The Root: Why We Need More Black Female Rappers

"Ladies Night" featuring Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, Angie Martinez, Lil Kim, & Da Brat,  & Missy Elliott I swear, this is not another “I miss Lauryn Hill” article, even though, yes, I do miss her output. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (and, to a lesser degree, theUnplugged double album) changed my life for the better. But as often as Hill is cited for being the greatest female rapper of all time (I agree) and, in some circles, the greatest rapper, period (I also agree), she wasn’t the only. There were several, and as an ’80s baby, I grew up watching them and sneaking to order their videos off Video Jukeboxand playing dumb like I didn’t know where the charges came from when my parents got the bill. Oops!

I was musically raised on three genres: 1) the obscure Motown songs that my father—a former DJ in Detroit during the ’70s—prided himself on knowing all the lyrics of, claimed were better than the hits and blasted loud enough to wake me up on Saturday mornings; 2) any and everything Luther Vandross or Celine Dion, which served as my mother’s driving and/or cleaning music; and 3) hip-hop, the kind that actually had women—note the plural—in it.

Twenty years later, give or take, I can still rattle off the lyrics by Roxanne Shanté or MC Trouble or Oaktown 3.5.7, or J.J. Fad or Salt-N-Pepa or MC Lyte. After that, Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Trina, Lauryn Hill and more. Sometimes their lyrics were deep or profane, funny or boastful, or hard or occasionally politically incorrect, but they reflected a point of view that some women could relate to without having to suspend reality or change the pronouns when spitting along.

I liked seeing women who looked like me making music in the genre I loved. And I took for granted having readily available options and differing perspectives. I’ve thought about this from time to time in recent years but again on Sunday night, as Nicki Minaj accepted her fifth BET Award for best female artist. It’s been a long-running joke, for about five years, that the network even bothers nominating other women, when half the audience thinks “Who?” or “She had an album?” because Nicki is the only name they really know with a recent hit or radio play.

I don’t like or dislike Minaj, really. She doesn’t make music for me, and that’s OK. I just wish she had some real competition from other women on her level or at least somewhere close. Surely there are other women with something to say worth hearing. And while I’m sure that T.I. protégée Iggy Azalea—aka the blond, white Australian girl Forbes magazine bafflingly described as “running hip-hop,” and the only other female rapper to perform on the show—is a nice person, she seems more like a marketing gimmick than an MC with something to say.


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