They may not get the most attention, but as a group, female rappers have become incredibly interesting.
Take Nicki Minaj, who will score her second number one album this week with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. She, of course, is getting lots of attention, and with electro-dance songs like “Starship,” she pretty much follows pop music trends. But even still, even within that box, she is totally distinct from every other lady on the radio.
I mean, her flow and phrasing are just so dramatic, you know? She’s famous for flipping between characters at a moment’s notice, and she explodes with charisma. Her current hit “Starships” may sound similar to Britney’s “Till the World Ends,” but Nicki‘s personality puts extra frosting on the cake.
And when Nicki Minaj is the standard for popularity in female rap, then you know that female rap is a very interesting game.
Honestly, I don’t know if other current female rappers could be as popular as Minaj, but that’s not because they’re not talented. Their music is just too weird, too experimental, to go mainstream.
But hey: Weird is awesome.
My personal favorite is Rye Rye, who collaborated with Robyn on “Never Will Be Mine.” She’s like your cool kid sister, with her helium voice adding friendliness to heartbreak stories and coy sex talk. And since her best songs sample Europop classics, her music is unapologetically fun. Like… remember “Boom Boom Boom Boom” by Vengaboys? Well, Rye Rye turned it into “Boom Boom,” a playful ode to a dude she wants to bang.
And in case that’s not silly enough, there’s also this hilarious video that spoofs every video game from the 80s:
But if Rye Rye’s not your thing, how about an electro queen like Azealia Banks, who scored a nomination at this year’s NewNowNext Awards? Her song “212″ is raunchy and throbbing, and if you loved Ibiza-friendly hits like “Loca,” then she should make you go crazy. I doubt she’ll be covered on the next Kidz Bop album, but the shirtless club kids of the world should love her.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Australian Iggy Azalea is all swagger and spare beats, with a Bone Thugs tendency to rap really, really fast.
Brianna Perry unapologetically celebrates her flirty good looks, and her single “Marilyn Monroe” reminds me of RuPaul’s “Tranny Chaser” (which is a compliment!)
Throw in Kreayshawn, who seems like a Weird Al parody of herself, and you’ve practically got a soccer team of fascinating ladies.
So how did female rappers get so interesting? I’d argue it’s because we stopped paying attention. After all, the last major female rap stars before Nicki Minaj were Eve, Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim, and Foxy Brown… and they blew up over a decade ago. Meanwhile, mainstream pop acts like Ke$ha and Karmin have incorporated quasi-rapping into their songs, which may have shut the door on women who primarily rap. (Even Minaj sings on her most popular tracks.)
But being ignored can give an artist the opportunity to please herself more than anyone else. Sure, it sucks that Minaj is the only female rapper to have two solo number one albums. It sucks that women are so consistently ignored in hip-hop. But if the result is boundary-pushing music, then we can feel a little better. Nicki may be the only female rapper on the radio (for the moment), but her Top 40 weirdness is waving a flag for an entire army of ladies behind her. Maybe, if they keep it unique, people will start giving them the attention they deserve.
Mark Blankenship has written about pop music for The New York Times and NPR. He’s on Twitter as @IAmBlankenship. He knows all the words to six Salt ‘n Pepa songs.