Chuck D., the legendary front man for Public Enemy, recently told Allhiphop.com that he wants to see more women involved in hip hop. “In ‘09, my fighting the power is for women in Hip-Hop, especially groups, producers, songwriters, and label heads,” he said.
But if his ears were pointed towards the underground, rather than the hip hop-arazzi malaise of the mainstream, then he would notice that there are more female emcees than ever. Then again, the fact that few of these women – with the notable exception of Jean Grae – have had much impact on the tabloid-obsessed rap world speaks volumes to their overall position among fans, who continue to view women as mindless dime pieces, half naked “video models” only meant to brighten an otherwise ordinary day on the blogs.
For now, though, let’s not get into sexism, a brain-dead horse which doesn’t seem to die. Instead, let’s celebrate Women’s History Month with ten or so ladies who are getting it done in spite of that. Real femcees stand up!
Jean Grae: Formerly known as What What, this Brooklyn artist is the grande dame of “femcees.” She has a quick-witted and wicked flow and, quiet as kept, can even produce dope beats – she produced the indie classic “Negro League Baseball” under the guise of Run Run Shaw. Her current label, Blacksmith, botched her third and best album, last year’s Jeanius. But with luck she’ll get another chance at attaining mass appeal. (myspace.com/jeangrae)
Invincible: In Detroit, Invincible is as well known for her community activism on a host of issues, from gentrification to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as for ripping the mic. She’s appeared on tracks for Dabrye and Finale, but her most recent album, ShapeShifters, proved she can write memorable songs as well as deliver energy-boosting guest spots. Look for a Plug One interview with Invincible very soon. (myspace.com/invincilana)
Stacy Epps: This Atlanta-based artist has quietly assembled a solid discography, thanks to her 2005 Sol Uprising collaboration with John Robinson, guest appearances with Shape of Broad Minds (Raiders of the Lost Art) and Madvillain (Madvillainy) and a solo debut last year in the form of The Awakening. Her style ranges between rolling staccato raps and languid, tuneful harmonizing. (stacyepps.wordpress.com)
Amanda Diva: Much like Saul Williams, Diva applies a poet’s love of broken verse and detailed lines to the art of emceeing. She’s also something of a hustler, hosting shows on Sirius radio, making “talking pundit” appearances on sundry VH-1 celeb-reality fests, and creating online videos such as “Diva Speak TV.” And I can’t forget that she joined Floetry for a brief spell. As my cousin would say, she has “a little bit of Jamaican in her.” Amanda Diva released a mixtape earlier this month, Spandex, Rhymes and Soul, that you can download via her MySpace page. (www.myspace.com/amandadiva)
Stahhr the Femcee: Now that DOOM’s comeback album Born Like This has hit the streets, everyone will know who this Atlanta rapper is. But her track with the supervillain, “Still Dope,” actually first appeared on her 2008 full-length, the iTunes-only release Almost Never Was. Her determinedly logical rhymes and intellectual flow has brightened past Doom projects such as Mm…Food and King Geedorah’s Take Me to Your Leader. (www.myspace.com/stahhr723)
Kid Sister: This list wouldn’t be complete without the first female rapper to taste pop success – however fleeting – since Missy Elliott. Since becoming one of the first “hipster rappers” to take over indie clubs with her single “Damn Girl” – she appeared on the cover of URB in 2007 — Kid Sister has worked hard to meet the sky-high buzz surrounding her. A second single with Kanye West, “Pro Nails,” got airplay on “Rap City” last year. But her long-delayed debut for Downtown Records, Dream Date, has yet to be released. (www.myspace.com/kidsister)
Dessa: Last January, Dessa didn’t issue an album, but Spiral Bound, a chapbook of verse and personal essays. However, the Minneapolis artist isn’t just a poet: she can rhyme, too. Check Doomtree’s self-titled album from last year for proof. “Distress message coming from the city kids/I read it in the smoke signals from the filth and cigarettes,” she raps on “Dots and Dashes.” “I’m on a vision quest.” (www.myspace.com/dessadarling)
Rita J: Since XLR8R magazine profiled her near the end of 2007, I’ve been waiting for this Chicago affiliate of the All Natural camp to drop her debut, Artist’s Workshop. Save for a mixtape, Ms. Jackson, little has been heard from her. A quick check to her MySpace page reveals a snippet tape for the album, however, so it should come out this year. (www.myspace.com/ritajackson)
Isis: With indie-dance hits such as “Jerk It,” this Toronto-based member of Thunderheist isn’t well known to hip hop fans. But on the group’s self-titled debut (out via Big Dada on March 31) she reveals an infectious and swaggering style. (www.thunderheist.com)
Amanda Blank: Throughout this list, I’ve tried to avoid female rappers who focus on their poontang. There’s nothing wrong with sex raps, but it has become such a cliché – the thug missus who loves to fuck is a stereotype that dates back to Lil’ Kim and Junior M.A.F.I.A.
But Amanda Blank can’t be denied. She has an impressive flow and a deft command of words. and can wax poetic about nightclubbing adventures and afterhours hookups. With her debut I Love You set to drop July 14 on Downtown Records, here’s hoping that this latest addition to Talib Kweli’s fledgling Blacksmith empire expands her palette beyond coochie raps. (www.myspace.com/amandablank)
Bonus pick – Eternia: Last but definitely not least, I can’t forget Eternia, who has held it down since her appearances with Atomz Family back in the early ‘00s. She’s grown from super-scientifical woodshedding to become a well-regarded lyricist in her native Canada, as well as a cult reputation in the West, thanks to guest shots alongside Wordsworth, Reef the Lost Cause and others. Check her 2005 album It’s Called Life for proof. (www.eternia.ca)