Even that haven for misogyny Death Row Records had a strong female rapper, Lady of Rage, who had fierce guest appearances on several albums and even spawned a massive hit with “Afro Puffs.”
Ladybug Mecca put a female touch on the burgeoning jazz/hip-hop scene as part of Digable Planets, and Da Brat bought vibrancy to the growing hip-hop scene in Atlanta in the early nineties way before it became the black entertainment capital.
As hip-hop became more commercialized and marketed as a “gangsta” artform in the mid nineties, the roles for females drastically changed.
Rap music became more focused on streetlife, criminal elements and material success. Female rappers had to take on roles that made them sidekicks or sidechicks, Bonnies to their gangsta rapping Clydes.
Two emcees who fit those roles perfectly where Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Both rappers were protégés of successful rappers. With their advent, the voices of female MCs in the mainstream would never be the same.
Lil Kim met Notorious B.I.G. as a teenager. He became her mentor and Svengali, crafting her rhymes and image while maintaining a sexual relationship with her. She was in essence a creation of Biggie’s, a materialistic, sexy and sexual woman, who was down to ride with her criminal male accomplices, the new role for female rappers. Gone was the independence, the flirty individualism, the desire to uplift and entertain.
Foxy Brown was also molded into another rapper’s image from a young age. Jay-Z allegedly wrote Foxy Brown’s first album and like Kim crafted her into the sex bomb gangster’s sidechick, more interested in gold digging than real men with hearts of gold.
Unlike female rappers before them who would counter their male counterparts’ misogyny, Lil Kim and Foxy brown would promote it, actively playing the roles of the b****es and hoes that existed in the chauvinistic world of gangsta rap: women defined by their raw and available sexuality, crass materialism, and revelry in the gangsta lifestyle.
As the nineties ended, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown would become more known for their problems with the law than their music. Both lived up to the gangsta girl image created by their mentors and became involved in shoot outs and highly publicized trials.
Very few female emcees have experienced popularity in hip-hop since Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Both Eve and Trina started out as strippers. While Eve has combated domestic violence through her song “Love Is Blind,” Trina — unlike the hyper-talented Queen Latifah — is quite comfortable being called a bitch.
As hip-hop became more image-oriented, the video girl replaced the female rapper as the male rapper’s companion. Popular women in hip-hop were no longer known for their skills but for their looks. Women in rap were stripped of their voice and given a body as their only means of representation.
There was one blip of light with Lauryn Hill in the late ’90s with her solo album, but then — nothing.
Remembering Ms. Melodie makes this vacuum even more soul-sucking.
Ms. Melodie may not have sold a million records, but she represented her culture proudly as well as her gender. As hip-hop became a business, women’s sexuality — not their thoughts or opinions — were used to sell it. The death of one of the original female voices in hip-hop only underscores the void in women’s representation that exists today.
Misogyny and the objectification of women sell records, feminism does not. No longer is there room for Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte to stand up for women against the men who bash them. Today, Nicki Minaj is the most popular female rapper by far. Her distorted image and superficial lyrics might make dollars but they don’t make sense.
As hip-hop lost its voice of social consciousness, the voice of women and their struggle was silenced. If women are going regain real representation in rap — which will benefit the entire community — they are going to need to bypass the corporate, male-driven business structure that perpetuates the misogyny only real female MCs can fight, staying true to Ms. Melodie’s words: “The opposition is weak and rap is strong.”
Follow Casey Gane-McCalla on Twitter at @CaseyGane