The Future (of Hip Hop) Is Female
Artists like Sharaya J and Young M.A. are proving that women don’t need sex to sell records.
By Mary Kiser, Trident Technical College
Women can digest their schoolwork more effectively, maintain a higher IQ in the U.S. and hold their careers longer than male colleagues, yet men still have the upper hand, especially in the music industry.
Women are forces to be reckoned with, but they are only just now discovering their worth. The Women’s March on Washington is a shining example of how powerful women are, and with 2.6 million people peacefully protesting President Trump’s first day, the change incited by women is more apparent now than ever.
Misogyny is a common denominator, though, whether women are studying for an Associate of Arts (AA) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), working at a strip club or at their cubicle, walking down the street or relaxing inside their own home.
Discrimination is a significant part of women’s lives, but more so if they are aspiring rappers. Fans are fortunate enough to plug in their headphones, scroll through their playlists and choose a myriad of artists, from 6LACK to The Weeknd, Kodak Black to Lil Wayne, Remy Ma to Nicki Minaj. While the music industry is filled with female powerhouses, there is a noticeable shortage in the rap community.
Can you name at least ten living, legendary females in the game? Unless you run to the computer or are a bona fide hip-hop head, the chances of you listing ten are slim. Can you name at least ten living, legendary males in the game?
From oldest to youngest, superstars like Dr. Dre, Jay Z, Snoop Lion, Eminem, Nas, Juicy J (a former member of Three 6 Mafia), Kanye West, J. Cole, Drake and Kendrick Lamar are just a few icons. Their names are splashed through tabloids, garnering more fame and fortune for the stars, e.g., “Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are ‘All Good’: Behind the Scenes of Their Life Together Today.”
Of course, their female counterparts attract attention too. The beef between Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj is overcooked, but their controversy is just as entertaining as the past conflict between Meek Mill and Drake. People know the aforementioned rappers, though. If people forgot about Nicki Minaj, then Remy Ma’s dis “ShETHER” put the “Anaconda” singer’s name in their mouths. What about unknown female rappers?
Director Ana DuVernay claims that the numbers tell it all. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were more than 40 women signed to major labels, but in 2010, there were three. Upcoming male rappers are literally a dime a dozen, and while their rise may involve years of blood, sweat and tears, at least they can deposit their hope and bank on the possibilities. Female competition, on the other hand, has a difficult time not only breaking the mold, but demanding and maintaining respect for the feat.
Rapper Young M.A., a Brooklyn native and unabashed lesbian, is providing what the rap game needs, which is New York’s influence. Although her hit “OOOUUU” has propelled her into the spotlight, and even though she can boast of accomplishments like performing abroad and opening for Beyoncé, she still grapples with internet trolls and corporate bullies.
YouTube’s trigger-happy comment section is a bottomless schadenfreude, regardless of the artistry. For a black, homosexual, female rapper, though, the hate is a snake pit. If you scroll down Young M.A’s “OOOUUU” music video, you will see offensive quips like, “Young dike or Dike Ma,” misinformed mentions like, “She is a STUD / A LESBIAN is more female” or the tasteless puns like, “Young M.A.N.”
The online realm is only as powerful as power, though. With a flick of a switch or press of a button, Young M.A. can ignore haters. Record labels and her male compeers are harder to divert, but she finagles herself free of their clutches too.
Early on in her career, some long-gone managers wanted her to front. “They didn’t want me to just talk about being gay, so I would talk about liking girls and guys. I wasn’t feeling that…they were trying to put me in a box,” Young M.A. said.
Unfortunately, the music industry puts pressure on female artists to say, act, sing or rap a certain way. They want female talent to embody both professional skill and sex appeal, whereas men should embody the status quo of power.
Sharaya J, an up-and-coming artist working with Missy Elliot, recounts that after presenting her work to a group of record executives, one suggested that she put on heels, purchase a weave and “sell them with sex.” In other words, some record executives encourage women to peddle an image that caters to the sexual desire of fans, which only serves to further reinforce women as objects rather than credible rappers.
Executives in custom-tailored suits only shoulder some of the blame. Female rappers themselves also recycle their sexuality to gain profit. Nicki Minaj’s music videos are littered with women scantily-clad, including herself. In her “Lookin Ass” video, she raps about her prowess, standing tall, a machine gun in each hand, shooting the onslaught of a thirsty dog, though her metaphor stings more like a punch, and less like a bullet.
In the video, she wears a black ensemble, complete with a fishnet bodysuit, stripper heels and pasties. She represents what Sharaya J wants to avoid, which is a blowup-Barbie doll. Hopefully, aspiring rappers disregard societal norms, from the companies to the computer screens. Otherwise, the whole of the rap game will not be savable, but an inflatable.