Earlier this week, NPR asked where all the female rappers had gone, and yesterday VH1 gave them their answer, albeit a weak one: a new reality show. This fall, the cable network responsible for “docudramas” like Love & Hip Hop and The Salt-n-Pepa Show will unleash White Girls of Rap into the world, yet again making female rappers a novelty item.
As a press release describes, “VH1 in partnership with Ryan Seacrest Productions will follow five up-and-coming white female rappers (yep, we said it, white female rappers) as they hustle to establish credibility in an industry that isn’t known for being the most welcoming. These girls are facing near-impossible odds and will do anything to break into the rap game and establish a name for themselves.”
The “near-impossible odds” part is detailed exhaustively in the aforementioned NPR piece, which examines the state of female rappers circa 2014, the year those in the industry supposedly were pegging as a big one for the genre. (For the record, it feels off to call it a genre; it’s just hip hop, it doesn’t need to constantly be othered.) Nicki Minaj’s new album is expected to drop this year, as is Iggy Azalea’s long-delayed debut (and initially Angel Haze’s debut, Dirty Gold, though that ended up with a late December release after she leaked it online). The main takeaways are that major-label hip hop made by women has significantly fewer players now than it did ten or 20 years ago, and that the ladies who do break through need to sexualize themselves.
The piece, written by academic Erik Nielson, asserts that there’s no room in hip hop for women who resemble Missy Elliott or Queen Latifah instead of the Harajuku Barbie herself. It’s not a perfect comparison, considering that even before Pink Friday dropped in 2010, Minaj has been angling to be both a rap-to-pop crossover and a fashion/beauty mogul. These markers of success typically come down the line in a rapper’s career, matters of gender aside. Basically, Nicki is an anomaly who survived an ill-fated stint as an American Idol judge with her cred intact by declaring her plans for world domination out of the gate.
As for White Girls of Rap, that particular subset is already viewed as more of a novelty than even the larger group of “femcees” (ugh, death to this term). Iggy Azalea has struggled to be taken seriously because people assume a young white Australian girl knows zip about hip hop. Worse, they lump her in with viral butt-of-the-joke Kreayshawn. Agreeing to appear on a VH1 reality show may seem like a good idea in the short term when it comes to launching a music career (I mean, R&B singer/Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta star K. Michelle does sell records), but these aspiring rappers are giving up a shot at credibility — albeit a slim one — before they even get started. Maybe that doesn’t matter to them, but they should consider the sort of representation they’re offering up by agreeing to be branded by not only their gender but their race within the context of hip hop. It’s a genre that, perhaps more than any other, is obsessed with both, so the cringe-worthy title of white femcee may well follow them through their careers. Assuming they have them.