The term ‘femcee’ is part of a growing sub-debate embroiled in the ever-urgent issue of misogyny in Hip Hop.
Some argue the term should be made redundant as it started as a marketing gimmick for female rappers, when now is the time for women to be taken seriously. These naysayers claim the term takes away from the important contributions women have made to the genre and makes them seem less important than male artists by putting them in separate categories. Others approve of the colloquial nickname and see it as a form of empowerment. Why wouldn’t female rappers want to be associated with the other trailblazers of the femcee movement?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Hip Hop became a vehicle for rebellion. It challenged authority, used shocking language, rebranded pop culture and fashion and educated the youth so they could go out into the world and make a difference. Rhythm and poetry (R.A.P.) was more gender neutral, concerned only with elevating the culture and giving a voice to the people. Then gangsta rap happened and all of a sudden consumerism, aggressive competitiveness and an abundance of half-naked women in music videos replaced conscious rap. The perception of Hip Hop changed to something associated with masculinity and female rappers took a backseat. As one example, every year XXL does a freshman cover to highlight up and coming rappers set to be the next big star of the genre. Over the years their rap star predictions have been overwhelmingly male, with some covers featuring no women at all.
The music industry seems confused on how to market female talent. Precedent suggests that having only one queen bee in the hive is a winning formula for fan acceptance. Therefore labels tend to pit new female artists against their predecessors to generate traffic and bring attention to their rhymes. This toxic attitude discourages girl on girl collaborations and prevents there being a mixture of artists that female audiences can relate to. There is also the conundrum of whether male rap fans will accept a female MC if she isn’t overtly sexual and respect her as part of the ‘greatest of all time’ conversations. This is why there are so many new artists following in the footsteps of Bad Boy’s leading lady, Lil Kim, with their X-rated bars and scantily clad costumes. Sexualizing female artists only leads to more misogyny.
Oxygen’s Sisterhood of Hip Hop reality show was refreshing in its representation of women and rappers. There was no ratchet hair pulling or fights over men, just pure passion for the music and dedication to the craft, mixed in with a look at their personal lives. The cast’s willingness to empower each other and collaborate with fellow female artists showed hope for future femcees to come. It also highlighted how rare it is for female rappers to feature on each others’ songs and the industry’s reluctance to include women rappers on major tour schedules with respected male MCs. We need to eliminate this boy’s club mentality of mainstream rappers and promote having a range of different voices to give Hip Hop the progressive edge it was born with.
Lauryn Hill is renown for her questioning of sexist media interview tactics. While she was part of The Fugees, Lauryn was continuously asked superficial questions about fashion and her appearance, while the men of the group were asked their opinions on politics and the music industry. When she was asked more relevant, serious questions, her sound bites and printed quotes were often edited to dumb her down or ignore the main point she was making. This issue of sexist interviewing doesn’t just affect female artists, but also athletes and actresses in the public eye. Female opinions on the big topics are often disregarded as being unimportant and uninformed. Artists like Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa tried to combat this by including socio-political messages in their lyrics and exerting their right to equality through their music, in a way people would have no choice but to hear.
UK rapper Lady Leshurr has been very vocal about the need for more female voices in UK rap and brings her own comedic and sometimes controversial bars to the scene. She argues the lack of recognition for femcees makes their experiences seem disregarded and that representation is crucial for the next generation. At the 2015 Brit Awards in England, Kanye West decided to bring local grime MCs on stage in an attempt to symbolize the American recognition and celebration of the genre. No women were brought on stage during that historic moment for grime, despite the growing amount of promising female talent. One British femcee challenging the conventions of femininity with her darker approach to storytelling in her rhymes is Little Simz, another necessary example for young girls who aren’t into stereotypical girly music.
Femcees bring their unique experiences and talents to the Hip Hop stage and open up a whole new world of relatability. They challenge the outdated concepts of what being a woman in 2016 really means and inspire young girls to do the same. Missy Elliott gifted us with her amazing production, videos and choreography. Eve broached the sensitive topic of domestic violence in her 1999 hit, “Love Is Blind.” Nicki Minaj arrived on the scene with outlandish outfits and interesting alter egos. Azealia Banks introduced American rap fans to her European drum and bass instrumentals. Siya brings her experiences as a stud and openly lesbian woman to the genre, despite the cultural stigmas surrounding homosexuality. Men cannot tell these stories, which is why it is important for women to share the spotlight. Here’s to the future female trailblazers of Hip Hop.