I've always been a big fan of female MCs. This fact often gets lost in my Keith Sweat worship, but my hometown hero Missy Elliott is easily one of my all-time favorites. And we all remember the GeorgiaMae Femcee Tournament I put together earlier this year. It has saddened me that the female MC has gone the way of the do-do bird...
But I'll get back to Nicki Minaj in a moment.
Anyway, I was pretty eager to check out last night's BET's My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women In Hip Hop. Critics were calling it a "groundbreaking" documentary, like it was the second coming of Roots.
I'll be the judge of that.
The documentary was actually a pretty interesting and accurate history of female rappers. Led by a collection of journalists, producers and rappers themselves - including, ahem, "old" favorites like LunchLady of Rage and Jean Grae, looking like a neon, nerdy version of the Chief from the Carmen Sandiego show.
According to the documentary, here's the history of female MCs: The 80s featured trailblazers like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa and Roxanne Shante, who ushered in an era of partying, unity and respect. In those days, the ladies had to be even better than many male rappers in order to get noticed. That's why their skills were so sharp.
In the 90s, as the popularity of hip hop grew, the genre itself became larger than life. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown helped fuel the sexual revolution, and their peers followed. In the meantime, Missy added a dose of creativity and Lauryn Hill injected diversity and genuine emotion - before cracking up, releasing that bizarre live album and self-destructing. Hip hop cried.
Then, nothing happened for 10 years (entirely forgetting that both Missy and Lil Kim had a couple of really big songs during that time) until Nicki Minaj emerged to save the world. You knew they'd waste no time kissing her giant, possibly fake, butt.
It was going well until the end. It's pretty sad that the history of females in hip hop barely lasted 40 minutes - the rest of the show was filled with random babbling. But the question remains - what happened to female rappers?
The show offered two theories. MC Lyte suggested that male rappers degraded women so much that they devalued female MCs. That might be somewhat true but I don't totally buy that. Women have done a great job degrading themselves in the past (Trina admitted still doing that today) and their sales didn't suffer. The other hypothesis is that labels stopped dealing with female rappers because they're too high-maintenance. It just costs waaay too much to keep their nails done and their weave fresh, apparently. Which, of course, is ridiculous when you look at all the horse-haired R&B singers out there. I don't think labels mind shelling out for them.
After watching the documentary, I think the real reason female rappers are a dying breed is simply because listeners stopped caring. After Kim and Foxy's sex success, EVERYONE stole that formula, things got stale and listeners tuned out. And with an ever-decreasing emphasis on lyrics, wordsmiths like Rah Digga and Rage didn't last long either. Nicki might be trying to bring sexy back (so to speak), but she's going backward. If she doesn't add substance to her act she'll be gone too. Her "yabba dabba doo" raps and Power Ranger wardrobe will only go so far.
If listeners want to hear female rappers again, it's up to us to support them by buying (not downloading) their work. Trust me, record labels will take note when they see there is money to be made. Record execs will put a coked-out baboon on TV if it'll make money (see SouljaBoy). There is a LOT of talent out there. But if we don't support them, the only time we'll see female MCs will be on BET documentaries.