Sunday, 6 January 2013

Female rap beef is outta control

Rap beef has always possessed a kind of WWE quality by definition, but there's something rather dispiriting about the way in which dis wars between female performers tend to get hyped up that little bit more, as if the likes of beef-seeking-missile Azealia Banks and net-celeb femcee Angel Haze are only really interesting when they're pulling each other's metaphorical weaves out. Even supposedly liberal, left-leaning publications like the Guardian can't resist a good old-fashioned cat fight, it seems.

Of all the female rappers to have emerged over the last couple of years, Azealia Banks is one of the most intriguing. Unlike certain of her peers, who've sought validation via co-signs from established male performers or somewhat unreliable internet buzz, she's blessed with a strongly individualistic streak. She seems determined that she'll be the one to dictate the terms upon which she'll stand or fall, whether that be via all the “Little Mermaid in the hood” imagery or by choosing to rhyme on tracky house beats or over twitchy, Warp-inspired electronics, rather than voguish Lex Luger knock-offs or the obligatory Mike Will beat. All of which makes her propensity towards bouts of public bickering with the (often inferior) competition seem that much more bewildering.

But perhaps a more worthwhile question might be; in the already hyper-competitive world of hip-hop, how come female rappers generally exhibit a more alarming level of open aggression towards their peers than even their male counterparts? Never mind that it plays up to every lazy stereotype you've ever heard about some women being more anti-woman than even the most avowed misogynist. It sometimes seems as if there's a compulsion to view all other female emcees as threats to be torn down at every opportunity. I say “sometimes”, because it's worth pointing out that this applies much more readily to US performers than their British equivalents, who are models of virtuous, supportive sisterhood in comparison.

Perhaps it's because they've noticed that the industry at large only seems prepared to accommodate one successful female rapper at any one time. It's a little like the one-in,one-out situation with reggae acts. After all, how many people can name more than one currently active, internationally successful reggae act with widespread name recognition? I'll give you Sean Paul as a starter, but after that I'll bet that anyone else you name either isn't really that big, is in decline or is dead. But I digress.

There's a widely-held perception that, rightly or wrongly, rap's core audience simply isn't interested in female rappers. Consequently the industry will only seriously invest in either the most extraordinarily talented (Missy) or the ones with a strong image, preferably one which is highly sexualised (Lil' Kim). Occasionally, there's a striking confluence of both skills and image (Nicki and Azealia), but for the rest of the pack all that remains is a frantic scramble to get through the door before it slams shut. A big part of that scramble involves a ruthless trashing of the competition along the way, and so we end up perpetually witnessing something like the closing scene of Blue Collar, only with Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor replaced by a parade of rappers with two X chromosomes. Which, at its worst and most spiteful, manifests itself in the kind of smack-talk that involves a black woman making sideways remarks about another black woman's skintone. In the words of Jeru, ain't the devil happy.

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