Where The Femcees Are: The New Breed(s)
I once argued with a man (a very drunk man) about women in hiphop, and how the times have called for a new kind of female emcee. He told me that hiphop, just like the rest of Black music, resists change and to change music will harm an already conformant community. He said, "the reason why we are so conservative is that we're afraid to fall. Think about it: in fact, I went to the liquor store, and an old lady walked out heading to her car. I went it, got my stuff, and when I left I saw the same lady standing by the curb looking down. I ignored her and went to my car, but when I looked again she was still there. So I asked her 'are you ok ma'am, do you need help with something?' Real talk, she said 'I'm not stepping off this curb, I don't wanna fall and bust my ass.' So I helped her walk off the curb and into her car, and watching her drive off made me think of everybody who tries something different and fails, how embarrassed and alone they are. A lot of us are afraid of change because we are afraid to fall, fail, be embarrassed and stand alone." Since that talk in February, I have always remembered the conversation, verbatim.
The story he told bridges a cold gap between the question and answer of where all the female rappers/emcees (or femcees) really are. Being in a community that is currently stuck between superficial lyricism and neo-conservative ideologies, a lot of amazing musicians and artists have been forced to stand alone and be seen as a failure or a flop, as people in the community are afraid to stand by them and break away from the pack. A lot of Black female musicians in particular have taken a different approach to hiphop, and music in general, just to be shot down or ignored by their own people. Artists from Santigold to Jean Grae have been told to shape into a mold of what Black music "looks like" - the four main categories of Black women in the media, specifically music: the Fly Girl, Sista with Attitude, Lesbian, and Queen Mother (read this article by Cheryl Keyes for more info). Basically, the Fly Girl is the woman who thinks being overtly sexual is empowering and flaunts lyrics of materialism, the Sista with Attitude feels success lies in the means of harming other, lyrically or what have you, the Lesbian can only talk about her sexuality, and the Queen Mother is the woman who speaks on saving the children and the Earth in an impersonal manner. These four types of women can rap or sing about these things however they want, as long as they stay in their own category and make it appealing for the general audience.
However, there are women in the music industry, especially hiphop music, who ignore the fear of being alone and personalize the music created by a complacent community. These women are generally considered weird, lame, and out of place, but I feel these women bring a new breath of life to the art form of music. There are plenty of women today that have broken the four archetypes women have been given in music. There is Janelle Monae, one of the funkiest and craziest soul singers/songwriters out right now, as well as Miss Jack Davey of J*DaVeY, who should be included in this group but is only exempted because of she's in a band, but this singer/song-writer/rapper has an edgy way of being sexual, sensual, and an independent woman. Another artist to break the mold is up and coming R&B rocker Brittany Bosco, a woman with a sound that roots as deep as the early, early, early blues era with a tinge of electronic soul. Even when we look at already established musicians like Erykah Badu, who stripped in front of a Dallas crowd for her new video without notifying anyone. Most of the music community, even her so-called fans, claimed to not "get it" and ultimately turned their nose up at the video.
But, we're not going to making this about all Black music. For now, this series is just a look at femcees who are changing hiphop. I say new breed(s) because in actuality it is next to impossible to categorize anyone, but for the sake of the music industry, the three featured women in this series don't fit, and purposely REFUSE to fit, any of the old categories femcees used to fit. I will even go there to say that these three women, Jean Grae, Invincible, and Nikki Lynette, are femcees that will be leading the hiphop community soon.