No but for real, where are they? As the infamous question of “Do my ladies run this motherfucker?” asked, as a man, the straight up answer would be “hell nah,” but in reality the answer, if we were asking today when it came to music, would be “they used to.” And that’s what many people born in the 80s and early 90s would really like to try to find out where everything went wrong – where dey at doe?
True story, real life: Ed’s Record World (RIP) @ Yonge & Eglinton in 1998; my mother and I ventured from deep Scarborough on a commute we would make often because that’s just what we did every other weekend or so whenever it was convenient and we wanted to get out. HMV (RIP) could have been the obvious pick to go and get some CDs, but it was here where I had my very first choice of purchasing my own CDs that I would wear to death on my Cassette/CD Player (you kids don’t even know about that). Having been raised in two musical households that varied from Wu Tang Clan, Bob Marley, and a variety of Gospel, to U2, Queen, Aretha Franklin, Sade, and Madonna, it was safe to say that I was pretty well-rounded in my musical interests. I already had a pretty defined balance because of the amount of great music that came to mind, but since at that time Space Jam was (and still is) one of the best Soundtracks of all time, One particular singer stuck out to me the most when she sang For You, I Will. That singer was Monica, and you better believe I was crushing on her at my prepubescent age and I felt no ways about it. Her 2nd studio album, The Boy Is Mine, featured the song of the same title that had another one of my celebrity crushes at the time, and that was Miss Brandy Norwood (best known as Moesha). Also in 1998, she dropped her 2nd studio album, Never Say Never. I mean, I was blessed to be in that space at that time given the opportunity to pick up both of those albums to get through the perilous times that were upcoming – 4th Grade (shout out to Mrs. Parsons). Another album that came out in ’98 (Jesus Christ, that’s 19 years ago) was one that my Mom picked up (I assume on or around that day we went to Ed’s) and that was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That was pretty much the beginning of what I would know to be the dominance of Black Women, musically, that would surround my life for at least the next 10 years.
Now the question that I asked myself, as many other people would probably ask, why pick Brandy & Monica? And the answer was quite simple. Where many kids my age would have probably been swayed to go with something more hardcore rap like a Biggie, Jay-Z or even have my own Wu Tang albums, there was something about R&B that I vibed with before I even knew what I was vibing to. Anita Baker & Sade were my favourite singers of my youth, and that was because of my mom. Their breathy voices were soothing. It was like hearing lullabies all day that my not-yet-fully-developed brain could enjoy while reading books, playing cards, or solving jigsaw puzzles with my mom. That was often our background music, and that’s why I gravitated towards the women who provided the soul rather than the brash aggression of Rap – that’s what my uncles were for. They filled that void, plus my neighbours who had kids around my age, we would all listen to rap anyways. The R&B was my escape and I wasn’t even ashamed to love them.
The first female rapper I ever fell in love with was Missy Elliott. I wasn’t up on MC Lyte & Queen Latifah like that, but it was the essence of Missy with her videos and her eccentric ways that made me a fan of hers, pretty much for life. Miss E…So Addictive was the first album of hers that I owned, and I pretty much got every album after that up until The Cookbook. She was in a big ass pot with so many other women of that time period where everything was “funky fresh dressed to impress and ready to party,” and being the dancer that I was (and still am here and there), she provided the soundtrack for me to move & groove to whether it was at a basement jam or a school dance – she continued the soundtrack to my life to encourage my continuous unapologetic expressive ways, to which I thank her (if she was reading this). TLC was a group that had their ways of influencing many female groups that followed (at least to the Black community) that made the Spice Girls an afterthought (SWV, 702, Blaque, Total, Destiny’s Child, etc.). I certainly have somewhere a physical copy of Fanmail as my mom played CrazySexyCool religiously.
Throwing in the likes of Eve, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim (whom I wasn’t the biggest fan of), Tweet, Alicia Keys, and Aaliyah, you could have looked anywhere you wanted and there was dope music to be heard and beautiful women (who were making said music) to be seen. But when it got to the 2000s, I noticed that there was beginning to be a drop off in the amount of women who were out there making music that I cared about. Aside from the already established artists that were Ciara, Beyoncé & Kelly Rowland as a solo artists away from DC, Ashanti, Keyshia Cole, Erykah Badu & Jill Scott, it felt as though the balance of R&B and Rap were getting wider and wider, and the quality of both genres on a mainstream level took a dive by the time I hit 17 (thanks Soulja Boy). Sitting here and throwing out all those names that shaped the way I listened & loved music during my adolescence, it’s crazy that I struggle to think of the names that can hold a candle to the artists of 10-15 years past in comparison: Jhene Aiko? Tinashe? SZA? Syd? Jasmine Sullivan? The list is slim, really slim. But there is promise, because outside of North America across the pond, we’ve seen through their exploding Rap scene, that the R&B talent is quickly rising and will eventually make its way over here. The influences of the talent I grew up loving definitely didn’t just stay in one place – it traveled. Emeli Sandé, NAO, Corinne Bailey Rae, Jessie Ware, Marsha Ambrosius, and FKA Twigs have solidified their place in R&B carrying a unique vibe that speaks to the soul of the past in which we fell in love with. They bring originality to a degree and fresh voices that can make us expand our music palettes for the greater good.
As far as Female Rappers are concerned, that’s been a great concern because it’s been dominated by Nicki Minaj even if she has drifted in the Pop lane in the past few years and her pen-woman-ship has dropped off significantly. When you really think about it, had it not been for Remy Ma going to prison, there would have been some competition in that field, but really there hasn’t been. Tink was supposed to be a torch-bearer, but like Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects poof, she was gone (stay out of legal troubles, kids). I couldn’t even tell you who was supposed to be the next one coming up, and that is probably years in front of us (unless people actually start taking Rapsody more serious in these streets).
Part of that, you can place blame on the executives at labels for not prioritizing female artists and only going by who’s blowing up at the moment (which, is obviously male dominant). But on the flip side, within the talent pool, there are those who are probably gems (and there are – just dive into Soundcloud) and they’ve built a respectable following for their underground purposes, but it takes a long time for the rest of the masses to catch up, such is every case within the industry. It’s truly something that I’ve wondered for a while, and whether this is just a stretch of time before another resurgence, that’s yet to be seen.
The bottom line is that where Women, particularly Women of Colour, have been the most overlooked, under-appreciated and disrespected, they’ve had their voices lent out to carry music from way back, and they brought an energy that was much-needed to balance out the other half of the ‘urban’ sound that so many of us aged with. For the next generation’s sake, I hope they can have those memories that we have been so grateful to hold on for decades that have passed and decades to go on forward.
That’s My Word & It STiXX