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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Music journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie artists. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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In Search of Female Emcees
Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Traditionally, finding women at hip-hop shows is like trying to find salads in Fat Joe’s diet. Sure, they’re there, but they’re few and far between. Female emcees can be even more scarce. Othello, who, with his d_Cyphernauts partner Nemesis Alpha, hosts the long running monthly open mic, Enter the Cypher, in Danbury, says that only about 10% of the emcees that pick up the mic during one of his shows are female, adding “it would probably be even less if it wasn’t for the fact that some groups roll through with a female emcee in the crew.”

It’s a disturbing trend in an already male dominated craft. Othello laments “hip-hop has always been more of a man’s game, but it seems even less diverse now than ever.”

Bridgeport emcee Sol Storm, formerly of Nervous System, sees this as a challenge. A challenge she enjoys taking on. “If the girls over on UConn’s basketball team can give male b-ballers a run for their money then so can us female rappers.”

One female rapper who’s given everyone a run for their money is Nicki Minaj. She gets airplay on every urban and pop radio station, her album, Pink Friday, hit number one on the Billboard chart, and her popularity eclipses that of many male emcees. Othello points to the success of Minaj as a starting point for the female emcees of today, saying “the fact that Nicki has been so successful shows that there is a place for commercial success for women rocking the mic.” Sol Storm adds “Nicki has allowed male listeners to be able to be open to the idea that women can rap again.”

Unfortunately, as Othello notes, there’s some baggage that comes with Minaj’s success. “Here’s my issue with Nicki Minaj,” he explains, “she’s the ONLY female voice in mainstream hip-hop right now. I think that she’s got crazy skills, but what is the message that young aspiring female emcees are getting when the only female rapper that can crack the airwaves is so self-objectified that she calls herself ‘Black Barbie?’” According to Waterbury emcee Dina Brass the results have been, “a lot of Nicki Minaj wannabes instead of inspired women that want to create their own lane.”

Brass feels that if these women want to be taken seriously as emcees they need to “leave the stripper heels and sparkly bras at home.” She does, however, want them to come out and perform, as does SolStorm, who says “perhaps if there are more females rockin mics then there will be more interest in each other instead of conflict and competition.”

Conflict between female emcees, while great for the occasional headline, may, in Sol Storm’s estimation, be one of the biggest factors holding female emcees back. “Production companies usually only invest time and beats to one female rapper at a time,” she explains, “and it may be related to female catty behavior. Maybe they know what they are doing, but they sure aren’t helping.”

Othello has some ideas for what could help the situation, starting with hip-hop fans doing a better job of celebrating the female emcees that are out there. He adds that at Enter the Cypher he encourages spoken word artists to approach the mic, which gets more females involved, and that ladies nights that feature female emcees are another great idea.

Brass feels that if female emcees want to be treated as equals to their male counterparts they have to start by treating themselves as equals. “If you’re serious about what you do, carry yourself in a way where people have no choice but to respect you. People LOVE when women rock the mic, so don’t be afraid!”

The opportunity is there, especially in Connecticut. Enter the Cypher happens every third Friday of the month at Cousin Larry’s in Danbury, while Brass helps put together shows that happen every first Thursday of the month at Sully’s Pub in Hartford, and every third Thursday of the month at Bleachers in Bristol. There are also a plethora of other open mics happening every week all over the state.

Once women start taking the microphone just as often as their male counterparts it will be up to the culture of hip-hop to do the rest. Othello points out that “hip-hop itself needs to value women’s voices more as we move forward,” adding “it’s problematic for hip-hop culture when the only space for women to exist is either singing hooks or as video eye-candy. If things don’t change, then you’ll lose the female fans, and that’s when a scene dies.”

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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