We’ve made it to the last brackets of round 1! These polls include the most recent of femcees to compete, only making their mark in the music world within the past 7 years. I will admit that I am a pretty big fan of a handful of these ladies, but I’ll try not to let my bias slip into view too much. Also, the brackets below have been adjusted to include the veteran winners of round one, so check out the updated page, and get to voting!
(1) Iggy Azalea vs. (16) Little Simz
Aside from being one of the most criticized rappers of late, Iggy Azaelia managed to nab the #1 seed here because she’s also the most acclaimed. I don’t want to underestimate the Florida-based Aussie, and I will fully admit that “Fancy” is one of my fave videos, but I also admit that I am very excited that your vote-in choice, Little Simz, might have a real shot here. Straight outta London, Simbi is a soft-voiced poet with impeccable flow. She has yet to blow up in North America, but I have a feeling her current tour is going to help boost her status. She recently did a Tiny Desk Concert (my favourite office furniture related series).
(9) Sasha Go Hard vs. (8) NoName
Two very different Chicago Femcees get to face off here. Sasha Go Hard is one of a very few female rappers associated with a south-side style of trap known as drill music. As a drill artist, Sasha is an aggressive rapper addressing the violence in her city with graphic imagery that doesn’t sugarcoat. Meanwhile, Noname has been combining her rap with jazz and R&B and gospel to reflect on her city and country. She hasn’t made music videos as far as I can tell, but she’s gained popularity as a longtime collaborator of Chance the Rapper, before releasing her debut LP, Telefone, last summer.
(5) Azealia Banks vs. (12) Nyemiah Supreme
Even their pictures make me feel like this match-up is extra appropriate! Unfortunately Azealia Banks‘ reputation for online rants and beefs threatens to overshadow her talent as a rapper, but whether it’s in a song or on twitter, the girl commits to her ideas and energy, no matter how outlandish. Nyemiah Supreme is quick to self-identify as the most underrated female, but I will let you decide that. She brings a fun energy and attitude, looking like she’s down to party long after she’s finished performing.
(13) Lizzo vs. (4) Young M.A.
Well yeah, if it wasn’t real before now… both of these fresh femcees have been blowing up more recently, although they’ve been hard at work for years. Lizzo has been the front-woman of a handful of collaborative indie projects like Grrrl Prty, The Chalice, and Ellypseas, before releasing her first solo record in 2013, Lizzobangers. I love her because of her energy, body positivity, fantastic sense of humour and optimistic outlook. Young M.A. took the world by storm with her extra-viral “OOOUUU,” which has been referenced, covered, and remixed more than I can keep track of. She is a proud Brooklyn butch lesbian who does not hesitate to rhyme about her two greatest loves – hennessey and women. I love her because she is unapologetically her badass self. I don’t even know how I WANT this to go.
(3) Tink vs. (14) Sammus
Tink builds narratives using rap and vocals as interchangeably as Lauryn Hill. She’s been steadily giving us mixtapes, including her Winter’s Diary series, and is expected to release her first LP by the end of this month. Another master storyteller, Sammus weaves her PhD level vocabulary with a wide range of pop culture references to make nearly everyone feel included at some point. I have no idea what to do here, folks. Good luck.
(11) Gifted Gab vs. (6) DeJ Loaf
Along with her crew from Moor Gang, Gifted Gab is keeping the Seattle hip-hop scene alive and well, with her Queen-Latifah-inspired flow over remarkably simple and catchy beats that draw even more attention to her clever lyrics. Detroit’s DeJ Loaf has a particularly chill, melodic delivery, treading the fine line between rap and r&b. She’s been steadily growing with recognition since making XXL’s 2015 Freshmen Class – the same year as Tink.
(7) Angel Haze vs. (10) Lee Mazin
Angel Haze can rap at a rapid-fire pace while processing deep personal content. Hmmm, actually that is a phrase I could use for Lee Mazin too. Come to think of it, these two rappers remind me a lot of each other. My love of Angel Haze began when they came out as queer and remade Macklemore’s “Same Love,”and has only strengthened with every release. I guess Philly-based Lee Mazin is mostly known for her spot on Sisterhood of Hip Hop, but her freestyles are exceptional.
(15) Princess Nokia vs. (2) Rapsody
Princess Nokia is the rapping alter-ego of Wavy Spice aka Destiny Frasqueri, as well as her collaborative project with OWWWLS. Their two mixtapes are eclectic without losing focus, drawing on numerous styles and cultures of influence, with an attempt to reach across difference and musically represent humanity as a whole. No bigs. You may have heard of Rapsody since she showed up on Kendrick Lamar’s epic rap opus, To Pimp A Butterfly, but she has been releasing her smooth wordplay as a solo artist since 2010. In her words, she’s “still that rapper that your favourite rapper is scared to rap after.” So good thing she’s up last on these brackets.
These polls are going to close fast, so get your voting done before the end next weekend and then watch out for the second round!
It’s time to vote for the younger, upcoming femcees. Most of these women have been producing music for the past decade, proving themselves as the next era of hip hop women. I’m finding many of these early match ups much more difficult than those of the veterans. Let’s see who you love the most in this quadrant.
(1) Nicki Minaj vs. (16) Amil
Somehow I don’t think Nicki Minaj needs much of an introduction. Whether you hate her or love her, you most certainly heard some of her many commercially successful verses, especially considering she has the most Billboard Hot 100 entries of any female MC. This is partially due to her versatility; you’ll find Nicki making mainstream pop, gangsta rap and EDM club bangers. Amil launched soon after going on tour with Jay-Z in 1999, collaborating with HOV himself and a handful of other ROC Nation affiliates, and then in 2000 releasing her first LP, All Money Is Legal.
Remember, you’re voting for Amil and not Beyoncé. 😉
(9) Ms. Jade vs. (8) Jacki-O
We are still waiting on Philadelphia’s Ms. Jade to release a follow-up to her 2002 LP, Girl Interrupted, but she has made a partial comeback via mixtapes, proving her ability to stay current. Although she has been doing her own thing, the beginning of her career is tightly linked with her collaboration with Timbaland and Missy’s crew. Jacki-O is from Miami, and is all about sexuality and confrontation. Her flow is in your face with a laid back vibe, while often taking lyrical shots at other femcees. Jacki-O stayed busy from 2002-2011 before retiring from hip hop for religious reasons.
You can skip ahead to Ms. Jade’s verse at about 1:40
(5) MIA vs. (12) Khia
MIA is not only aTamil-British rapper, but also an experimental punkish/electronic/hip hop artist who also happens to design her own album art. Her music and videos, marked with deep political interest and engagement, break every stereotype and rule of musical genre and sound like absolutely no one else. Khia spent her early years in Philadelphia, but since moving to Tampa she has been considered a legend of Southern rap, mostly due to her super-sexual chart topper, “My Neck, My Back.” You can check out either femcee’s NSFW tracks in the links above, while the songs below are a bit less controversial.
(13) Dessa vs. (4) Rah Digga
This might be one of the hardest match-ups this post. Rapper/poet/singer Dessa has been busy doing all three since 2005 when she joined the Minneapolis-based indie hip hop collective Doomtree. Since 2010 she’s been putting out solo records as well, and is gaining a whole new audience with her appearance on The Hamilton Mixtape’s song “Congratulations.” Also she has a Tiny Desk Concert that’s great. Although Rah Digga joined Busta Rhymes’ Flip Mode Squad in 1998, and had done some recognizable features before the new millenium, it wasn’t until 2000, when she released her first solo record, Dirty Harriet, that her name rose to fame. She comes off tough without looking like she’s trying, making her one of the most talented and influential femcees of the decade.
Dessa’s verse is just after the 1:20 mark.
(3) Remy Ma vs. (14) Lady Luck
Brooklyn’s own Remy Ma is a protege of Big Pun and continues to work with Fat Joe and other Terror Squad members. Her only solo album from 2006, There’s Something About Remy, was widely successful, but her 8-year stint in prison delayed her still-anticipated follow up. Since being released a couple years ago, she’s been nominated for a Grammy and made hip hop news for diving into a harsh feud with Nicki Minaj – one of the most fun in a long time. Hopefully that anger is fuel for an album. Lady Luck is a battle queen, known for her set up and punchlines as she disses her opponent. She has a way of making everything she says rhyme with her smooth flow on her mixtapes. More recently, she’s been working on her own production company, co-owned with her girlfriend. Not every match allows us to watch the two femcees go head to head, but Remy and Lady have a history of battles you can watch here and here.
(11) Snow The Product vs. (6) Diamond (&Princess)
Your Vote-In pick, Snow Tha Product, was tied with Lady LeShurr for the first week of voting until she surged ahead to take 56% of the votes. This young Mexican is building her reputation on her social consiousness and Latina perspective, as well as her quick-paced rhyming skills. I had a difficult time deciding whether to have Diamond with or without her early partner in crime, and as you can see, I left that decision to you. The two femcees were as connected as Salt-n-Pepa during their time with Atlanta-based Crime Mob, but since 2007 Diamond has made a name for herself as a solo rapper. Some call her the Queen of Trap, and she continues to release mixtapes, most recently in 2016.
(7) RaSheeda vs. (10) Sa-Roc
RaSheeda has been releasing albums fairly consistently since 2001, with her recognizable vocal lilt and tone often paired with bold, bass-heavy beats. She’s stayed in the spotlight with both her appearances on Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta, and her hip hop duo with Kandi Burruss, Peach Candy. Representing a whole different side of Atlanta, Sa-Roc is known for her spiritual and philosophical consciousness. Her name gives homage to Mother of the Mic, MC Sha-Rock, who just missed being on this list not because of lack of influence, but due to lack of video recordings. In her own words, Sa-Roc’s voice is “honey coated, with a lil bit of gravel in it.”
(15) Lil Mama vs. (2) Trina
You may remember Lil Mama from her 2008 single “Lip Gloss,” released from her debut album, VYP (Voice of the Young People) when Mama was only 19 years old. The song has probably haunted her ever since, but it didn’t stop her from playing Lisa Lopes in the TLC Biopic in 2013, and finally putting out a solid, reference-filled (and more mature) mixtape in 2015. She goes up against Miami queen Trina. Since getting her start with rapper Trick Daddy, all 5 of her studio LPs have had commercial and critical success, causing XXL to name her “the most consistent female rapper of all time.” She carries herself like a true diva, dressed in confidence and sexuality, demanding attention with any feature verse she offers.
Check back this weekend with the final quadrant of round one! Peace,
Welcome to the beginning of the first round of Femcee Madness! The Vote-In polls are closed and the brackets have been updated accordingly – congratulations to Snow Tha Product and Little Simz for joining the west side of our brackets! If you haven’t yet printed your own copy and made your predictions, do it now and send your final four picks to @danice.carlson on twitter!
Now we’ll take a brief break from the newer artists and take a look at some of the veterans who helped shape the genre of rap music. Our focus here will be the NE quadrant of the brackets, with those who represent the boroughs of New York City. Let’s get started!
(1) Salt-N-Pepa vs. (16) Sister Souljah
I doubt Salt-N-Pepa need much of an introduction. It should be no surprise that they took a top seed spot as one of the first all-female hip hop groups (formed in Queens in 1985) to pioneer the genre. With DJ Spinderella dropping beats, Cheryl James (Salt) and Sandra Denton (Pepa) were such a solid team I could not think of splitting them up as separate entries here. Not only are they sick rappers, but they can start a party while talking about important issues like double standards and safe sex. Sister Souljah is a lot more recognizable now as an author and activist, but her career began with recording, first as a featured guest of Public Enemy, working separately with both Chuck D and DJ Terminator X, and then in 1992 with her only LP to date, 360 Degrees of Power.
(9) Bahamadia vs. (8) Ladybug Mecca
You may have noticed that Bahamadia is the only non-New-Yorker in this bracket, and you would be absolutely right about that. Somewhere in the hours I spent shuffling rappers from category to category, I made a mistake. Instead of completely refiguring the brackets we have, we’re gonna allow this independent Philly artist compete here, since in the end the categories are pretty arbitrary. At least she goes up against Ladybug Mecca, who is technically from Maryland but has come to represent Brooklyn as one third of hip hop group The Digable Planets. These two femcees have more in common: both got some hype in the 90s but couldn’t quite break out past their first releases. Both are recognized by hip hop heads but are ultimately viciously underrated.
For Ladybug’s verse, skip to about 1:40.
(5) Lady of Rage vs. (12) Angie Martinez
Lady of Rage made a name for herself through both her hairstyle and her delivery of hard rhymes. Before releasing her first solo LP, Necessary Roughness with Death Row Records in 1997, she appeared on some of the label’s most popular albums, such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and Snoop’s Doggystyle. She moved on to acting, but not before making her stamp on West Coast hip hop. Angie Martinez began her career as a rapper alongside other NYC giants like KRS-One and Lil Kim, and soared into the spotlight with her opening verse feature on the femcee-royalty collaboration track, “Not Tonight”. She went on to release two solo records at the beginning of the millenium before moving on to a career in film and radio.
(13) Ms. Melodie vs. (4) Foxy Brown
The late Ms. Melodie from Brooklyn was an aggressive powerhouse with a unique tone that always made her verses stand out from anyone she was working with. Along with her solo album, Diva, in 1989, she is well-known her work with Boogie Down Productions, including her contribution on the Stop the Violence’s “Self Destruction”. It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation about 90s hip hop without mentioning the legacy of Foxy Brown. Along with her attitude and catchy tracks, Foxy is known for her feuds with nearly every femcee in these brackets. Sometimes they seem petty, and unfortunately she often relies on homophobic slurs to throw shade, but every once in a while they inspire some great dis tracks, like “Get Off Me”. She is undeniably hip hop royalty and she knows it, expecting everyone to pay her due respect (whether she pays it back or not).
(3) MC Lyte vs. (14) Heather B
In the #3 spot you have evidence that these brackets did not take personal bias into consideration, because if I had my way, MC Lyte would be my number one NYC Femcee. She is a rap legend who not only pioneered the game (she was the first female rapper to release a solo LP), but continues to stretch herself and make hip hop in an entirely new landscape three decades later. Heather B. rose to fame as a member of Boogie Down Productions during the mid 90s, partially through her stint on an early reality tv show, The Real World: New York City. She is known for her lyrical prowess whether she is spitting aggressive or more laid back rhymes.
(11) Charli Baltimore vs. (6) Jean Grae
Charli Baltimore has been working since meeting The Notorious B.I.G. in 1995. Initially appearing in videos with the Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew, she was featured on tracks with Cam’ron and Fat Jo before recording her first LP, Cold As Ice in 1999. She kept to featured verses for most of the mid 2000’s, but made a light comeback with a mixtape in 2012 and 2013. Jean Grae is the underground queen of hip hop. Beginning her career under the name What? What?, Jean worked with other underground acts like Immortal Technique and Tek 9, changing her name before releasing her first of four LPs in 2002 to an already international fanbase. Since then she has been closely associated with Talib Kweli and producer 9th Wonder, and continues to release EPs on a regular basis, collaborating with several younger femcees you’ll recognize from the other side of these brackets.
(7) Roxanne Shante vs. (10) Queen Pen
Roxanne Shante was only 14 years old when she made rap history, as the first femcee to gain popularity outside her borough. After hearing her name used in a U.T.F.O song in 1984, “Roxanne, Roxanne,” Shante teamed up with Marley Marl to respond with “Roxanne’s Revenge” using the same instrumental track. She instantly became legendary, adding a female flavour to the heated Bronx-Queens rivalry and beginning the “Roxanne Wars” that continued into the late 80s. Although she is mainly known for these early dis tracks, Roxanne Shante continued to record into the mid 90s. Queen Pen is one of those femcees that you don’t realize you know. She got her start with the closing featured verse with her regular collaborators, Blackstreet, on their biggest mainstream hit, “No Diggity.” But that was far from the end of her career, as she continued to spit out several 90s party anthems, and was one of the first mainstream rappers to venture into the theme of same sex love on “Girlfriend”.
(15) Antoinette vs. (2) Lil Kim
Antoinette‘s career was limited to the late 80s when she released both her full length albums. She had a distinctly New Jack Swing inspired sound, working with Hurby Azor and later Spinderella (of Salt-N-Pepa fame). She took an especially competitive approach to her rhymes, regularly taking shots at MC Lyte with her sharp delivery of cold lyrics. I guess that makes it particularly appropriate that she goes up against Lil Kim, who is known for both her hyper-sexualized verses and ability to throw shade – usually at her long time rival, Foxy Brown. Representing Brooklyn alongside Biggie and the rest of the Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew, she has a well-deserved confidence, and is regularly dubbed the Queen of Hip Hop – before Beyonce, Lil Kim was the Queen Bee.
So many decisions, and it only gets harder from here on out. We’ll keep these open for a week, but check back soon for the rest of the Veteran polls, and may the best femcees advance to the second round!
This Monday post of Old New Borrowed Blue is brought to you by my exploding excitement about seeing Janet Jackson live in Toronto tomorrow night. In case you missed it, Janet. Jackson. LIVE. To prepare myself, and invite all of you into my very happy expectations, let’s listen to some Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue songs from Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty).
Something Old: Obviously the most difficult category to choose for, seeing as Janet has 3 decades packed full of energy, sass and nostalgia. Since I’ve spent some time in the past writing about Rhythm Nation, and recently included “Control” in an ONBB post, I think I will plant myself firmly in Janet’s 90’s catalogue. In 1993, Janet. (read Janet Period) was the album that signalled a new persona for the youngest Jackson. Not only did she create distance from the Jackson legacy (and controversy) by dropping her family name, she also changed from a modest, socially-conscious Rhythm Nation badass into an iconic sex symbol. And “If” is the single that signals this shift more than any other. So before I launch into an entire blog post about Janet., let’s enjoy this futuristic, genre-fusion dance track that is bold with desire – “If I was your girl, the things I’d do to you…” – while respecting your boundaries – “but I’m not, so I can’t, then I won’t”, while also making absolutely brilliant musical references to both Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and Diana Ross’ “Someday We’ll Be Together”. My wife recently asked me to pick my favourite Janet track from each decade and I suggested “Together Again” for my 90’s pick… but I think I just changed my own mind.
Something New: One of the many reasons I’m so excited for tomorrow night is to hear a few more new tracks that we can expect to find on Janet’s new album, Unbreakable. In the meantime I am very happy with the first single/music video “No Sl333p,” which is clearly from the same Janet that gave us the gifts of other sexy slow jams like, “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Any Time, Any Place.”
Something Borrowed: Janet Jackson is a queen of both borrowing and being borrowed. I’ve heard that on the tour I’m about to experience, she actually shows video of Kendrick Lamar performing his Janet tribute, “Poetic Justice,” which is built on samples of “Any Time, Any Place”. When Janet borrows from someone else’s music, it’s usually both an intentional reference and a sign of great respect. She is known for not only sampling, but inviting Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell into the studio to rerecord lines from their hit songs for “Son of a Gun” and “Got Till It’s Gone” respectively. Although there are many examples of “something borrowed” in Janet’s discography, the choice was easy, since one of my favourite Janet dance tunes of all time samples one of my favourite jazz/funk tunes ever, recorded by Herbie Hancock as “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”. You will probably recognize Janet’s version, “All Nite”, from one of the most memorable music videos of her career.
Here is Hancock performing “Hang Up Your Hang Ups,” live for your reference and enjoyment.
Something Blue: This is already a category that I tend to stretch a little, as genres generally can be quite elastic. It seems most appropriate to offer something from Janet’s darker and more introspective album, The Velvet Rope, that maintains her sexually charged image while also addressing personal issues and conflicts such as domestic abuse, body image, and mental illness. Incidentally, this is also the album that secures Janet’s place as a gay icon, addressing AIDS, Homophobia, and reimagining Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” as a lesbian love song. Have I mentioned that this woman is my hero? Anyway, what is the blues if it doesn’t include longing for an ex-lover? Without further ado, “I Get Lonely”.