By: Jon Caramanica
Good news! The most popular rapper in America in the last few months may well have been a woman.
In recent years, female rappers have usually been loudest in their absence, but this year the opposite has been true: Iggy Azalea’s single “Fancy” spent seven weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, the longest stretch for any female rapper ever.
Good news, right?
It is, yes, though it shouldn’t be overlooked that Ms. Azalea is white, which undoubtedly helped place her in an express lane, and that “Fancy” had more resonance in the world of pop than in hip-hop, where Ms. Azalea has at times been viewed with a bit of side eye.
At the BET Awards in June, Nicki Minaj, one of the most important rappers of the day, female or otherwise, gave a sassy acceptance speech for best female hip-hop artist, in which she insisted, “What I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj is when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it,” a seeming swipe at Ms. Azalea, who has been accused of using ghostwriters. (Ms. Minaj later issued a nonclarifying nonapology, and Ms. Azalea a nonclarifying nonretort.)
But the real insult was the nomination list in that category: Ms. Minaj and Ms. Azalea, but also Eve, who hasn’t had a relevant single in seven years; Charli Baltimore, who hasn’t had one in almost twice that long; and Angel Haze, a promising young rapper but one with almost no mainstream exposure. In short, the very definition of foam peanuts, merely there to fill space and keep the main candidates safe. And a glaring indictment of the music industry’s inability to nurture a wide range of female stars.
Maybe the old model is extinct. From the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, female rap thrived, relatively speaking: Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, who were all stylistically distinct and sold millions of albums during those years.
But to find a critical mass of female rappers in 2014, you have to turn to another industry: reality television. Tuesday night on Oxygen, a new series called “Sisterhood of Hip Hop” will have its premiere, and there are certainly more female rappers on this show than will release albums on major labels this year (and maybe next year, too). Thanks largely to the “Love & Hip-Hop” franchise on VH1, reality television has become a more reliable avenue of exposure than the radio. (Diamond, one of the stars of “Sisterhood,” was previously rumored to be joining “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta.”)
“Sisterhood” is mostly boilerplate stuff, reality by numbers: a difficult romantic relationship here, for Siya; a blooming family problem there, for Bia; a cast member, Diamond, who actually describes this phase of life as a “rebrand,” saying “I need to get out of Atlanta so I can rebrand myself — there’s too many ghosts.” (It should be said that Diamond’s rebrand, which involves purple hair and midriffs, looks quite a bit like Ms. Minaj’s old brand.)
Diamond is also arguing her side of her long-ago breakup with Lil Scrappy, which he talked about often on “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta” after she left him eventually to date Soulja Boy, another Atlanta rapper. “It’s not my fault that I stepped out with somebody who was younger, flyer and who had more money,” she says sharply and hilariously.
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