This is hip hop. If it’s safe for your work, I want to submit an application! Also, lots of the n-word. Oh, and I might cuss a bit.
There is perhaps a law of Nature that reads, the steeper the climb to reach the top of the hill, the stronger the people at the top will be. In hip hop, the hill isn’t just dramatically steeper for women; the men are riding gondolas. It’s no surprise, then, that the women who reach the top tend to be damn good. That first track, a sort of female rapper manifesto, gets to the heart of the matter in three verses by three exceptional rappers, at least one of whom you may never heard of. Eternia, in the second verse (from Rap Genius):
Eternia, the goddess of this rap shit
And it’s obvious we got this locked cause look how it lasted
Uphill climb since I was in the baby basket
Relevant to many who don’t follow the masses
Laugh at you, cause I can do what you can do better than you
Smack a few rappers ’til they act like vegetables
Impeccable, my time for shinin’ is now, incredible
So cop the record now before it’s a collectible
All natural, the way we eat the flow is intangible
Fetuses that were raised to feed the beat like animals
Matter of fact, the facts in your paper’s manufactured, not accurate
I got a whole track that can back me wit’
Blaow, I know a couple ladies that can end you right now
Skill that steady and we don’t back down
Deadly with the tool of your choice, that’s sound
Yeah, so how you like me now?”
And the third, from Lady of Rage:
I’m sick and tired of people askin’ me why I ain’t signed
Is the industry blind or just tryin’ to block my shine?
This is rap, what you industry cats forgot ’bout rhymes
It’s all ’bout dimes and I ain’t tryin’ to shake my behind
Beside, mine is too big for that
I don’t fit into that
Stereotypical, hypocritical image that
I’m ’bout to bring lyrics back
Fuck playin’ the stripper role
I ain’t tryin’ to grip the stripper pole just to get the gold
Now all my people know Rage is the original
Lyrical black widow, put rap in the hospital
Resuscitated, you fuckin’ haters
I berated and gave you a way to escape
This Planet Of The Apes
You bastards swear you bananas and wouldn’t bust grapes
Hip hop became a jungle for the monkeys and snakes
How long does it take to break through the phoney and fake?
One of the female greats
What mo’ I gotta say?
There in the Eternia verse is that hill metaphor, “Uphill climb since I was in the baby basket,” and it must be one hell of a hill if Eternia isn’t a name everyone knows. Her rapping is relentless, unstoppable, in your face and mind-bending at the same time. When she teamed with MoSS, one of the best producers in the business, for her 2010 album At Last, she should have become a superstar. It was one of my favorite albums of that year, and is still part of my regular rotation. Just listen to this:
She’s fucking Canadian! But it’s understandable if until I said that you thought she was straight out of Brooklyn or Queens, because that’s some seriously old school East Coast shit. And don’t believe for a moment that MoSS had nothing to work with:
Eternia came on the scene in the mid-Aughts, when female hip hop was all but dead. It wasn’t that there weren’t a bunch of talented female artists out there, they just couldn’t break through. It’s fitting, then, that on At Last she teamed up with two artists who were part of the only period in rap history when female rappers could ascend the throne, the mid-to-late 90s, for “The BBQ.” The first verse is from Rah Digga, whom you may remember from this hit with Busta Rhymes (which is even less safe for work than usual, and features the n-word pretty prominently):
And the the third, as I mentioned, from Lady of Rage, whom some of you OGs ( 😉 )may remember from way back in ’94 with Snoop and the Death Row crew:
Rage is a perfect illustration of what happened to female hip hop. Lady of Rage is as talented as her Death Row mates, the godfathers of contemporary rap in a way, but as she notes both in the Eternia track and her own from ’94, she doesn’t have the “look” that is required of any female musician if she’s going to be famous (“It’s all ’bout dimes [perfect 10s] and I ain’t tryin’ to shake my behind/Beside, mine is too big for that/I don’t fit into that/
Stereotypical, hypocritical image that”). The reality is that the standards of appearance aren’t just different for female rappers, they’re impossible, and it wasn’t long before Lady of Rage, Rah Digga, and most of the other big name female rappers from the 90s disappeared. Hell, note that even though Rah Digga is hardly unattractive, in their video someone felt the need to surround Busta with scantily clad video vixens.
Consider also Missy Elliot (this is about sex, so…):
Who had such a unique voice, but a very narrow window of success as a rapper (she remains a very successful producer).
At the tail end of the female rap trend, we get Khia, with a hit that even I’m afraid to embed in a post (it is NOT safe for work!!!!). There is nothing wrong with Khia, and that’s a really catchy song, but it is a blatant example of female rapper as sex object which was all record companies seemed to be interested in.
Fortunately, the industry appears to be opening doors, slowly and for now narrowly, for female artists at a higher rate than any time since the 90s, perhaps thanks to Nicki Minaj and her career altering verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” (NSFW but about as good as pop rap can possibly be):
Her vocal control is incredible, changing her voice and her accent instantly to express what? Psychosis? And fucking talent (seriously, I love Jay-Z, but she blows him away on that track, and it’s not like he didn’t bring it).
I’m pretty sure YouTube (where Nicki gained her audience), is the great equalizer. There you can get exposure without a record company, with its vision of bills for hair and makeup on the road and fears that there’s no market for, gasp, a girl. So a bunch of young artists are starting to make a bit of noise.
That’s where I discovered Remy Ma, for example, in one of her rap battles (rap battles, if you aren’t familiar with them, are not for the faint of heart). And Ashlee Bankz:
Who was here for Hustlepalooza at SXSW last month, along with L-Streetz:
Bankz and L-Streetz embody the young sound that’s dominating hip hop right now. It’s not always my thing, but there’s no denying its popularity, and these two women do it as well as any man.
Oh, and I almost forgot, Sirah, who I didn’t discover on YouTube, and whose style isn’t the current trend, but who is awesome anyway:
More soul and blues than Eternia, her songs are less carefully worded slams than slow, short expressions of raw emotion:
I am hoping that female voices in hip hop continue to grow louder, because the one-sidedness of the genre is undoubtedly responsible for the rampant sexism in its content. Hopefully we’ll soon get more Eternia’s and Sirah’s, and women will run the place.
So who you got? Any female artists you’re excited about?
Oh what the hell, one more from Eternia: