I’ve been a fan of Young M.A for several years now, so when I saw she was doing a press circuit in NYC, I knew I had to check out a few of her larger interviews. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment, however, as I watched a hard working independent artist spend the majority of her time trying to steer the conversation away from a multitude of cringe-worthy questions about her sexual preference and gender identity, and towards her actual music, which unfortunately became an afterthought.
The unfortunate line of questioning that Young M.A. was forced to navigate through during her press run is directly tied to an issue that’s been brought up by many artists in the past - the concept of a “female emcee” has been sensationalized to the point of absurdity. It seems that, as a culture, hip-hop is unable to look past the perceived novelty of a rapper with a vagina, and any subsequent coverage is focused on gender and sexual identity rather than the artist’s actual skill set and musical output. Now, it's true that not everyone who uses these terms is trying to demean the artist, a lot of the rhetoric falls in line with an established industry standard, but it's a standard that must be clearly acknowledged and reset.
Artists like Jean Grae, who is currently working with Marvel, Rapsody, who just signed a deal with Roc Nation, and many more have been consistently releasing some of the most engaging, impactful records across the entire genre, so why is it that when their names are brought up the focus immediately shifts to gender? A female rapping is not a novel concept, females have existed in hip-hop circles for as long as hip-hop itself has existed, so why do we treat it with such faux-fascination? Why have artists, like Grae and Nicki Minaj, had to repeatedly ask, to no avail, not to be called “female emcees”?
The easy answer would be the inherent misogyny in hip-hop, but that’s a bit of a cop-out, and furthermore just another symptom of the much larger problem of societal gender inequality. Mass media wants to sexualize women, period. When an artist’s image doesn’t immediately lend itself to sexualization, that’s when the weird, transparent process of drawing out some sort of sexual exploitation usually occurs.
As a culture, hip-hop has always had a loyalty to authenticity and, at its core, historically gravitated towards authentic, engaging representations of its artists’ surroundings. So in theory, the fact that Young M.A might be a lesbian, or that she dresses in clothing that we would typically associate with a male, should make absolutely no difference as long as she’s spitting quality bars -- which she is. Yet, nearly 30 years after the great Queen Latifah released her All Hail the Queen debut, this talented emcee is still relegated to answering questions about whether or not it has been difficult getting into the rap game as a female, and the philosophy behind strap-ons. As a culture, we owe more to our female comrades.
Again, this is not just a hip-hop problem but a societal one. As hip-hop has done with so many societal issues before, though, it’s time we take a stand and quit playing into the hyper-sexualization of our culture. Dope emcees are dope emcees. Musical ability has very little to do with what’s between your legs and has everything to do with skill and a dedication to the art of hip-hop, so let’s cut the “femcee” bullshit and start focusing on and praising the music these talented artists are creating.
Our hip-hop sisters have been contributing to this culture for decades and once we focus on their contributions, rather than their identity and lifestyle, we’ll have achieved a new level of unity, and with it, new influence and power.