Hip-hop has always been a male-dominated genre. But in its infancy, there was room for women to rock the mic next to big names in rap like LL Cool J and Run DMC, helping propel hip-hop into popular culture. Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, and Roxanne Shante are just a few of the female MCs who reigned supreme in the 1980s.
But when hardcore rap entered the music scene in the early 1990s, the role of the female rapper shifted. Instead of holding down the role of the empowered woman or playful sidekick, female MCs like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina were oversexualized and played the sex kitten role to compete with their counterparts. Writer Janell Hobson addresses this change in “Can’t Stop the Women of Hip-Hop” from Ms. Magazine.
Of course there were exceptions to that; namely Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Eve, who were all big names in ‘90s hip-hop.
Throughout the ‘90s, the number of female rappers decreased to basically the handful of women listed above. And today, there is really only one woman left in mainstream hip-hop— Nicki Minaj, who the Associated Press credits for reviving the female voice in rap.
There are so few female rappers that a few years ago, the Grammy’s eliminated the “Best Female Rapper” category.
But why? In an article from CNN’s website, MC Lyte points to the greed of record labels as one possible reason. Sylvia Rhone, president of Universal Motown Records, said in a recent BET documentary, “My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop,” that there are so few women MCs today because they haven’t adapted to “changing tastes in hip-hop.”
The reasons for the lack of female MCs is varied, but blogger Quentin B. Huff said in order for women to get their footing back in hip-hop they need to band together and start a hip-hop women’s movement. It sounds kind of silly, but he may have a point. Otherwise, the lone star of female rap, Minaj, will have to carry the torch alone until another woman rapper emerges.