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Jackson Howard: Where have all the femcees gone?

By Jackson Howard, Daily Hip-Hop Columnist
Published October 3, 2013

As more female rappers focused solely on sexual and degrading music (Khia, Trina, Jacki-O, Foxy Brown, even Missy in later years), the lyrical standard for women began to fade. Lady of Rage, Da Brat, Rah Digga and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo (among others) fell off the map by the mid-2000s, while, maybe worst of all, Lauryn Hill completely stopped making music, plagued by personal and legal troubles. Eve released a platinum album in 2001, a gold one in 2002 and then not another until this past year, while Lil Kim (before going to jail) and Missy Elliott both released their final projects in 2005.

What went wrong? One theory could be that the three most admirable and successful femcees — Eve, Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott — stopped putting out albums for a variety of reasons, leaving their fellow rappers with no leadership. Another theory is that in the mid-2000s, rap as a genre was in a serious crisis (Nas named his 2006 album Hip-Hop Is Dead) and lyricism was no longer appreciated. However, I believe that what ultimately set back female rappers is, unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the increasingly sexualized nature of their raps, certainly influenced by being women working in a genre that has a history of promoting misogynistic and degrading sexual content. Simply put, their subject matter has been limited to only matters of sex. For many femcees, it was either sex up or fade out, and the few who continued to sell records were those who kept their sex appeal at embarrassingly high levels.

Just look at Trina’s first verse from her aptly titled song “No Panties,” released in 2002: “Look boo, what’s the deal? / You got my cash so you can stick it here? / I know you be packing the steel / But I can’t suck your dick and get my lipstick smeared.” Subtle is clearly not in Trina’s vocabulary.

Nicki Minaj is a great example of this pressure. Discovered by Lil Wayne as a hard-spitting battle rapper out of Queens, N.Y., Minaj is now an overly-sexualized, self-professed “Barbie” who seems to turn on her lyrical abilities — of which she has plenty — only when forced to. Today, major crews like Rick Ross’s Maybach Music, Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation lack female rappers, and though there is hope with young rappers such as Azealia Banks, Jean Grae, Angel Haze and Rapsody — artists who aren’t as pressured by rap music’s pre-existing standards into over-sexualizing themselves through sacrificing their lyrical content and personal integrity — the window of opportunity for female emcees appears discouragingly small.

“A woman can bear you, break you, take you / Now it’s time to rhyme, can you relate to / a sister dope enough to make you holler and scream?” Queen Latifah asked on “Ladies First,” and until the rap game and the American public begins acknowledging female rappers again for their lyrics and not their bodies, ladies will continue to be second.