By now you may have heard the buzz around a documentary which recently aired on BET called My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip Hop. This 45-minute production looks at the evolution of black female rappers in hip hop industry over the course of three decades. It highlights the experiences and challenges which these women have faced.
Personally, the question – where are the women in the hip hop industry? – is not one that has ever crossed my mind. As a black female, growing up I was discouraged by my parents from listening to rap music and certainly BET was off limits. Looking back, I don’t blame them as mainstream rap has become one of the most offensive, misogynistic and sexist forms of music around. I had always assumed this would turn off most women from entering the industry.
However, this documentary is a rare gem from BET. I will admit that they got me from the first sentence. It was very refreshing to hear music executives, journalists and artists take a critical and gendered look at the hip hop industry.
Watching, what became painstakingly clear (and also depressing) is that since the 1990s most female emcees gain entry into the industry through one of two ways. The first is through being propped up by men. There are countless examples. Think of Eve (DMX), Da Brat (Jermaine Dupri), Remmy Ma (Fat Joe), Lil’ Kim (Biggie), Nicki Minaj (Lil’ Wayne) – I could go on… The second is through being hyper-sexualized and catering to a male audience. Here, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina are certainly the best examples. At one point in the documentary Trina describes her fan base by saying – they don’t care what you are saying, they just want to look at you.
The reality is that men dominate in hip hop. I was shocked to learn that in the early 2000s women’s representation in the industry was so low that music award shows such as the Grammy’s were actually dropping the category of Best Female Hip Hop/Rap Artist.
Towards the end, Missy Elliot, a very successful female rapper who was able to build a legacy based on her talent and creativity alone – insists that “female emcees are not dinosaurs and are not going anywhere.” However I would argue this is about so much more than numbers of emcees. I want to know – where is the rap industry going? How can we end the misogyny and sexism in order to fully include female emcees? And finally, when will women be able to succeed based primarily on talent – opposed to their sex appeal and connections?
Sometime soon – I hope.