulnerable, casual, confident and believable way, all from the jump. It wasn’t, ‘oh, let me sing on this third project‘. Or ‘let me wear a dress after 10 years’, or ‘let me make a relationship song now after I’ve killed niggas on the block in my 80 prior mixtape appearances’, or ‘let me try to show you I’m lyrical on this acapella YouTube freestyle after all my songs have been bubblegum pop’.
For this reason, we have to bring the fact of being a female back into play. Any new rapper has to present their story and their appeal, and in most cases, being a 1 dimensional rapper doesn’t get you far (Unless of course your character as an artist overshadows your content, or you’re Kid Cudi or one of these new Weed Rappers or Officer Ricky). Now take that and double the responsibility for a woman because not only does she have the obstacle of trying to sway the masses as a new artist, she has to sway the masses to feel her as a woman. And in hip-hop, the masses means men who fuel barbershop debates and hating-ass women who have to feel like there’s something to relate to or identify with in you. That means all you hardcore underground Lesbians better have some helluva charismatic charm!
Now, Starrene stands on the side that insists that the industry is shady and men have been closing doors on females for years, citing a lack of ability to generate sales (see her article here, http://gangstarrgirl.com/2010/08/mics-do-sound-nice-but-some-still-dont-hear-it/#more-1228). She points that most of these big wigs are too lazy to actually Scout for the talent that is flooding the rap scene today, and wouldn’t know where to look if they tried.
But I do definitely think that the female rapper herself is more to blame.
If anyone remembers the Pre-Young Money Nicki, you know that she was determined to make heads turn and gain reaction because she sought out to keep her name buzzing and play in the same arenas as the boys who are respected. I see the misogyny in hip-hop lyrics daily, but rarely amongst the community of artists. I don’t hear male rap groups or soloists saying ‘nah, she can’t do this because she’s a chic’ If anything, the usual response from men in the game upon hearing a good female rapper is one of excitement, wanting to be the one who puts her on, or seeking to collab.
I used to date a female rapper who was very prominent within the underground circle, even award-winning. But what I noticed is that for all the acclaim that she received and all the notoriety she was gaining for her music on the show circuit, she never took the steps to translate that to any other success in the other crucial areas of being buzzworthy. Videos were nil, Press coverage was scarce, and pursuit of a radio or dj connect was not in the works. This is something that I see far too often with women in the game. I can’t – and you can’t either, name 1 female who is a prominent mainstay on any blogsite or hip-hop media site the same way as alot of these dudes. There is no female Curren$y. No female Joell Ortiz.
Now, as much love as someone like this chic got or someone who most everyone loves, like a Jean Grae gets respect across the board, I find it hard to believe that this is the doing of evil men in power so much as it is a lack of push. I think some semblance of complacency sets in when female artists reach a certain level of status in the underground world. They may not feel the urgency of getting features and having weekly tracks posted. This is evidenced by such big breaks you see between female-helmed releases.
Another thing is that It may be easier for women to feel like their rap lives are separate from their private lives. This is delicate territory because I cannot truly know the mechanics of being a woman, but in my experience, I have heard most women who rap draw the line more distinctly than men. This could play a role in how much what they deem as real life gets in the way of their grind. Life changes, finances, travel, romantic and familial situations can all deter one young lady. Or even something less tangible but just as real such as age and security can unravel someone and make them withdraw a bit. As women advance thru life, they become more concerned with their stability and future. A man is more inclined to engage in at-risk behavior well into his late 30′s, including continuing to live as a starving artist. Most women ain’t having that! Even the raptress I was dating would have moments where she questioned hanging it up and pursuing other passions out of fear of time. Take our favorite, Jean, for example…. What rap journalist wouldn’t scramble to claim first dibs on her exclusives a few years ago if she was the kind of artist to consistently drop new music? At one point, she had us in the palm of her hands, waiting for her to give us the closest thing to balance in a female rapper since Ms. Hill. But what did she do? She played us! She fake-retired, got moody, got old and not bubbling under anymore. Now the only ones checking for her to blow are her prior fans. There was a point in time where Nina B was a frequent name on hip hop sites with new videos and mixtapes and collabs every month, but now it seems even she has fallen back a bit.
So something must be said for the amount of women in this biz not understanding what works and neglecting to marry as many elements together in a way that will gather the largest build-up. As was said in the special, I just hope somebody comes along after the airing of this and gets it right so a new spark can be ignited. I have my predictions. And lets not count Nicki out as a spearhead.
On another note, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to hip you all to this brilliant post that was put up by one of my blogger homies, Ms. Smarty P. Jones, courtesy of her blog, Smarty’s World http://smartysworld.com/2010/09/01/hip-hop/
She does a clever run down of female M.C.ing based on the show’s main subjects.
Until next time people, I’ll be bumping my Da Brat joints and waiting for some kind of Phoenix Saga.