The Beef with Being a Female Rapper

Following a long year of a highly publicized, but never confirmed feud, Cardi B was escorted out of the Harper’s Bazaar Icons Party during New York Fashion Week on Sept. 8 for allegedly assaulting Nicki Minaj. Footage of Cardi throwing her shoe and being escorted with a large lump on her forehead flooded timelines on social media shortly after. 

The altercation proved the inevitable: the rumored beef perpetuated by the media and insisted by the public reached its breaking point and once again, two prominent women in their field are being reduced to their feud. 

Since Cardi’s mainstream entrance into the rap game, she has been constantly compared to the well-established Nicki Minaj. While the two denied any kind of feud between them at first, the internet ran with it. Dissections of verses that were thought of them dissing each other, interviews prodding them with questions about their thoughts of one another (i.e The Breakfast Club) and constant vigilance of their social media accounts for “subs” furthered the ideology that two prominent women in rap could not possibly like each other. 

Because why would they? Rap as a genre is one where competition is fuel for good musical content, but in this case, it provides the deeper societal backdrop that there could only be one queen of rap–and that’s just untrue.

In the Complex article, “Why Can There Only be One Dominant Woman in Rap?” Kiana Fitzgerald points out that constant comparison does not happen to male M.C.’s, rather they coexist and often collaborate to build momentum for each other.

“It’s more difficult for women to enter the rap industry just as its harder for them to enter other careers such as government, business, etc. It stems from deeper societal aspects. Women really do have to work twice as hard to get noticed,” said fourth-year sociology student Brandon Tolliver, who took part in Dr. Jessica Pabon’s class on Gender and Sexuality in Hip-Hop. 

He’s right. Research by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2015, found that “men behave in a sexist manner towards women in order to remove them from male-dominated spaces, regardless of social status.” 

In relation to hip-hop, men, whether consciously or subconsciously, want to continue their dominance in the field and execute it by exerting hypermasculinity and continuing the hypersexualized image of women in their music.

“For years, dominant male artists have made a fortune demeaning and degrading women, often portraying them in lyrics and videos as interchangeable objects of sexual pleasure, while increasingly limited radio and television rotations have made alternative representations of women harder to find,” said Erik Nielsen in his NPR article, “Where Did All the Female Rappers Go?”

Minaj and Cardi B, however, have taken this sexualization of women and have used it as their own form of sexual liberation, by displaying their bodies on their own terms for their own profitable gain. 

“Cardi B expresses her sexuality on her own terms, reclaiming her body and taking up her own space,” said third-year psychology major Angel Leger, who also participated in Pabon’s class as a Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies minor. 

Female rappers didn’t always have such a small platform. In the nineties, rappers like Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim and the late Left Eye, among others, coexisted and built each other up when they were all in the rap community. Several even collaborated with each other. However, complications arose; Latifah was headed to a movie career, Left Eye passed away and Lil Kim went to jail. 

With fewer women rapping at a prominent level, the space tightened and created what Fitzgerald calls “the perfect breeding ground for competition.” In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were more than 40 women signed to major labels, compared to three in 2010. 

Consequently, women are going to be less supportive of each other are they are placed in an environment where they know the public and media will only give one of them a chance. It is this toxic competitiveness that seemed to burst between Cardi B and Nicki Minaj to unnecessary proportions. 

“The toxic competition we see in rap comes from the fact that women are already competing against each other in real life,” Leger said. “While men respect other men, that same camaraderie does not exist between women because of  this fear of getting your spot taken, of not wanting to fade away.”

While Minaj has internalized this competitiveness to stay relevant, it is clear she also stresses about it. It is easy to make it look like there is only “room for one,” because “if you are the only one, then you have this mentality that there can only be one,” said rapper Kamaiyah in the Complex article. 

Minaj, being the most prolific female rapper in a while, perhaps feels threatened that her accomplishments will become forgotten with Cardi B’s entry into the scene. However, it doesn’t have to be this way if as a society, in the rap community, and the media reflect and work to change the long-standing boys club that is hip-hop and create a conscious effort to include and uplift women in the community.