By Casey Brown
Back in the day, to “make it” as a femcee you’d needed a group to catapult your name onto the charts—a group of guys, that is.
“In most cases, it is difficult for a female rapper to be successful unless she is part of a well-known, male-dominated clique,” Ted “Touche” Lucas, CEO of Slip-N-Slide Records explained in a 2006 Billboard article. “Even big-name female rappers like Lil’ Kim (who rapped with Junior M.A.F.I.A.), Eve (who came from the Ruff Ryders crew) and Foxy Brown (who was down with Jay-Z) had to come under the auspices of male rappers to make it.”
Maybe six years ago, but not any more.
Today it’s a whole new world for women rappers. The femcees that Touche mentioned have all made it on their own, and a whole host of estrogen-enhanced rappers are speaking up in their wake. Here’s a list of femcees, from re-emerging pioneers to #samplewinning newcomers, who are rising to the top of the newly crowded arena.
Nitty Scott, MC. This femcee’s an up-and-comer you won’t want to miss—especially if you dig the sample sound. She’s an underground gem—and determined to keep it that way, “to be part of a movement and not an industry.” Her unapologetically girlish voice is not to be messed with. Rejecting the queen vs. queen catfights, Nitty’s song “FeminiNITTY” is one of the finest tributes to female rappers. It’s a “shoutout to all my hip-hop queens.” She thanks her fellow femcees atop a sound montage to match it. The beat covers a range of throwback soundscapes, especially Missy Elliot’s early hits like “Work it” and “Pass That Dutch.”
Speaking of Missy Elliot, veteran in the building. Queen of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, Missy has re-entered the spotlight most recently for her soulful feature on J. Cole’s third single “Nobody’s Perfect” from his album Cole World: Sideline Story, prompting us all to say, “where has she been?” Besides, she’s a big name in the sample game, clocking in at 235 samples on WhoSampled.
You haven’t heard of Azealia Banks? You will soon. Formerly “Miss Bank$,” this MC from Harlem has been rumored to be the new feminine face of hip-hop. “Watch out Nicki Minaj,” said The Guardian, whose own list of fresh femcees is equally varied and exciting. Azealia’s sound is refreshing, an eclectic array featuring chic house beats. For a taste of hip-hop’s new vogue MC, check out her newly released EP 1991 featuring her hit single “212”, which samples Lazy Jay’s “Float My Boat.”
Starting as a member of the Fugees, Lauryn Hill recently compiled an unofficial solo album entitled Khulami Phase, which was released in 2010. This album includes her 2010 single “Repercussions” as well as her popular Bob Marley cover “Turn Your Lights Down Low.” However, most recently Lauryn made an appearance in the Egyptian revolution in 2011 — sonically that is. German producer Iron Curtain made a track for Egyptian rap group Arabian Knightz which sampled Lauryn’s “I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)”. The resulting song, entitled “Rebel” was uploaded to the Internet and quickly became an anthem of the revolution as protestors chanted the lyrics in unison.
Perhaps the fiercest beat-ician in the game, British/Sri Lankan M.I.A. recently released a video for her dance hit “Bad Girls” this January. This track is yet another of her powerful exposes in worldbeats, built on a Danja beat with production flare that begs you to listen closely—and bust a move. Such beats are the hallmark of her soundscape, one of the most geographically diverse body of sampled material, which notably includes several songs featured in Tamil films (produced in the Tamil language spoken in Sri Lanka).
Kreayshawn. Had enough real rap and ready for some irony? Check out Kreayshawn, the Oakland raptress whose tongue-and-cheek hits like “Rich Whore” and “Gucci Gucci” sound like a female Soulja Boy — and are just as danceable. And although she’s not huge sampler, her underground hit “Gucci Gucci” has a lovely sampled one-liner. Her track of choice? Her very own “Bumpin’ Bumpin’” in which “One big room full of bad b****es” resounds. Also worthy of note is the album title of her previous hit, Kittys X Choppas, as well as her newest release, “Breakfast (Syrup),” which is all about (you guessed it) making breakfast.
As Nicki Minaj’s recent album, Roman Reloaded, pushed into the neon splatter-painted mainstream, her sound went from sample-smattered to not-so-sampled. It looks like Nicki’s traded in old school sampling for the new EDM madness that’s exploded, landing its electronic shrapnel straight into the hip-hop scene. Not that I’m complaining. Who wouldn’t want to bass-out to “Beez in the Trap”?
Lil’ Kim. If you’ve been following the dirt on Nicki, then you’ve probably heard about the beef she has with Lil’ Kim—and vice versa. The first female rapper to reach number one on the Billboard 100 charts, Kim was Biggie’s protégé back in the day, even releasing her own album entitled The Notorious K.I.M. But now she’s making it quite clear she’s still in the game. Look out for her new album this year, and check out her 2011 mixtape, which sampled plenty of Nicki, in a parody called (wait for it) “Black Friday.” Discretion is just not her style.