Although the rap industry is notorious for objectifying and over-sexualizing women, it’s an industry where women have excelled and are continuing to defy stereotypes and refuse objectification. In order for it to be possible for amazing modern rappers like Cardi B and Nikki Minaj to get where they are today, a few brave women had to experiment with and shape the industry. It’s pretty safe to say that these women were extremely successful and are still known as icons in the rap industry. So, who were these women? Let’s kick it back to the ‘90s…
One of the most well known and well decorated early women rappers was Shawntae Harris, more commonly known by her stage name Da Brat. Harris’ career began in 1992 when she won a local rap contest that ended up getting her signed by the label So So Def. She was marketed as the female version of Snoop Dogg (known then as Snoop Doggy Dog). Her most influential album was actually her first, called Funkdafield, which was released in 1994. Funkdafield made it to number 1 in the rap charts and ended up earning her the title of the first female rap artist to go platinum. She is the second overall female rap group to go platinum, after Salt-N-Pepa (another awesome group of female rappers). In addition, Da Brat has received 2 Grammy nominations.
Another amazing female rapper that shaped the industry is someone I’m sure we’ve all heard of. Her name is Dana Elaine Owens but we know her better as the famous Queen Latifah. Latifah got her start beat boxing for a group called Ladies Fresh and was a member of the group Flavor Unit. She was signed in 1988 and her first single was called “Wrath of My Madness”. Queen Latifah is an avid proponent of feminism and civil rights and that shines through her music. Some of the subjects of her raps include sexual harassment, domestic violence, and relationships. Latifah was eventually signed with Tommy Boy Records and released her first album, “All Hail the Queen”, in 1989 when she was only 19. In 1992, at only 21, she received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Here are some lyrics from her song Ladies First on “All Hail the Queen”.
“I break into a lyrical freestyle
Grab the mic, look into the crowd and see smiles
Cause they see a woman standing up on her own two
Sloppy slouching is something I won’t do
Some think that we can’t flow (can’t flow)
Stereotypes, they got to go (got to go)
I’m a mess around and flip the scene into reverse
(With what?) With a little touch of “Ladies First”
There are many, many more female rappers that dominated early on such as Lil’ Kim, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliot, but now I’m going to move into modern female rappers. I am primarily going to discuss Nikki Minaj and Cardi B, but a noteworthy rapper is Young M.A. Her single “OOOUUU” recently reached #19 on the charts and although she has gained attention from labels, she remains independent. Young M.A. is so instrumental in changing the rap world because she’s openly lesbian and consistently talks about her sexuality in her music. Her sexuality acts as a way for her to deny the over-sexualization of women in rap and helps her stand out among other female rappers.
Probably the most well known modern female rapper, Nikki Minaj, uses her platform to empower women and promote self love. She moved to America from Trinidad and Tobego when she was 5 and began to gain recognition around 2008 when she released her first and second mixtapes which awarded her with the title of Female Artist of the Year at the 2008 Underground Music Awards. In 2009, Minaj was discovered by Lil’ Wayne and was signed by Young Money Entertainment. After many songs on the Billboard Hot 100, she became the first woman to appear on MTV’s annual hottest MC list. In 2014, she became the only artist to win the BET Award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist for 5 consecutive years, tying Missy Elliot with 5 awards. On the subject of sexualization, at the start of her career Minaj stated that she felt the pressure of conforming to the objectification of women in rap, but decided to ignore it. She says that she wants young girls to know that things like school and ambition are more important than sex appeal. She also claims that her habit of signing breasts at shows is a way of empowering women to love themselves and love their bodies. Minaj likes to say that she competes with both men and women rappers and it seems like she’s been successful at it, considering that she is the world’s most followed rapper on Twitter.
Finally, the most recent female rap genius is Cardi B. She started her career as a stripper and began to gain popularity on Instagram and Vine. At the time, she was involved in an abusive relationship and said stripping was her only way out. Being a stripper was a turning point in her life, as it helped her escape poverty and even marked the point at which she went back to school. In 2016, she released her first mixtape and was featured in Vibe magazine. This year, she released her second mixtape and ended up signing with Atlantic Records. She was also nominated for BET’s Best New Artist and Best Female Hip Hop Artist. Her first debut single, Bodak Yellow, was released on June 16, 2017. It quickly rose to number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and was number 1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart and the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart. In a short time, it had acquired over 500,000 sales and was certified gold, making her the first gold female rapper since Lauryn Hill, almost 20 years ago. She recently also did some collaborations that earned her the first three entries in the top 10 of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart
These women are only a handful of the many extremely talented, brilliant, and fearless women that are rapidly turning the rap industry upside down. So many women rappers have been successful so far and soon the rap industry will be filled with wonderful female artists waiting to be discovered. In an industry that is historically, and still today, completely dominated by men, one can only applaud these amazing women and their hard work. God only knows how difficult it must be to be taken seriously by other artists in an industry that normalizes objectification and, in some cases, sexual harassment and assault of women. I’m extremely excited to see what new female rappers appear in the future.