We have a lack of female emcee diversity in the mainstream today. Synopsis from the most infamous old school female emcees in Ava DuVernay’s documentary, My Mic Sounds Nice.
According to Jocelyn A. Wilson, professor of Hip Hop Studies at Morehouse College, at the turn of the 21st century hip hop became a commodity and sex was one of the highest sellers for record labels.
“That’s when we fully began to get this prototype of what a female emcee is and should be,” said Wilson.
“Bottom line is how much money you can make off of your a**” said MC Lyte, referring to women‘s roles in the hip-hop industry.
At the end of the documentary Nicky Minaj – the top female rapper in mainstream at the moment – and her role in the industry as a sex symbol was discussed. Old school emcee Roxanne Shante summed up her take on the current state of mainstream hip hop:
“There’s absolutely still a place for female MCs,” said Shante. “But now it seems like it’s being built on lipstick and eye shadow, which can be washed away. We have to go back to the talent and skills, how it was originally built.”
According to Bilboard’s Nicky Minaj Biography, her success can be accredited to her Myspace page’s mix of tracks and steamy photo shoots:
“It was there that Dirty Money Entertainment CEO Fendi first heard her ability to freestyle and first laid eyes on her steamy set of promo shots. With killer curves she was obviously proud to flaunt plus a background in the performing arts thanks to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art — the school that had inspired the movie Fame — Minaj was a perfect fit for Fendi’s urban DVD magazine, The Come Up.”
The concluding remarks on My Mic Sounds Nice reassured the audience that female emcees who weren’t selling their sexuality were alive and well in the underground scene. The underground was described as the intellectually thriving subculture to mainstream hip hop. Jean Grae was one of the well respected underground artists interviewed. She’s an example of a hip hop veteran who still remains underground (not signed to a major label.)
Jean Grae has been in the underground scene for over ten years. Grae is considered one of the most talented female emcees, period. She has released three albums to date. Her 2010 fourth coming album is appropriately titled, Cake or Death. In July 2010, Presspass TV caught up with miss Grae at the 3rd Eye Open 11th Hip-Hop Festival to have a chat about her thoughts on women in hip-hop.
In her interview Jean Grae explains the most important element in hip hop is being true to yourself. She explains that for aspiring female hip hop artists, it’s important to maintain identity and keep your integrity as an artist.
“Don’t be afraid of owning your sexuality, don’t be afraid of, you know, owning your lyricism, or your personality, or, you know, whatever it is,” said Grae. “Because we need to have more of a diversity between us.”
“Don’t worry about what the industry or society is dictating that you should do, be yourself and stick to it, and it will all pay off in the end.”
Grae confesses that because she sticks to these ideals of being true to herself, she doesn’t sell many records. She expresses her frustrations with the rap game in her music, especially her track ‘Take it Back‘ from her 2008 album Blue Sky, Black Death.
Diversity is an important element in the growth of hip hop culture. In the 90s there was a wide mix of talented and stylish female emcees. From conscious lyricists such as Yo Yo (notably on her early album Black Pearl) to more explicit rappers such as Foxy Brown. It’s disappointing that there’s only one voice in today’s mainstream representing female emcees, Nicky Minaj. This is not to say that Minaj shouldn’t be able to have her place at the top, but that other worthy (some would say more worthy) female emcees shouldn’t be denied their rightful place representing women in hip hop in the mainstream.