Earlier in the month, hip-hop artist Noname released her second full length project, Room 25. Those familiar with her first mixtape, Telefone, will be excited to hear it delivered on the promises of quality it showed, featuring expertly crafted socially conscious lyrics over a wide variety of soulful and warm live instrumentals. The album has, rightfully, received much acclaim since its release from fans and critics alike, but one piece of backhanded praise seems to haunt the discourse surrounding the album: “Noname is the best female rapper”.
Hip-hop has always been a competitive genre and it’s only natural for people to debate and discuss who they personally think are the best MC’s and producers but selecting the best rapper with the only qualifier being the gender is, when examined, incredibly strange.
Contrasting Noname with, for example, Cardi B, is bizarre. Besides both being rappers and both being women, the two, musically, have very little in common, and yet Noname (and other female conscious rappers such as Rapsody) are often brought up in discussions surrounding Cardi B’s music as a preferable alternative. Preferring a more soulful style to Cardi B’s abrasive trap sound can be understandable, but the comparison is disingenuous. It’s been long accepted that two entirely different sounding rap artists like, for example, Future and J Cole, cannot just coexist but excel in their own lanes, and this variety is part of what makes hip-hop such an exciting and interesting genre. An insistence on pitting two entirely different artists against each other in this way solely because they share a gender identity indicates that there can only be “one” best female rapper regardless of their style; a misogynistic mindset which unfortunately seems to be affecting artists.
Nicki Minaj has, for some time, been the quintessential female rapper in the eyes of the public. Her continued relevance is made clear by the commercial performance for her most recent album Queen, which debuted at number 5 on the UK album charts and has sold 500,000 copies in the US in the span of a month, not an easy feat in the age of digital streaming. Despite this, Minaj infamously reacted to her album’s performance as though it were totally ignored, lashing out publicly against Travis Scott, the rapper who held Billboard 200’s number 1 spot just ahead of her. Anyone paying attention to the debacle would have been confused as to why an artist clearly still doing such good numbers would be so upset about narrowly missing out on an arbitrary ranking position, but an event not long afterwards would illuminate why: her public, physical fight with Cardi B.
A rivalry between the two had been much discussed by the media and at times alluded to by the two artists, and its culmination in such public aggression from the one on the supposed “losing” end of the feud shows the damage that the constant comparisons between artists can do to their state of mind. In light of this ideology, success has inexplicably become relative: artists consider their immense commercial successes as failures solely because they don’t stack up to their perceived competitors. This alone makes it clear that it is an issue.
It’s easy to argue that this is simply a result of hip-hop traditionally failing to represent large amounts of women in comparison to men. With so few female rappers, why wouldn’t you immediately compare the few that exist? But to pin this behaviour solely on the culture of hip-hop is to be ignorant of the treatment of women all through the world of media. Even just within music, it feels as though any prominent alternative female artist is compared vocally to either Bjork or Kate Bush, seemingly the only two female musicians most media publications seem to celebrate. Extending out the realm of musicianship, the creativity of women in most fields is woefully under recognised: in 90 years of Academy Award history, only 5 female directors have ever been nominated, and only one has ever won.
Generations of dialogue in regards to female creatives can’t be unwritten immediately, but even something as simple in a shift in language can help prevent this. Critics and consumers both can work to be mindful of how they discuss the work of female artists. Consider what the artists music sounds like, not who it sounds like. Don’t pointlessly draw comparisons between artists for no reason other than their gender. Finally, perhaps most importantly, consider their artistry as impressive not just for a woman, but for any individual.
Regardless of your musical tastes, Cardi B, Noname, Nicki Minaj and numerous other female rappers all have degrees that are separate from each other but outstanding in their lane. Their skills as people are what make each of them so capable at what they do.