Female rappers avoid pressure from labels

March 27, 2014 5:07 PMComments Off

Column by Annelise Tarnowski

Almost 10 years ago, Missy Elliott was one of the hottest female rappers in the game with her record, “The Cookbook,” and Lil’ Kim went platinum.

Since then, there have been few, if any, notable female rappers who have come to national pop fame. Many local scenes seem to have a respected female rapper, but they never make it much bigger than their region.

These women are talented, so why aren’t they “making it?”

Of course, one of the most notable of these women is Nicki Minaj. 2010 was her big year, and she was featured on 11 tracks by huge names in the pop-hop genre, as well as putting out her debut album in November.  She was huge.

But why? Maybe it’s because she was a born performer. She was a drama student at the Fame School and crafted the art of entertaining through performance.

Even once she got into rapping professionally, she couldn’t help but add multiple characters to her raps.

Or maybe it’s because she was adopted by the Young Money collective under Lil’ Wayne’s wing.

Becoming a part of that group meant instant fame because of the prestige, and this no doubt helped launch her career, especially because there were no other female rappers with whom to battle for attention. Lil’ Wayne saw the gap and filled it with someone talented.

Let’s move back 20 years from today. Elliott was still huge, but so were Salt-n-Pepa and Lauryn Hill and a number of other female rappers. Come 2003, The Grammy Awards created a Best Female Rap Solo Performance category, and Elliott took it home two years in a row. But then they discontinued that category for lack of entries. The same happened in BET’s Hip-Hop Awards and VH1?s Hip-Hop Honors.

Coming back to 2014, it’s true that there are a few household names when it comes to rapping women on major labels — M.I.A., Minaj, Azelia Banks — but the number is still small, and they don’t seem to stick around.

MC Lyte was the first female to sell a solo rap record. In an interview with NPR, she said part of the reason that things seem to be going backwards is that keeping up the woman’s appearance is expensive.

The hair, the clothes and the make-up are all attempts to make the rapper more appealing, to sell more.

What is that saying about the industry, though? Are we going backwards into the days when women are just for looks? Does the cost of some blush and heels really deter women rappers from fame?

I think these women are entitled to looking as put together as they please and expressing their sexuality as freely as they want to — so long as that’s why they do it.

Record executives everywhere still believe in the “sex sells” mentality.

Maybe, for now, the mainstream just isn’t the place for women who want to choose how they want to be represented.

On the local level, female rappers are thriving, and avoiding the record executives who only aim to make money–not change the image.

Take Lizzo from Minneapolis. Her biggest release, “Batches and Cookies,” features images of her literally buttering up her hype man, whilst eating a bunch of donuts.

Meanwhile, she raps about shopping at thrift stores and how she possibly doesn’t pay taxes (but we’ll just pretend we didn’t hear that).

Tarnowski is a junior radio/TV producing and sociology double major and can be reached at annelise.tarnowski@drake.edu

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