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.
When rappers like Lil Kim, Trina, and Nicki Minaj, and now Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls, pop up to subvert that circumstance and voice their own control over their sexuality, it upsets the patriarchal status quo. The internet has given more women than ever the opportunity to sidestep being seen only as some male artist’s token “first lady” and come up on their own, becoming independent artists in every sense of the term. A movement of women transforming sex in hip-hop from a voiceless rite of male ego-stroking into an unapologetic circumstance where women have volition threatens the neat, respectability politic-filled habitat of phallic culture where men are the overlords of sex and decide all the terms. When male consumers see everyday women empowered by these records, it becomes a resentful circumstance for those who wrongly assume that women’s empowerment should make men feel weak. (Here’s looking at you, Kanye).
That resentment is at the heart of petty jabs, baseless comparisons and criticisms of upcoming female rappers like Megan The Stallion and others. Yes, the emerging Houston rapper can twerk, but she also came up off freestyles just like your favorite (male) lyricist did. She actually embodies Houston culture in that regard. But even if she had garnered a record deal from nothing more than being a viral twerker who made a couple of songs, who would have been the main demographic that made her famous? Who would have been thirsting in the comments and sharing her videos? Men have historically controlled the who, what, where and why of hip-hop marketing, but are hiding their culpability in the circumstance.
As much as people evoke Lauryn Hill or Missy Elliott (who was very sexual in her own right) as some standardized idea of what women rappers should be, these two women represent an extremely lofty standard for any artist to reach. Missy is in the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, and Lauryn Hill is also a generationally gifted artist. They broke through because they were exceptionally talented. And as much as men pretend that they’re a standard, they’re the exceptions that prove the rule. An overwhelming majority of the other mainstream female rappers of the past 20+ years have had their sexuality marketed as the forefront of their visual aesthetic. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s also not a coincidence that labels know marketing these artists in that way will garner male attention and fulfill patriarchal beauty standards.
As Rico Nasty rapped on Amine’s “Sugarparents,” many women rappers know what male consumers want from them, so they’re going to give it to them on their terms to further their own agenda:
Sex sells, spend it on my retail
You gotta pay attention to the details
Always money when I check my email
Hotel by the seashore, got plenty seashells
I wonder how many female artists are counting their seashells from men who are pretending they don’t like water. Men who are complaining about the prevalence of scantily clad rappers and pretending that they want a cadre of hoodied, sweater-wearing gospel rappers are either suffering from serious cognitive dissonance or being disingenuous. And morally self-righteous fans who truly do want women artists to be docile and not evoke their feminity are not as noble as they likely believe themselves to be.
Men are used to figuratively having their cake and eating it too. They’re conditioned to seeing voiceless “video vixens” in music videos, acting as props in a male artist’s self-mythology. But when that imagery is presented from a movement of female artists doing it strategically while telling men they have no chance with them, it becomes a problem. Maybe more men, through a veil of tears, will use their angst about women rappers as a vessel to reconsider their perception of women and gender roles in the first place. If objectification and misogyny weren’t predominant themes of hip-hop — and society at large — perhaps people wouldn’t be so excited about hearing those dynamics flipped.
Something has to change because when the perception of ownership over women goes past inane tweets, it can go into dangerous depths like Kodak Black, battle rapper Daylyt and others assuming it’s ok or funny for them to sexualize the lesbian, androgynous Young MA. From everything Young MA has presented the public since “OOOUUU” blew in 2016, she seems about as romantically interested in men as men are in evaluating a woman rapper beyond sexualization — meaning she’s not interested at all. She gleefully raps about womanizing and getting deep throated. She “pauses” lines that insinuate her giving a man “brain,” a flip of men’s homophobic usage of the term “pause” when they’re fearful that a comment might be interpreted as implicating themselves in sexually desiring other men. Yet, despite Young MA’s lyrical content, men have seen fit to make errant comments about how they feel about her sexually. Sometimes it’s men on Twitter being simple. Others, it’s professional trolls like Daylyt on VladTV, who said he wanted to marry Young MA and have her kids, then went on an attention-seeking run of posting photoshopped pictures of them “together.”
Other times it’s in songs, like the recently released “Pimpin Ain’t Eazy,” where Kodak Black uses a slur for lesbian women multiple times and also rhymed, “I’m f*ckin’ Young M.A, long as she got a coochie.” Young MA responded on Instagram Live, calling Kodak “weird” and deriding the social mediasphere that thought the line was funny. Kodak, who has a pending rape case, then replied on Instagram Live by asking, “how you a girl and don’t want your pussy penetrated,” which glaringly strikes the bullseye of male entitlement and rape culture.
The idea that even a woman with literally no interest in men is fair game for a male rapper’s vocalized sexual musings is outright bizarre. Some people may have thought that the line was humorous, but it gets more dangerous than that. So-called “corrective rape,” where lesbians are assaulted by men is a thing. It’s prevalent in South Africa but also in the United States, where homophobes believe that your sexual identity can literally be “sexed” out of you.
Kodak already has an open case for rape in South Carolina, and his recent comments may incriminate him when they’re inevitably played for the jury. There’s no place in rap for his comments, which are blatant harassment and disrespectful of not just Young MA but everyone in the LGBTQia community. The pathway for Kodak — or anyone else — to vocalize that thought is based on men’s erroneous belief that they have a right to dictate how women present or conducts themselves, in rap or outside of it. At “best” it’s annoying and illustrates textbook misogyny, but at worst it’s a hint at a dangerous level of entitlement. Either way, as Kodak has shown, men who can’t state opinions about women rappers based outside of a sexual context are best off just shutting up about them altogether.