I grew up knowing of female rappers from all over. Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Yo-Yo, Mia X, and Queen Latifah were huge names who could boast of platinum and gold albums. But by the late 2000s, women’s visibility in hip hop had steeply declined.
Then, a Queens-bred rapper by the name of Nicki Minaj released her second mixtape, Sucka Free. Minaj would go on to single-handedly revive women’s presence in hip hop and be the only woman in several years to break out as a star who could boast of mainstream success. Given Minaj’s success with her debut album, the double platinum smash Pink Friday, conventional wisdom suggests that should have opened the door to other female rappers.
We did get Iggy Azalea and “Fancy,” though the Australian white woman laying claim to the same cadence as, say, the southern Black rapper Diamond of Crime Mob fame has roundly been dismissed as gimmicky at best. Maybe she’ll score another hit—or maybe she’s the female Vanilla Ice. As for Azealia Banks, well, self-destructive behavior has made her the new Foxy Brown, but without the hits.
When it comes to veterans, Remy Ma has enjoyed a resurgence recently thanks to her time on Love & Hip Hop: New York and, more importantly, the success of her single with Fat Joe, “All The Way Up.” A joint album with Fat Joe is due by year’s end and plans of a solo album are also afoot; Remy is enjoying the kind of stardom we expected before she served an eight-year prison sentence. There’s also Lil’ Kim, who will be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her debut album, Hardcore, next month, and released a mixtape this year that was her best in quite some time.
Minaj remains the only woman with star power like that of her 1990s and early 2000s predecessors. But as far as women in rap go, it hasn’t been this great in years. And the shift comes courtesy of the many new female rappers who have entered the space.
Admittedly, it may be hard for many to notice that. The music industry is still in transition: in the past year, streaming has become the U.S. recording industry’s biggest revenue source; artists are less ambivalent about bypassing major record labels and working as independent acts; and the Internet is a better barometer of who’s hot than terrestrial radio. Even so, there are so many women releasing great rap music right now; it’s a noticeable pattern that deserves greater recognition and, for the artists who make it up, larger support.
One obvious success is Young M.A., whose single “OOOUUU” has amassed more than 45 million views on YouTube, and earned nods from Beyoncé and remixes from Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma. Young M.A. also appears in a newly released Beats By Dre ad, alongside Minaj, Pharrell, and other luminaries. That on its own is impressive, and her short spot—in which M.A. checks out another woman—is also groundbreaking. In the past, an out queer female rapper was a rare thing, yet in 2016, a Black lesbian who does not cater to male sexual fantasies is enjoying a breakout year.
She is not the only queer rapper, thankfully.
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