artform, has likely seen its best days pass. With rampant illegal downloading effecting the entire industry, no genre has seen its fortunes more dramatically altered than the largely disposable category of cRap music.
Somewhat overlooked in this downward spiral is the utter and complete irrelevance of the female MC, perhaps better known as the femcee. There isn't really a commercially successful lady rapper out at the moment, a situation so dire that it inspired a cheesy VH1 reality show to address the plight. The extinction of the female MC didn't happen overnight, nor will it be fixed overnight. Let's examine the history of females on the mic, how we got to where we are, and how things might get better.
The Beatbreaks Era (1970's-mid 80's)
Ladies didn't really get much play in the early days of the rap game. Perhaps the best known female MC in the pre-music video era was Roxanne Shante, a Queens teenager who got into a back and forth years-long battle with the rap trio UTFO.
The "Roxanne battle" series eventually ended up folding in rappers like Sparky D and some lame Puerto Rican broad named "The Real Roxanne". While most of these ladies could indeed battle, you never really got the impression that they were standalone artists who could make it on their own merits.
The Golden Era (mid 80's-mid 90's)
In the mid-late 80's, rap music finally began to cross over into the mainstream and with the advent of outlets like Yo! MTV Raps, BET's Rap City, and The Box, female rappers rode the wave of afrocentricity and independence to a new level of industry respect. No artist symbolizes this rise to prominence better than Queen Latifah.
Other artists like Salt -N- Pepa, Monie Love, and MC Lyte were able to carve out successful niches for themselves during this era of prosperity. These ladies were feminine, but still strong and independent. While they may or may not have written their own rhymes, you never got the impression that they were simply mouthpieces for some male ghostwriter. By moving units while being feminine, yet not selling sex, these ladies set the table for the ultimate femcee, Lauryn Hill.
My favorite L-Boogie verse of all time isn't even on her album (or the Fugees for that matter), but rather an obscure mixtape staple from the mid-90's, a rare posse cut called "Da Ladies In The House". Just skip to the 2:45 mark if you're impatient, and watch L rip the mic.
"Tears in my eyes burrrrrn, tears in my eyes...."
Call me crazy, but this video was a high point for femcees. Hill hadn't even blown up yet, and the other ladies never really did, but peep the lyrical content. Each lady could spit, and it's quite likely they all wrote their own sh*t. Sadly, this era was shortlived.
The P*ssy = Power Era (mid 90's-2000)
Rap music's thematic shift from substance to flash also ushered in the commercial climax of the femcee, which also eventually meant the death knell for this genre. Emboldened by the new culture of bling, female rappers like Lil' Kim, Foxxy Brown, Trina, Eve, and Da Brat made names for themselves (as well as money) by more or less adopting personas crafted by their ghostwriting mentors (Biggie, Jay-Z, Trick Daddy, DMX, Jermaine Dupri).
While this was great for album sales, watching women shift from talking about "Ladies First" to "Dreams of S*ckin' An R&B D*ck" was not exactly empowering. Perhaps most astonishing is that Hill's The MisEducation Of Lauryn Hill was dropped during this period and outsold all of these other female artists combined, yet was an anomaly rather than a trendsetter. Ditto for Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, whose oddball, (initially) sexually androgynous style didn't spawn a bunch of copycats either.
The Post-Femcee Era (2000-Present)
The present state of the femcee is rather sad indeed. Each and every female rapper that experienced some level of success in the previous eras has fallen on some level of hard times. Hill, still the biggest selling female emcee of all time, got into a strange marriage with a random Marley, reportedly joined a cult, had an Octomom-sized litter of kids, and keeps releasing albums with no beats. MC Lyte is a BET on-air personality. Elliott is just played out. Lil' Kim foolishly didn't snitch on the stand to protect her male weedcarriers, did a year in jail, and now has morphed into a ballroom dancing R&B singer. Brown's series of public beatdowns landed her in the clink for a year, and upon release she got (temporarily?) engaged to Rick Ross of all people. Remy Ma shot her weedcarrier in the stomach and will be in jail for the foreseeable future. Eve lost all interest in rhyming and went on to become a D-List actress. Yo-Yo and Salt -n- Pepa are reality show "stars". Queen Latifah is more interested in singing standards than spitting 16. While artists like Jean Grae and Eternia have backpacker cred, there isn't a female rapper of substance with real commercial potential. Except for Nicki Minaj.
Perhaps the only current artist with the potential to really blow up commercially is Nicki. She is the female emcee's struggle to be taken seriously, personified. On one hand, yeah, she can really spit. I mean, really. Her cartoonish voice and strange in-and-out accents at least make her somewhat unique. On the other hand , she's a mouthpiece for a male MC (Lil' Wayne) whose rap style she mimics a bit too closely for her own good. She isn't just selling sex appeal, by advertising herself as a bisexual, she's more or less giving away sex appeal. As talented as I find her, and as much as I liked Beam Me Up Scotty, if she does eventually blow up (which is iffy), she's more or less perpetuating some of the very same problems that lead to the genre's demise in the first place.
I don't really know what can stop the demise of the female MC. The whole concept of artist development is a thing of the past, and with few rappers period moving units, it's little surprise that women, who have always had to battle sexism and misogyny in the rap game, have it even worse. It's almost like that America has a cold, Negroes have the flu analogy in a nutshell.
Question: Who is your favorite female rapper of all time? What do you think caused the demise of the femcee?