Rap has always been a genre of self-expression, allowing artists to freely speak their mind in a way that feels comfortable to them. Women have also been at the forefront of the genre, whether they be the subject of the song or the one performing, yet misogyny is still a major criticism of the genre. Sexually motivated lyrics prove controversial to listeners and can sometimes make rap seem like a place where women aren’t welcome.
Obviously this didn’t seem like the case for many female artists, who saw rap as an opportunity to speak out about the troubles that come with being a woman in a male dominated industry and, in the process, have evolved the genre, creating something innovative and original.
Female rap artists are quickly rising through the ranks and moulding the genre into something brand new. Female artists taking influence from the likes of Lauryn Hill, André 3000, Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A are pushing the boundaries of rap and are challenging their male counterparts.
One woman who is a pioneer of innovation is Tierra Whack, who has just come to the end of Whack History Month, a five week period between February and March where Whack released a single per week, each contrasting from the last. Whack Month comes after Tierra Whack released her debut album Whack World last year, which was an impressive 15 track long album that only totalled 15 minutes. Tierra Whack’s style differs from track to track, a trait seen often across creative female rappers. Tracks like CLONES and Sore Loser shows Whack’s aggressive attitude yet switches with tracks such as Silly Sam that shows a more child-like and playful tone. The contrast between tracks reiterates the idea of female artists bending the rules of rap to explore how different musical styles work alongside the genre.
Festivals such as SXSW have acted as a platform to elevate these performers to show audiences the talent that they offer. One artist who took full advantage of the stage this year was Rico Nasty. Born Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly, Rico Nasty is making a name for herself as one of the most up-and-coming rap artists at the moment. Her 2018 album Nasty gained her mass attention from critics and fans alike and established her as one of the most promising artists around. Her album projected female angst and aggression in a way no rapper has really shown before, her track Rage is an anthem for women everywhere as it is an encouragement for female anger. Not only does Rico Nasty promote self-expression, but she presents a vision of a woman who is capable of anything. After giving birth to her son aged 18 she persisted with her music career and had one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year in 2018. Rico’s concerts are also a sign that rap is changing, as she previously notes in an interview that her concerts are a place where women can rage, jump around and enjoy themselves, which is a rarity at most concerts.
Some artists are creating a completely different sound and flawlessly switching from one genre to another. Leikeli47’s 2018 album Acrylic was an energetic exploration of womanhood and the inner workings of her hometown. Leikeli47 is iconic for her face always being masked, yet when performing at the renowned NPR Tiny Desk Concert her straightforward and poignant attitude proved to become intimate, as an infusion of jazz was mixed within her tracks, creating a powerful insight into the complexity of Leikeli47. The inclusion of jazz within rap music is an ever growing concept with rappers like Noname warping spoken word poetry into a jazz inspired beat, making them distinct within the genre.
It’s not just in America where female artists are dominating the rap scene, back in Britain rappers such as Little Simz are again breaking boundaries. Little Simz’s 2019 album GREY Area includes the tracks Venom and Boss which are both heavily influenced by the UK garage scene. Little Simz speaks about femininity in a way that has never been discussed within UK garage, a sense of vulnerability is at the core of her music, yet her power and individualism stands out.
The amount and standard of work that female artists are currently producing counteracts the stereotypes of women within rap. Their creativity and ability to reimagine the genre have made them a force to be reckoned within the industry and they are no longer being put in the sub-genre of ‘female rappers’ but instead are becoming just another staple of rap. The women mentioned above obviously aren’t the only artists out there, I could list an endless number of performers who are changing rap for the better and making it feel like a more inclusive environment for everyone.
By Abbie Aitken