If she’s shining, every woman’s gonna shine
Cardi B or Nicki Minaj? Fans of rap immediately have an answer to the question that has plagued society since the Dominican-Trinidadian rhymer emerged onto the scene. They may also have a rebuttal defending their choice and explaining why anyone who says otherwise is wrong. You often don’t hear the same arguments—at least to the same extent—when it comes to male rappers. Jay Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky— you get the point— can all coexist in the industry. You may feel strongly about why one is the best but your argument probably won’t diminish any of the other artists’ musical ability. There’s room for the endless numbers of males in the rap industry, so why isn’t there room for the females?
In the 2009 issue of Buzzsaw, “Independence,” Jocelyn Codner makes the point that “the rap industry is a ‘men only’ club,” and “women seem to be having a harder time finding their place.” Well Jocelyn, nothing’s changed. In the early 2000s the conversation about female rappers centered around Missy Elliott vs Queen Latifah vs Lil Kim. The rap industry, unlike the pop industry, has “never allow[ed] for more than one female superstar at a time while treating the other women as incidental, pitting them against one another, or ignoring them entirely,” as journalist Briana Younger explains. Female rappers “would either have to rely on a male co-sign to get the exposure they deserved, or they’d end up getting pitted against each other in trivial feuds,” says Bianca Gracie in an article for Billboard.
This sentiment in the rap industry of only being able to have one “Queen” can be traced back to larger patterns within our culture. Growing up we learn about the stereotypical mean girl and cliques. Though our cultural climate and acceptance toward women has improved over time, women have been subconsciously taught to compete and compare. This behavior seems to stem, according to Tracy Vaillancourt, from sexual selection. Female competitiveness is a form of “indirect aggression” which is a mixture of “self-promotion” and the “derogation of rivals” in order to look more appealing than their rival to the opposite sex.
We see female competition amplified in the black community. Black women have a long history of competing against each other instead of embracing and supporting one another. Many attribute it to the idea of black men’s hatred of black women. In 1962 Malcolm X said the most disrespected, neglected and unprotected person in America is the black woman. This disrespect all too often comes from the black man. Bianca Vivion discusses in her article “Between the World and Us: Why Black Men Won’t Love Black Women” how the romantic pursuit of a black man often results in him seeking out non-black women. This pattern causes black women to feel as if they must compete with each other to get the attention of the few black men who do seek black women. Instead of embracing and uplifting one another, the community has faced a long history of tearing eachother down.
When female rappers do try to empower women through their music, their behavior is often met with extreme scrutiny. In “Where the Ladies At?”, Codner writes that “one of the only ways a female rapper can be competitive in today’s industry, is by exploiting her sexuality.” While most lyrics performed by female rappers are about sex, like “Come through and fuck him in my automobile / Let him eat it with his grills and he tellin’ me to chill,” in Nicki’s “Anaconda,” the conversation surrounding their decisions to use these lyrics has changed. Instead of exploitation, female rappers have decided to take back the conversation and use their sexual lyrics to empower women to be comfortable in their own bodies and with their sexuality. “Cardi B’s adeptness at spinning slurs around is rooted in her refusal to feel anything other than pride about her personality or her path,” writes journalist Alex Macpherson. Cardi has defended her lyrical decisions by saying “[Male rappers] always talk about what they want to do to women…Well, this is what women want to do to men: buy me a bag and go about your day… I want you to feel that empowerment, like you could do that.” She’s right. Ever since the beginning of rap, men have been praised for rhetorics such as “fuck bitches get money” yet women automatically become “hoes” when they express their sexual desires.
While change has been slow, 2019 may prove to be a turning point. Female rappers such as City Girls, Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Lizzo, Tierra Whack and more have been making headlines these past few months and gaining more mainstream attention. There have been rumors and suggestions of a XXL Freshman Class of all females, which could do a lot for the conversation surrounding females in the industry. Ultimately, as a culture we need to make room for female rappers just as we do for men, because “hip-hop culture will suffer if only a small handful of these artists are showered with the bulk of the attention—often for reasons that have nothing to do with their music.” While featuring these women on the cover of a magazine may be a start, “we cannot truly deal with what is wrong in hip hop without facing the broader cultures of violence, sexism, and racism that deeply inform hip hop, motivating the sales associated with these images,” as Tricia Rose declares in The Hip Hop Wars. Until men stop getting praised for misogynistic rhymes at the same time women get belittled for rapping about their sexuality, the rap industry will stay a men’s only club.
Alyssa Curtis is a fourth year Journalism major who’s waiting for you to pass the AUX. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.