Sex­ing them up

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By Patrick ryan

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.

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