There was a time not that long ago when you could turn on the radio or a music video channel and hear Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill or Lil Kim, each one adding their unique and individual perspective to the male dominated world of Hip Hop. Before this, there were female artists like Salt-N-Peppa, Mc Lyte and Roxanne Shontae. These women paved the way for the female rappers that dominate the charts today. Wait, what am I saying? There aren’t any female Hip Hop artists dominating the charts today. In fact, if it weren’t for Nicki Minaj’s Pop infused Hip Hop hitting big, there wouldn’t be one single female voice in mainstream Hip Hop.
Female emcee’s have always had a difficult time reaching mainstream success. Of course there have been those emcees like Jean Grae and countless others who have been able to make a name for themselves on the underground, but what about those female artists (and Hip Hop fans) who want more, those who want females to carry on the tradition of queens like Latifah? What does it take for female artists to make it to the top and why has it been so long since we’ve seen a female Hip Hop artist reach these heights?
Unfortunately (or not, depending on whom you ask) the few ladies who have been able to climb the charts have oftentimes used their sexuality to get to that top spot. To make the assertion that sex sells is pointless; we all know this. Female artists from every musical genre have used their sexuality to increase their popularity and boost their record sales. When we think of the two female Hip Hop artists that controlled the 90s we think of Foxxy Brown and Lil Kim, and immediately after, we think about how sexy them both are. When we consider female emcee’s who ruled the 80s, we think about Queen Latifah and Mc Lyte, and immediately after think about strength and their lyrical prowess on the mic. Not to say that Lil Kim and Foxxy Brown are not strong or lyrical, but their power was harnessed in their sexiness, whereas the power that Lyte and Latifah evoked was in their fully clothed pressence and the respect that they demanded as female represenatives of the culture.
During the same year that the classic albums Ready To Die and Illmatic hit stores an artist from the Chi town emerged with her own version of what Hip Hop should sound like. Funkdafied, released in 1994, made Da Brat the first female solo act to go platinum. A brief look at Da Brat’s career and the records she has sold will give you a glimpse of how a female’s sexuality may or may not help her sell records. When Da Brat released her first album she was introduced to us as the female version of Snoop Dogg. She wore baggy clothes, braided hair, smoked weed and told us about it with her foul mouth. Her second album Anuthatantrum was released two years later but only sold half of what the first one sold. Her third ablum, Unrestricted, released in 2000, gave fans a sexed up version of the female emcee. Coincidentally (or not) this album was Da Brat’s biggest album on the Pop charts to date and hit number one on the R&B/Hip Hop chart. This was just one year after Lauryn Hill, arguably one of the illest female emcees ever, released her critically acclaimed five grammy award winning debut solo album.
Breaking into the music industry as a female emcee has got to be a pretty dauting task. Whose blueprint is a young lady to follow? We’ve seen the oversexed siren, the true to self-feminist, and female artists who have combined the two approaches. The great thing about legendary groups like Salt-N-Peppa and solo artists Angie Martinez, Eve, Left-Eye and Lauryn Hill is that they were able to combine authentic sexiness with talent and an original message, a combination that has proved to be successful for both males and females in Hip Hop.
Although we know that sex will sell everything from music to salad dressing and deodrant, the answer as to when female emcees will begin to once again be recognized in the world of Hip Hop is still up in the air. One thing is for sure though; everything happens in cycles and what was once old will become new again. With the slow return of lyricism, storytelling and originality to Hip Hop as of late, the homecoming of the female emcee will inevitably happen. And when it does, the discussion on the dynamics of sexuality and the female emcee will once again be altered.