When the nominees for BET Award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist were announced, a disturbing trend resurfaced where the nominees didn’t reflect the quality of talent. Which is a continuation of how women in Hip-Hop are treated today. It’s 2017 and we’re still seeing lyrically inclined women get shoved to the side in favor of acts that are recognized for reasons beyond their ability to rip a microphone. To be honest, talent as an emcee has almost always come last when it comes to the women.
This isn’t to say that Nicki Minaj, Remy Ma and Young M.A can’t rap, because they can. And in the case of Remy and Young M.A, they are both exceptional rappers. But this is the Nicki Minaj award and her sex appeal and ability to make pop music pushes her over the edge.
Every. Single. Time.
Meanwhile, Jungle Pussy, Kamaiyah, Nitty Scott MC, Noname, Sa-Roc and Rapsody released quality music over the past year. No disrespect to Missy Elliott as an artist, but she can’t hold a candle to the aforementioned women when it comes to flexing lyrical ability on the microphone. And if you disagree, you can hit the little red button to close this gotdamn window.
Shall we move on?
Obviously, Hip-Hop is still a male dominated industry and that hasn’t changed since its inception. However, the erasure of the dope female emcee has been curiously understated when discussing women in hip hop. For whatever reason, the standards are different when it comes to how a woman appeals to the masses from behind the microphone. Unlike her male counterparts, attributes such as sex appeal are factored into their overall package. Men don’t have that problem. If we did, The Notorious B.I.G. wouldn’t have made it very far.
Of course, much of the blame belongs to major labels that ignored dope female emcees unless they fell into a particular pocket that focused on the presentation rather than the talent. And even then, labels suggested that they had issues when dealing with women in Hip-Hop that range from the cost of investment to a “Diva” demeanor. Why this isn’t mentioned when talking about women in R&B is beyond me. But I digress…
There’s this interesting rationale regarding the lack of women in Hip Hop that are recognized for Awards. It’s complete and utter bullshit, but you should hear it anyway.
In an interview with NPR, MC Lyte back in 2014 suggested that major labels steered clear of female rappers because of the cost of keeping up their physical appearance (hair, make-up, wardrobe, plastic surgery) made the investment a risky one. But that also suggests that a dope rapper who happens to be a woman has to put image first and talent a distant second. That’s a deeply flawed and utterly disturbing concept. But in this day and age where rappers don’t need a major label to permeate into our consciousness, it is even more troubling.
“We’ve gone backwards,” Lyte said. “This is pretty much what it was like when women weren’t able to get major recording and release opportunities.”
BET, VH1 and The Grammys all cited a decline in the number of female emcees for the reason to erase the category that awarded the best female rapper in the mid-2000s. But that’s not entirely true. Although there weren’t very many women in hip hop releasing high profile mainstream albums, that didn’t mean they weren’t putting out quality in the underground.
No female rapper fell victim of being overlooked during this time than Jean Grae. For years, Jean Grae was overlooked despite being worthy of – at the very least – a nomination. Her 2004 album This Week was criminally slept on but should have garnered some consideration from – again, at the very least – BET in 2005, if nobody else. If you argue that her omission was because she wasn’t relevant, her competition for the category that year would have been Shawwna, Jacki-O, Remy Ma and…. Miri Ben-Ari. The violinist who didn’t even drop an official album in 2004 and noteworthy contributions to hip hop were her playing the violin on Kanye West’s College Dropout album.
The climate for women in Hip-Hop wasn’t that damn bad, was it?
While Black Entertainment Television is far from being in touch with the art of emceeing and Hip-Hop culture, they could have at least acted the part and done some research. We expect the popularity contest from the Grammys or any other mainstream outlet. But BET should dig a little deeper and not undermine the talented women who have held a mic in our culture’s history.
An artist that is going through a similar problem is Rapsody.
Since 2010, when she dropped the stellar Return of the B-Girl mixtape, the North Carolina rapper has consistently put out quality music and is lyrically a threat to any male or female who dares to share a song with her. To be overlooked in 2013 in favor of Rye Rye, Rasheeda, Azealia Banks (who only released a four song EP) and Eve (who didn’t put out her Lip Lock album until a month before the BET Awards) when she dropped The Idea of Beautiful was criminal. Charli Baltimore made the cut over her in 2014 despite having released only one song and Trina received a nod in 2015 for her Incredible EP while Rapsody’s Beauty and the Beast was head and shoulders a better project.
The arrival of Nicki Minaj was the sole reason the BET Awards brought back the award. For six straight years she has won and the award might as damn well be called the Nicki Minaj award because no other rapper has a chance to beat her. Hell, she won the award on several occasions where her output was extraordinarily limited. Her presence in popular culture shouldn’t automatically gift her with the award.
Meanwhile, some of the nominees for the BET Award have been laughable at best and an atrocity at worst. There was Angie Martinez in 2002, Jacki-O in 2004, Miri Ben-Ari in 2005 (uh, she’s a violinist), Ester Dean in 2010, Cymphonique in 2011 and Rye Rye in 2013.
I guess nobody had heard of Eternia, Invincible, Dessa, Psalm One, Snow The Product and a litany of others.
Three things have become awkwardly linked to the existence of being a successful female in Hip-Hop: sexuality, the ability to sing and a male cosign. It’s rare that you’ll find an emcee who manages to avoid all three of these attributes and is recognized.
Whether you want to admit it or not, there’s a reason why Bahamadia is often left out of the conversation when it comes to the greatest female emcees list that includes Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj and Foxy Brown. And it has nothing to do with her ability to rhyme. Fortunately, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and those who came before Kim and Foxy weren’t subject to this rationale. Not to say that their climb wasn’t difficult, but Hip-Hop wasn’t the mainstream commodity then that it became shortly thereafter.
We often talk about Lauryn Hill but would her album have been as well received if it featured 100% rapping? It’s an interesting question – and no fault to Ms. Hill for being so damn talented – but you have to be curious about how well she would have done as just a rapper. And she was a rapper who could undeniably rap circles around her male counterparts. But that was too intimidating for most to deal with. Instead, she spent a lot of time singing hooks during her scarce guest appearances. Whether that was by design or a simple byproduct of her intimidating ability to lyrically shame whomever she shared a microphone with is unknown. But it is an interesting detail that cannot go without mentioning.
The same can be said for Nicki Minaj. Would she have been as successful if she didn’t sing and drift into pop territory? That being said, Eve didn’t experience her greatest success until she “softened” her image. But wasn’t she worthy as the “Pitbull in a Skirt” and not the dolled up actress who had a television show named after her?
Regardless of what you think about her artistic creativity, Missy Elliott was never a particularly dope emcee. Yet she still is often mentioned when it comes to the greatest female rappers in hip hop history.
Here’s a better question: How many successful female rappers have held the door open for another woman to walk through? Again, whether by design or a simple byproduct of there being a lack of prominent women in the mainstream, this is interesting to note. Whenever there happens to be more than one dominant female presence, they are pitted against each other by the media. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that a conspiracy theorist would suggest is a divide and conquer scheme to ensure that women continue to be maligned in this culture of Hip-Hop.
With the walls of accessibility being broken down as we see artists such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar being acknowledged because of their ability to rap thanks to the Internet and how it has changed the way we consume music, perhaps a woman will breakthrough in 2017 and receive the critical acclaim and accolades that her male counterparts have obtained without having to make a pop record or sell their bodies.
We’re long overdue for a woman to crack into the “Best Hip Hop Album of the Year” category without having to be a sex symbol or garner accolades for doing any and everything else but be a dope emcee.