Written for a Gender Communications class at Boston College in spring of 2014
The music industry plays a pervasive role in popular culture, and a person can often be at least partially defined by the music that they choose to listen to. We as a culture have formed opinions and association with different genres, some more positive than others. One of the most popular genres in today’s top hits is rap. This is a genre that, since its first appearance in the musical world in the late 1970’s, has been dominated by men. It is also well known that it is a genre that can be extremely degrading towards women through both lyrics and visual representation in music videos. Scantily clad women often clamor over rich and successful men, dancing and existing solely to fawn over the men and give them pleasure sexually. However, women have been able to break into the rap industry and many have found successful music careers.
The emergence of rap occurred directly in the middle of the Second Wave of feminism. This era is associated with sexuality, reproductive rights, family roles, and the workplace and is where the concept of the diehard feminist was developed. Contemporary women in rap embraced several these concepts in their work, but many chose to avoid the title of “feminist” because of its association as a white woman’s movement and negative feelings towards the male gender (Rose, 1990). Overall, the first widely popular female rap artists supported strong women and fought for equality of the sexes. The artists I am examining have started their careers in the Third Wave of feminism, which emphasizes individuality and self-definition. However, in contrast to the Third Wave, it is thought that we have entered an age of postfeminism in which the sexes have reached equality.
Rap is a unique genre in which there is a strong emphasis on lyrics that are frequently relating to the artist’s experiences and views of the world. The songs act as a personal narrative that originally focused on life on the streets, drugs, and conflict with the police. However, rap has always been thought of as a male-based genre, where these gangsta rappers can express themselves. Female rappers are given a unique opportunity to be the voice of a highly underrepresented group of individuals. The plights of women of color are shown in this genre because it is one where the minority race is the vast majority.
Finally, although words are very important when it comes to identity formation, visual representation through image is often what sticks with viewers and fans. Music videos have long been a powerful way for musical artists to share their work with the world, and their physical depiction as well as actions add to the previously existing lyrics and form an entirely new creation within the media. Young women often attempt to emulate their favorite artists and frequently view them as role models or even idols. It’s imperative to examine the image these artists are projecting in the mass media, because it has a profound impact on not only how women may choose to act, but also how men may choose to act towards women.
The representation of female rappers has gone through an evolution, moving from power through a strong feminist outlook towards a postfeminist power through sexuality with vulgarity and disrespect for both men and women. However, it is now attempting to return back to the positive strong woman image, but maintains the negative connotation due to the persistence of aspects that support the degradation and objectification of women. The progression that has occurred is prevalent throughout the genre, but will be specifically shown through a comparative analysis of lyrics and music videos of the artists Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Iggy Azalea. Lil’ Kim demonstrates the epitome of female “gangsta rap” through her vulgar lyrics and sexual identity. Although Nicki has attempted to project a stronger “girl power” image and act as a positive role model for girls and women, she has failed to do so based on her promiscuous identity and lyric content. Iggy Azalea represents the Caucasian female rapper, but her presentation mimics the colored foundation that has already been built. The representation of these women has changed greatly from acting as spokespeople of the African American female race to an over-sexualized and objectified image, which is frequently viewed as self-degradation and an overall negative exemplification of women in the media. Each artist will be analyzed based on three main themes: analysis of lyric content, and representation through visual means, and through these their relation to feminism. This will encompass a well-rounded look at their musical careers and the ways they are present within the media and the music world.
Definitions of Key Terms
The basis of my research lies in the concept of feminism. The common definition of feminism is the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. The concept first appeared in what is called the first wave of feminism, where in the 1800’s and early 1900’s women fought for political equality, such as the right to vote and property rights. The second wave, beginning around the early 1960’s and continuing through the 1980’s focused on social equality, such as sexuality, the workplace, reproductive rights, and family roles. Third wave feminism is speculated to have begun in the 1990’s and is thought to still be occurring. It focuses on the idea that women can define themselves how they want to and veers away from the concept of a universal female identity. However, feminism has always been thought to mainly apply to a white, heterosexual, middle class woman and does not include women of color. Another relevant term that will be used throughout this analysis is “postfeminism”. This is the concept that society has moved past the need for feminism, and that equality has been achieved. Main ideas associated with this term are choice, independence, and sexual freedom. The aspect of postfeminism that most relates to my paper involves expression of sexuality and conflict regarding sexual choice and personal objectification. Objectification is defined as a person being viewed as an object rather than as a human entity. Another term that I will be using is “power,” defined as the ability to influence or control the behavior of people. It will be used in both lyric analysis as well as visual analysis through music video. I have also created my own term that can be applied to my research called “male attribute accommodation.” Accommodation is defined here as adaptation, settlement, or change to fulfill a need or want. In order to compete in a world that is dominated by the male race and male ideals, a woman must accommodate male traits and behaviors in order to become successful in the field. This term will be used throughout my analysis and will be applied to Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Iggy Azalea, particularly relating to my section on lyric analysis. It is important to note that I will be using the terms “rap” and “hip-hop” interchangeably throughout this analysis. The term “dissin’” is commonly used within research of rap, particularly lyric analysis, and refers to negative words and insults directed at other women, occasionally other women rappers.
Rap and Feminism
In order to appropriately analyze the role within feminism and rap that Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Iggy Azalea hold, it is important to first look at the existing relationship between the genre of rap and feminism. Females have always been the minority gender in rap and hip-hop; one researcher went so far as to claim that women have played absolutely no role in the development of the genre. “In the eyes of many, hip hop is a black (maybe Latino) male cultural form where women are merely interlopers” (Troka, 2002). This opinion is clearly echoed in the music world, although it does not mean that women have not been able to break in and create their own art. Throughout history, women have been not seen as equals on many levels, and black women have been particularly discriminated against. However, rap opens many doors for this group of society, and they have been utilizing the opportunity to break barriers in since it first appeared. “The distinctly black, physical and sexual pride that these women (and other black female rappers) exude serves as a rejection of the aesthetic hierarchy in American culture that marginalizes black women” (Rose, 1990). Black women were finally given a voice and were able to vocalize their experiences and opinions and spread them to the masses. Many chose to take advantage of this opportunity and voice support of women through their tracks. “Thus, women rappers and hip hoppers redefine and expand the discursive territory covered by feminism and womanism, not just for the consumers of Hip Hop and rap, but for everyone. Central to their ability to redefine and expand these discourses is their dual oppositionality” (Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, 2005). Dual oppositionality means that these women were able to provide two minority viewpoints in from one source, that of a woman and that of an African American, both of which have been vastly underrepresented in media and in particular, music. As rap continued to evolve and develop as a genre, women also altered the content of their songs and the way they were represented. Research argues that throughout this development, feminism has not been left behind and is still present in contemporary hip-hop. “Despite mainstream hip-hop’s increasingly commercial and misogynistic focus, and with fewer opportunities for women in popular hip-hop to create or sustain politically conscious music, there is nonetheless an intrinsic relationship between hip-hop and feminism” (Hobson and Bartlow, 2008). Thus, research states that feminism is now inherent within the female rap genre and has become a part of its foundation.
Early Feminist Messages
The first prominent female rappers conveyed many feminist concepts within their songs and stories. Through their depictions of their daily lives and experiences, they were able to share the views of black women and show support for women in general. This expression of support from strong women in the music industry was new and the feminist ideals were clear. In a study on early female rappers such as Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, and Eve, the incentives and goals behind their tracks was analyzed. “One purpose of women’s rap is to educate women and to motivate or inspire women to succeed in the face of problems they are likely to encounter in their lives. In rap, women speak to each other about various kinds of everyday occurrences as well as about recurring issues in the larger sociopolitical domain. In this realm, women support each other, critique each other, conscientize each other, challenge each other, and bear witness to each other” (Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, 2005). These artists pushed women to push themselves to reach their potential and succeed as individuals. They also had another goal, which was to show women that they do not have to settle with what they are given and to notice where and when they are being held back. “In these songs artists attempt to bring women to consciousness about their oppression as well as to provide direct messages of support to each other that counter the many disempowering messages women receive in the dominant discourse” (Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, 2005). The role of female rappers within the genre is imperative because of the negative messages that are being spread about the gender through the male rappers. Their voices must be heard so they are not objectified and disempowered, and the early female rappers did just this. Through songs about physical abuse, sexually transmitted disease, and women’s rights, they were able to spread the feminist messages that desperately needed to be publicized. They supported their fellow women and let men and the world at large know that the way they were currently being treated could no longer continue and change was necessary.
However, despite the strong feminist messages that are clearly prevalent in many early rap tracks, the artists did not wish to be defined as feminists. The Second Wave contained many diehard feminists who could be characterized as man-haters, voiced their opinions strongly, and overall earned themselves a negative association. Some research focused on the concept that feminism in itself has a bleak future, and this could cause women to veer away from association with the term. “Certainly, the realizations that come from a feminist consciousness can often be profoundly depressing, and young women’s ‘fear of feminism’ can be partially traced to their resistance of the anger, and sometimes hopelessness, that such realizations create” (Dow, 1996). One author interviewed several female rappers and asked them about their relationship and questioned their disassociation with the feminist movement. “During my conversations with Salt, MC Lyte, and Queen Latifah, it became clear that these women saw feminism as a signifier for a movement that related specifically to white women. They also thought feminism involved adopting an anti-male position, and they did not want to be considered or want their work to be interpreted as anti-black male” (Rose, 1990). Rather than speak negatively of men in general, their songs conveyed strong women and standing up to poor treatment. A label was not necessary to effectively spread the message, and the content of their songs speak for themselves. “While many of the artists who perform these songs do not claim the label ‘feminist’ for themselves, their lyrical messages nevertheless counteract and contradict masculine power assertion and serve to raise women’s consciousness about sexism” (Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, 2005). Despite the lack of formal title as feminists, the general positive messages that are present in the works of these early female rappers prevail.
Transition to Postfeminism
As time went on, society entered what has been titled a postfeminist era, where the sexes have supposedly reached equality and feminism is no longer necessary. This played a large role in rap, where men and women had not been viewed as equals through objectifying lyrics and the majority of males within the genre. “This is the ultimate rhetorical sleight of hand committed by postfeminist rhetoric, and it produces postfeminist thought’s most powerful framing device: Patriarchy is gone and has been replaced by choice” (Dow, 1996). The transition to postfeminism and the idea of choice brought great change to female rap especially regarding sexuality and the definition of power. One article analyzed Nicki Minaj and her role regarding postfeminism: “The women of color featured in the above representations clearly embody and enact postfeminism: they embrace femininity and the consumption of feminine goods; they espouse a vocabulary of independence, choice, empowerment, and sexual freedom; and they construct themselves (or are constructed by others) as heterosexual subjects” (Butler, 2013). Women had quickly moved theoretically from object to subject and had gained the ability to define themselves both as women and as artists now that the sexes were equal.
Power Through Lyrics
Research on female rappers frequently focused on their lyrics and the way they chose to represent themselves through language. They compose their personal narratives and morph it into an art form that is spread through the media. It is expected that lyrics would be a main source of research on the topic because this is the more direct message an artist can send to the public about their self-concept and identity. The vast majority of lyrics focus on the concepts of power through independence, sexuality, and financial wealth. One study looked at late 2000’s artists and examined their conceptualization of independence through lyric analysis. “Female rappers in the sample tend to measure independence by sexual freedom, money and the ability to get men to care for them…Furthermore, it appears that female rappers are more sexually explicit than their male counterparts, often bragging about their skills in bed” (Moody, 2011). Women took sexual liberation and went as far as they could go through language, often including explicit terms and objectifying men the same way they had been objectified for so long. Taking control of sexuality as well as independence are large parts of postfeminism, and they are clearly included throughout many tracks created by female artists in the early millennium. “They (female rappers) often discuss sex as the main tool for obtaining independence and present a power struggle in which women try to gain the upper hand…independence is used as a means to buy material goods and to control men” (Moody, 2011). Sex is viewed more as a commodity and a means to an end, as well as something that women have that men do not. Research questions the foundation of the drive behind this sexuality and why it is a source of power for women rappers. “Young women may indeed feel that they are taking control over their own definitions of female sexual expression through rejecting parental and other authoritative discourses around appropriate feminine behavior, yet the lyrical celebration of female sexuality within the music they consume may still be constructed through a male gaze” (Weekes, 2004). The power that a woman is able to gain through her sexuality is lost if she only receives it when it is approved by males that observe or experience it. Unfortunately, this is the case in many examples of female rappers. Women are still seeking approval of the patriarchy, thus leaving them exactly where they started: below men.
Several other articles examined the female use of typically derogatory words and idea that male rappers had been using to refer to women, such as “bitch” and the objectification of women, and the effect it had on the message that was presented. “Although female rap artists articulate a feminist approach in their narratives by employing empowering, autonomous, and independent lyrics, many of them also reappropriate the sexist and misogynist tropes that present women as hypersexual beings who are contained and controlled by, in this case, other women” (Oware, 2009). When used by women to describe themselves, these artists were taking the reins on the interpretations and attempting to create power through accepting the negative terms. Some research argued that this method was an effective way for women to redefine what it means to be a woman. “These women have taken these terms from other circulating discourses and inflected them into their own discourses with the meanings that they accept for themselves. Thus, they have taken preexisting categories and have redefined these according to their own intentions and understandings, in the same way that they have redefined what it means to be ‘ladylike’” (Haugen, 2003). The artists that Haugen is describing have recontextualized terms in an attempt to display verbal power where the spoken word holds such strong influence. However, this has created contradictory themes and concepts pervasive throughout the contemporary genre as a whole. Artists who showed empowerment and independence would also objectify themselves as sexual objects or would put down other women, also known as dissin’. “In the final assessment, these contradictory lyrics nullify the positive messages that are conveyed by female rap artists, consequently reproducing and upholding hegemonic, sexist notions of femininity, and serving to undermine and disempower women” (Oware, 2009). The negative concepts override the positive ones, and the presence of them supports the patriarchal ideals that already exist strongly in contemporary society.
Power and Impact Through Image in Music Videos
Since the debut of the music video, it has become an essential aspect of an artist’s musical career. This is extra important for female rappers because of the prominent audience that is viewing music videos. “A recent study suggests that music videos are a particularly potent form of social construction for women and minorities; according to this study, women and blacks watch more music videos than any other group of teenagers” (Roberts,1991). This means that their music videos will be seen by their exact target audience and will also be greatly impacted by what they see. Since media has only become more accessible since the study took place, it can be assumed that the target audience still has the ability to view the music videos female rappers produce. Although representation of artists is greatly controlled by their publicists, agents, managers, and directors in the case of music videos, the artist has been gaining a larger voice when it comes to their personal identity and representation through music video and in the public. “The director as well as the performer’s agent undoubtedly have hands in the final product, but poststructuralist theory licenses the discussion of the performer as an equal participant, another voice, rather than as a puppet of a director” (Roberts, 1991). Many female rappers write their own songs and have a strong say in how they are portrayed in the public eye, so it is safe to assume that they have approved of any music video that is released. Visual portrayal often includes sexuality, and this is one way that female rappers are able to gain power. Sexual freedom and choice to be sexual is often associated with the postfeminist movement and also with contemporary female rap. It is pervasive throughout society, and the choice to display oneself sexually was examined in a study completed on the Girls Gone Wild series. “’This is so degrading to females,’ said Leist. ‘I feel that if you walk up to someone all sly and say, ‘Come on, get naked, show me your box,’ that’s one thing. But if you have women coming up to you begging to get on camera and they’re having fun and being sexy, then that’s another story’” (Levy, 2005). It questions whether or not a woman is showing a lack of self-respect and degrading herself if she is willingly choosing to display her intimate body parts on camera with full free choice to do so. Both Girls Gone Wild and female rapper videos display large amounts of sexuality, much more than normally is seen in the media. “Sexuality is positioned as fairly deviant by the young women to an extent that it is not perceived as a practice which may be either healthy or pleasurable” (Weekes, 2002). These artists gain attention by portraying themselves as spectacles and by going above and beyond acceptable standards of sexuality. They also use it to to gain and control power. “Eroticism is not pleasure-based. It is ruthless and violent – a tool to manipulate men and exact revenge on them by any means necessary. Black female sexuality is fictively constructed as ‘bitchiness’ and commodified in the music industry as sexual service for money, power and respect” (Beatty, 2002). It’s well known throughout the music industry that sex sells, and these artists are taking full advantage of it. They use it for many different motives: gain of power, manipulation, or as stated in this study, revenge. It takes on a new side that is violent and vulgar, and does not create a positive image of female rappers, or black women in general, in society. One study examined the effect viewing African American female rappers’ music videos had on the stereotypes formed by white undergraduate students about African American women. “As predicted, exposure to sexually enticing rap alone…fostered perceptions of diminished positive traits and stronger negative traits for Black women but not for White women. Female Black rappers, then, who swell on sexual sensuality appear to do this at the expense of White audiences’ less favorable perception of uncounted young Black women” (Gan, Zillmann, and Mitrook, 1997). Their highly sexual image negatively impacts their race and gender combination as a whole, thus showing the influence that the media has on society as a whole. However, it would be ignorant to assume that all young girls will be so easily impacted by the sexual images portrayed by these artists and wish to emulate them. A study that interviewed young black women found that they were well aware of the stereotypes, as well as their role within society.
In my research, I looked into the musical careers of female rappers Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Iggy Azalea. I chose these three women because of their spread chronologically, contrast in physical representation, and prominence of their careers in the hip-hop world. Through an analysis of several of their songs and music video representations, I will demonstrate the conflict that arises in the rap music industry where the female struggle for power against both men and women. Each section will give a brief background of the artist’s music career to provide context. Lyric analysis will focus on verbalization of sexuality, attitude towards men, attitude towards other women, and a comparative analysis of their lyrics and male lyrics within one track. It is important to note that these songs may not accurately represent the entirety of these artists’ musical repertoires. The songs I selected to analyze are ones I felt best supported my argument. Songs that were analyzed are available to the public for purchase and consumption. Lyrics were read and coded based on their overarching theme in relation to the foci of my lyric analysis. If lyrics could not be deciphered solely through auditory means, the Internet was consulted. Music videos were viewed using Youtube and were personally analyzed. Not every music video ever produced by the artist was included in analysis, and videos were selected according to relevance to the argument at hand. To best comprehend the argument presented I suggest viewing the videos and listening to the songs that are discussed.
A New Bad Bitch In Town: Born in Brooklyn, Lil’ Kim lived on the streets for part of her teens after being forced to leave her home. Lil’ Kim was close with The Notorious B.I.G. and this relationship is mainly responsible for her breakthrough into the rap genre, seeing as they performed with the group Junior M.A.F.I.A. She has three platinum albums and her first album Hard Core debuted in 1996 at number 11 on the Billboard 200, which was the highest placement for a female rap artist up until that point in time (Lil’ Kim’s professional website). Lil’ Kim represents the new wave of female rapper that took a “gangsta” turn and transformed the role of women within the rap genre into a sexual and explicit identity.
Lyric Analysis. Lil’ Kim’s rap style is defined by showing power through explicit sexuality and vulgarity that had not been attempted by a female artist before. Female rap had already been defined as a hypersexual genre, but Kim go to the level of describing sexual intercourse as well as other sexual activities in extensive detail. She puts a strong emphasis on the reception of cunnilingus in particular. Furthermore, she promotes the idea that women can receive sexual pleasure and not have to reciprocate. This is a common concept in male rappers’ lyrics regarding their reception of pleasure and is a strong theme within Kim’s music, as demonstrated in her song “Suck My Dick” off the album The Notorious K.I.M. “Niggas ain’t shit but they still can trick/All they can do for me is suck my clit/I’m jumpin’ the fuck up after I cum/Thinkin’ they gon’ get some pussy but they gets none” (Jones, 2000, track 4). This creates a parallel and is meant to be a parody to Dr. Dre’s track “Bitches Ain’t Shit” off of his album The Chronic, which refers to woman giving a man fellatio and then leaving immediately after he reaches orgasm, receiving no reciprocation. Kim states that men are good for nothing except sexual pleasure, and successfully objectifies them the same way women have been objectified in rap since it first emerged on the music scene.
Male attribute accommodation is apparent in all aspects of Lil’ Kim’s lyrics. She reappropriates the word “bitch,” especially by giving herself the title “Queen Bitch.” This is stating that not only is she accepting all the traits that come along with being labeled a bitch, but that she defines it better than anyone else. Kim recognizes that she is attempting to take on these male roles, and also discusses the male’s reaction to her actions and her words as shown through the song “Suck My Dick,” which was mentioned earlier. “What? I’m loving this shit/Queen Bitch!/What bitch you know can thug it like this?/Imagine if I was dude and hittin’ cats from the back/With no strings attached/Yeah nigga, picture that!/I treat y’all niggas like y’all treat us/No Doubt!” (Jones, 2000, track 4). This similar usage of language in lyrics and presentation in song openly comments on the fact that there are unequal expectations of women compared to men when it comes to sexuality and sexual expression, and states that she is going to push the limits. Furthermore, Kim states that it is a man’s job to satisfy a woman, as opposed to a woman’s job to pleasure a man, as seen in “We Don’t Need It” off of Hard Core. “I wanna wake him up to do his duty/Nigga use that tongue, click the booty, click the booty/You wanna steal the pussy like a thief/Now kiss the lips without the teeth/So I could bust a nut or two come clean like Jeru/Goodnight to you too boo” (Jones, 1996, track 10). She refers to it as his “duty” to pleasure her, and if she wants to wake him in the middle of the night then she has the power to do so and then go to sleep after, once again emphasizing the lack of need for reciprocation.
Finally, Kim participates in the act of dissin’ other women, specifically female rappers who are attempting to compete against her. This can be observed in her track “Can’t Fuck With Queen Bee” on La Belle Mafia, which was released in 2003. She warns that her competitors have no chance against her because of her skill as a rapper. “I’m a chameleon, I got many styles of rhymes/Like a bottle of fine wine I just get better with time/From ‘Hard Core’ to ‘Notorious’ you studied my flow/And still…/You can’t fuck with Queen Bee” (Jones, 2003, track 3). Kim states that other female rappers have idolized her and dedicated themselves to studying her art, only to fail and not be able to match her skill because she is always evolving and become a better artist. She finds pride in being successful in rap, and is more than willing to put down anyone that attempts to compete with her.
Video Analysis and Power Through Sexuality and Wealth. Lil’ Kim not only speaks about sexuality, but she also displays herself in a very sexual manner. Her visual representations of songs convey same explicit message as the lyrics do. One example of this is her video for the track titled “How Many Licks” that contains many sexual concepts such as masturbation to the image of Kim, cunnilingus, and sexual intercourse. These are included in the video with a clip involving a man masturbating while in jail during the verse Kim has devoted to incarcerated men, and they are masturbating specifically to the concept of participating in cunnilingus with Kim. She includes sexual gestures towards her genitalia that coincide with the mention of it in the lyrics. Throughout the video she is wearing clothing that is very revealing, and at one point she is wearing no article of clothing on her top and has stickers covering her nipples. This sexuality is presented as her seeking her own sexual pleasure, and she wants men to find this sexually stimulating. It could be argued that Kim is removing herself from objectification because she is presenting herself in a form of personal sexual pleasure. However, this cannot be determined as a positive step for women in rap because, as shown in research completed by Gan, Zillmann, and Mitrook (1997), these sexual images create negative connotations for African American women as a whole in society.
Although sexuality is a large part of Lil’ Kim’s identity, she also values money and her power through wealth. This can be shown visually through her music video for the track “No Time.” The song focuses on the idea that Kim is a successful and wealthy artist and her verses share her value of money and expensive goods. She is pictured wearing a fur coat for the majority of the video and when it is removed she wearing shorts and a tank top that is not revealing. This displays the emphasis that is placed on the money that she has made through her music skill rather than her sexuality. When she is pictured with P. Diddy they are on the same level or Kim may even be superior, as symbolized through Kim’s higher positioning on an escalator. She’s constantly rising to the top and cannot be pushed down even if she has a slight fall. This video is a positive representation of a female rapper’s success that does not focus on sexuality, which is seen in the vast majority of visual representations.
From Trinidad to Top of the Charts. One of the next big female solo rap artists to enter the charts was Nicki Minaj. Originally from Trinidad with a mixed background, she first entered the music scene in 2007 with the release of her mixtape Playtime is Over. With her first studio album, Pink Friday, Minaj had officially entered the scene and brought back female rappers into the top of the popular music charts. All of her full-length EP albums have reached number one on the charts and she is the only female solo artist to have seven singles on the Billboard Top 200 chart at once. Through the building of her career, she has garnered enough influence to judge on the television show American Idol, which looks to recognize talent and give advice on how to succeed in the current music industry. She is famous for her multiple alter egos that she uses throughout her songs that have different voices, demeanors, and looks. There is Barbie, a hyperfeminine character who has pink hair and a high voice, Roman Zolanski, a gay man inside of her that comes out when she is angry, and several other personas that emerge at different times.
Lyric Analysis. As already discussed, sexuality is a prominent theme within female rap and Nicki Minaj is no exception. However, she is not nearly as explicit as the previously examined Lil’ Kim who used excessive vulgarity to display her power. Minaj’s song “Blow Ya Mind” off of her album Pink Friday discusses her body and the attention it gets her. “She said her name was Nicki, she came to play and her body was sick, yeah/She kill when she walks, so sexy when she talk/Aw, you know she gonna blow ya mind/…Boy, I put this pussy on your chinny, chin, chin hair” (Maraj, 2010, track 15). Within her own music, Minaj does not put an emphasis on power through sexuality, and in this case she doesn’t mention it as a selfish act purely for pleasure, but rather a description of her sexual interaction with a man. In another track titled “Whip It” on Pink Friday…Roman Reloaded, Minaj describes sex in a metaphorical way rather than explicitly. “Hey, you, jump in this ride/It’s real nice, and slippery inside/Rise, guy, come get this pie/Ri ri ri ride it in style” (Maraj, 2011, track 12). She uses the metaphor of comparing her genitals to a car rather than forwardly telling the man she wants to have sexual intercourse with him. This manipulation of language shows a different kind of power than the explicit terms utilized by other female rappers and still successfully conveys the message, arguably even in a more respectable manner that doesn’t go directly against social norms and comfort levels.
When it comes to men, Minaj objectifies them and gives wealth and physical attractiveness as the sole reasons she has interest in a man as shown in her hit “Superbass” on Pink Friday. “And he ill, he real, he might got a deal/He pop bottles and he got the right kind of build/He cold, he dope, he might sell coke/He always in the air, but he never fly coach/He a motherfucking trip, trip, sailor of the ship, ship/When he make it drip, drip kiss him on the lip, lip/That’s the kind of dude I was lookin’ for/And yes you’ll get slapped if you’re lookin’ hoe” (Maraj, 2010, track 14). If a man is able to sexually entice a woman, has money to spend, and will not look at other women for the fear of being physically attacked, he is the man for Nicki Minaj. This conflicts with her strong feeling of independence through her own ability to earn material wealth. As Moody (2011) observed in an analysis of lyrics of female rappers, independence has been defined as sexual freedom, money, and the ability to get men to take care of them. However, this creates the question whether it is true independence when dependence is part of the definition.
Nicki Minaj utilizes a lot of male attribute accommodation in order to display power over others. She frequently uses the word “dick,” such as Lil’ Kim did, to convey her power and shown in the track “Did It On ‘Em” from Pink Friday. “All these bitches is my sons/And I’m a go and get some bibs for ’em/A couple formulas, little pretty lids on ’em/If I had a dick I would pull it out and piss on ’em/Let me shake it off” (Maraj, 2010, track 3). She refers to the other women as bitches, and then states that although she doesn’t have the physical feature, she wishes she could degrade them through the act of urination. This excerpt from the song that is a strong example of Nicki showing power over other women could be taken directly out of a song written by a male rap artist. Another example of male attribute accommodation is seen in the track “I Am Your Leader” on Pink Friday…Roman Reloaded. “I hate a phony bitch that front that chunk chummy/I’m me top shotta’ drop the top toppa’/Big fat pussy with a icy watch/…I am your leader, yes I am your leader/You’re not a believer, suck a big dick” (Maraj, 2011, track 3). Minaj objectifies herself to the highest degree by using synecdoche to represent herself as female genitalia that is wearing an expensive watch to show power through wealth. Her sexuality and her wealth are what helped her get to the top, rather than her skill. She states that she is the leader, and that if someone dares to question her authority, they can do the typically feminine act of participating in fellatio. Minaj further promotes the support of masculine ideals through utilizing typically male narratives in her lyrics. “Stupid Hoe” off of Pink Friday…Roman Reloaded is a direct shot at women but with a different twist than other forms of dissin’. The hook of the song is extremely repetitive, with Minaj telling someone that she is a stupid hoe over and over. Although the verses are still complex and involve a lot of wordplay, the simplicity of the hook makes the song more of a taunt rather than a vicious insult, which feminizes the act of dissin’.
In addition to her own albums, Minaj has provided guest verses for several male rappers’ tracks. Although both verses would be within the same song, often they would not have relating themes and would support stereotypical concepts that had been formed about female rappers. Drake’s album Take Care had a track titled “Make Me Proud” that featured a verse by Nicki Minaj. The first verse’s narrative is focused on what Drake is looking for in a woman, which along with an education is a fit body who looks good no matter the situation, and who doesn’t have to be sexual if they don’t want to. Nicki’s verse comes next: “B-b-b-bet I am/All of them bitches I’m better than/Mansions in Malibu babbling/But I never mention everything I dabble in/And I always ride slow when I’m straddlin’/And my shit’s so wet you gotta paddle in/Gotta ro-ro-row, gotta row ya boat” (Graham, 2011, track 5). Beginning with dissin’, moving into power through material wealth, and then sexuality, this seven line excerpt displays the main tactics female rappers use to gain power. However, none of these are validated by Drake and he actually didn’t mention any of these as actions or traits that would “make him proud” of a woman. Because we exist in a patriarchal society and these two value sets contradict each other, Minaj is unable to successfully gain and control power and instead makes herself seem less desirable to the general male population.
Minaj and Sexuality Through Music Videos. Sexuality is pervasive throughout Nicki Minaj’s music video history. The video for “Starships,” a song that contains little to no sexuality within the lyrics, has a visual counterpart that focuses almost entirely on her body. The first image of Nicki is her walking out of the ocean and then dancing around and rapping in the waves in a revealing bikini. She continues to lie down on the sand and make provocative eye contact with the camera, contorting her body in ways that accentuate her breasts and backside. When Minaj is no longer on the beach and instead is placed on top of a hill, she is still wearing shorts that could pass as underwear and a cropped top. Other videos also focus on Minaj’s sexuality in order to promote her as an artist. “Stupid Hoe,” which was analyzed previously as an example of dissin’ other female artists to show power, instead focuses on sexuality as a source of power. There are several sequences where a naked female body that is assumed to be Minaj’s is flashing opposite Nicki clad in her pink wig personifying her Barbie ego. This unnecessary sexuality displays the need that Minaj feels is necessary to successfully portray herself and her messages even if it is not related. There is a large segment of the video where Minaj is in a cage in animal print as her alter ego Roman. The cage could be used to represent her wildness and the need to hold her back as to protect the general public, but because of the sexual nature it relates stronger to the unruly woman being confined and limited regarding expression of sexuality as a source of power. Minaj is being held back by the patriarchy and is unable to gain any power through her sexuality. Any lack of sexuality that she had in her lyrics is rendered moot through her objectified image.
From Aussie to Miami. Iggy Azalea’s first bold step towards starting her career was the choice to move from her home in Australia to the city of Miami, Florida in the United States. After meeting someone from Interscope records, she moved to Los Angeles and released her first complete mixtape in September of 2011 titled Ignorant Art. T.I.’s Grand Hustel Records produced Azalea’s debut EP Glory in July of 2012. She signed with the Island Def Jam record company in 2013 and continues to be a part of this company until present day. Azalea released her second full-length EP titled The New Classic in 2014, which debuted at the number 3 spot on the Billboard Top 200, selling 52,000 copies in its first week (Tardio, 2014). Iggy Azalea is clearly an artist to watch and will most likely be playing a large role in the public representation of the female rapper for the foreseeable future.
Lyric Analysis. Iggy Azalea’s lyrics, like the previously analyzed female artists, contain sexuality in order to gain and maintain power and influence over the male gender. As seen in the previous artists’ lyrics and in male lyrics throughout the history of rap, sexuality plays a large role that Azalea includes in many of her released tracks. One song titled “Pu$$y” focuses entirely on the oral stimulation of the female genitalia. The song begins with a spoken excerpt that involves a woman speaking to a man in a public chastising him for not desiring sexual activity with her, particularly utilizing the term “pussy.” The man shows obvious discomfort with the word and attempts to manage his embarrassment by making a comment about trying to find a cat so that others might think they are discussing a feline rather than female genitals. This is symbolic of the public’s discomfort with explicit language, and also clearly demonstrates part of the aspect of female rap that pushes social boundaries to gain power. The verses then discuss the act of cunnilingus: “Iggy Iggy pussy illy/Wetter than the Amazon/Taste this kitty/…So much wet will have yo ass sinking/Treat that tongue like a bullet/Give me head, Abe Lincoln/This is so out this world/But no you not dreamin’” (Kelly, 2011, track 4). The final two lines show that Azalea not only finds immense pleasure in the act, but that the man should be amazed that they get the chance to perform it in the first place to a woman like Azalea. This is a concept that is apparent in male rap lyrics and is an example of Iggy displaying male attribution accommodation. She turns to sexually explicit language and the concept of selfish sexual pleasure to display power over men.
Aggressive language towards other females in general is apparent in Azalea’s work. Her track titled “Hello” is the first musical track on Ignorant Art and acts as an introduction of herself to the world. She starts the song off through bragging about her money and wealth, but then moves into dissin’ the women present through calling them bitches and showing them who is in charge. “Fuck you bitches,/You ugly bitches,/You stupid bitches,/You dummy bitches,/You dusty bitches/Don’t touch me bitches whoa./Whoa whoa whoa./No no no no no/You’re not on my level,/You’re not even close” (Kelly, 2011). She has social status above these women, and states that they are physically dirty and cannot touch her because of their filth. This insulting and particularly the use of the word “bitch” is present throughout her musical releases. The repeated chorus solidifies the concept that she has power over the other women in the room simply through her presence when she walks into a room. “I can make you go,/I can make you move,/I can make you do what the fuck I want you to do./I walk in they like hello hello hello” (Kelly, 2011, track 2). She controls their actions and has the ability to manipulate their every move through her status even when she has not formed any kind of influential relationship with the individuals.
Azalea’s view on love and men is polarized and either is very supportive of a monogamous and devoted relationship or against the concept of love in general and shows independence. Her track titled “You” on Ignorant Art states her desire for someone who wishes to be a part of a committed relationship and will care for her.
“Searchin’ for a dude that can call me wifey/Ready for the ring, just maybe I might be/Never been a smut, I don’t care who like me/I can count on one hand all the dudes that’s piped me” (Kelly, 2011, track 5). She states that she is not a woman who has slept with many men, and in fact has had sexual intercourse with less than five men. Her language is not particularly aggressive towards men throughout her music, and rather there are several tracks devoted to the desire of love and a respectable man. However, within her track “Fuck Love,” we see a different side of Iggy that devalues the concept of love and instead places all source of affection in material goods, which was previously displayed in Lil’ Kim’s lyrics. “Fuck love, give me diamonds/I’m already in love with myself/So in love with myself/I’m already in love with myself/Fuck love, give me diamonds/…You can’t break my heart/You can’t take my pride/Oh no, that love shit, I won’t do it” (Kelly, 2014, track 12). She doesn’t need a man’s love because she can provide herself with all the love she could possibly need. Love is a sign of weakness and as she states, gives men the power to control a woman emotionally and relinquishes power from the woman. This song is Azalea saying that she is powerful on her own through material wealth and that men have no value to her emotionally.
Although Azalea does include several songs in her musical repertoire that convey her desire for a relationship and for love, this is contradicted through male lyrics that are included in the song. “You” says that Azalea wants a man to be her husband and share a deep emotional connection that is based in feelings rather than sexuality, but the verse by YG goes against this idea entirely. “Hey how you doin babygirl it’s nice to meet ya/Got me wanna freak ya, just by ya features/Hopin this conversation leads to a situation/And that situation leads to sensation” (Kelly, 2011, track 5). YG is entirely focused on sexual interaction instead of looking for a deep emotional connection. He’s hoping that they’ll talk not so that they can get to know each other, but so they can pleasure each other.
“Pu$$y” vs “Work”: The Visual Iggy. I have analyzed two videos of Iggy Azalea’s that represent two opposite messages lyric-wise, but contain similar concepts visually. There is no doubt that Azalea represents herself as a sexual figure through her music videos, clad in small tops and tight bottoms. “Pu$$y” is explicit, focusing on the act of cunnilingus and one-way sexual pleasure, while “Work” recounts Azalea’s experience moving up in the rap scene and the large amounts of effort that was involved in order to reach where she is today.
The “Pu$$y” music video contains large amounts of sexual imagery and matches the explicit lyric content through visual means. It’s very important to note that this video was made and released by Azalea herself, so she is being represented exactly how she wants to. She is not necessarily scantily dressed, but camera-framing focuses on her legs and backside, showing her sexually associated body parts more than others. Popsicles are used as sexual imagery and Azalea as well as her associates are seen simulating fellatio on the frozen treats in the video. These sexual images contradict the message that is contained in the song that states that Azalea desires selfish sexual pleasure, but instead focuses on imagery associated with male pleasure instead. This demonstrates the focus on male sexuality that remains dominant within the music industry, and was most likely included in the music video because Azalea was attempting to gain attention and popularity and knew this was already a successful method for other artists.
“Work” also shows Azalea in a sexual light, once again foregoing lyric message and going for hypersexuality in order to garner attention. At the beginning of the video we see Azalea walking down a dusty road in the middle of the desert dressed in expensive heels, very short shorts, and a top that resembles a bra. Her outfits throughout the rest of the video are revealing, causing the viewer’s focus to be drawn primarily to her backside. One section of the video shows Azalea sexually dance for a man in a chair, eventually using her distracting sexuality to take his keys and steal his car. This strongly correlates with the familiar concept in female rap that women are able to manipulate through their sexuality. However, there is a full minute of Azalea sexually objectifying herself for a man before she actually gets anything from him, which she has to take without his knowledge. This does not display female power, but rather leaves the control with the man who owns the car in the first place. Overall, rather than effectively display Azalea’s massive amounts of effort to succeed in the music industry, the video puts an emphasis on her sexuality and devalues any true work she is speaking about in the lyrics. For both this video and the video for “Pu$$y,” Azalea is accompanied by African American women and this causes her to remain close to the foundation of rap that has been built within this race. She is the first Caucasian female rapper to experience widespread success, but it is apparent that she is creating her image and identity within the black roots of hip-hop.
Rap has come a long way since the first female rappers emerged on the scene. Starting with a strong and supportive movement, it then changed as the feminist movements changed. After delving into the lyrics and videos of Lil’ Kim, I have determined that she most strongly coincides with the postfeminist movement, which includes the equality of the sexes. Although she did it through explicit sexuality and bragging, she did successfully create and control power and represent it through her image as well as lyrics. As time went on, Nicki Minaj was the next female rapper to experience success on the Billboard charts. Although it has been speculated that Minaj represents the postfeminist movement through her independence, choice, empowerment, and sexual freedom, I believe that she is rather attempting to convey third wave feminism. She focuses on breaking the gender binary with her alter egos, specifically Roman, supports individuality, and “girl power,” as mentioned in an interview with The View (12TT21, 2012). Finally, Iggy Azalea is the big female rapper star of today and is the first white female rapper to reach the top of the charts. As a white woman, she potentially could identify with the feminist movement and support the positive representation of women, but instead sticks with postfeminist ideals that assumes equality between the sexes, promotes sexual freedom, and pushes the limits regarding the explicit use of language.
Based on the analysis that has been completed, I have concluded that women are unable to be presented as equals in contemporary rap while still maintaining the current definition of femininity. Rappers such as Lil’ Kim pushed the limits on this concept, and were able to gain respect and some levels of equality of men, but was forced to accommodate her lyric content to themes and methods typically used by male rappers. Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea are unable to provide a positive representation in the world of rap because although they promote independence and individuality, they still succumb to the expectations and ideologies associated with the patriarchy.
Limitations in my research involved the number of rappers as well as the number of songs analyzed. There are a large number of female rappers that have achieved success in the music industry and I chose to look at only three of them. Furthermore, I only included a handful of songs by each artist in my analysis and chose the ones I felt best represented the artist and also supported my argument.
Further research could examine other female rappers that have either recently entered or are veterans in the rap scene. The examples and artists that I selected were chosen because they applied to my argument, but there are many others that could possibly support or contradict my analysis. Every artist has her own persona and musical identity, and this is important to recognize. There are also male rappers who support feminism and an analysis of them could also add to this topic of research. As mentioned previously, it would be false to state that all male rappers are anti-women and objectify women in their lyrics. One rapper who goes by MC Lars has a song on his Frosty the Flowman LP titled “Male Feminist” that includes lyrics such as: “I hear a lot of you rappers denigrating women on your tracks/Why you doing that?/That’s not progressive, come on, women are people not objects/Let me explain/Yo, I’m a male feminist; doesn’t mean I’m soft/Gender equality really gets me off” (Nielsen, 2011, track 10). Although MC Lars is not a big name in rap, it still is important that these lyrics were and that male feminists exist within the genre. Not only does he display a strong positive attitude about women, but he also encourages other male rappers to do the same.