There are more popular women with successful rap careers than ever before. Artists like Cardi B, Rico Nasty, Noname, Tierra Whack, and many more are leaving limiting terms like “femcee” in the dust. Gender be damned, they’re a breath of fresh air for the rap game. The bad news is that people who are conditioned to think mainstream hip-hop should always be a boys club with token “first ladies” are demonstrating every day that they don’t know how to compute the circumstance. Too many straight men have short-circuited to the point where Megan Thee Stallion’s twerking is criticized as too sexual, but an openly queer female rapper Young MA is being sexualized.
Cardi B can’t breathe without being pitted against Nicki Minaj or a traditionalist favorite MC such as Rapsody; men complain about female artists who “sell” sex, but ignore that male lust is why “sex sells.” Respectability politics, sexual entitlement and men’s overall compulsion to control women’s status in the world are a drain on this powerful, long overdue moment of female empowerment in hip-hop. Rap is supposed to embody creative freedom, yet so many of today’s biggest female stars are subject to restrictive criticisms by minute thinkers.
Healthy competition, a bit of tension, and comparative debate are undoubtedly part of the bedrock of hip-hop culture. Rappers need a chip on their shoulder and barbershops need debate fodder. But when it comes to discussing women who rap, too many men’s talking points rest on weak premises because of their bizarre compulsion to police and sexualize women. They don’t even know how to let women in their everyday life just be which means that women artists who perform in the rap arena of marketing, sensation, and hyperbole — just like their male counterparts — often stand no chance.
Last year, we saw Cardi B and Nicki Minaj continuously pitted against each other, to the point where they ended up having a physical altercation. While Nicki has always carried a healthy bit of adversarial energy, it’s possible that she could have eventually spoken to Cardi and come to an amicable understanding — if not for the sensational hip-hop media and their fanbases clashing against each other because they’re so used to only one woman being on top in the rap world at a time. Even if both women had the other in their crosshairs from the moment Cardi stepped on the scene, it’s worth wondering how much mainstream rap’s tokenism had to do with their tension.
Nowadays, women who rap have to live out a binary in relation to their peers. They have to be overly vocal about their solidarity with other women or inadvertently foster a perception of “cattiness” and strife, which bloodthirsty rap fans will pick at until it actually manifests. It isn’t fair to those artists. Being friendly is great, but it’s not mandatory. 50 Cent has said “f*ck everybody” from day one, and he’s beloved because of it. On the flip side, many women in the industry get pressured into feeling like they have to behave a certain way.
Recently, a Twitter account went viral asking others to “name one female rapper who doesn’t rap about her pussy… besides Rico Nasty.” The account appears to belong to a woman, but the implication that rapping about pussy is somehow a knock is a quintessentially patriarchal construct. Many users replied to their tweet noting the number of men who rap about their dicks. One of conscious rap’s brightest beacons, Kendrick Lamar, has an infamous line right in that wheelhouse: “Girl, I know you want this dick.” Common is regarded as a mature, even grandparent-friendly artist, but he once rapped, “get up on this conscious dick.” Immortal Technique’s catalog is 90% anti-establishment musings, but even he managed to sneak in a ”what you think, revolutionaries don’t like to f*ck too?”
Nearly every male artist has gone there, and few listeners ever bat an eye… because men have the freedom to gloat about their sexual conquests. They’re outright socialized to have a phallic obsession that’s reflected in hip-hop. Beyond explicitly sexual references, how many variations of “life’s a b*tch and I f*cked her” lines are there to affirm a man’s status as “resilient”? How many rappers have historically demeaned their enemies by trying to emasculate them with lines like Snoop Dogg’s “I’m hollering 187 with my dick in your mouth?” Men have forever talked about their genitals as weapons and, ahem, extensions of themselves, which naturally means that vaginas are deemed mere apparatus in their own hypermasculine-driven self-mythology — and anyone with a vagina is subservient fodder in the orbit of male entitlement.