Remember when Jeanius dropped a few years ago? 2007 was gonna be the year of the female emcee. No, 2008 was gonna be it. No. 2009? Nope. 2010?
We can all name a few women who rap. Foxy Brown is a legend. Lauren Hill put out on of the best hip hop albums of all time. But just the fact that most people can list the roster of well-know female emcees on one hand proves that there’s something imbalanced going on in the industry.
While there’s a decent crop of amazing female vocalists on major hip hop labels, try getting signed—or even getting any attention from the community—if you’re an emcee who just happens to have, as Invincible puts it, “breasts and a period.” While the 80s and early 90s were promising for women in hip hop, as the industry came to be dominated by influential male rappers, it became increasingly difficult for female emcees to receive attention from labels.
Jean Grae started recording Jeanius in 2004, and bootlegs started floating around online around the same time. Fans were sure that the album would be the decade’s answer to The Miseducation of Lauren Hill, but somehow, amidst endless speculation and conjecture, the release fizzled, and the fate of Jeanius seemed to define the state of the industry. Jean Grae said she was quitting the game, and you had to think, if a rapper like Grae couldn’t make it, then who could?
Of course, the last thing female emcees want is pity. In fact, most would prefer not to be classified as a girly novelty, at all. But hip hop is what it is, and women who swagger onstage and rhyme about sex and violence speak to something deeply threatening to our social and cultural consciousness.
Case in point: at the same time that Jeanius was spiraling into the void, Lady Sovereign was getting play. Why? Because as far as major labels are concerned, audiences only want to hear chicks spit if they’re tiny and white and nonthreatening. A friend of mine says that the female emcee will only really explode when 14-year old white girls start rapping en masse, and I’m afraid that grim prediction might be right.
That being said, I don’t think I could go on loving music if I thought the industry had nothing better to offer than my friend’s dystopian vision. Luckily, some good things should be happening for female emcees in 2010. Look out for…
Maybe she’s retired and maybe she’s not. Her blog is active and hilarious, and something tells me that if the fans demanded it, she could be coaxed back into business.
Toronto-based indie rapper Eternia has already put out a few amazing albums. This year, her fourth full-length, At Last, is the record to watch for. Check out the sweet mixtapes and videos she’s been releasing leading up the launch, and consider purchasing her excellent “My Favorite Rapper Wears a Skirt” t-shirt.
If the hype lives halfway up to the reality, emcee/vocalist Nneka will be one of the loudest voices on the scene over the next year. Look for her album, Concrete Jungle, set for release this February. Although Nneka does more singing than rapping, her powerful vocal blend of English and Igbo makes her sound like an emcee.
In 2008, Detroit emcee Invincible released her politically-charged album ShapeShifters, and she did it independently, on her own label, after rejecting offers from majors. Having recently come off an all-female emcee tour of the EU, expect exciting things from Invincible in 2010, as an emcee, and who knows, maybe even as a producer?
Keep your eyes peeled for Artist Workshop, Rita J’s first album, released on indie label All Natural Inc. Out late in 2009, hopefully this record will have a big impact in 2010.
Mystic hasn’t released an album since the beyond amazing Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom in 2001, but these days, her MySpace page is looking pretty active and the rumor is that an album is on the brink. She’s also involved in a project with none other than Immortal Technique, building an “orphanage/school/clinic” in Afghanistan. If the recently released “Beautiful Resistance” track is any indication, we’ll all be well lucky to experience a new Mystic album in 2010.
Who are your favorite female emcees? List ‘em here, and if you’ve never heard any of the ladies above, 2010 is the year to start listening!