The Nicki Effect: The Return Of The Female Rap Movement

Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks and Kitty Pryde are dominating headlines and playlists in 2012 with outrageous lyrics, viral visuals and unique musical styles, while others are emerging.

Let’s call it the Nicki Minaj effect. After a forceful coming of female emcees in the mid- to late ‘90s (Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve, Rah Digga), the ladies who rap almost entirely vanished from the front line of mainstream Hip Hop for a spectrum of justifications: incarceration, label woes, general discomfort in being under the public microscope.

The Return Of The Rap Star Woman

Reestablishing that female voice in mainstream Hip Hop hasn’t been a smooth reclaim. For one, women who rap face different expectations than men. They’re subjected to a certain mold, using sexuality as an attention grabber. The precedence set before them may have seemed and been liberating at first, but it’s in fact made it harder for those who came later. Superficial beauty coupled with a sharp pencil isn’t nearly as effective as initially thought. Wide scale audiences have already seen sex used as a weapon. It’s become a tried, transparent trend that’s been manufactured and replicated across genre lines to a numbing point.

Which is why Nicki Minaj is a curious case. At the onset of her career, she had it all - the body, the lyrics, the co-sign - but she instead predicated her image on eccentricities: alter egos, accents, rhymes about being an alien. It’s that embrace of the bizarre that made her such a captivating figure and pushed her into pop territory, where weird is welcome. Regardless of how her music has evolved, she came from a place that took a tired template and mutated it, taking chances rarely seen across the gender divide.

Her effect on mainstream culture has rippled through the Hip Hop community. While some refer her ascent to the top of pop’s ranks as “bullshit,” it’s cracked the back door open, and even inspired the demand, for a stronger female voice in mainstream Hip Hop. Vastly talented emcees such as Jean Grae, Bahamadia and Invincible have stayed active and earned their respect over time, but since the start of 2012, a crop of newbs including Azealia Banks, Kitty Pryde and Iggy Azalea have pilfered pages from the Minaj handbook and used otherness as a catalyst to accrue mainstream attention.

Banks has hugged her strange tightly. Once a hopeful emcee signed to XL Recordings, the Harlem, New York native contemplated quitting Hip Hop before unleashing the Rap kraken with “212,” a mammoth dance record that smacked listeners square across the melon. Over a Lazy Jay-helmed beat, the 21-year-old declares alliterative warfare, sarcastically capping verses with perpetually satisfying punchlines (“I’ma ruin you cunt” and “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten” quickly became colloquial staples).

It’s what came after that shows just how far Minaj’s effect has reached. At the end of May, Banks dropped her debut EP 1991, a concise four-track collective of house-kissed fare with a Hip Hop core. It’s Rap that’s particular to her persona, pulling musical inspiration from acts popular during her adolescence (Dee-Lite, CeCe Peniston) and cutting it with dexterous rhymes that mirror Purple Haze-era Cam’ron. And her image is unapologetically sheen. In the video for “Liquorice,” she hits the desert in a cowgirl getup, brandishing a bat. She seductively slurps an ice pop. It’s dangerous, and satisfyingly sexy.

But then she drops “Nathan,” a knocking wig-pushback with the gruff Styles P, from her upcoming Fantasea mixtape. It’s the type of stuff meant to vibrate window frames as cars roll down the block, blasting at volume 10. Banks is an artist who can casually traipse the divide between stylized and street - a Minaj cornerstone that made “Roman’s Revenge” stand tall next to “Your Love.” She’s taking that chance by being other; her talent is shaking hands with her identity. And it’s hard to discern which inspires the other.

While Banks has translated her Internet fandemonium offline, Kitty Pryde, a rapper from Miami, Florida, continues to tickle the blogosphere with her giggly sweet-talk. After piquing Rap sites and beyond with her breakout tracks “Justin Bieber” and “okay cupid,” the ginger spitter released her haha… i’m sorry EP last month to moderate fanfare. It’s refreshing and lyrically assembled, introducing her as a disciple of Lil B’s free-associative leanings combined with the tee-hee remove of tween bop. There’s the drawling, doe-eyed affectation of the Sela-helmed “ay shawty: THE SHREKONING”; the acid-spiked “give me scabies”; the funhouse bounce of “orion’s belt” featuring Riff Raff; the “YouTubeable”-coining “smiledog.jpg”; and, of course, the inaugural “okay cupid.” 

Pryde is the type of rapper whose rhymes are birthed from naiveté, but her songs suggest potential: her well-crafted couplets about swigging Bud Light Limes and e-romance are delightful and, at face value, unexpectedly strong. Though she’s intentionally mum about her age, Pryde, who refers to herself as the “Rap game Taylor Swift,” reps for the Facebook generation. She’s the type of rapper who lensed the music video for “okay cupid” in her bedroom not because she wanted to cast an adorable digital spell, but because she probably just spends a lot of time there. It feels genuine to her person, and that honesty has made her a candidate.

Then there’s Iggy Azalea, who was casually inducted into a top Hip Hop social strata after T.I. signed her to his Grand Hustle imprint. The saucy Aussie mounted considerable buzz with viral anthems “My World” and “Pu$$y” (where she casually boasts that her junk is “the illest on the planet”). She raps like a straight-up thug, a style offset by razor-cute looks. The combination is contradictory but satisfying, and has become her signature. She’s that emcee who inked a modeling contract with a top agency long before her debut album The New Classic, which will be executive produced by T.I., releases. It’s high fashion rap with black hoodie tint.

How Nicki Minaj & Her Success Has Inspired Comebacks

Even beyond the latest crop of female rappers, it’s no coincidence that 2012 promises a resurgence of those from years past. Earlier this week, Eve gave an interview to Time.com where she explained how label woes prevented her from swimming with the mainstream current. She’s hoping for a fall release of her oft-delayed album Lip Lock, which will mark her first studio LP since 2002’s Eve-Olution. Missy Elliott is back, too. After years of promising Block Party, the veteran emcee has been dipping her toes back into the pool, stealing the spotlight on M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” remix alongside Banks and Rye Rye and debuting new material at Hennessy’s Wild Rabbit launch. Lauryn Hill has been going strong on the touring circuit, as has Lil’ Kim, who broke bread with Elliott and Eve during a New York City, New York stop on her “Return of the Queen” tour. And Lady of Rage is still kicking up dust.

Some have accused Minaj of jumping the shark by outright pandering to pop tastes - a back-turn on those who put her on their shoulders - but it’s in effect blurring a gender divide that’s long plagued Hip Hop. If a man can doit, then so can a woman - and what if she can do it better? Even in 2012, isolating gender from Hip Hop is an impossibility, particularly in critical discourse. Some female rappers have outright acknowledged this. There’s this line, for example, that’s looped in my mind for years. During a freestyle alongside her former partner-in-rhyme Fat Joe, the currently incarcerated Remy Ma growls, “Shit, I spit, as if I had a dick.” The gender politics at play in that one line are expansive, but there’s realism to her aside. The game is perpetually washed in testosterone: for every female rapper who cracks even the middle ranks, there are dozens of male emcees claiming mimetic success. Women are expected to be one of the boys in order to attain that same level of notoriety, or have a stamp of approval from one of Hip Hop’s elite to get there. It's a backwards system that's getting reversed.

So far this year, that injustice has been diminished. Female rappers including Lola Monroe, Nina B and Paris are finding their footing in one of music’s most misogynistic genres, and they’re doing it without having to chance their credibility. Minaj may be in a position of power among the Hip Hop elite, and there's no need to dole all of the credit for steamrolling. But some? Certainly.

Steven J. Horowitz is HipHopDX's News Editor. He has written for VIBE, RollingStone.com, Billboard and is Associate Editor for YRB Magazine. He is a New Jersey native and lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @speriod.

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53 Comments

  • Drea

    UP AND COMING FEMALE EMCEE/SINGER/SONGWRITER. WWW.REVERBNATION.COM/DREA732 http://theishproductions.bandcamp.com/album/beauty-and-the-beats WWW.SOUNDCLOUD.COM/DREA732 WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/DARKCITYDREA

  • kalynn

    i thank you sing will

  • milehighkid303

    She aint DONE SHIT BUT BITE! She aint Jean Grae, Foxy, Eve, Missy, Trina, Shawna, ANY of them underground chicks, SHIT 50's new broad Precious Paris is better than this broad on the mic. Who are these fuckin' cornball writers feeding us this bullshit anyhow?? Fuck outta here.

  • Rozay

    maybac music bawse iggy is hawt!!!

  • jack johnson

    Mainstream labels market to teenage girls, so now they're putting all these horrible women who can't rap for shit onto us, all these females who can't even sing or write their own songs, they need auto tune and ghostwriters and even then their rapping still sucks ass, what a disgrace

  • TRACEY DANE

    GOODBYE HIPHODX..EY3 MADE MY POINT.....

  • Anonymous

    nicki aint done shit but reiterate that only sex sells (kim and trina) while Nitty (whom wasnt even mentioned and is one of the best females doin it) Grae, Invicible, Nina, and Monroe are nowhere near seeing her type of success and are more deserving. and Iggy is the white version of nicki and banks is only big online. so this article was basically a waste of the writer's and us readers time.

    • fortydogg

      u right honestly i came across this female out of flint,michigan named sweetwater and she make music that can be in rotation wit todays hip hop, but real talk she all bout 80s and 90s hip hop and can spit, her and nity scott ill

  • TRACEY DANE

    MISSY ACTUALLY WORKED WITH "MADONNA"....#THE TRUTH

  • TRACEY DANE

    with MISSY E. back..#time will tell...LOL

  • TRACEY DANE

    "PINK FRIDAY" her debut..like it or not.....SLAYS these "mainstream"...ey3 repeat "mainstream" females...

  • TRACEY DANE

    HERE..IN 2012.. NIKI MINAJ got a co sign by MS.HILL...#THE TRUTH

  • chassidy

    Sick and Sad reading this article knowing that there are people who exist who really think Nicki Minaj is or has done something. What she has done is not even close to NEw? Lmao That girl chopped n screwed and guess what alot of folks see right thru you. Her Pink wig rubber dildo's lyrics and kids dont mix. i classify her as garbage. If anything she has taken from the art. I agree she is a Pop Star not a rapper. I dnt want the kids or the future of hip hop modeling after her I honestly feel they shud #BANHER but of course they wont whitey loves the destruction and molestation of our kids the brainwashing and oversexing its pathetic and in this day and age cant believe they still get away with it and folks who call themselves intellects praise it? Shameless ... All she has done is further damage and industry and allow lil girls to think its okay to be like nicki.She offends me and the day her face isnt shown 50times a minute on tv just know the world and industry is that much safer for you and me. Sincerly someone who really means it.

    • jack johnson

      If it wasn't for Ester Dean Nicki wouldn't be shit, Ester Dean does her choruses and writes for her

  • Manny Faces

    The "movement" is that the industry, thirsty to replicate the inimitable "effect" of Nicki Minaj, are snatching up any female MC with a YouTube buzz and an already-established controversey (Banks with her lyrics, Iggy with her foreign/whiteness)... Problem is, where Nicki began with talent, then found an oddball lane to conquer, these others are beginning with an oddball lane and have little talent. The "movement" is not one of welcoming females MCs with anything to add to the music and culture, it's simply a continuation of an idiotic industry trying to control a genre that, unfortunately, has been easily manipulated in the past by feeding a repetitive formula. In this case, Nicki (however you feel about her) is completely unique, and not easily duplicated. What the industry doesn't realize, is that it is her uniqueness that made her who she is, which makes their efforts to put talentless hacks in the spotlight before their prime in an attempt to repeat the unrepeatable, a joke. The truly talented female MCs still have a ways to go before the industry gets around to realizing they exist. There is no "movement" yet that benefits them.

  • TRACEY DANE

    MADGE "THE HIGH PRIESTESS OF POP!"...

  • TRACEY DANE

    finally.."white women in hip hop"...TML..THANK "MADONNA" LATER....LOL

  • TRACEY DANE

    NINA B. VS KREAYSHAWN though...

  • TRACEY DANE

    dat pic...MADONNA circa 1990..(in her prime)..sorry MS.NINA...."VOGUE!"..LOL

  • TRACEY DANE

    MADONNA VS NINA B...hahaha... MADGE A PUT A SPELL ON HER UNKNOWN AZZ!...LOL

  • Anonymous

    dont sleep on kitty pryde , give her a year

  • lapetitecollette

    i'm sorry- did DX just label this shit the "nicki" effect...? no, we don't need a fucking "nicki" movement, unless it's a movement away from hip-hop.

  • RC

    Hip-Hop really does need more female emcees like Jean Grae, Nitty Scott, Rapsody & Dynasty. Most of the artist listed on here are more on the pop spectrum and very one dimensional.

    • moodIndigo

      Seems to me these skilled female emcees have a marketing problem - or at worst are as naive as you are to the realities of Hip-Hop economics. Sex sells, being quirky puts eyeballs(read: $$$) on you, dipping your toes in pop exponentially explodes your market. That 'Keeping it real' ignorance doesn't pay the bills. Ask your heroine emcees.

  • TRACEY DANE

    @jessica....NINA B.= she aint on NIKKI MINAJ level...."PINK FRIDAY"...that's beyond NINA B.

  • Doubl Negative

    All of the emcees mentioned in this article are terrible. None of 'em can fuck with Invincible, one of my favourite rappers regardless of gender. She's also the only credible gay emcee, but whatever your opinions on those kind of people, you can't deny shortie's dope. People need to stop thinking with their dicks giving props to a girl rapper just 'cause they're hot. Anyone who can't appreciate Invincible's music, doesn't appreciate hip-hop.

  • Jessica

    I personally Like Nina B. Her and Nicki was coming up at the same time. She is not rapper that decided to rap yesterday. nina b all day

  • djbvax

    Yea but all these female (and male) rappers all sound the same.

  • TRACEY DANE

    MaDGE ("first white female rapper")..bow down whoever the hell she iz...

  • TRACEY DANE

    WHO IZ THE "white girl" in dat pic..."BITING OFF MADDONA"..a la.."VOGUE"...LOL

  • Anonymous

    BRICKS IN MY PACKPACK WATTUP TO TROY AVE.

  • TRACEY DANE

    "other femcees" MC LYTE SALT(of SALT N PEPA) QUEEN LATIFAH(yes she started in hip hop) LADY OF RAGE MADONNA(yes ey3 said MADGE)....LOL

  • TRACEY DANE

    #if you don't support "femcees"....YOU DON'T HAVE HIP HOP....."it is "off balanced"..and IT WILL DIE!".....topic of the day

  • Bo

    You didn't mention nitty scott?! WTF c'mon Steven get it together, out of all newbs she's best

  • Anonymous

    This also has to do with the energy of earth going from predominate male to female. This isn't just some "Nikki" thing, it's the whole cosmos thing.

  • recordpusher

    Salute the female MCS: Dynasty and Dj Premier "Epic Dynasty" http://youtu.be/YNjZVoBAXOg

  • BLACK

    HEY STEVIE HOR (REMEMBER WHEN WE USED TO CALL U THAT IN HIGH SCHOOL?) YO I SEEN U GOT ARTICLES ON BILLBOARD MAGAZINE AND SHIT MY NIGGA, U MADE BIG TIME BOY!

  • BLACK

    The Saucy Aussie...me like it!!!

  • TRACEY DANE

    Y2G..FEMCEES MISSY KHIA EVE

  • Que

    JeanGrae @JeanGreasy "@HipHopDX If we're still making a distinction of "female rap" then we're doing it wrong. *sigh* It's 2012. Let it go."

  • Stephen X

    Precious Paris >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • Anonymous

    nicki and rap really dont have a whole lot to do with one another

  • TRACEY DANE

    999...TRACEY DANE

  • Anonymous

    SMH Come back and let me know when any of these women you mentioned drop a record that pushes any kind of units. Nicki herself was lucky to strike gold with the biggest pop hop sound she could buy I'm all for female MC's gettin it in but most everybody you named is wack and you talkin bout a "movement" that has produced nothing so far. Dont go countin your chicken before they hatch