The female voice in Hip Hop has played an important role in the continued success of the culture since its early days.
Groundbreaking artists like Roxanne Shanté, Sha-Rock, Sister Souljah, Queen Latifah, and MC Lyte paved the way for the following generation of femcees like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve, and then eventually Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks, and Angel Haze.
While women in Hip Hop have produced chart topping singles and classic albums over the last three decades, major labels are still not signing the lyrical ladies at the same rate as their male counterparts.
Evidence of this difference is the fact that in 2010 only 3 female rappers were signed to a major label record deal; at one point there were 40. Subsequently, there was not one solo album by a female rapper that broke into the top 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart in 2013.
NPR reported the lack of female rappers at the major labels in a recent blog post by Erik Nelson. The writer also points out that Nicki Minaj’s 2010 album Pink Friday was the first solo LP by a female rap artist to go platinum since Lil Kim’s La Bella Mafia in 2003.
Pink Friday is the last album from a female rapper to sell over a million units as well. Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012) is only certified platinum by the RIAA for shipments of 1 million units. It is currently around 825,000 copies in actual sales.
The presence of female Hip Hop artists on a national level appears to be fading once again. Nelson spoke with rap legend MC Lyte about the current status of female rappers in the mainstream.
“We’ve gone backwards,” said Lyte. “This is pretty much what it was like when women weren’t able to get major recording and release opportunities.”
MC Lyte became the first female rapper to release a solo album on major label with Lyte as a Rock in 1988. She went on to drop Eyes on This, Ain’t No Other, and Bad as I Wanna B. Lyte has also worked extensively in other media fields, and she started the non-profit foundation Hip Hop Sisters Network.
While Lyte works with her organization to promote positive images of woman of color, the New York native suggests the level of disrespect for women in Hip Hop has created a market that is unfavorable to female rappers.
“It has gotten to the point that we have been subjected to such harsh verbal treatment — assassinated even — that who would want to listen?” Lyte added.
While mainstream female rap is represented almost entirely by Nicki Minaj at the moment, there are numerous femcees making waves with listeners. Jean Grae, Rapsody, Nitty Scott, Tiffany Foxx, 3D Na’Tee, Brianna Perry, Awkwafina, Sasha Go Hard, and others are all working to keep the female voice in rap music alive without significant mainstream attention.