Women in Hip Hop: Where We At?

I recently read a Colorlines article entitled 5 Reasons Why People Love to Hate Kreayshawn , and it got me thinking about the state of women in hip hop today. Kreayshawn is a white female rapper from Oakland, California who has the web buzzing. Her debut single Gucci Gucci is a party song, and despite its materialistic sounding title, Kreayshawn raps about designer clothing being unimportant. One of the song's more memorable lines is, "I got the swag and it's pumping out my ovaries."

While the Colorlines article brought up some very good points, there was one I disagreed with. The article quotes the criticism of writer Bene Viera at Clutch:
It's ironic how a White girl mimicking Black culture has been viewed as quirky, cute, and interesting in the past. But sisters who fashionably rock bamboo earrings, gold nameplate necklaces, and blonde streaked weaves will inevitably be considered "ghetto" by society. It's equally problematic that every female emcee post Queen Latifah and MC Lyte who has massive mainstream success all had to sell sex. Kreayshawn, on the other hand, is able to avoid an over sexualized image because of her whiteness.

Lil Mama. Image via Jive Records
Missy Elliott. Image via Photo Gallery Actress.
I understand where Viera is coming from, but let's give black female emcees a little more credit. One artist who dared to rock the bamboo earrings and gold necklaces and was definitely not considered "ghetto" was Lil Mama. In fact, her hit single Lip Gloss enjoyed mainstream success (the video was in heavy rotation on MTV and BET). Another emcee who falls into the "bamboo earrings" category of b-girl style is Grammy award-winning rapper and producer Missy Elliott. She is the only female rapper to have six platinum albums, and has produced hits for artists such as Monica, Jazmine Sullivan, Aaliyah, and Ciara.

Lauryn Hill. Image via Nhojj Cafe.

As for the claim that black female emcees post MC Lyte and Queen Latifah had to "sell sex" to become successful, what about Ms. Lauryn Hill? Her 1998 hit album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (now regarded as a classic) was selling female empowerment, if anything. Hill won six Grammy awards, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year. I'd consider that mainstream success.

Eve. Image via Chris Vizzello/AP
There's also the talented rapper Eve, who has found success both as a hip hop artist and an actress, appearing in both Barbershop films, and on her own sitcom, Eve. Still, it's easy to see why some would become disillusioned about the progress made by women in hip hop with artists like Nicki Minaj getting as much attention for the size of her rear end as she does for her lyrical prowess. And her arguments with Lil' Kim (another rapper with a hyper sexual image) over who can claim the title of "Barbie" are enough to make any self respecting female hip hop head cringe.

Medusa. Image via thegangstagoddess.com
But let's face it: Hip hop, like most other music forms that in the mainstream limelight, is subject to the interests of business and corporate control. The music becomes even more exciting once you step off the beaten path. One artist who has always held things down for the underground is the legendary Medusa. The Los Angeles based rapper has been a fixture on the underground hip hop scene and has been called L.A.'s "best kept secret."

Another talented underground emcee is Sa-Roc, a rapper who hails from Washington, D.C. and is now based in Atlanta. Sa-Roc's sound and lyrical content are other-worldly (she samples jazz artist Sun Ra, the video for her song Supernova opens with the pouring of libations for the ancestors). She brings a fresh perspective to the hip hop scene.

There's a whole universe of female emcees of every race, and from many different backgrounds. It's important to view them as individuals. Everyone makes different choices about their image and how they wish to be portrayed. Some of them find mainstream success, while others find their success in the underground. While it is tough to be a woman in the male dominated world of hip hop, let's not lose sight of the achievements and the diverse voices of women within the genre.