The female Hip-Hop movement reached new heights during the 1990s and for a very brief period in the history of the male-dominated genre, women seemed to rule the world. Yet, despite their numerous commercial achievements, the successes of these women were always connected to a web of manipulation by men that eventually resulted in female MCs unknowingly ending their own careers.
The 1980s and early 1990s eras of Hip-Hop fostered various subgenres and styles that ranged from battle rapping to political commentary that reflected the then prominent themes in popular culture. Female rappers such as Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah rose to the forefront of the music scene with their bold messages that challenged patriarchy and effectively gave women a voice in Hip-Hop.
However, by the mid-1990s, a new generation of female rappers had taken control of the movement but this time they weren’t only appealing to the minds of women. Instead, they were also presented as objects to men.
Lil Kim perfectly exemplified that scenario as the ultimate prize of Diddy’s team. Despite claims that her revealing ensembles, overtly sexual lyrics and risque videos were tools to help advance the feminist movement, it was also argued that her actions paradoxically weakened the advancement of women.
With the blatant objectification of her body and the manipulation of her sexuality geared toward satisfying the fantasies of the male viewer, Kim effectively conformed to the image of the ideal women as outlets for sex rather than individuals capable informed thought. Who was Kim always desperately eager to please? The Notorious B.I.G. – or should I say her Big Poppa?
Foxy Brown was also very overt but she represented a different form of sexuality. Rather than appeal to men’s sexual appetites, she boasted about her femininity and the control of her own body. Just listen to her verse in Ludacris’ ‘What’s Your Fantasy (Remix)’ in which she referred to how she commanded men and how they were disposable objects utilised for her own pleasure.
Yet, was Brown really that dissimilar from Kim? Yes, she didn’t present herself as an object to be controlled but she was easily pleased by material gifts and brandname clothing with little mention of her intellectual pursuits. Also, although many people may have regarded her as one of the boys, how often did she achieve success without male support?
Still, all this talk about sexualised women’s bodies and Prada bags doesn’t explain why Latifah and MC Lyte faded from the music scene so quickly…or does it? Pop culture is defined by trends and those acts who fail to adapt to those themes are left behind. That perfectly explains what happened to the nonsexual female lyricists of the early 1990s.
MC Lyte was definitely not eager to strip for the camera and burst it wide open for daddy. Instead, she slowly lost her footing at the top of the pack while Latifah ventured into acting instead of donning pasties so that Diana Ross would play with the breasts at the MTV Awards.
Don’t assume that the female political commentators have all retired, though. They are still in action but working in the Hip-Hop underground as they await the next turn of the tide when their brand of music will once again be popular.
“Trent, you are so stupid and self-righteous! This article doesn’t explain why Kim and Brown flopped just like this damn blog!” Thanks for getting that out of your system. Let me quickly explain that notion before you invade the comment section and my Twitter page with angry remarks that all contain the words ‘shade’, ‘flop’ and ‘hater.’
Remember when I explained that Pop culture is dominated by trends? Well, that is the exact reason why the sexual female rappers of the 1990s are struggling to succeed in today’s music market.
Similar to the demise of BET’s ‘Uncut’ late night special, the overtly sexual era of Hip-Hop music’s domination ended and Hip-Pop acts have taken command of the movement. The Rap tunes that litter the top 40 of the Billboard 100 now include clever sexual innuendos instead of direct remarks about beating “it” up. For instance, we all know that Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’ isn’t about the sound system in somebody’s car – that’s why it was somewhat disturbing to see those little girls performing the song on ‘The Ellen Degeneres Show’.
So, those female Hip-Hop acts who developed their entire identities in relation to selling sex and the gangster lifestyle rather than focus on longterm success with a more global sound remain stuck in the pre-2003 era. In other words, they helped to plan their own downfall.
Now we know why Missy Elliott outlasted all of her peers and became the top-selling female rapper. She appealed to a broader market then Kim, for instance, and didn’t allow her material to be zoned. Of course, Elliott’s work in the the Hip-Pop subgenre, which is currently the primary expression of Urban culture, was also integral for her success. By the way, I wrote about the development of the Hip-Pop movement in a previous article so click here to read it while I stroke my own ego.
Ultimately, female Hip-Hop artists played a major role in the demise of their careers by allowing themselves to be manipulated by patriarchal ideologies relating to overt expressions of sexuality and disregarding longrun success. Perhaps, an understanding of that phenomenon is the key motive for Minaj’s increasingly Pop sound as she continues to distance herself from the more hardcore sound of her peers. Besides, there is a reason why she has often been described Pop star who raps rather than a Rap artist who makes Pop songs.
Let’s end this article with Kim’s ‘How Many Licks? (Ft. Sisqo)’ just for for old times’ sake: