Female emcees have dimmed from mainstream media over the last fifteen years. Female rappers have taken their place. Let me first define the difference between an emcee and a rapper. All emcees are rappers. Not all rappers are emcees.
Mainstream confidence and success for women in hip hop has become synonymous and secondary to masculine ideals of sexiness. To be sexy is to be confident and to be confident you must first be sexy. A shift from Queen Latifa’s empowering 1993 track ‘U.N.I.T.Y.‘, to sexually explicit lyrics such as those found in Lil Kim’s 2000 track ‘How Many Licks’, and now Nicky Minaj’s misogynistic 2010 hit ‘Roman’s Revenge‘.
In order to be successful in mainstream, women in hip hop are forced to express themselves as objects of sex in entertainment, rather than musicians and artists. It seems that to make it as a woman in hip hop these days, a woman has to become a misogynist. She must view and use her body as a tool and express hate towards her fellow female. Women in the mainstream are dependent on patriarchal models of sexiness to reinforce confidence and competition as an artist. Thus only being recognized in the industry if they are indeed performing quality sexiness, rather than quality lyricism.
Let’s take a look at some evidence. In Sabrina Ford’s article New Film Explores The Decline of Female Rappers, she says that due to the decline in breakthrough female hip hop artists, the Grammy’s eliminated their Best Female Rapper category in 2005 (the key word here being ‘Rapper’).
“It’s been seven years since a woman held the No. 1 spot on a rap chart – Lil kim’s 2003 hit ‘Magic Stick’ featuring 50 Cent. Missy Elliot’s ‘Work It’ was the last song by a woman with no featured guest to hold that position,” said Ford.
Some would argue Missy Elliott is proof that you don’t have to visually sell sex to make it as a woman in hip hop. With seven million albums sold in the US and six platinum albums, Elliott has reaped success that far outweighs her sultry robust figure, as she states in her 2005 track ‘Lose Control’.
Okay, so Missy Elliott shows us to be successful in mainstream hip hop you don’t need to be half naked, but you still need to spit strictly on the topics of sex and money. There’s an obvious lack of lyrical diversity in mainstream hip hop.
I suppose the last female emcee in mainstream who was known to drop knowledge and promote female empowerment via ingenious lyricism was Lauren Hill. Never short on wisdom and ferociously feminine, Hill breaks down in her 1998 track ‘Superstar’ how she feels about women in mainstream hip hop.
Lauren Hill is an example of how women in the mainstream game can be successful while dropping lyrics and verses that make us rewind it back, listen again and think about the message. It is possible to have undeniable female artists in the forefront of mainstream who pushes the genre forward rather than keeping it stuck in simple sexual messages and club bangas.
So, will there ever be a Best Female Emcee category at mainstream award shows? Not while quality musicians remain where they’ve always been, underground. In the meantime, I hope to shed some light on all the worthy female artists overlooked by mainstream hip hop.