What Will it Take for a Woman in Rap to Thrive in Peace?
The path to being a successful woman in rap is trickier than ever, with fans and media pitting women against each other. What will it take for a female rapper to thrive in peace?
On September 3rd — a day after the “unofficial end of summer” — Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj released the vibrant video for their collaboration “Hot Girl Summer.” In the video, the two are inseparable — encouraging each other as they rap their respective verses.
This wasn’t the first time fans got to see the two interact.
Megan and Nicki shared an Instagram Live session earlier in the summer. For more than 15 minutes they talked about fame, their respective goals, and the craft of rapping. It was clear the women had admiration for each other. Nicki gave Megan tips on how to make her debut album. “Don’t overthink it” Nicki said. At one point Megan proclaimed: “Stop playing with Nicki Minaj like she ain’t the motherfuckin’ GOAT.”
The session was spontaneous, according to Nicki, a genuine moment of sisterhood between the two. Not everyone was convinced, however. Rapper turned podcaster Joe Budden had doubts. On episode 267 of The Joe Budden Podcast, the rapper called the move calculated and speculated that labels were behind it. This lead to a contentious (and at times exhausting) back and forth between Nicki and Budden that occurred on Apple’s Queen Radio and Spotify’s Budden Podcast.
Budden’s skepticism highlighted a sore spot in hip-hop: fans still have discomfort with seeing women in rap show appreciation for their peers — or dissatisfaction with the ways in which they do so. This can lead to fans, particularly men, manufacturing disagreements between women in hip-hop.
Megan’s interaction with Nicki isn’t too far off from, say, how Rico Nasty interactions with Tierra Whack. Or how Oakland rapper Kamaiya interactions with Cardi B. Approaching a display of support from one female rapper to another with suspicion is likely a product of being conditioned by the media to believe that such an act is uncommon or inauthentic.
Women have never been exempt from their own rounds in hip-hop beef. Case in point: in 1992, Roxanne Shanté took shots at Queen Latifah and Monie Love in the second verse of “Big Mama,” before moving on to MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa in the third. Everyone who responded did so through song: Salt-N-Pepa with “Somebody’s Getting on my Nerves” and MC Lyte with “Steady Fucking” in ’93. Regardless of their competitive exchanges, all of these women were widely respected and accepted as equals, and their disputes weren’t fabricated by fans or figures in media.
“It just seems like there’s only one woman that can be on top, or one woman that can be in the game, whereas that wasn’t the case back then,” Kim Lumpkin, a music industry executive with over two decades of experience in artist management and marketing, said. “It was a community.”
At some point in time, pitting women against each other — even outside of their musical capabilities — became a normal practice in media and amongst those consuming that content; however, the source of this habit isn’t exactly clear.
“Is what we’re seeing in the media, especially the mainstream media, reflective of the culture? Or is the culture shaped by what we’re seeing in the media?” Dr. Lauren Leigh Kelly, an assistant professor of urban education at Rutgers University, asked when speaking to Okayplayer. “You couldn’t say what happened first. It’s difficult to know, was this manufactured beef fueled by the fact that we just don’t want to see women get along, is that us? Or do we see that and then start to shape our ideologies around that?”
Aisha Durham, a hip-hop feminist and professor of communication and women and gender studies at the University of South Florida, believes “the media is overwhelmingly dictating how we understand women in hip-hop.”
Not necessarily in terms of explicitly stating which artists to like, and which to dislike, but rather it “trains us to tell us what we should like,” Durham said. “We kind of map what we’re used to seeing with this new image.”
New York City Politics
To those consuming this content as fans, it may just be entertaining. And to those consuming it as artists, it may serve as a blueprint of how to navigate relationships with other artists in their community. Before they’re even pitched against each other on the level of mainstream media, New York’s female rappers, in particular, must initially overcome the shortcomings of the city’s non-supportive hip-hop environment.
South Bronx rapper Maliibu Miitch tells Okayplayer that she didn’t feel like she had a sense of community in New York when she was first cultivating her career, and mentions that she still doesn’t feel that she has one there now.
“If we don’t support ourselves coming from New York, and all of the female rappers that are coming out of New York — why the fuck would you support someone from a different state?” she said. “It’s not going to take any attention off of you. It’s not going to take any energy off of you … to show somebody some love. We need to support each other so these people can support us.”
Up-and-coming Bronx rapper Connie Diiamond makes note of how being from New York requires you to toughen up. She channels her experiences coming up in the city into her music as she weaves throughout R&B and trap, but keeps her foot on the pulse of straightforward rap while delivering cut-throat bars in showcases like her takes on Drake’s “Summer Sixteen” and Jadakiss’ “Put Ya Hands Up.”
The difficult part in gaining support, Diiamond said, is that “New York has a very tough crowd as far as accepting shit. The whole of New York is like this: If they feel like other people fuck with it, then they fuck with it.”
Maliibu Miitch has come to heavily advocate for showing support for local artists early in their career. “We shouldn’t support them when the masses are supporting them and they’re big, and they’re all over the place,” she said, “Then out of the woodwork people come out like, ‘Oh, I been knew about that person.’ Alright, but did you actually support that person?”
Having a community backing an artist can open doors for opportunities for other artists in their area, Connie Diiamond said, “I feel like Cardi B shined a light on the Bronx. Like, ‘Who else is out here?’ We’ve always been here, but I guess we needed that co-sign.”
Cardi B Game Changer
Cardi B’s rise represents a shift in the way that we’ve seen female rappers from New York make their way into the mainstream because she did so using Internet savvy, rather any direct association with a hip-hop camp. (A template Megan is trying to implement.)
Foxy Brown received her first number one album on the Billboard 200 as a member of New York-born supergroup The Firm, alongside Nas, AZ, and Nature. Lil Kim received her gold stamp of approval from the hip-hop community through her association with THE Notorious B.I.G and Junior M.A.F.I.A. In the early 2000s, Remy Ma followed a similar path as a member of Terror Squad, and a few years later Nicki Minaj would emerge from Young Money.
In all instances, these women were the only female rappers in their respective camps. They were all skilled lyricists and rappers prior to their association with these groups, but they were launched into the mainstream hip-hop stratosphere, even beyond New York’s local level, in large part because they had been pre-vetted by their male collaborators.
This practice gives way to male artists believing they have a claim to the success of their female counterparts, while conveniently forgetting all of the work that these women had to put in in order to have been considered for their respective camps in the first place. As far as technicalities go, these camps do show that there are communities available for New York’s female rappers; but it feels cheap to accept women being pre-validated by men as a successful display of support, no matter how well-intentioned the groups may be.
“While I think there is a greater deal of female agency in the business now — meaning that women themselves are deciding what they should do and not do — that agency and self-determination is still operating in a larger framework where men control access,” music industry veteran and journalist Dan Charnas said. “And fans–even women–are subjecting female artists to different kinds of judgments than their male counterparts.”
In a perfect world, women in hip-hop would be able to back themselves and each other and receive the same support and exposure as they would if they had one of their male counterparts vouching for them. Having female rappers like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Maliibu Miitch, and more enter displays of support for other women in their field into the mainstream media — and thus the mainstream consciousness — is a step in the right direction.
Larisha Paul is a writer from New York City. She has written for MTV and Earmilk. You can follow her @sincesuburbia.