Why Is The Ratio Of Female To Male Rappers Still So Uneven? Conscious Daughters + Monica Lynch Weigh in on the Topic: Women in hip-hop Part IV: Women's History Month

Posted by Billyjam, March 27, 2009 05:00am | Post a Comment
queen latifah all hail the queenWhy, after all these years, is the number of female rappers still radically less than that of their male counterparts? Is it really that not as many women want to be rappers? Or rather that they are being shut out and discriminated against, and simply not encouraged to be hip-hop artists? Encouragement ultimately comes down to sales figures, so is that not enough hip-hop fans support women artists? 

"Women can't rap" used to be the common criticism of females heard back in the day. Interestingly, these days the ratio of female rap fans has grown, yet the number of female rap artists has not grown proportionately. 

To answer these questions, which have always puzzled me, I asked a few women who have been in the business for a while: CMG and Special One of the longtime Oakland female duo The Conscious Daughters, and Monica Lynch, the president of Tommy Boy Records during the years 1981 - 1998 where she was instrumental in launching the careers of such artists as Afrika Bambaataa, De La Soul, Digital Underground, House of Pain, Naughty By Nature, and Queen Latifah. She still works closely with Queen Latifah, helping guide the artist, actor, investor, product spokesperson's with her music-related endeavors.

"When you look at rap as a subset of the hip-hop culture at large, you see that a vast vast majority of the DJs were male, a vast majority of the graffiti artists were guys, the vast majority of the breakdance crews were men, and the vast majority of the rappers were male. So it was just an extension of the origins of hip-hop culture being a predominantly male cuture," said the former Tommy Boy president, who firsthand witnessed rap music morph from supposed "fad" into an unstoppable global cultural movement.

"And I am sure you could say the same thing about a lot of other genres, such as rock, for example. Disco might have been very female dominated, but with male producers at the helm. I just remember back in the 80's going to the markets to do radio promotions and whatnot and you'd go to these local talent shows and all the little girls wanted to be the next Whitney Houston singing the "The Greatest Love Of All." There weren't that many women at that point aspiring to be rappers. I think it was just perceived as a boys' game. It took several years, oconscious daughtersbviously, before there was any meaningful number of women who really started to get into it themselves. It was really maybe starting mid to late 80's when we saw more women getting on the mic."

It was in the 1980's when CMG and Special One first got their taste for rap (in fact, Special One was one of the few female hip-hop DJs on her El Cerrito high school station KECG in the mid 80's) and despite the fact that it was obviously seen as a man's world they followed their hearts and in the early 90's formed the female crew The Conscious Daughters (TCD). By 1993 they had released their debut album, Ear To The Street, through Paris' Scarface Records (later renamed Guerrilla Funk) and became national stars with the hit single/video "Somethin' to Ride To (Fonky Expedition)."

Sixteen years later they are still in the game, having just recently released the great new album The Nutcracker Suite, again through Paris' Guerrilla Funk with distribution through Fontana. I caught up with the enduring female rap duo last week to ask them why they think that the ratio of female to male rappers is still so uneven: "It's because it is harder for women to make moves in the industry. First of all, if you are a mother it's harder for you to travel a lot to be away from your kids and your babies. And most female rappers have kids," said CMG, adding that, "I think overall that women are not just as aggressive as men."

Tackling topics ranging from domestic violence to single motherhood and the prison system, and all from a female perspective, The Nutcracker Suite continues TCD's message of empowerment for women, both in their lyrics and by their choice of collaborators. Guests on The Nutcracker Suite include such fellow Bay Area female artists as Mystic, Marvaless, and the late Goldee the Murderist. "Most female rappers have to balance a career and their family," said Special One, echoing what her partner in rhyme observed. She also noted that, "Its an obstacle to be dedicated and to go to the studio with a male producer where everybody's like, 'Oh he's a male producer and you might be giving up something to get the tracks done or something like that!' There's a lot of talented women who have barriers to make it happen."

Special One also noted something that I have always thought about as to why there is such a discrepancy with the number of women in the rap game. "A lot of women don't own record labels," she said. "So the independent labels that put out independent music are owned by men. You don't have any women that own anything in rap music, so therefore you have to be on somebody's coattails to bring us [women] in and then hopefully it's not just one album or one single or something like that. We don't own nothing to put it [the music] out. Bottom line."

tommy boyBut even in the rare instances of a woman in a position of management and/or label power to back a fellow female, as in the case of Monica Lynch pushing the career of Queen Latifah during the high-profile Flavor Unit artist's years at Tommy Boy (late 80's to early 90's), the bottom line is that female hip-hop artists' sales never match up to their male counterparts. Even Queen Latifah, despite the fact that she is perhaps the best known female hip-hop artist from a historical overview, never sold near as many albums as her male counterparts.

"Latifah had such renown but were her sales commensurate with her renown? The answer is no," said Lynch. "And then that again reflects a lot of other stories that you saw with female rappers through the years. In the late 80's my recollection is that the biggest selling [female] group, in terms of hip-hop, was Salt N'Pepa, who had a whole other thing going on there because they were doing the dancing and they had a sort of sexy thing going on. They [had] very much a crossover pop appeal to them and their audience. I think they had more of a female audience. Whereas I think the female rappers had to win over a male audience that was sometimes, I think, very reluctant to give it up to the girls. And there was JJ Fad, who had the big hit with 'Supersonic' which was a big seller." 

"But generally speaking JJ Fad and Salt N'Pepa, who both were absolutely fantastic and amazing, I think the appeal of their music, which had a more female audience going towards it whereas I think you had the guys who might have been more critical going, 'Well I don't know about those skills.' "I think a bias against women has been very prevalent in hip-hop...And generally I would say from the 80's until the present that the sales of female rappers has always lagged significantly behind male rappers," said Lynch. "If you think of some of the more popular female rappers in the last ten or so years, like say Eve, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliot...even Missy, when her sales were particularly strong, I don't think she came close to cracking the sales numbers of any of the other big male artists who would have been big when she was hot. And remember that a lot of money was spent in promoting her too."

So does Monica Lynch think things have changed at all or will change in this so-called equal society? "I don't know if things have changed significantly in the last 25 years," she laughed. "Hip-hop has always been, generally speaking, an extremely macho genre...and the audience has a bias and they'd rather hear male emcees...Fundamentally the core audience that goes out and buys rap albums is guys...And I don't think there [have] been a lot of female rappers who have sustained long careers unless they are able to secure a female audience [or] unless it has a more pop or rNb flavor to it."
In addition to working with Queen Latifah Monica Lynch also hosts a weekly eclectic music show on WFMU. The Conscious Daughters' just released new album The Nutcracker Suite is available in CD and double vinyl formats at Amoeba. On Saturday April 4th they will play at 330 Ritch in San Francisco with DJ Pam the Funkstress as their DJ. Then on May 1st they are scheduled to head out on tour with Paris, Talib Kweli, Immortal Technique, The Coup, Zion I, and Planet Asia where Pam will again act as their DJ.

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