Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea And The Struggle For Females In The Hip-Hop Industry
On the heels of the 2014 BET Awards, the hip-hop Internet community was buzzing with posts of #NoShade and GIFs of Nicki Minaj, the five-time Female Hip-Hop Artist of the Year winner, grooving to her own beat while ignoring the performing competition.
Leading up to this past Sunday's award show, there was much rumbling of how the established top woman in hip-hop and Iggy Azalea, the Australian newbie, would coexist within the same pop space.
Women are not presented in a way that allows them to be friendly with each other, so the stage was set for "beef" to be the main course. While Nicki's résumé in both underground and mainstream hip-hop is solid, Iggy is much more of an enigma.
In spite of that, she's in the midst of a great commercial stretch that has left her with the number-one song in the nation for the past five weeks. Regardless of her growing number of critics, the numbers can't be ignored.
All the while, the overall space for women in hip-hop is continuing to shrink.
Through my high school and college years, women's place within hip-hop was clear and quite powerful. Pioneers like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa were still active in the game and inspiring more artists to follow their path.
The resulting crop of artists was a mixture of styles, personas and messages. From the sexual extremes of Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown to the rugged Southern styles of Mia X to the bouncy dance tunes of Missy Elliot, we had a full representation of musical creativity.
Hip-hop was (is) not always the friendliest place for women, which made these voices that much more necessary and powerful. The competitive energies required to rival the male dominance of the culture was a vital element to hip-hop's growth.
Somewhere between then and now, the formula for profit in mainstream music no longer saw a need for so many females in prominent positions.
This reality set the scene for Sunday's awkward BET moment: In the category for the Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, three of the five nominees had no chance of winning.
In truth, most people didn't even know said three nominees had released music this year. Eve, Charli Baltimore and Angel Haze were essentially placeholders for an award that was already decided. This is incredibly sad.
To be clear, there are MANY talented women in the hip-hop community who are putting out high-quality work and doing so with thought-provoking content while still embracing and owning their femininity.
No gimmicks, no over-the-top sexual imagery — just creative expression. Unfortunately, while amazing artists like Jean Grae and Nitty Scott MC thrive off of the mainstream radar, it's twerk tunes and "baddest bitch" anthems that dominate the radio waves.
In her prime, Eve had a hit song that addressed domestic violence head on: "Love Is Blind." The 90s offered no shortage of empowering calls to action from the ladies of hip-hop.
Both Nitty Scott and Jean Grae have tackled such sensitive subjects in their work, yet it seems hard to imagine such songs getting the exposure they deserve.
At least not when songs like Iggy's "Fancy" have found a way to dominate playlists. The catchy tune gets folks moving in the clubs and seems to negate the curious way a woman from Australia raps with a heavy Southern accent and tons of imported American "swag."
Azalea's whole routine raises the question of who's really pulling her strings, or in this case, who's writing her rhymes. Reflecting this, Ms. Minaj let off a light shot in her acceptance speech at the awards: “When you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it."
Is this the fault of the mainstream machine or the pop-heavy audience? Do people simply not want to hear music that isn't club compatible? Does an artist's authenticity no longer matter?
BET is not a small, basement-run operation and seeing such a poor representation of the culture is disturbing. The truth is that Nicki is the biggest female artist in hip-hop, but it's simply BET's fault for failing to compile a respectable group of her colleagues to serve as competition.
If you won't present them to us, it's about time we go find them.
Photo Credit: WENN