Women have played an interesting role in hip-hop since its conception on the streets of New York City in the early 1970s. Initially they were used as just another tool in the belt of a male hip hop artist, portrayed as sex objects, prizes, conquests, and essentially commodities for a man. Women have so often been restricted to a traditional female gender role when it comes to hip-hop, and at times suffered further degradation as they became video girls or necessary members of a rapper's entourage so that his masculinity could be enforced by the visible symbols of sex surrounding him.
Thus, the breakthrough of women as legitimate artists in the genre, while some extreme feminists might argue otherwise, has in my opinion been an extremely empowering thing for us. Some of the first women in hip-hop such as Queen Latifa, Salt-N-Pepa, and MC Lyte made a statement by breaking into the genre that showed not only can they keep up in this boys' club, but that they'll fight through all the stereotypes in order to gain the respect they deserve. Talented female rappers gave their male counterparts a run for their money and began to carve out a space in hip-hop that was based on merit as opposed to sex appeal. Throughout the 1990s artists such as Lauryn Hill and TLC continued to solidify the role of women in the genre by challenging typical gender roles with songs such as "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (the video to which is seen above) and "Unpretty," respectively. Furthermore, the advent of an artist such as Missy Elliot, who also came to fame during the '90s, made women's advancement in the genre even more interesting because Missy went so far as to reappropriate typically male attributes to women i.e. turning men into the sex objects with songs such as "One Minute Man" and "Get Ur Freak On."
While women in hip-hop have many made strides in the past few decades, now I want to bring it to the present and highlight some of the females in hip-hop who are currently impacting the genre, for better or worse. These are in no particular order, but they are definitely all women who make a statement about the genre and add to it in their own way, continuing to affect the ever-changing role of females in hip-hop and reinforcing the fact that women are an integral part of the genre's success.
The first woman on my list gets the #1 spot because, quite simply, she is The Don of women in hip-hop, and I'm talking about miss Erykah Badu. Often called the "Queen of Neo-Soul" she occupies an interesting niche where R&B, hip-hop, funk and soul meet. She has put out five studio albums from 1997 to 2010 and I can only hope that she plans to release more. This Grammy award-winning woman has worked with the likes of Common, D'Angelo, and The Roots. Badu not only empowers women through her music, but in general promotes social consciousness, calling out many of the injustices faced in peoples' everyday lives through her music and activism. Some of my favorite tracks include "Bag Lady" off of Mama's Gun, "Tyrone" off of her live album, and "Hypnotic" off of New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). Above you can check out "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)" featuring Common off of World Wide Underground.
Rapsody is yet another force to be reckoned with, which makes it all the more awesome that she's a female because this girl has got game. Her ability to rap shows that not only can she keep up with the boys, but often times she is running circles around them. Her debut and my personal favorite album, Return of the B-Girl, boasts production predominantly by the talented 9th Wonder and features other artists such as Rah Digga, Mac Miller, and Big Daddy Kane. Since Return of the B-Girl, Rapsody has produced two more projects entitled Thank H.E.R. Now and For Everything, produced in June and November of 2011, respectively. To experience her talent for yourself check out "Win" featuring Rah Digga on Return of the B-Girl and the remix to "Little Things" featuring Thee Tom Hardy and Heather Victoria, available above.
This next lady is all over the pop and hip-hop scenes right now due to the popularity of her debut album Pink Friday (November 2010), and also the buzz that is generating off of her newest singles, particularly the recent release of the video for "Stupid Hoe." Yes, I'm talking about the one and only Nicki Minaj. That being said, she presents some obvious problems when one attempts to look at the ways in which women are trying to be empowered through hip-hop. The main problem Nicki presents to me is the fact that she is actually a really talented rapper, but that she exploits her sexuality in a way that is very limiting to women and, quite frankly, distracts from her actual skills. The tone quality of her voice, the production value of her songs, and her rapid delivery each contribute to the fact that she deserves to be in the hip-hop scene. However, she promotes herself as a Barbie doll and exploits her sexuality in a way that I don't think is empowering but reinforces the traditional "male gaze" or the objectification of women. Additionally, I find it troubling that so many young girls look up to her as a role model. It's strange because I don't even take issue with her controversial/abrasive lyrics, but more so the way she puts herself up on a pedestal for objectification and seems to be one of those "women who hate women," which really doesn't do anything for our gender or for the pre-teens who idolize her. Prior to her Pink Friday fame Minaj released a mixtape produced by Young Money Entertainment called Sucka Free (2008) that predominantly features 'Lil Wayne, as well as artists like Gucci Mane and Jadakiss, which you can get here. Above you'll find "Set It Off" from Sucka Free, and be on the lookout for Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, the release of which has been delayed until April 3, upon which I hope to have a better concept of Nicki and where her image is going.
Totally underrepresented in the genre, Solange Knowles has been too often eclipsed by the fame of her sister who seems to have reigned center stage since she entered the scene via Destiny's Child. However I think of Solange and B as two completely different entities, as the former has a sort of bohemian, hip quality about her in both aesthetics and music, as opposed to the more mainstream tendencies of her sister. I'd say her distance from the spotlight has actually helped this actress/model/musician cultivate a unique style that promotes a positive image for young females. My favorite Solange track, found above, is actually a cover of hipster favorite Dirty Projectors entitled "Stillness Is the Move" that is mixed with "Bumpy's Lament" by Soul Mann & the Brothers and Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady," all of which combine to make some sincerely ill listening. Furthermore, with two albums under her belt already, be on the lookout for the third that she is supposedly releasing this year.
Last but certainly not least is another badass female named Jean Grae, who has been in the game for awhile, with albums dropped as early as 2002 and continuing to the present as we await the release of Cake or Death, which is supposed to come out this year. Starting out in NYC's underground hip-hop scene, Grae has come to work with acclaimed artists such as Atmosphere, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Masta Ace, and Immortal Technique. In 2005 she signed with Kweli's label Blacksmith Records and in 2008 she released Jeanius with 9th Wonder as well as The Evil Jeanius, marking the beginning of a four year hiatus that lasted until last year's June release of the free mixtape Cookies or Comas, which you can get here. Check out this track from the mixtape located above entitled "Assassins" featuring Pharoahe Monch & Royce Da 5'9" in order to get a taste of how real Jean Grae can be. Also, while we await Cake or Death give its first single, "U & Me & Everyone We Know," a listen here and try to tell me you're not pumped for the album's release this spring.
All in all, for me these artists are representative of what is going on in terms of the role of women in hip-hop at this moment, but there is a lot to look out for on the horizons of the genre. Not only are these women role models for the consumers of their music, but also for aspiring female artists looking to get into the game or rising on the scene. A lot of great new albums, both from hip-hop's veterans and its novices, are on their way in 2012 so keep your ears open and your mind sharp as we await even more game-changing music from women in hip-hop this year.
© 2012 GOWHERE — All Rights Reserved
"The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom."