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Topic: In The News
Submitted By: 1boss
Date Submitted: 03-04-14

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What Ever Happened To All The Female Rappers?

2014. This, we are told, is the year female rappers are going to break their way back into the mainstream, ending a long period of silence for women in the industry. Now it's true that many people had high hopes for 2013, too. And 2012 was also said to be promising. But 2014, with anticipated releases from a bevy of up-and-coming women artists and a couple of established veterans, is going to be different. That's certainly the hope anyway, and the narrative, once again, as we head into the spring of a new year.

I'm not so sure.

I am sure, however, that the perennial discussions about whether, at long last, we will see a resurgence of women artists within the hip-hop industry raise important questions. While there are plenty of talented women rapping today, you'd be hard pressed to name them if your sense of the industry is shaped by radio rotations, music videos, or Billboard charts. Indeed, when Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday was certified platinum at the end of 2010, it was the first solo album by a female MC to reach that milestone in eight long years. Minaj went platinum again in 2012 with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, but her commercial success over the last decade has stood as an exception to the unwritten rule that women rappers no longer have a place among elite artists.

It wasn't always like this. While there's no escaping that rap music has been dominated by men, there was a time when women were a far more significant presence, allowing (or forcing) the genre to be defined, at least in part, by a woman's perspective. Consider, for example, the decade leading up to 2003, the last year a female artist (Lil' Kim) had a platinum album before Nicki Minaj. In that time, a number of women went platinum, including Salt-n-Pepa, Da Brat, Foxy Brown, Eve, Lauryn Hill and industry powerhouse Missy Elliott. Alongside these artists, critically acclaimed performers like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah were also releasing albums on major labels, often achieving commercial success in the process. And many of the major crews had a woman artist (even if just one): Death Row had Lady of Rage, Flipmode Squad had Rah Digga, Native Tongues had Monie Love (and Latifah) and so on. There were enough women recording, touring, and getting radio airplay that in 2003, the Grammys took notice and created a new category for Best Female Rap Solo Performance.

Just two years later, however, that category was eliminated, with Grammy representatives citing a precipitous decline in the number of female artists in the industry who could compete for the award. BET and VH1 made similar arguments for dumping female categories from their hip-hop awards shows as well. While cutting these awards undoubtedly exacerbated the decline in the years to follow, there's little doubt that women were indeed vanishing from mainstream hip-hop.According to Ana DuVernay, who directed the 2010 documentary My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women in Hip Hop, the numbers tell it all: whereas in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were more than 40 women signed to major labels, in 2010 there were just three.

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