Sexing them up
For Iggy Azalea, two is the Fancy- est number.
The Australian rapper and leggy blonde bombshell has two of the biggest songs in the United States: Fancy (with Charli XCX) and Ariana Grande’s Problem (she’s featured), which rank No. 1 and 2 respectively on Billboard’s Hot 100.
She’s also one of the two women in mainstream hip-hop right now – joining Nicki Minaj – as the only female rappers to cross over into top 40 radio in recent years.
It’s certainly not because of a shortage of talent: Angel Haze was poised to strike gold last December with debut Dirty Gold, but a dispute with her label and botched album release prevented the album from getting traction (selling fewer than 1,000 copies in its first week).
New Yorker Azealia Banks of 212 fame was ready to become rap’s “It” girl in 2012, but has yet to release an album.
others such as Kreayshawn, Brooke Candy and Kitty (formerly known as Kitty Pryde) have all generated buzz, but have never been able to break out beyond the hipster set.
So why has Azalea – who released first mixtape Ignorant Art in 2011 – been able to rise above the ranks and become hip-hop’s newest star?
Hard work, marketing savvy and model looks, says Erik Nielson, an assistant professor who teaches classes in hip-hop culture at the University of richmond and wrote about the lack of female rappers for NPR earlier this year.
“She’s willing to leverage her sex appeal in ways that somebody like Angel Haze is not – and, unfortunately, that will cost artistes like Angel Haze,” Nielson says.
“The record industry pushes women to adopt a hypersexual image because the industry has convinced itself that’s the formula for success.”
It hasn’t always been this way. Although rap has long been a male-dominated genre, women such as Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott and MC Lyte “all had a different style and were widely accepted in their own right” in the 1980s and 1990s, says Chuck Creekmur, CEO of AllHipHop.com.
But since overtly sexualiased artistes such as Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown came into prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “hip-hop’s gotten hyper-masculine, and that’s changed a lot”, he says.
“Those seeds were planted with artistes like Kim and Foxy, and what we’re seeing now is the aftermath of that era.”
As messages that “women are these interchangeable objects of male desire” continue to flood rap music, “it becomes more difficult for people to view women as credible artistes in hip-hop,” Nielson says.
There’s also a prevalent notion among many in the music industry that the public can only embrace one female rapper at a time – a prophecy that ultimately becomes self-fulfilling, he says.
“What you end up with is women rappers sometimes viewing each other as the enemy when the real problem is the industry overall,” Nielson says.
“When women artistes start going after each other, what doesn’t have to be true starts becoming more true.”
on the flip side, Creekmur finds female rappers to be “very supportive of each other” – Minaj, for instance, spoke on The Breakfast Club radio show last month about opening doors for women in a genre that she characterises as “not female-friendly at all”.
Instead, he finds one of the biggest issues for up-and-coming rappers is marketing themselves, striking that delicate balance between hip-hop credibility and mainstream appeal.
“Men can almost do anything and they’re pretty much accepted: you can be ugly, handsome, or not even rap that well,” Creekmur says.
“Women, they have to have hair and makeup, they have to dress sexy, they also have to be super-talented” and often must be cosigned by a male artiste to a record label.
While there’s no quick-fix solution, Nielson believes it’s important for more hip-hop fans to support rising female rappers – and for those artistes to evaluate what they want out of their careers.
“If you’re a woman, and you want to be on radio and headlining major shows, you may be turned off by what the industry may try to get you to do,” Nielson says.
“However, if success to you is simply being able to make a living from your music, there are lots of underground outlets available and many extremely talented female artistes.
“(But) will they ever get wealthy from their art? Will they be able to retire on it? I don’t know.” – USA Today/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
(From left) While nicki Minaj and Queen Latifah have managed to penetrate the hip-hop scene, the careers of artistes like angel haze have remained stagnant.