Women in Hip-Hop: Do They Still Need Men to Succeed?



This is the second installment in a three-part discussion on the state of the female MC. Read the first part of the series here.

As much as hip-hop has become the standard-bearer genre for young people, as a place for women, it is not unlike the world of Mad Men—one where women can succeed, in theory, but only with the right mix of undeniable talent, guile, circumstances and a benevolent male guiding the way.

Alyssa Rosenberg: Nicki Minaj vs. Lil' Kim: Why Can't Female MCs Get Along?

In the same way Peggy Olsen is mentored by Don Draper, Nicki Minaj—despite her overwhelming ability—was taken under Lil Wayne's wing. She admits as much constantly, rapping on "Moment 4 Life" that "Young Money raised me" and emphasizing in her MTV documentary how Wayne's brashness in the studio taught her to stick up for herself on the job. Kim, too, had Biggie giving her a helping hand—at least at first.

The beauty of Minaj's success, though, is precisely because she's learned to walk to line that Alyssa pointed out, the one between commercial viability and the kind of out-there absurdity and creativity that makes artists like Janelle Monae and M.I.A. so special.

Emma Carmichael, writing at The Awl, sees Minaj's dual roles as singer and rapper—particularly one who's willing to talk about all those girly emotions she has—on Pink Friday as a capitulation that somehow directly relates to her femaleness, an act of selling out for a girl who once declared "Def Jam said I'm no Lauryn Hill/Can't rap and sing on the same CD/The public won't get it, they got A.D.D."

I'm not so sure this is the case. I'm, admittedly, late to jump on the Minaj-wagon, but I think there's something remarkably empowering about a girl who can, through various outlandish characters, absolutely destroy the men she's appearing with on their own tracks, but who saves the revealing details about her life for the album in which she's the star. And as for her singing—it's no different than Drake's decision to sing his own refrains; and whatever her vocal limitations are, it's infinitely better than listening to a hyper-autotuned hook like the one she included on the mixtape track "Still I Rise."

But, back to the beef: Alyssa wants women to live in a hip-hop utopia, perhaps one resembling Kim's "Ladies Night"—where all the bad bitches ride jet skis together, soaking up one another's awesomeness. Hip-hop, though, is a universe dominated by duels, and it's silly to expect otherwise only from its females. For women desperate to prove that they can stand toe-to-toe with the men in the game (Minaj hilariously insists, "I am not Jasmine, I am Aladdin" on "Roman's Revenge"), developing rivalries with each other seems only natural.

NEXT: Tyler Lewis weighs in on Monday.

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Sara Libby is general assignments editor at Politico.

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