Nicki Minaj and Cardi B are indisputably the top two female rappers in 2018, but in the history of hip-hop, a female rapper is either number one or nonexistent.
From making shady remarks during interviews to throwing lyrical jabs at each other, Minaj and Cardi have made headlines for their ongoing beef. Fans are now wondering whose side to pick, and most importantly, who will be the next rap queen.
But don’t be fooled. This isn’t the first time female rappers have competed for the coveted number one slot. This won’t be the last time either.
Hip-hop was not created for women to relate to or participate in; yet, emcees such as Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte established a space for the female perspective in rap and paved the way for future artists.
“The misconception in hip-hop is that only men have something to get off their chest,” said Plattsburgh State alumna Yesenia Reynoso. “Because men were expected to be tough, grimey and borderline disrespectful, rap was shaped by the people who were delivering the music.”
Female emcees ushered in a golden age throughout the the early 80s and late 90s. Roxanne Shante created the first diss track. MC Lyte became the first female rapper to release a full album, and Lauryn Hill was the first solo female rapper to release a single that reached No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100.
“Women are the roses that grew from concrete in hip-hop,” said Plattsburgh State TV and radio production major and rapper Kai Pascuali. “They grew from the cement and made beautiful music that resonated with the community. Queens like Lauryn Hill, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah and Lil Kim were able to stand strong in a male-dominated art.”
Lil Kim’s “Ladies Night (Not Tonight)” remix highlighted another pivotal moment in hip-hop history. The single, featuring Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and radio personality Angie Martinez, went platinum and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This collaboration proved female emcees could coexist and share the same platform. For a brief moment, women were individually acknowledged for their contributions in hip-hop, and competition was not a priority.
However, with a limited space for women to shine, competition rose and the female rap space slowly diminished. A female rapper’s credibility was now based on her spot on the charts rather than her talent.
“People couldn’t fathom a woman being assertive and delivering a message the same way a man can,” Reynoso said. “The rap industry thought ‘there’s no way women can dominate this rough genre,’ so what they did was give one woman a few crumbs, but left the rest of the bar to themselves.”
The golden age of female rap reached a plateau in the mid-2000s.
Lauryn Hill disappeared. Left Eye passed away. Foxy Brown temporarily lost her hearing. Queen Latifah pursued acting while Missy Elliot worked behind the scenes as a music producer. What about Lil Kim? She was serving time in 2005 for perjury.
The absence of these rappers left fans wondering who would be next in line for the throne.
The answer: Onika Tanya Maraj—better known as Nicki Minaj.
Minaj released her first mixtape, “Playtime is Over” in 2007. Her Barbie persona mixed with her gritty bars caught the attention of Lil Wayne who signed Minaj to his label in 2009.
Prior to releasing her debut album, “Pink Friday,” Minaj built her credibility by collaborating with rappers, such as Gucci Mane, Drake and Ludacris. Her appearance on Kanye West’s 2010 single “Monster” featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z changed the game, jump started her career and established her place in the rap industry.
Minaj outperformed the hip-hop heavyweights with her clever wordplay, versatile flow and eccentric vocal changes, ranging from a pretty princess to a relentless monster out for blood, or in her case, the crown. In her verse, she chewed up her haters and sent a clear message to her male counterparts: “You can be the king, but watch the queen conquer.”
Eight years later, Minaj holds the title of the most awarded female rapper, surpassing Missy Elliott who won 189 awards.
Minaj is also the only female rapper to win the BET Best Female Hip-Hop artist award seven years in a row. However, the streak ended in 2017 after Remy Ma released “SHEther,” a Nas-sampled diss track aimed at Minaj.
Despite Minaj’s rap tenure, history repeated itself. It was once again time for someone new to step up and claim the number one slot. Remy Ma tried, but she lost momentum after a few months. Fans were curious to know who would be next.
The answer: Belcalis Almanzar, a self-described “regular-degular-shmegular girl from the Bronx.” Call her Cardi B for short.
Cardi first rose to the spotlight through Instagram. Known for her “tell it as it is” attitude, exotic dancing past and hilarious rants, she won the hearts of millions of followers. She was casted in the VH1 reality show “Love and Hip Hop: New York” in 2016. After a season, she left the show to focus on rapping, a passion she kept hidden from the public since she was a teenager.
Within the next two years, Cardi B recorded two mixtapes and signed to Atlantic Records. She surprised the rap world with her debut single, “Bodak Yellow,” which topped the Hot 100 without any features surpassing Lauryn Hill’s record.
As a newcomer to the game, Cardi B had to deal with critics comparing her to the most relevant woman in modern rap, Nicki Minaj.
“Anytime I think of a female rapper, I think of her rival,” said Dimas Sanfiorenzo. “That doesn’t really happen with men. Even though there’s Kendrick Lamar, Drake and J. Cole then everyone else, there’s a healthy environment where there’s a Future fan or a Gucci fan. We can do a better job embracing women rappers and their different flavors.”
Nicki Minaj and Cardi B went to toe-to-toe on Migos’ 2018 single “Motorsport.” Listeners accused Minaj indirectly dissing Cardi. Minaj also did not appear on the set of the “Motorsport” video with Cardi B, which only heightened the rumors of their beef.
“I do think there’s a bit of the fanbase and media hyping this thing up, but when ‘Bodak Yellow’ dropped last year, Nicki’s ears went up.” Sanfiorenzo said.
Once again, two powerful women were being pinned against each other.
“Men do not fear other men who are reaching for the top because there’s enough space for all of them at the top,” said Shailyn Ulloa PSUC senior finance business administration major. “Female rappers do not feel that comfort due to the limited space. Nicki may not support Cardi B because she fears the loss of her supporters and fame.”
Down the line, Sanfiorenzo sees rap music evolving and developing an innovative sound.
“Something new is gonna come along, and it’s going to be what hip-hop was in the 80s,” Sanfiorenzo said. “But, I have a feeling the starting point is going to be from hip-hop.”
Female rappers may have the upper-hand deck. Just like diamonds are made under pressure, quality music is created through competition. Women aspiring to reach the top will be motivated to release their best material.
Although society and the rap industry has placed its limit on how many women can rise to the top, female rappers will find a way to break this barrier— the same way MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Roxanne Shante and many others have.
Email Jasely Molina at firstname.lastname@example.org