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Article Dec 20 2015 Written by

The Rise & Fall Of The Femcee

Female Emcees Hip Hop

There’s a glaring problem in Hip Hop today, and that’s the lack of women in mainstream Hip Hop. Many have come out and stated this problem, especially over the past decade. There was once a time where females were really handling their business in the game, selling gold and platinum units and gaining at least some respect within the industry, which is really known for misogyny and discrimination against females historically.

Going back to the beginnings of Hip Hop, we were blessed with the Sequence Girls, which co-starred current Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Angie Stone. As the first, and only, female act signed to Sugar Hill Records, they are overlooked somewhat as being considered pioneers for women in Hip Hop. We were then presented with a young lady known as Sha-Rock, a Bronx native who became a part of the seminal early eighties group Funky 4 Plus One, who was known for their cut “It’s The Joint”.

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1980:  Photo of Roxanne Shante  (Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1980: Photo of Roxanne Shante (Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

While these ladies officially put females on, it was a young ten-year-old named Roxanne Shante, who was known for her battling abilities in the legendary Queensbridge PJs (known for emcees like Nas, Mobb Deep, Tragedy Khadafi, Cormega, Nature, Capone from C-N-N, and others). By the age of fourteen, she had a deal with Cold Chillin’ Records, and was hailed later in her career as “The Mother Of The Bridge”. Her groundbreaking “Roxanne Wars” established her as a star, and she officially set a new bar for the ladies. Before long, we get acts such as UK native-turned NY B-girl Monie Love and future legends Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Salt-N-Pepa. It was during the mid / late eighties that we saw the first big explosion of females in rap, with these acts along with Yo-Yo showing that the ladies got something to prove as well.  Knowing the uphill battle women have in the game, getting equal respect was something that was arduous but necessary.

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The nineties delivered even more femcees, only more diverse. While the late eighties/early nineties delivered the aforementioned ladies, plus acts like JJ Fad and Oaktown 3-5-7, the mid to late nineties delivered acts such as Bahamadia, Jean Grae, Infamous Syndicate, and the young lady that would end up becoming a cultural phenom, Lil’ Kim. While most of the other ladies wanted to promote woman empowerment through respect and lyrical abilities, laced with substantial value in lots of cases, Kim went another route. She promoted sex, and lots of sex. Clearly seen as Biggie’s protege, Kim wanted to be a new type of voice for women in Hip Hop with her very sexually empowering lyrics and a style that made young ladies at that time have their own version of Biggie. Many scoffed at this approach, as some detractors were claiming this was something they did not want to see, as they wanted to be respected for positivity. Kim’s view was that, in her own feminist way, men can exploit their acts sexually and there’s little to no opposition, however when a woman does it, it becomes an outcry, and her style and image were to embrace their sexuality and to not be ashamed of it.

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The only problem with that was that now, clones started to show. It became less about conscious and positive women uplifting and more about sexual prowess to prove a point. We ended up seeing copy-and-pasted females like Foxy Brown, Trina, Jackie-O, and Khia who all were about perpetuating, at this point, stereotypical images of sex, money, and their own form of ratchetness. Keep in mind that artists like Queen Latifah went gold with her Black Reign album, Da Brat became the first female rapper to hit platinum with her SICK debut, Funkdafied, and Salt-N-Pepa officially established themselves as the best-selling female Hip Hop act of all-time with their eight times platinum selling Very Necessary, thus showing that females were taking care of things just as the guys were without having to undermine themselves sexually to do it.

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We hit a new level of lyricism and artistic ability with a Virginia-bred, plus-sized at the time young singer / rapper / producer / songwriter named Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, who was part of an R&B group named Sista before breaking out on her own. Completely changing the atmosphere for women in the game, she delivered hit after hit after hit, working with everyone from Busta Rhymes, Ciara, Ginuwine, and the late Aaliyah and becoming a star the likes of which Hip Hop didn’t see before, and truthfully haven’t seen since.

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We also got exposed to a very special and talented beyond measure Jersey native named Lauryn Hill. We first were exposed to her as part of the groundbreaking group, the Fugees, who’s sophomore album, The Score, is considered one of Hip Hop’s greatest masterpieces and among the highest-selling albums of all-time in Hip Hop. When it was time to split, the anticipation for her debut was reaching epic levels. Her debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, finally hit in ’98, and with twelve million units sold worldwide, she became the biggest female Hip Hop star in the world. The artistic nature of her was and still is truly something that could be considered once in a generation. Let us not forget the ‘L’ in TLC, the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Her brand of defiant, feminist, and rebellious Hip Hop helped make TLC the biggest act in the world during the mid to late nineties.

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While others such as Flipmode’s first lady Rah Digga, Ruff Ryders’ pitbull-in-a-skit Eve, Charli Baltimore, Murder Inc’s Vita, No Limit’s Mia X, and Terror Squad’s Remy Ma started to come aboard and make some noise of their own, eventually the female emcee movement quieted down. For years, there wasn’t even a slight ripple within the game from the ladies, not enough to warrant a ton of attention. With several leaving the game for whatever reason, it became an all boys club again. That’s until a Trinidad-born, New York-bred young lady named Onika Miraj came on board making waves within the mixtape circuit, and eventually became Nicki Minaj.

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We finally had a new force representing the females strongly, and she’s actually nice. She became Young Money’s first lady, and before we knew it, a new star femcee star was born, with her albums hitting platinum and double platinum units. However, comparisons to Lil’ Kim became quite apparent, both in terms of style and image. Sadly, she’s the only one running the game for the ladies on a mainstream level. We were introduced to a young Australian named Iggy Azaelia, but with so much heat and controversy surrounding the authenticity of her craft, it’s possible we may never see another Iggy album, in spite of the fact that her debut album, The New Classic, has done gold and platinum units virtually all over the world.

The question is now, where’s the next crop of superstar female emcees? Perhaps a better question is, “Why the lack?” With all these names aforementioned and even more than those such as Nonchalant, Lady Of Rage (don’t front, you know “Afro Puffs” is an under appreciated anthem), Nikki D, Sweet Tee, and the late MC Trouble, why aren’t there just as many now? If we do see a female hit, it would be some novelty act like Kreashawn or Lil’ Debbie, that are more about wanting to say “I’m a rapper” rather than actually wanting to make a big difference, and it shows based upon the generic, almost insulting music they make. While very talented feminine lyricists such as Snow Tha Product, Dreezy, Eternia, Dynasty, and especially the next to blow NC’s own Rapsody gives me some hope, unless we get more of these types of ladies and more variety on a mainstream level, Nicky will be the only female emcee worth noting and the only one holding the ladies down on a weighted scale. I’m completely for the rise again of the females in the game, not so much those that are deliberate Lil’ Kim clones, but those that give the people various types of styles, images, and appeals.

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They’re out there, and this game needs you. Salt-N-Pepa recently stated in an interview with Huffpost Live that the baton of women in Hip Hop has been “dropped”, and this is a sad but true statement. The support is out there, but let your foremothers of the Queen Latifahs and the Salt-N-Pepas and the MC Lytes be your examples of success, being role models, and authenticity, not just Kim. Kim made her name for the type of audience she wanted at that time, stop being her. Stop being Nicky. Be you. Ladies, the game needs a healthy balance of females in the game to help compliment the men holding it down and for your own legacies to start getting established again.

That’s all for now cats and dogs, but before I go, here’s one for the road.  This is the first single from Rah Digga’s debut, the gold-selling Dirty Harriet, the NUTS track, “Tight”. Hold it down folks.

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I'm a thirty-something underground/old school Hip Hop head with unspeakable passion. I've followed Hip Hop culture since I first got introduced to it when I was a mere seven years of age. Among the albums that hav…

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