Earlier this month, Pink Friday, the debut from Nicki Minaj—she of peacocky wardrobe, callipygous figure, and countless guest spots (Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up”)—hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album charts. The uptick in sales wasn’t surprising given her recent appearance on Saturday Night Live. But what was interesting is that Minaj is the first female rapper to ascend to the top of the charts since Eve’s Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders' First Lady did back in 1999.
There are varying theories as to why mainstream female rappers are a scarcity these days. Some attribute the decline to the raunchy images of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, which may have undermined credibility—and therefore sales—of lady rhymers by playing right into male rap attitudes about women. This, in turn, may have influenced the perception that women in hip hop must be sexy to succeed (thus hampering the rise of less gimmicky, though critically admired, artists such as Jean Grae). Others point to the lack of male-dominated rap crews touting the talent of ladies, as Ruff Ryders did with Eve.
And then there are the unproductive feuds: Most recently, Lil Kim took another swipe at Nicki Minaj—whose (vague) sexuality is, by contrast, more playful than hardcore—with the cover of her Black Friday mixtape; it featured a rendering of Minaj’s decapitated head. But mostly, there’s the indisputable rise of pop music and the expectation that a woman’s place on a rap track is on the hook, singing à la Keri Hilson or Rihanna.
Indie rock, meanwhile, has proven a fertile ground for rappers such as Amanda Blank, Uffie, and M.I.A., all of whom boast sexually confident lyrics alongside a hipster image. The latter has proven the commercially viable of the three. But it’s also worth noting that her breakout came only when producer Kanye West decided to transform a sing-songy turn of phrase from her track “Paper Planes” into the hook for “Swagga Like Us.”
And so we turn to Minaj. Her omnipresence is finally bringing attention back to female rappers. But where are her peers?
Sadly, they are few and far between, but here are three promising up-and-comers whom we hope will benefit from Nicki Minaj’s pop-chart trailblaze:
Named after a character from Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, this duo, who are part of New York City’s AOK Collective, met in college at NYU and wrote their first track while traveling the world to film a documentary about hip hop. Their rapid-fire, whip-smart Pretty Gritty Mixtape has been met with high fives, winning them opening slots for B.o.B., Erykah Badu and Bruno Mars.
Pregnancy seemingly derailed the launch of the M.I.A. protégé’s career. After several delays, Ryeisha Berrain’s first full-length, Go! Pop! Bang!, is expected to drop this spring. Despite setbacks, the 20-year-old Baltimore-beat rapper has amassed goodwill from the critics and fans awaiting her debut based on strong performances at SXSW, her energetic YouTube videos (which feature M.I.A. and showcase her indefatigable dancing skills), stints opening for The Gossip, and even a performance at party by buzzy designer Alexander Wang.
The 19-year-old from L.A. came onto the scene when she lent rhymes to Pacific Division’s song “Shine,” off their Don’t Mention It mixtape. (She also toured with the old-school influenced trio.) With just one EP, This Little Light of Mine, under her belt—largely produced by Pac Div affiliate Polyester the Saint—Lovejoy has already garnered a cult following for her jerky rhymes and sticky hooks.