Queen Latifah. Lil Kim. Lauryn Hill. Missy Elliott. There’ve been a handful of visible female rappers, but none seem to have inspired a women’s movement in hip hop. Why?
We looked at the New Orleans hip-hop style known as “bounce” a few months ago, and one of the striking things about the bounce scene is how strong a female presence (and even more striking, a queer and transgendered presence) that community has. This didn’t happen because one woman became successful and inspired a horde of followers – this happened because the community as a whole used bounce as party music, and the girls wanted to party as hearty as the boys. And so their language is just as raw and rough as the boys - which doesn’t necessarily make bounce a model for hip-hop as a whole. In fact, you might worry that a female rapper using the same sexual stereotypes as her male counterparts risks being seen ultimately as a kind of novelty act.
I look at mainstream hip-hop and women’s marginalized place in it and think that it’s going to be a tough slog for women to have a real strong and enduring presence there. But what about so-called conscious hip hop? This is the hip hop of ideas and community, yet women rappers seem to be almost as scarce there as in the mainstream. (Of UGO’s top 11 conscious rappers, only 2 are women – though admittedly that’s probably two more than you’d find in a top 11 list of mainstream rappers.) This seems to be where the real opportunity is – but it’s an opportunity that hasn’t been exploited yet.