The Summer of Women's Rap: Changing a Genre Through Representation
From Ice Spice to Nicki Minaj, the girls are showing us how it’s done.
Women have always been at the forefront of rap music. From the ’90s video vixens to modern muses, women’s bodies have long been the subject of hip-hop lyricism and visualization. And while icons like Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim have demonstrated the fortitude of female flow for decades, rap has been a male-dictated genre since its inception.
That is, until now. As the 50th anniversary of hip-hop arrives, the commemorative day closes out a summer dominated by chart-topping female artists. From Nicki Minaj to Cardi B to Ice Spice, the girls haven’t let a week go by without releasing an instantly viral hit. Not only that, they’re changing the face and sound of rap music, altering how audiences understand a historically intransigent genre. These women are controlling the narrative, championing unapologetic self-expression that boldly defies decades of artistic disregard.
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Browsing through Spotify‘s hip-hop section visually demonstrates this cultural shift. Currently, Latto, the artist behind this summer’s hit track “Put It On Da Floor Again” with Cardi B, is the face of RapCaviar, a curated playlist with over 15 million likes. Next to her, Doja Cat graces the cover of Feelin’ Myself, a hip-hop mix full of songs from female artists that channel bad b-tch energy. This increased industry presence is a product of growing representation in recent years; in 2022, for example, Nicki Minaj became the first solo female rapper to debut at number one since 1998. Her single, “Super Freaky Girl,” came nearly two decades after Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
As the presence of female rappers becomes more common, the genre’s audience also shifts in response, altering a gender gap in rap and hip-hop consumption that has historically skewed male. Hypermasculine themes in rap music contributed to the alienation of female audiences and normative gender socialization influenced women towards easy-listening genres like pop and folk, according to Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In 2019, for example, an analysis of online streaming platform Deezer found hip-hop listeners averaged at 32 percent women, making it the genre with the second largest male audience. Comparatively, a 2023 analysis found that this female audience grew to 45 percent, largely evening out listener demographics throughout the course of the pandemic. No longer a male-dominated industry, rap has expanded in the modern era to represent growing social movements towards female reclamation.
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Hip-hop’s 50th anniversary celebrates the genre’s authentic and humble beginnings, marking the day in 1973 when DJ Kool Herc’s mixes at his sister’s back-to-school party in the Bronx launched a musical and cultural movement. The legacy of that emotive expression endures in the music today, says Elsie Ahachi to Hypebae. For her, the allure of hip-hop has always been the authentic storytelling, a sentiment that her over 300 thousand followers mirror. Witnessing women rise to positions of influence and express their unique experiences provides a fresh perspective, she says, offering a sense of confidence and realness that resonates with a greater audience.
“Women’s rap is changing the game, lowering the barrier to entry that has previously prevented them from dominating on the main stage,” says Ahachi. “We’re seeing new talents popping up every day and I want to see them push the genre to new heights.”
@sgt.serge Yes, I was apart of the grown men at ice spice singing their hearts out #RollingLoud #Fyp #IceSpice #Munch #BoysALiar #PinkPanther ##LA ♬ original sound – Sergio 🇨🇴🇧🇷
Female rappers have the ball in their court to continue challenging genre and social norms, with a fresh outlook that promotes greater experimentation. With emerging stars like GloRilla, Sexyy Red, and FendiDa Rappa just getting started, it’s safe to say there’s much more growth to come. Ultimately, if Ice Spice’s Rolling Loud California set can garner a crowd of male fans, chanting their self-proclaimed munch status, women can really do anything.