In 1984, when Roseanne Shanty first came out with the song “Reason’s Revenge,” (in response to the hit song on the radio “Roseanne Roseanne”) she disused the whole TUFT crew, while simultaneously sending the message to other female emcees Interested in making a name for themselves that now was the time to step their game up and enter the world of hip-hop. While the eighties seemed to represent an emergence of females in the culture, the nineties proved to be an explosion, with as many as forty- plus female emcees saturating the market at one time.
Fast-forward to 2011 , and the mount of female emcees has dwindled to a mere fraction of what it used to be, with only one major commercial female emcee to speak of. Enter Nick Minas: a five-foot- three-inch, hyper-socialized, self-proclaimed black Barbie doll, with a wild persona, over-the-top outfits, back-and-forth-between-orgasmic-and-schizophrenic facial expressions, and curves for days (measurements 34-26-45). The fact that she, with her many hypocritical facets- from interview stance. To rap content. To her physical image, remains the only face of the commercially exposed female emcee doesn’t exactly send a positive message.
One has to wonder: how did this happen and why is this important to hip-hop and not only future female emcees, but also particularly to young women of color? Recounting the careers of various relevant female emcees. As well as changes in the criteria set forth by major record labels, it becomes apparent that when the societal obsession of hyper-socialized imagery and capitalism are linked together with an Influential art form such as hip-hop, it’s not only detrimental to the movement itself, but especially to young men and women of color as well.
Michael Beanie’s compilation hip-hop photos book entitled, In Yaw Grill: The Faces of HIP-HOP, has an extremely tiny section warranted to female emcees, In which the introduction states, “There are times when the world of rap seems about as open to female participation as the Little Rascals’ He-Man-woman-haters-Club” (Beanbag, 100). (How proper, considering the size of the section! ) Going back to eighties hip-hop and the emergence of women on the scene, we can see through performers such as YOU, MAC Late, Salt n’ Peep, Queen Latish, and Roseanne Shanty that being a female emcee was much more than presenting an image.
It was about raw talent and earning respect from emcees all around the male-dominated industry. As Nikkei D, the first female rapper signed to Defy Jam, recalled In BET’s documentary “My Mimic sounds Nice: A Truth About Women & Hip-Hop,” “It wasn’t about sex appeal; It was about what’s goanna come out your mouth when you open t.. Really about your skill and how you spit and if you could hang with the big boys” (Adversary).
Roseanne Shanty not only disused TUFT to break onto the then-mainstream hip hop scene, but she built up a fan-base and earned respect for herself long before that by battling young ales In the Considering, New York projects where she grew up ( VIBE BOOKS, 22-23). Part of the appeal of the women in hip-hop during that time was that they were natural and real. Roseanne Shanty spoke candidly about her early days, before on because at the end of the day, it was about talent” (Adversary). How they looked wasn’t as important to them as being heard and being taken seriously, especially by the men around them.
During the late eighties and early nineties, hip-hop began to change. According to underground emcee Jean Grace, the hip-hop industry “allowed more diversity’ as far s the types of female emcees that were around (Adversary). People became more accepting of female emcees, as reflected by the high numbers of women who began being heard through airwaves and seen on televisions across America. One of the changes was the newfound reliance on males to “escort” the female emcees into hip hop; most labels had “camps” of rappers, with a leading lady at the forefront.
The issue remains that the necessity of a man/men to “give the stamp of approval” of a female artist before she was deemed worthy of becoming popularized by consumers now seems demeaning when compared to the earlier male emcees’ fight for respect and independence. Also what proved to be a crippling issue was that when a female had significant ties to a male rapper, in terms of her popularity, more often than not when he went down (to Jail, the grave, or Just fell out of the game) so did she.
This left many female emcees debilitated in the wake of what was thought to be a promising era for a career. By the mid-nineties the sexual revolution of hip hop began, particularly with two artists: Ill’ Kim and Foxy Brown, both who were backed and mentored by dominant male rappers (Kim by the Notorious B. I. G. ND Foxy by Jay-Z), and both who could still actually rap. Not only were these women comfortable with their sexuality, but they had no qualms about letting it be known to the public through raunchy lyrics and clothing (or lack thereof) alike.
There had been other female emcees to use a more sexual side to eventually break through (MAC Late with her hit “Ruff Neck” in 1993, and Salt n’ Peep, who had actually been using their sexuality to their advantage for some time), but none with such a sexually aggressive attitude as Kim and Foxy (George, 185). For these women, sex was the ultimate tool to evoke their power; it was meeting men simply could not refuse. For major record labels, it was the sound of money rolling in; so why not package it up and sell it to the mainstream masses? Sex sells” became the new motto for the hip hop industry female emcees, one that Kim and Fox’s image proved “sellable. ” As Lisa Epigram states in her essay “Remote Control: Romance vs.. Promiscuity in Mainstream Hip-Hop,” “sex sells like ketchup- it is the essential condiment” (Epigram, 81-82). Just add a little sex on the side and the female emcee became the hyper-socialized female emcee, the new prototype of what the industry wanted. Many existing females emcees felt the pressure to be more sexual and “show some more leg,” as Eve said truthfully (Adversary).
Amidst all the pressure to see and conform to the new hyper-socialized female emcee prototype emerged a vital figure in hip-hop, who was none of the above: Lauren Hill. Every female emcee who spoke on BET’s documentary listed her as about love, about spirituality, about the streets (with her fellow Fugues members, and longtime friends, Wesley Jean and Para). She refused to take off her clothes and sell herself short… And fans and industry folks alike loved her for it.
Lauren began as a “conscious” rap artist, who catered to an underground audience, rapping about social and political issues, amongst other topics. She crossed over to a commercial artist in 1999, when she became the first woman ever to win five Grammar awards, including “Album of the Year” for The Insemination of Lauren Hill; she had been nominated for ten Grammas that year. After settling down and having children with Roman Marled, Lauren found it hard to get back in the studio, much to everyone’s dismay (VIBE BOOKS, 98).
Suddenly, it seemed that there was a gaping hole in hip-hop where Lauren Hill once stood. Tie Phoenix said it best when speaking on Lauren Hill’s absence, saying, “If one person can disappear and people can say ‘something missing,’ then what that person embodied and what they represented to the culture and to the art form was paramount. And actually, what’s missing is what we need to deal with, as opposed to Just the individual herself… ” (Adversary). Instead of industry heads realizing that more female emcees like Lauren were needed, and actually wanted, by consumers, quite the opposite happened.
The female emcee fell off completely, and if she was around, she was the prototype the industry deemed rotor before Laurel’s takeover. Quested from the Roots spoke about the industry and the turn it took after Laurel’s absence, by affirming, “One person’s decade-long break is another movement’s drought… Or tsunami, if you will” (Adversary). And he was right. The only other artist who could be successful without totally conforming to the female emcee prototype was Missy Misdemeanors Elliott, who emerged in the late nineties.
She was unique in her style and held her own when it came to her music; she was a writer, rapper and producer, which is probably part of the reason she was bled to do so well. She became the most commercially successful female emcee of all time. While she did “keep her clothes on,” she fell into the “sex sells” trap when she released the song “Pussycat. ” The lyrics themselves spoke of a historical misogyny and almost minstrel role of women, saying “Pushy don’t fail me now, I goat turn this Amiga out… [so he don’t want nobody else, but me and only me]. Not only have women all over, but more so African American women especially, been labeled as “mules, breeders, and straight-out sex objects,” but they “face the extra challenge of tattling for basic respect from their partners, greater society, and ourselves. ” Epigram goes further in stating, “We were reduced to bitched and host for ages, good for only one thing. How long did it take before a little part of us started to believe it? ” (83). Missy’s “Pussycat” anthem rang loud in the ears of women everywhere though, and it sold.
It was played on popular radio stations, despite having to bleep out most of the song (everyone still knew what was being said). At this time (the late nineties to early sass’s) is when the female emcee almost completely disappeared. From 2000 to 2010, there were no big hits from female emcees and in 2005, the Grammas dropped the “Best Female Emcee” category labels that “female emcees don’t sell,” even though Missy and Lauren had proved that they did, with album sales in the tens of millions.
The harsh reality was that they didn’t sell enough. After all the expenses of putting together and maintaining a female emcee act, not to mention the touring costs (including her glam squad on- hand 24/7), the money she brought in wasn’t enough to cover everything and make the label the kind of money they wanted. Big Leg, former host of BET’s Rap City, said it al comes down to budget, while Nikkei D flat-out replied, “it’s a boys world” (Adversary). Taken together, the reasons seem plausible.