Female Rap: Whither Its Credibility?

This afternoon, while on a Four Tops kick, I found and rocked their 1973 jam, “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got).” If you know me at all, you know what’s coming next, right? Why, an examination of female rap’s credibility, of course!

Because my musical interests always send me spiraling down some hip-hop adjacent rabbit hole, I found Jay-Z’s “Ain’t No Nigga” video on YouTube as soon as the Four Tops finished extolling the virtues of ol’ girl. And as we all know, “Ain’t No Nigga” features Foxy Brown, who was building toward the pinnacle of her success when the song debuted in 1996.

After viewing, I began waxing nostalgic with G.D. about the good ol’ days. “This song seemed like a definitive moment in my hip-hop education,” I said, explaining that I wasn’t allowed to listen to hip-hop until I was about fifteen years old. “Ah, those days of yore, before BET started bleeping out the N word and female rappers still had some credibility.”

And then an imaginary record scratch preempted our convo.

“I’m sorry,” G.D. began, “Female rappers have legitimacy now?”

Well, not now, obviously, I countered. “But maybe between the years of ’89 and ’96…?”

Here’s what we decided. There are a very select number of women rappers who aficionados consider “credible.” Lyte is one, without contest. Lauryn is another. Occasionally, Bahamadia’s name enters the fray. Or Latifah’s.

But by and large, G.D. posits, female rappers were (are?) a gimmick thunk up as yet another money-making angle for catering to men. Like strip clubs.

Or, as G.D. puts it: “I think the idea was that female rappers were making music for men. Which is why they had their asses out.”

(These are the kinds of conversations that transpire in the virtual offices of PostBourgie, people.)

“Wait,” I volleyed. “We women were supposed to like them, too, right? Or want to be them? Weren’t they supposed to be saying the things we were all too afraid (or too discreet) to say to our men?”

I’m but one latecomer to the rap-listening game, but aside from the dulcet grooves of Salt ‘n’ Pepa, a year or two of “U.N.I.T.Y.”-like fare from cylindrical-crown-wearing Latifah, and of course, the very serious respect-earning works of MC Lyte, I don’t know many female rap works that my young, impressionable girlfriends regularly rocked to, back in the so-called “good ol’ days.”

So we decided to kick it you guys, whose experiences will be far more vast and varied than ours. Did you or anyone you know really respect female rappers? Did you consider their artistic offerings equal to those of their male counterparts?

Because even though Dirty Inga held her own with Jay-Z in “Ain’t No Nigga,” she still kind of had to do it with her ass out.

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23 thoughts on “Female Rap: Whither Its Credibility?

  1. nichole February 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm Reply

    comparing male and female emcees frequently frustrates me b/c no one can ever agree on what rubric to use.

    do we bring a “death of the author” mentality to hiphop and pay attention only to lyrics and showmanship?

    and if the question is more about proving how credible female rappers are, what served to legitimize male rappers?

    i’ve erased the rest of this response so many times. 😦 lol

  2. Big Word February 6, 2009 at 11:21 pm Reply

    I doubt Foxy even wrote most of that verse in “Ain’t No Nigga”. The best female emcee of the late 90’s was Eve in my opinion. That chick got down on the mike.

  3. GVG February 7, 2009 at 2:52 am Reply

    “…And even after all my logic and my theory,
    I add a muthaf**ker so you ignint niggas hear me.” L – Boogie “Zealots” Fugee’s second album

    I think that is one of the greatest lines ever uttered in Hip Hop. Period. Fin. Done.

    P.S. and she wrote it herself.

    You may not have had many, but the ones you had were truly to be admired. Even Rah Digga pre Busta days for our Rawkus era heads was something to tune into and amaze at.

    Though top of the pile will always go to MC LYTE – GREATEST FEMALE MC EVER. It’s the Biggie problem with me, Lauryn Hill just never gave me enough material to get the top spot, but I think if she had gone down that road we would have been blown with what we got. Queen LA gets an honorable mention for that third verse on U.N.I.T.Y – HARD!

  4. GVG February 7, 2009 at 3:11 am Reply

    I’m so glad you did this post, now i’m on youtube looking at all those old videos, cracking up. Damn I had such a HUGE crush on JJ Fad!

    P.S. Yo Yo should be added to the list.

  5. GVG February 7, 2009 at 3:15 am Reply

    I’M BUGGIN!!! THE BRATS FIRST ALBUM HELD ME DOWN FOR A MIN!!!!!!!!

  6. thenderson1986 February 7, 2009 at 9:17 am Reply

    Why wouldn’t I respect a female MC? The question of whether one respects female MCs was posed on okayplayer messageboard and the comments were so sexist. If an MC has talent, good lyrics, good beats then I respect them regardless of their gender. Are there still people who think females shouldn’t rap???? I think its horrible that female MCs don’t have any current mainstream popularity because there are some really good ones out there (Jean Grae, Mystic, EyeASage, Hopie Spitshard)

  7. Winslowalrob February 7, 2009 at 2:31 pm Reply

    KRS said it best in “Step into a World”: a dope mc is a dope mc. Who cares about credibility? If it is just about rocking toa beat, then you gotta add up producers, writers, music video directors, etc. If it is about having whatever level of respect in the rap game, then how do you judge respect? If it is about mainstream popularity, then why the hell is that the criteria? To put it another way, you should look at issues of credibility first before even trying to look at gender issues, and just listen to whatever mc you like, forget everyone else.

    Basically, I second Nicole.

  8. karas February 7, 2009 at 3:49 pm Reply

    as a woman who rhymes
    (albeit almost exclusively as a hobby for my own shits and giggles)
    this kind of hurt my feelings
    or at least saddened me
    but only because it reiterates the sentiments i’ve had for some time
    that popular female rappers are kind of dealt the industry pimp hand.
    even in title alone a woman can’t be just a rapper, she has to be a female first
    as if her gender weren’t painfully obvious under most circumstances
    especially those that involve rappers more along the lines of fox and lil kim
    who are notorious for having as much of themselves exposed as possible.
    i’m still a little upset that it always has to be an either or in terms of marketing.
    either you’re uplifting and hard or you’re a trash talking ho bag.
    its corny.
    people in general are multi-faceted. in the 90’s there was a little more wiggle room than there is now.
    but i think it is the underlying need of our society to put people in gender specific roles
    that makes it so hard for women to be all of themselves and acceptable on top of it in the hyper-masculine rap world.
    lauryn may have been as good as it got as far as an everywoman was concerned.
    her pass may have been being a fugee first, which allowed her to unapologetically be lauryn hill.
    but even she, it turns out, was wrestling with her own issues about her image/success/etc.

    there are a lot of women in the rap world who are nice, hands down
    they’ve been nice for years
    maybe they had deals, maybe they didn’t
    but for whatever reason, being a woman and being a rapper is like volunteering for the bermuda triangle of the music industry.
    outside of underground circuits
    your talent doesn’t really matter
    if you don’t look nice, or lend further credibility to the career of an established male rapper
    …you can pretty much forget it.

    you’re expendable in general.

    por ejemplo:
    beyonce as a singer = BEYONCE!
    beyonce as a rapper = who?
    despite any other merits she may/may not be able to rest on, her career would’ve been over by now if she had started out rapping.

    what’s worse at this point, however,
    is my opinion that the current climate exists in part because
    female artists as a whole don’t do enough to define themselves
    or at least demand the creative license to do so
    it is standard procedure for a label to sign, repackage, and market an artist
    depending on your contract
    you have no control over that, and it may well affect the entire package of music you release
    but seriously
    almost every woman i’ve seen released in the past 10 years
    is a rehash of some shit i’ve already seen before.
    if not, they’re working boutique or indy.

    i don’t even really know what my point is anymore

    but it sucks.

  9. daisy.mae February 8, 2009 at 10:32 am Reply

    where to start?

    in full disclosure, i was raised the little white girl from the suburbs, but i had some great exposures to music. and while the two women i want to mention may not be rappers per se, they’ve definitely got some soul, and amazing lyrics.

    ani difranco (an acquired taste for many – but she also had some great work with maceo parker, and has never been afraid to put herself out there)
    meshell ndegeocello

    also, what about the blue scholars? sure, they’re an all-male group, but they have some serious lyrics about respecting women.

  10. G.D. February 8, 2009 at 11:40 am Reply

    daisy: we’re not talking about respecting or disrespecting women (that could get really complicated). I’m a huge Me’shell fan, but i’m not terribly sure she has much to do with this particular conversation.

    (also, no need to preface your comment with the ‘white girl’ statement. totally irrelevant to the conversation.)

    welcome, and keep commenting!

  11. Lauren February 8, 2009 at 6:26 pm Reply

    See, I’m a huge hip hop fanatic, but only discovered hip hop when I was in my early 20s. Some of it I liked ironically (I had this friend who was obsessed with Too Short and Rappin’ 4-Tay and it eventually grew on me) but it took me awhile to get it on a deeper level. At the same time I was discovering my feminism, and even despite the oversexual “ass out” video ho controversies, it was one of the only places that I could see a woman act with real swagger — thus seeing folks like Foxy and Kim talk shit and present tough was really awesome, even if problematic in an academic feminist scene. As time went on I kept searching out female artists precisely for this need to hear women and see women being complicated and found a whole host of others, and one of my all-time favorites might possibly fit in the genre even though she was a dancehall artist: Tanya Stevens.

    Has anyone here read “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost” by Joan Morgan? I keep meaning to pick it up and always forget when I hit the bookstore.

    Anyway, women have been underrepresented music industry-wide, it’s not just a rap thing. But it makes it even harder when the industry is failing and unable/unwilling to take chances on great fucking talent because they might be catering to a niche audience (apparently white boys between the ages of 16-24 won’t take a female rapper seriously, and they’re the only people of consequence that listen to rap). It frustrates me that Miley Cyrus, or friggin’ T-Pain, has a massive audience and Jean Grae doesn’t.

  12. Lauren February 8, 2009 at 6:30 pm Reply

    I think I complicated my answer:

    Did you or anyone you know really respect female rappers? Did you consider their artistic offerings equal to those of their male counterparts?

    YES and YES. I just wish there were more women to talk about, and that they had more opportunities to show their greatness.

    [And I also want to say that I really resent that Wyclef is putting out albums and Lauryn is not. His music is nerve-grating and masturbatory.]

  13. G.D. February 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm Reply

    L:

    1) My boy Nafis and i got in trouble making many a Rappin’ 4-Tay joke in high school. Also, Dru Down. I’m cracking up just remembering that shit.

    2) i’ve been meaning to read Morgan’s book for *years*.

    3) Jean Grae, I suspect, is gonna come up a lot in this thread. I’m not sure why she hasn’t been scooped up by a major label, either. she’s funny and clever, she dresses fly all the fucking hardcore sneakerheads/hipsters/bohos/graf artists I know. a minor gripe: think her voice is sometimes too soft on certain tracks. I dunno. My personal preference, maybe.

  14. G.D. February 8, 2009 at 6:41 pm Reply

    Winslow: Hip-hop is very aggressively genderized; how can you separate credibility from gender in hip-hop?

  15. Winslowalrob February 9, 2009 at 1:43 am Reply

    G.D. I dunno, it is not that I compartmentalize credibility from gender (ok, maybe I do, but not totally), but that I think credibility itself is kind of a red herring. Also keep in mind that I care more about elemental hip-hop than rap, so djs and bboys/bgirls etc are always on top of my mind, though they too get gendered (‘cocking’ bboys is but one example, but a ton of bgirls do it too… ahh I am digressing).

    I have always found credibility to be a retarded amorphous concept. If hip hop is about self-expression, then where the hell does credibility fit in? If you tallied up all the mcs that people like who commented on this thread (I will not do bboys, djs, or taggers but for the record it would probably be Ken Swift, Shadow, and Cornbread 🙂 ) , I am sure there would be people saying ‘helllll no, that mutha is wack’, and then where do we go? Case in point, I LOVE BEP, even with Fergie, but a lot of people throw salt on them. Yeah they might not be interviewed on The Source, but what, if anything, should be the barometer by which we judge credible hip-hop? Its stupid. Back to female mcs, should it be enough that WE love Jean Grae, or is it that OTHER people should equally love her? Then there is the problem of myopia. Do not confuse hip-hop with mainstream black american rap, because there are a lot of mcs in other countries who are dope who a lot of people do not know about, and that is excluding the other elements (Insinto in Cuba anyone?). How can anyone speak for hip-hop and credibility when a lot of us pay attention to the mainstream? If a girl is droppin rhythms or killin a set in Germany, Ghana, or Georgia (the state, not the country 😉 ) and passerby are feelin it, that’s good enough for me. If we do not know about this girl, and then we talk about some sort of mythic “hip-hop” and how women have no credibility, that shows this conversation is flawed, that for many people its an issue of an x amount of people have heard about y rapper. The only credibility you should care about is when the audience feels it, everything else is just wack-ass hand wringing. I went through the same thing when I was reppin a Super Nintendo and everyone else had a Sega Genesis.

    If you want to make this a conversation about mainstream black american rap and its misogyny and commodification of black female sexuality, and how female mcs fit into that, then that might be a conversation worth exploring, just not with me because I do not listen to the radio and I do not really listen to rap made after 96. But there is a lot of rap out there and this conversation is steering towards reifying an idea that nobody has defined or pinned down, making the convo moot.

    PS I read Chickenheads and Morgan came to talk at our university. A lot of people love it, the audience loved it, but I am not a fan but mostly because she talks about rap with no mention of elemental hip-hop (making her an authority on, at best a minimum of actual hip-hop), and I think her version of feminism is kind of retrograde. The title of the book was fairly clever though.

  16. Lauren February 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm Reply

    I wonder if the credibility question isn’t a lot like the old authenticity question, where hip hop was from the streets and anyone who grew up in the suburbs wasn’t a *real* rapper.

    I dunno, I kind of thought that question was answered, like, ten years ago.

  17. ladyfresshh February 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm Reply

    where does m.i.a. fit into all of this?
    songs in oscar nominated movies performaing at the grammies with Jay, kanye and co

    does she?

  18. Paula February 13, 2009 at 5:12 pm Reply

    I damn well hope M.I.A. fits.

    “I bongo with my lingo/ And beat it like a wing, yo” 🙂

    Also, Ms. Dynamite and Lady Sov.

    Or are we strictly speaking of the American context? Because our inability to name contemporary female rap artists with some commercial status is, for me, more of a symptom of the general problems with rap music right now. In this case, the narrow stylistic focus (from everyone whose name isn’t Jay Z or Kanye) that is dictated purely by the pop music market. Because pop music companies tend to reward female artists in limited performing roles (because they want the widest possible audience and think that people will be turned off by weird artistry), it’s not a surprise that it should affects rap’s ability to create idiosyncratic space for women even as hip hop becomes the most popular form of music in the world.

    [In another context, the argument is not that “hip hop” is inherently misogynistic and/or homophobic. It’s just that the context for the artists — the industry that they work in — tend to reward the kind of music that they think will become popular. And that often involves the most sensational, and/or the lowest common denominator kind of entertainment rather than the dry, and/or complex, uncategorizable and uncomfortable material.]

  19. EnglishTwit February 16, 2009 at 1:02 pm Reply

    While American mainstream hip-hop had it’s head buried deeply in piles of shiny objects during the mid to late nineties the UK “dance” music scene was busy co-opting the genres greatest. As one of the best examples of this, and of female MC’s in general look for Roxanne Shante guesting on the Mekon track “What’s going on?” If you can find the Les Rythms Digitales remix it’s amazing. Shamefully people still think MC is shorthand for misconception.

  20. […] Female MCs are a Gimmick? i’m throwing it out there because i’ve heard it said a few times now: are MCs born with two x chromosomes are just gimmicks? […]

  21. Winslowalrob May 4, 2009 at 11:08 am Reply

    http://morethanastance.com/blog/videos/2009/05/new-b-girl-documentary-all-the-ladies-say/

    Check out this video, its a trailer about b-girls and some of the issues they have to deal with. Yeah, its not rap, but at least its hip-hop.

  22. La Blaxicana July 20, 2009 at 7:41 pm Reply

    this summer i went on a Summer MC Search to interview women that rap. i came across so much dope music that i felt compelled to put out a mixtape.

    the women in hip hop are HERE. download the Piss In The Wind vol. 1: 53 Minutes of Fire mixtape now http://usershare.net/rxjoq8m2ajde

    Listen to snippets here http://usershare.net/qzcyo6wa7n22

    PEACE,
    La Blaxicana

    Visit http://www.PissInTheWind.wordpress.com for the dopest women in hip hop!

    Find me on:
    http://www.Twitter.com/LaBlaxicana
    http://www.youtube.com/user/LaBlaxicana

  23. Jennifer September 6, 2009 at 2:31 am Reply

    LAURYN? The one who had to pay $5 mil to her ghostwriters and was never heard from again? And you’re talking about legitimacy?

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