Ladies in hip hop has been a theme around here recently, with award-winning journalist and Jay-Z inspiration Elizabeth Mendez Berry interviewed for the lastest Feministing Five and the recent Nikki Minaj themed Wednesday Weigh-In.
Female rappers tend to be singled out as a group in general more for political than musical reasons. Like women of color in too many other fields, their identities seem to require special attention, analysis, deconstruction, and qualification before their contributions can be taken at face value (if ever). This is certainly problematic, and damaging to all the talented female rappers who may not have set out to inspire endless conversations about gender and race when they decided to pursue a music career (although surely some of them did, and appreciate the explicitly political result of the music they make). But it’s also true that whether or not we like it, female rappers are something like rarities in the hip hop world, still outnumbered if not outshone or outsold.
That’s why I was so pleased to see this take on female rappers from a refreshingly self-aware, funny, and ultimately insightful feminist male writer on the site Canonball (a seemingly new addition to the feminist blogosphere–welcome!). H. Wakbserg, a self-described “writer and lazeabout,” challenged himself to listen to only female rappers for a month:
“A few months ago, I realized I spend about 70 percent of my waking hours giving my friends a hard time for not being interested enough in female-created art, while still listening primarily to male rappers myself. Since high school, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West, and (at the recommendation of a friend who just converted to Orthodox Judaism and got married in Las Vegas last month!) Canibus have all been mainstays in my iTunes. So I decided that for the month of May I was only going to listen to female rappers. Not that the only hip-hop music I was going to listen to was going to be by women, but that the only music I was going to listen to, period, for 31 days, was going to be by female rappers. Apart from a friend playing “Call Me Maybe” on her iPad every time she visited my apartment, I kept to this.”
Gimmicky? Sure. But also different from a number of premises we’re used to hearing about female rappers, including that they’re not good enough to warrant the attention or respect of true male hip hop fans. True, the foundation reinforces the “otherness” of female rappers in some ways, but it seems like it’s setting them apart in an attempt to correct for how neglected they’ve been in the writers’ life in the past. Sure enough, beyond a relatively predictable appreciation for female rap that’s expressed at the end of the project–“I do think we should listen to more female rappers… because there are great female rappers. Not because this is an ongoing assignment (though of course being a feminist consumer of pop culture is an ongoing assignment) but because I found some great stuff”–this little experiment goes on to lead to a number of strong insights around women and hip hop.
“On the subject of Latifah vs. Invincible, I think it’s important to touch on the way we compare female rappers. Obviously it’s fine to discuss the relative merits of one musician against another, but we have a tendency to treat women in the rap game like it’s a zero-sum Highlander situation. As in, there can only be one, and to celebrate one is to detract from another. Azealia Banks is hot right now, and I look forward to her new releases more than anyone’s, but she has a tendency to throw shade at other female rappers. Beef is a weird and terrible outdated part of the rap game, and there’s some rule that says when female MCs have beef they only have it with other female MCs.”
And on collabos:
“Where is the female Watch The Throne? Why, in fact, do so few women rappers seem to collaborate at all? For this project I turned up a number of rap groups with a single woman MC; almost none with more than one, and none that are exclusively women (where is the female Wu Tang Clan, for that matter?). I think we’d all love to hear a “Black Republican”-style beef-ending collab between Nicki and Azealia. At the very least, you’d expect more women to guest on other women’s songs, but that kind of thing seems pretty rare since, well, Queen Latifah, who featured women like Monie Love on her songs.”
The writer also avoids becoming Male Liberal Savior Guy with a well-timed dose of self-awareness:
“By the middle of the month, I started growing defensive of what I was listening to. Someone would put on some Springsteen and I’d say, “Oh, do you mind if we listen to my playlist?” and giving people a really smug look, because I was listening to female rappers and they weren’t. I was winning the Intersectional Olympics of Pop Culture. My friends tolerated my smugness because they knew what I didn’t yet: making music-listening into homework is a bad way to turn it into pleasure listening.”