Why We Can't Handle More Female Rappers

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This is the third installment in a three-part discussion on the state of the female MC. Read the other parts of the series here and here.

Like Sara, I don't necessarily think that it's any worse or different for female emcees to battle than it is for male emcees to battle. And I think most hip-hop heads would agree. After all, the first diss track was recorded by a woman, Roxanne Shante, in 1984, and the first real battle was between two women, the two Roxannes. And a diverse cadre of female emcees had no problem getting their shine in hip-hop's early days. So I don't think there is an inherent conflict between women beefin' on wax and creating "collective action," as Alyssa calls it, among female emcees.

What has changed is that hip-hop looks, feels, and behaves differently post-appropriation. What the hip-hop community wanted in female emcees is simply different than what the mainstream record-buying public wants in a female emcee. And the message that the mainstream record-buying public has sent to the industry is that it doesn't much care about female emcees unless they are larger-than-life caricatures that tragically reinforce and celebrate white beauty standards and cartoonish, one-dimensional sexuality that fronts like it is all about female sexual agency when it isn't. And there is only room for one.

In other words, y'all coulda bought Bahamadia's album or Lady of Rage's album when you bought Hard Core. But you didn't. And you can buy Rah Digga's new joint or Mae Day or Hedonis da Amazon, while you scoop up 300,000+ copies of Pink Friday, which ineptly uses hip hop as a kind of condiment to spice up what is basically a not-surprisingly shallow electro-pop album. But the industry knows you won't.

And so Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj must fight for their spot because they know that there is only one. In all likelihood, it is not that Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj don't want to exist in the same place at the same time. They very well might. But they dutifully, if somewhat dispassionately, playing their roles. Nicki: "So fuck I look like gettin' back to a has-been?" Kim: "You and Diddy, sorry bunch of swagga jackas/I mothered you hos/I should claim you on my income taxes."

When Nicki blew up, all anyone wanted to talk about was whether or not her success meant that more female emcees would get put on. Now we are treated to endless nonsense about Nicki Minaj being "the new queen of hip hop", which is so patently absurd you can only shake your head. But they might as well call her the "only woman in hip hop" because the subtext is, enjoy her because she's all you're gonna get.

The truth is that it serves the interest of a music industry that does not want to (or doesn't know how to) support and promote a variety of female emcees to continue to perpetuate the notion that female emcees are volatile and won't allow for other female emcees to get any shine because it is simply harder and more work for them to sell a Jean Grae or a Lady Sovereign than a Kim or a Nicki. To my mind, if Kim and Nicki are the only female emcees that make the industry money, then the fault really lies with the record-buying public. We get the music we deserve.

As BET's recent "My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women And Hip-Hop" special showed, female emcees do have respect for each other, even as they recognize the disproportionate impact one woman can have on the rest of their careers. Clearly, the collective action Alyssa is looking for is there.

We have to be ready and willing to support that action.

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Tyler Lewis is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who is a music contributor for PopMatters, an international pop culture online magazine. More

Tyler Lewis is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who is a music contributor for PopMatters, an international pop culture online magazine. He writes his own culture and politics blog, ...on whatever crosses his mind.
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