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No prefix, call them rappers

by Louis Pavlakos January 29, 2019
No prefix, call them rappers

One student’s argument against the categorization of Femcees

Hip hop has long been considered a boys’ club. While many women have become popular in the genre, there are still more men in mainstream hip hop. In the 90s, during the golden age of the genre, rappers such as Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliot were among the most popular women in hip hop, but that didn’t compare to the number of popular male rappers. Nas, 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., André 3000, and Snoop Dogg are merely some of the biggest names in hip hop, not only from the 90s, but of all time. The women, however, don’t get as much recognition.

In 2018, we saw the two biggest women in hip hop go at it in a feud that was, well, meaningless. But aside from Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, there aren’t any other female mainstream rappers. Sure, Noname, Rapsody, Tierra Whack, and Azealia Banks exist, but they are still considered outside the mainstream.

When a woman sees her career rise, however, people are quick to point out that she’s either the female equivalent of a male rapper or on her way to take the throne from whichever rapper has it.

DJBooth writer Donna-Claire Chesman’s appropriately-titled article, “Stop Calling Rapsody the ‘Female Kendrick’” explains how Rapsody’s most recent album, Laila’s Wisdom, is her own body of work that plays to her own strengths. It is not Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, nor does it intend to be. It’s Rapsody’s album and it should be viewed as such.

Furthermore, such comparisons only boil down artists’ strongest talents to simple correlations of gender, race, and sexuality. By calling so-and-so the new version of this other rapper, it not only discredits their art, but also their personality. Every album an artist puts out is supposed to be a reflection of their life through their eyes, not those of their contemporaries.

“Why can there only be one dominant woman in rap?” asks Kiana Fitzgerald in an article for Complex. That’s a good question. Before Cardi B’s meteoric rise to fame in 2017, Nicki Minaj was the only popular woman in rap for years. Cardi was looking to change that as, up until recently, she had no issue with Nicki Minaj. When they fought at New York Fashion Week, it brought yet another divide among hip hop’s only two popular “female rappers.”

It all boils down to calling women in hip hop “female rappers.” If a woman is a doctor, we don’t call her a “female doctor.” If a woman is a lawyer, we don’t call her a “female lawyer.” Unless there’s a specific need for a woman to be known as such in her line of work, the term should be axed.

“Although I do understand and recognize that hip hop is an industry where the majority is cis males, I still think that the way to change the system isn’t in labeling women in the industry as the ‘male version’ of so-and-so,” says Toronto artist Witch Prophet. “My gender expression has nothing to do with my ability to rap and shouldn’t be the focus when talking about my talent.”

And she’s absolutely right. Some of the best hip hop albums this year have been released by women. Cardi B, Noname, Tierra Whack, and Rico Nasty, among many others, have released gripping bodies of work. Bottom line, these albums are good.

“And y’all thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh? / Maybe this your answer for that good pussy / I know n****s only talk about money and good pussy,” raps Noname on her track “Self,” the intro cut on her newest album, Room 25. On the album, she speaks on her gender, sexuality, and being black in America in a way that is as captivating as it is undeniably Noname. But the fact that she is still referred as a female rapper puts her back into the same box that all women in hip hop end up in.

“By saying ‘female rapper,’ you imply that rappers can only be men and we have an exception on our hands when a woman steps to the mic,” said Chesman. “The greater issue is around breaking down the conception that rap is men-only. That starts with many things, and our language is one of them.”

“When you’re referred to as a female rapper, you’re usually put in a box, and you’re not allowed to do the same things male rappers do without it becoming some sort of thing about women not being able to work together,” said Toronto rapper DijahSB. Hip hop has always been about collaborating, and if the most popular women in rap fight with each other, like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, then DijahSB’s argument only solidifies.

Hip hop is also rampant with ‘biting’ or copying someone else’s sound. Though it might be overlooked in male rappers, female hip hop artists are under more scrutiny if they and share a simple characteristic with another woman in rap.

The past year has seen a few steps forward. Instead of having just one mainstream “female rapper,” there are two. It’s not a lot by any means, but the fact that Nicki can share the proverbial throne with Cardi shows that hip hop is embracing women more than ever.

However, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Articles from HotNewHipHop still refer to women in rap as “female rappers,” as seen in a recent piece about Asian Doll. The Billboard Awards have a section dedicated to the “Top Female Rap Artist,” in which they nominate not only established rappers such as Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, but 15-year-old meme rapper Bhad Bhabie.

Rap Caviar, Spotify’s most popular hip hop playlist, currently has 10 million followers. Out of 54 tracks, only two are by women: “Twerk” by City Girls and “Money” by Cardi B. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B are featured on two other songs. Where are all the other women? Spotify needs to rectify this by adding more women to the playlist.

There is a Spotify playlist called “Women in Rap,” however, in order to access it, you would have to search it by name or go into the hip hop section, scroll down, click “see more” in the popular playlists section, and then scroll down further to find it. There is some effort to put these women in the spotlight, but it is half-baked and lazy.

It’s not like there is a lack of women in the industry. Simple searches on the Internet can lead to many great discoveries. However, male rappers continue to dominate the charts. The segregation between men and women in hip hop is a barrier that needs to be broken down. Women can rap and they can rap well.

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