whm: rap music’s woman takeover
By Dev Allen
March 22, 2019
Typically, being a woman rapper meant being subjected to the binary: you either are hyper-sexualized or you exude masculinity. Today’s growing roster of talented woman MCs are bucking this trend and proudly exploring the spectrum between these two pillars. The current space that rappers like Tierra Whack and Bbymutha have to establish and elevate themselves as weirdos or mothers is a quasi privilege not known to their hip-hop foremothers. But it’s the previous generations that walked so the woman of today’s hip-hop can runーand soon fly as woman boldly make their own way up in music.
Women are rising in rap. Soon to be gone are the days of whipping your dick out, wrapping it up in autotune, and laying it on a track. Some of the biggest men in the game are going more introspective with their pen game (i.e. 21 Savage, Offset, and J. Cole). With this toxic masculinity begrudgingly being taken down a peg or two, women have more room than ever to be themselves.
Lauryn Hill’s career was slowed down and misdirected by an industry not willing to let her have a choice about her son. She poured her soul out on “To Zion,” waxing compassion for her newly born boy. Contrary to that narrative is underground rapper and single mother of 4, Bbymutha. From the jump, she’s letting all of us know she’s a mama… deal with it. She raps about her past abusive relationship, her 2 sets of twins, and being sexy. If Bbymutha rises above the ground, she’ll do so as no one other than herself.
Queen Latifah skewed closer to the masculine end of our spectrum back in her “Black Reign” era. Her lyrics in songs like “U.N.I.T.Y.” called for equality and respect, but her demeanor was far from the Queen we know today. The difference today is that rappers like Brooklyn’s Leikeli47 can choose that street hard aura, but make their art whatever they choose. Leikeli47 would’ve been a contradiction had she existed 25 years ago. She wears masks and baggy fits, giving off a very masculine demeanor. But in 2019, you ain’t really gotta keep that same energy, to be honest. Her songs are varied, spanning jazz pieces, soft ballads, and hard Beast Coast bangers. She has the range to be weird and put forth all of herself, instead of suppressing her personality to fit in box #1 or box #2.
The freedom to be quirky is a relief, trust me. Missy Elliot will probably go down in history as one of the oddest of oddballs to bless the genre. She brought trash bags into fashion. Periodt. Her pioneering wackiness is a torch being slowly handed off to the Tierra Whacks and the Doja Cats. Give a person a mic and you may have a hit. Give Tierra Whack a mic and you are suddenly in a playhouse walking right side up on a wall. The entire “Whack World” visual experience feels firmly down the same path of, say, 1997’s “Sock It 2 Me,” featuring stop motion and outlandish spacesuits. Tierra can rap about whatever she wants and make it stick.
Women can be weird. Women can be masc. Women can be femme. Women can be mothers. And now we’re seeing this not only in their work but their image. There would be no Cardi B without Nicki Minaj. There would no Nicki without Lil Kim, and so forth. Women pave the way for more to come. Lil Kim made it into the spotlight using the other end of our spectrum: being overtly sexual — and owning her Black body. She broke barriers with her blunt sexuality on display, and the path she lit led us to Cardi B. Sex is definitely a part of Cardi’s image, but to say that’s all there is to her is a gross oversimplification. She takes that man-made image of what woman rappers “should” be, and owns that shit; it’s embedded in her narrative from her stripper roots. No longer is she doing it out of necessity, but because she wants to and it’s just fun for her. Securing her bag — and being the first solo woman to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album — is just an added bonus. There’s the shift from being sexy for a man to being sexy for yourself. Downright filthy lyricists like Cupcakke and Jungle Pussy put their sexuality out there because they own it.
Women rappers have the queens of hip hop to thank. They are the voices of change for a genre deeply under construction right now. Femininity is in hip hop’s DNA now — like it or not. We’re moving to a place where men are reflecting and women are expressing. With that balance in place, the language, the sound, and the look of rap is no longer monolithic, it’s infinite.
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