2014 has been a low-key thrill ride. And, nowhere has that been illustrated more tenuously than within the ranks of the female emcee. While Nicki is almost undisputed as the queen at this point. There are several other contenders. Iggy Azalea had a break out year, and say what you want about her seeming appropriation of Hip Hop’s most sacred tropes, she’s set to clean up at award shows like Macklemore did the year before.
Then there’s the underdogs, upstarts, and underappreciated lurking in hills of stardom, waiting for their time to strike. Rapsody has been on the button of transcendence for a few years now, and with her stiff snub at the hands of XXL she’s put out great work. Then there’s the newcomers like Tink and 3 D Natee, as well as our resident provocateur Azealia Banks. This diversity is what separates this era of woman emcee from previous ones. There have always been one or two, but the field has opened up for a number reasons. None, perhaps, more important than the proliferation of the Internet.
The Web has helped democratize once hushed voices, and the woman has come to take her seat at the table. Rightfully so, but what do you believe? Is this the year the female emcee has carved out a permanent seat for herself amongst the industries elite?
Has 2014 Been The Year Of The Woman Emcee?
Weeks have passed since dominating Hip Hop queen Nicki Minaj made her second Saturday Night Live appearance as a musical guest. While many focused on Onika’s hilarious impressions of Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, there was something increasingly poignant about her performances. Leaving highest charting single to date “Anaconda” out of the equation, the YMCMB first-lady performed the Skylar Grey assisted “Bed of Lies” before giving viewers a medley of “Only” and “All Things Go.” More specifically, the opening track from her third solo album nearing release The Pinkprint was seen as a highlight. Alongside discussing the 2011 murder of cousin Nicholas Telemaque, “All Things Go” has Minaj revealing very real issues rarely discussed on wax for emcees rocking an XX chromosome. Yup, the complicated decision of surrendering motherhood for a career and abortion. Regardless of how one feels about Minaj as an artists or human being, to perform such a revealing track in front of a live audience comes off as almost groundbreaking. Sure, female emcees ranging from Lil Kim to Jean Grae have spoken candidly about the issue in rhyme. However, none have been given the platform Minaj was provided in speaking her truth. For someone who spent most of her career catering to people’s musical expectations; she came off pretty human for the first time that night. Then there could be the fact that she has stiff competition this time around. Sometimes that pressure has a way of bringing honesty out of someone.
Iggy Azalea Joins Nicki Minaj At The Cool Table
Meanwhile, Australia to U.S. transplant Iggy Azalea received four nominations for next year’s 57th Annual Grammy Awards including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album for The New Classic. This comes weeks after she delivered one of the AMA’s most controversial upsets in beating out Drake and Eminem for best Rap/Hip Hop album. Much has been made about the white cultural appropriation of Hip Hop from current mainstays like J.Cole and Azealia Banks in relation to Iggy’s success. Think pieces have been written left and write about the woman from Down Under “Columbusing” today’s most mainstream black art. However, Iggy wouldn’t have reached the ears of the world without Grand Hustle general T.I. and to a lesser extent, A$AP Rocky and Y.G. So while many complain of Iggy appropriating black women culture, black men have facilitated her rise. Racial politics aside, there’s something pretty progressive in having two women essentially running Hip Hop. Even independently, female emcees ranging from Rapsody to Azealia Banks are paving the way for those looking to avoid the major label machine. As everyone argues about whether or not 2014 was the worse year, it’s clear women are making strides unseen in decades.
Mentioned previously in the “One Percent” feature, Azalea is the first female emcee to outsell her male peers since Lauryn Hill’s 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Outside of selling 432,000 to date, The New Classic is the second most-streamed Spotify album this year within the United States. Moreover, album single “Fancy” featuring Charlie XCX is the most streamed Spotify single of 2014 domestically. Minaj has her share of gloating to do as well. “Anaconda” marked her 51st Hot 100 hit, beating Michael Jackson for overall career entries amongst the Hot 100 chart. The video for The Pinkprint single also broke Miley Cyrus’ record for most 24-hour streams on Vevo. Music isn’t the core of femcee dominance either. Women focused television network Oxygen can name “Sisterhood of Hip Hop” their biggest success of the year. The reality show focusing on five up-and-coming female emcees including former Crime Mob member Diamond and Brianna Perry marked the network’s highest-rated freshman series premiere to-date. Featuring T.I. as executive producer, “Sisterhood of Hip Hop” was the number #2 most social cable reality program in primetime. Then there’s the biggest television behemoth representing Hip Hop, VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop. For the premier of LHH: Atlanta, over 3.8 million total viewers tuned into the May season premiere making VH1 the number one cable network for primetime. It’s biggest demographic, women between the ages of 18 – 49. The newest spin-off for LHH, Hollywood, drew in 2.8 million during its initial airing. Lets just assume the majority of those viewers were mainly women as well.
This makes perfect sense as women are the main purchasers of music. According to the 2013 Recording Industry Association of America consumer profile, 54 percent of all music purchases are made by women. Ironically, men make up 61 percent of paid subscription service membership and 65 percent of locker downloads/stream rippers. Simply put, the business of Hip Hop spending is in the hands of women. These statistics are in line with trends facing other industries as women attend to 70 percent of all global spending. Keeping things domestic, 60 percent of U.S. wealth is under women’s control.
Independence And The Female Emcee
Moving past major labels, 2014 has been great to independent artists in general. This extends to women as well. Female emcees such as Nitty Scott, Rapsody, and Sa Roc have had a spectacular year without the machine. The message is clear: the Internet age has finally begun to democratize the female voice in Hip Hop. Anyone can be an artist, thus, it’s up to the masses to decide who’s worthy of attention and all that follows. Could this boom be due to technology marginalizing those without access? Did Young Chop and Cheif Keef not help reinvigorate Chicago Hip Hop from one bedroom while using a cheap laptop? The variables are too plenty to determine. Even in regards to debuts, Azealia Banks recently managed to release a pretty solid album in Broke With Expensive Taste after leaving Interscope; receiving better reviews than Iggy’s effort while we wait for Minaj’s The Pinkprint to be vetted.
Alongside her star stealing feature on Run The Jewels 2 track “Love Again(Akinyele Back),” one of the hardest working emcees this year is undoubtedly Gangsta Boo. This year alone, the former Three 6 Mafia member joined fellow Memphis sister La Chat for Witch and found time to drop the pretty amazing Underground Cassette Tape Music with H-town rapper/producer BeatKing. All a year after releasing her solo It’s Game Involved mixtape and reunion stint with the newly named Da Mafia Six. Even Jean Grae (our resident favorite rapper’s favorite rapper) finally released a web series to much acclaim, a litany of projects that ran the gamut from traditional boom-bap to Love Potion #9 and a book. Not to mention an upcoming appearance on the CBS hit show 2 Broke Girls. During an interview with HipHopDX, Timbaland protege Tink mentioned that relatability is difficult for women as “there is nobody that a girl can say, ‘I look just like her.’” Interestingly enough, she proclaimed that “female empowerment is back” after giving her thoughts on Nicki gracing Beyonce’s “Flawless” remix and performing the track together live in Paris. Maybe she’s unknowingly apart of that change if recent controversies have anything to say. Tink managed to “Renegade” Rick Ross on his own track after the original version leaked; causing a rift between the legendary producer and MMG boss.
Hell, remember last year when 3D Na’tee outclassed Kendrick Lamar on Sway In The Morning pre- “Control?” That ability to stand against giants like Lamar doesn’t come from talent alone. Before getting that lucrative deal with Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind’s All Def Digital through Universal, the New Orleans native pretty much ran her own brand single-handedly. That meant everything from updating her own website and recording music by herself to shooting her own videos. Instead of relying on men to shape their careers, some women are truly making a name for themselves on their own. In a subtle way, 2014 may be the year where women matched their male counterparts in workload and notoriety.
Something For Everyone
Even creatively, the variety of female emcees within Hip Hop seems to be in a good place. Those looking for artists on the commercial spectrum can look toward Nicki and Iggy; more traditional lyricism, Rapsody and Grae; ballsy out there stuff Azealia Banks and Jungle Pussy. Females in Hip Hop can truly be whatever they want or most importantly, themselves. Monolithic images of women being presented as either hyper-sexual or pseudo-lesbian tom-boys could be officially seen as a thing of the past. From both high and low-vantage points, women in Hip Hop are beginning to do it their way. And, it’s gotten to the point where some female emcees don’t necessarily need a male co-sign, though, it helps (just ask Iggy). Now, only if women could also find a place in important background roles like producers, engineers, studio musicians and DJs, real progress can be sustained. This is even more crucial in an industry where record sales aren’t going up anytime soon.
Minaj dealt with a slew of hate between the time she signed to Cash Money and the release of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. She got it from veterans, nobodies searching for a come-up and even popular radio host. One of Minaj’s best abilities involved making competition deemed lesser than her sound desperate for attention. The difference now? For the first time, the culture has a nice amount of quality women to choose from that represent various angles of womanhood. A positive thing right? Of course! But, Hip Hop is all about competition; especially in this hyper-capitalist society. Despite Minaj being the king of the hill, her male counterparts can get along well enough to formulate posse cuts every now and then. Will today’s women in Hip Hop ever see anything equivalent to “Ladies Night” remix? Lets hope egos don’t get in the way of progress made. Until then, women in Hip Hop have a lot more work to do.