Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat illustrated on the cover art for the 'Say So' remixYoutube/Christopher Mota

The past week has been a historic one for female rappers. Megan Thee Stallion’s cocky viral hit ‘Savage’ was given the remix treatment, courtesy of none other than fellow Houston hottie Beyoncé, and industry heavyweight Nicki Minaj lent verses to up-and-comer Doja Cat’s disco-flavoured ‘Say So’. At time of writing, the original versions of both songs sit in the top three of the UK Singles Chart, and their remixes are at #2 and #1 respectively of the United States’ Billboard Hot 100. This record-breaking week marks the first time the top two of America’s all-genre chart has been occupied by two female rappers in lead roles. This monumental moment in music history — this is also the first time four black female soloists have held the Hot 100’s top two — is perhaps the most concrete proof that we are living through a renaissance of sorts.

Women in hip-hop have been winning consistently for some years now. In 2019 alone, Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy won Best Rap Album at the Grammys, the first record by a woman to do so. Saweetie’s ’My Type’ owned the summer, and ’Act Up’ by the City Girls, whose pithy catchphrase “period!” reverberates across oceans, was ubiquitous. Beyond top 40, the scene is overflowing with budding talent. Tierra Whack’s debut album Whack World received widespread acclaim for its innovative format and accompanying short film. Closer to home, London-based Ms Banks has been grinding hard with a near-constant stream of high-profile feature verses over the past 18 months. Other notable names include Rico Nasty, Darkoo, Flo Milli, and so many more. Even five years ago, it might have been difficult to imagine what we have today: a diverse range of women rappers, all thriving concurrently.

“those who shine today leave no room for underestimation, coming pre-packaged with creative bars, dazzling visuals and impeccable glamour”

Of course, this is not the first time in history that a wealth of women who rap has coexisted, collaborated and celebrated each other. The mid-nineties, a golden age for women in hip-hop, birthed Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes among several others — some of the most influential artists in their genre, and indeed on pop culture in general. It just so happens that this period sits just outside of much of Generation Z’s collective memory, so when it comes to female rappers, we tend to call to mind Nicki Minaj, who has enjoyed generally uncontested status as ‘Queen of Rap’ for over ten years. During her cultural and commercial dominance over the last decade, the Queens rapper was a lightning rod for the criticisms levelled at every woman who enters the male-dominated arena of hip-hop: too sexed-up, too outspoken, too “pop”. Regardless, she played a great role in re-opening a lane for other women in rap (and even outside of rap) to excel. It feels fitting in a way that Minaj’s first ever Hot 100 #1 (after a mind-boggling 108 other entries since 2010) should come by way of Doja Cat, whose animated delivery and genre-bending pop rap is arguably influenced by the rap titan’s own trademark sound.

The ‘Say So’ remix breaks another record as the first collaboration between two women rappers to reach the peak of the Hot 100. In the face of an industry which ruthlessly compares women in the spotlight and pits them against each other, this is a significant and heartwarming milestone. While the chest-puffing braggadocio of hip-hop has never stopped men from working together, the newfound camaraderie in the legion of up-and-coming women in hip-hop is the result of effort and intention. Megan Thee Stallion in particular has been a vocal opponent of petty beefs with her peers. Atlanta-based rapper and singer Yung Baby Tate, whose 2019 album GIRLS is replete with collaborations with other black women in hip-hop and R&B, gave similar remarks in an interview with The Gumbo: “I want other women in the industry to collaborate more… we can succeed together, without tearing each other down... We can produce albums, write our own lyrics, make our own music without the assistance of a man.”

The foundations laid in hip-hop’s history and the insistence on mutual support are two crucial factors which not only allow women in hip-hop to reap the deserved rewards of their endeavour, but also to be the faces to their contributions to culture, which is important in a society which routinely overlooks black female artists, or exalts their imitators while denigrating the originators. What’s more, the twin evils of racism and misogyny subject black women artists to intense scrutiny that their white and/or male counterparts rarely receive. It can be argued that the legion of ambitious artists we have now is the perverse effect of these hypercriticisms — those who shine today leave no room for underestimation, coming pre-packaged with creative bars, dazzling visuals and impeccable glamour, all of which rival the brightest pop stars backed by the biggest labels, and influence contemporary fashion and iconography as well as music.


Mountain View

Black pop artists still face obstacles on their way to the top

These developments in the culture are very welcome, but there is still a way to go. There is still a pressure for black women performers to market their sexuality in order to enjoy commercial success. Despite the abundance of critically acclaimed releases from women, the rap categories at this year’s Grammy Awards were still overwhelmingly male, and the same goes for the most recent MOBO Awards. But even so, we are moving past the point where only one woman can dominate at a time, and considering the reach of hip-hop today, there could not be a more opportune time. A common complaint in rap’s history has been that all the women in the genre sound the same — even the term “female rapper”, which is too often used to pigeonhole artists, is contentious. That being said, understanding the ways in which women in hip-hop have been impeded by narrow-minded spectators, and how they have consistently shone as gifted and stylish movers of culture, is crucial to be able to rejoice in their triumphs today, and ensure we revel in them.