Why 2013 Was a Terrible Year for Women in Hip-Hop

By Dee Lockett

Two days ago, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Detroit rapper Angel Haze sent a literal “fuck you” to her record label Island/Republic by unleashing a deluge of passionate tweets before leaking her entire debut album Dirty Gold on SoundCloud three months before its expected release. Her leak, planned or not, effectively carried to fruition similar threats rapper M.I.A. posed to her own label Interscope back in August when it seemed Matangi would never see the light of day had she not put a figurative gun to their heads.

On the surface, Angel’s rebellion against the music business might seem like a ploy for personal gain. But, in multiple ways, it represents what’s been a shamefully terrible year for women in hip-hop.

Many critics likened 2013 to 1993—two robust years of genre-defining albums from rap legends and legends-in-the-making. But what made 1993 so undeniably perfect was its diversity. Alongside the male MCs we celebrate twenty years later, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, Monie Love, The Conscious Daughters, and Bo$$ each released critically acclaimed albums that year. 2013 may as well have been 1903 with its hushed female presence in hip-hop culture. And when women’s presence wasn’t silent, it was oftentimes loudly embarrassing.

In 2013: Lauryn Hill spent three months in prison for tax evasion; TLC essentially replaced Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes with Lil’ Mama; Eve put out her fourth studio album Lip Lock and no one noticed (less than 20,000 sold to date); only Tink’s Boss Up mixtape and M.I.A.’s Matangi made year-end lists for a rap album by a woman. Meanwhile, SPIN included Matangi in its “20 Best Pop Albums of 2013” list, voiding the album’s rap cred. Debut albums from Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea, and Nitty Scott MC never came, and Angel Haze had to publicly beg for a 2013 release date for hers. The biggest news story on Foxy Brown’s comeback was when she fell on stage in New York. The list goes on.


It would be counterproductive to write yet another thinkpiece-y laundry list of personal frustrations. So, instead, I had conversations with two women heavily involved in hip-hop: North Carolina rapper Rapsody and HOT 97 music director Karlie Hustle. Together we dissected this problematic year for women in hip-hop and searched for solutions.

Back in August, Rapsody dropped her She Got Game mixtape which included an all-star lineup of features from Common, Raekwon, Jay Electronica, Mac Miller, Chance the Rapper, Ab-Soul, and more. It gained considerable buzz, yet came up missing from year-end lists like Rolling Stone’s10 Best Mixtapes of 2013,” SPIN’s40 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2013,” and other niche rankings. And Rapsody has an idea why. “She Got Game should be on most year-end lists. But women are still fighting just to get that recognition that MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Bahamadia, and Missy Elliott had back in the day,” she says. “It feels like we are only mentioned when speaking on ‘female rappers lists.’ Hence, why I am not a fan of the term ‘female rapper,’ ‘female emcee,’ ‘fem rap,’ ‘femcee,’ or anything like it.”

The facilitators are generally men. As a result, it’s not surprising that women are either overlooked or ignored, as we are absent from the process from the beginning. – Karlie Hustle

Taking aim at year-end lists has become a topic of discussion in recent weeks with Wale threatening Complex over The Gifted being left off the magazine’s “50 Best Albums of 2013” list. Karlie Hustle argues that the issue of subjectivity in list-making takes an even greater toll on women in rap due to gender imbalance in the media: “I would first surmise that women were not heavily involved in the curating of these lists in the first place. The facilitators are generally men. As a result, it’s not surprising that women are either overlooked or ignored, as we are absent from the process from the beginning.”

There is, possibly, another factor at play in the exclusion of women from hip-hop this year, and it involves Nicki Minaj—the “industry’s token woman MC” as Hustle describes her. In 2013, Nicki Minaj didn’t drop an album. She made more headlines for judging American Idol than for her music. “On a mainstream level, Nicki Minaj’s absence this year does [hurt the attention put on women rappers],” Rapsody says. “She was the one to spark the conversation a few years ago when she entered the industry and started to gain recognition nation and worldwide. It wasn’t until then people started to ask, ‘What happened to the female presence in hip-hop?’ So, I guess you could say that when she is not releasing albums, it’s somewhat of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality in regards to females. Because we are all placed in the same bubble, and we are only expected to be competing with Nicki Minaj.”


For Rapsody, that bubble made it harder to tour in 2013 on her own terms.

I can’t tell you how often I get tweets about how I should battle ‘insert any female rapper here,’ or I should do a project with ‘insert any female rapper here.’  – Rapsody

“I dropped this great project this year and I can’t find myself a booking agency. When I do reach out to a booking agency, it’s ‘Oh, let’s put you on with this girl and this girl’ and I’m like ‘No, I’m not doing a female artist hip-hop tour. I just wanna tour.’ It’s like we’re slid to the left in a corner all by ourselves to compete only against each other, like we don’t belong. I can’t tell you how often I get tweets about how I should battle ‘insert any female rapper here,’ or I should do a project with ‘insert any female rapper here.’

In an interview with XXL, Brooklyn rapper Nitty Scott MC, who’s been very vocal on social media about gender inequality in hip-hop recently, echoed Rapsody’s sentiments on touring: “When people are putting together tours, they’ll put together acts that are like-minded, that can all appeal to the same audience. And I don’t feel that as females we’re given that same diversity. We’re thrown onto lineups, we’re thrown into these female MC lists of all the girls you should know about. We’re all so different, yet we’re all thrown into this pool of women that rap. I just don’t feel that it’s equal treatment.”

As a high-ranking executive at HOT 97, Karlie Hustle isn’t surprised at both Rapsody and Nitty Scott MC’s struggle to find a voice in the industry compared to men’s ease in doing the same. “There is currently an allowance for an array of different male voices to coexist in hip-hop without the fear that one voice will threaten another’s right to that existence,” she says. “As for MCs who happen to be women, that is not the case. The erasure of our voices over the years is pronounced. We apparently get one at a time now, if that.”


Hustle believes that the path to more balance might come from embracing and nurturing the careers of young women in hip-hop, much like the careers of young male rappers are developed.

One way to foster change in the industry is through female camaraderie and women mentoring other women just as Jay Z so publicly mentors Kanye West and he, in turn, supports his G.O.O.D. music cohorts. For Rapsody, mentors like Lady Rage, Jean Grae, and Rah Digga have each made a difference on a personal level. And Rapsody tries to lead by their example. “Asia Sparks, I haven’t really talked to her,” says Rapsody, “but she’ll tweet me music all the time and I always make sure that I listen to it and I support it because—I hate to do it just because they’re female, but I feel like if you’re a female and you’re dope, it’s only right because I know how the struggle is. T’Nah Apex and NoName Gypsy, I hit both of them up and told them I’m a fan of their music.”

It’s also a matter of accepting and understanding two crucial things:

1. There are infinite differences between the sexes.
2. Our anatomy or gender identification doesn’t dictate our entire human experience.

And that’s the message Rapsody hopes will resonate with those who hear her music.

“It takes people a little more time to really try to show some interest in [women rappers] because we’re female and the majority of guys don’t feel like they can have anything to relate to. So it’s like, ‘Why would I ride around in the car listening to a female rapper?’ And I’ve heard guys say no female rapper is good. But it’s like, this is life. As men and women, we go through different things but we go through a lot of the same things too. We all can relate to it as people.”

Rapsody’s sophomore album will be released summer 2014. Her 9th Wonder-founded label Jamla Records’ mixtape Jamla is the Squad drops January 28.

  • Don

    “Meanwhile, SPIN included Matangi in its 20 Best Pop Albums of 2013 list, voiding the album’s rap cred”

    It never had any rap cred to begin with. M.I.A. isn’t even a rapper.

  • PigsAndPlans

    Depends who you ask. Wikipedia seems to think she is.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.I.A._(rapper)

  • zo

    fantastic article. Keep doing your thing

  • http://twitter.com/troybrowntv TroyBrownTV

    I agree with Don, I don’t remember MIA ever having any rap credit. The track posted here is the only Rapsody track that I’ve heard. Rapsody is right about women fighting for footing in hip hop. But based on the song posted above her mixtape didn’t make any lists because it probably wasn’t that good. Nitty Scott is okay. She writes with a lot of strong imagery. Noname Gypsy is pretty slick tho. Off first listen, she is a cut above the other two. I’m gonna check for more of her.

  • Michael Mathieu

    Very interesting article thank you. These ladies are in a tough pickle. As talented as they are they will continue to have a hard time getting the recognition they deserve. The world at large doesn’t pay attention until you make something pop, danceable or something with a catchy hook people can sing along to. And even then the industry is very image driven. I respect these artists for staying true to themselves though. I wish them luck and success. I’ll also be checking out NoName Gypsy. Hadn’t heard of her before.

  • Dee Lockett

    In 2009, M.I.A. won Best Female Hip-Hop Artist at the BET Awards and was nominated for Best Rap Song at the Grammys. She raps, that’s just not all her musical talents allow her to do.

  • Khoko

    As with others. MIA never had any ‘rap cred.’ Azealia Banks, had nothing because her music isn’t worth putting out. She’s also destroying any chance at a career by not learning to just keep her very very ignorant and loud mouth shut. Iggy is just boring she does pop-rap. That never lasts. Never has never will. She’s OK to look at. I don’t really wanna hear her.

    I think the problem female rappers have is that rap music in it’s purest form is highly competitive but nobody cares if you’re just running off at the mouth you have to do something. I get their I don’t wanna be just a female rapper thing but uh.. you want to be booked they offer you a deal and you throw it away because they want to put you with other chicks? Why not work that another way? Why not go OK here we are on our own. No male rappers. We have something worth listening to. Instead it’s the diva, ‘I’m not working with her attitude.’ You have to give people a reason to listen. Lauryn Hill, forced you to listen. You were going to like her and you were going to buy her album. She was the best member of the Fugees. Lil Kim said, forget all that ‘women ain’t shit’ garbage get on your knees and please me. Foxy Brown, had you a little bit afraid that she might gun you down if you tried to play her. What exactly are these ladies doing?

  • breeeezy

    You might not be into Rapsody’s music, but if she managed to get Common and Jay Electronica on her album that makes her somewhat credible.

  • http://twitter.com/troybrowntv TroyBrownTV

    I agree. I’m just not feeling her on that song.Common and Jay Electronica have songs I don’t like. It’s all just opinion.

  • the ONE

    I disagree with the Azealia Banks comment. A lot of her music has been consistently good. Someone needs to take away her Twitter and put her in a basic African American studies class, but other than that – as a woman, I can relate to her and I think that a lot of what she presents can be understandable to a variety of audiences.

    And why should a rapper have to accept only doing tours with a group they don’t JUST want to be associated with? Its not like all female tours are building their careers or making them equal to men in the rap game. Seriously, its becoming segragated and harder and harder for a woman to break through because she has to compete with every other woman who raps just to break into the ONLY spot women are even given in rap and hip hop. Literally, one spot. EIther you’re trying to be Nicki or you aren’t better than Nicki or you should be on the charts, not Nicki. There isn’t enough room for everyone at the top, they want us to believe. Its amazing that Lil Kim, Lauryn and Foxy were able to do what they did then because rap has taken severl steps backwards with women’s representation

  • ohyougotjokes

    It’s hard for bishes I must admit. To me the ones that were given an opp weren’t the chosen ones to begin with. To many Nicki transitions. To many manufactured femcees. Raps dope but she is taking Jean Grae path. Angel is boo boo sauce. Azelia & Iggy are trying the Nicki path to fast. Remember Nicki was raw before she blossomed into the bish she is. 1 female I’ve never seen on here per say but to me is the complete package is an artist named Raven Sorvino. She put out a project with WoodysProduce called Queen Of HeArtz that was the most solid ep ive heard this year. She might have a future for 14.

  • Nadia Piet

    I think with Rapsody, Nitty, Gavlyn, Jean and others entering the forefront of Hip Hop, we’re making progress on representing the ladies right. Sure, woman will always be a minority in Hip Hop and will have to be bigger & stronger than the overly sexualized characters people would like to see them as and stand up for themselves and their arts. As far as Nicki goes, I’d rather have no female representation whatsoever than hers, that’s just me though. I agree this year wasn’t too positive, but I believe we should focus on the bright lights and I believe we’re making progress. Let’s see what 2014 brings us. Peace!

  • Khoko

    Sometimes you have to take the knocks. I’m not saying it’s fair but saying we want a spot. Getting a spot and then refusing to take that spot is just stupid. Don’t complain, about getting nothing then spit on the people giving you something. Nicki isn’t relevant to rap or hip hop she makes pop music and in my opinion very bad pop music. Her, I rap like I’m schizophrenic shtick got very boring very fast and she moved into the sing/rap bs everybody is doing now.

    Most of these ladies are pushing a straight rap vibe. Do that. Stop hanging on people comparing you to everyone else. If every rapper ever sat and said damn I just get compared to this one and that one. Rap/Hip Hop wouldn’t exist. Music as a whole wouldn’t exist. People will make comparisons. Get over it.

  • nokeys

    To be honest, Nicki did something different, maybe you don’t like her “schizo” rap, or her mixing of singing and rapping, but a lot of people do. She’s actually quite relevant to both Hip Hop and Pop genre’s because she’s now the top of the food chain by doing something no one was doing.

    If anything, these ladies should NOT be pushing a straight rap vibe, at least not all of them. Listen, I love Hip Hop as much as the next person, but be an artist first. If you make music, you want to make art. Do what you think is good. As female artists, don’t OVERTHINK it. If you make good music thats different and innovative, let it speak. Do an all female show or tour, if thats whats there. Kill it, stand out. Its not going to kill your career.

    Is there a double standard? Yes. So work twice as hard. Fuck cred. Why are we the only subculture that needs a background check on everything? Be good at what you do, and keep doing it. Fuck it.

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  • Missy Peale

    Even though they say it’s a tough year for female rappers, I didn’t realize there are in fact A LOT of female rappers. What is the winning formula for female rappers? I see ladies like Tink, Precious Paris, and 3D Natee who spit some serious bars but all they talk about is putting “bitches” to sleep, which seems to be the M.O. for a lot of the ladies. Most hardcore female rappers talk about going in for the kill against another female rapper. I was put on to a female rapper named Nia from Harlem, she has the skills to be a really good emcee because she freestyles over old hip hop beats. NY could use a good female emcee right now, but again after a few bars it’s going for the jugular against who? Other females. It’s like female emcees feel like they are constantly under attack so the guard they put up is represented in their writing. They seem to forget about having fun when they’re “serious rappers.” 3 or 4 popular male rappers can get on a track, talk about partying, bitches and money, and it’s all love. If you are the lyrically conscious female rapper with something to say, you are boring and wasting listener’s time. No one cares unless you are talking about your ass, p*ssy, head game, shoe game, etc…which is played out to me, but it seems to be the appeal that attracts a lot of the male listeners, who don’t wanna hear you in the first place, they just wanna look at you and they are not afraid to tell you that fact. All in all, It is unfair treatment for the ladies, when so many wack male rappers can get multi-million dollar record deals for themselves and their crew members at the drop of a hat.
    I think an all female rapper tour would be dope! I don’t see why some of the ladies wouldn’t take the opportunity and turn it into something huge! Why not use your artist platform to turn around the myths that females touring together is impossible?

  • zeke

    Well the issue is the modern femcee aint trying to be hypersexualized so she isnt making it. in the 90s folks like mc lyte, shakilla, and queen latifah didnt have so much pressure to glam up because hard females had space to exist now its all fake booties weaves and bs. theres tons of untapped talent in unlikely places the bay has been trying to get MissHazel Rose, MicahTron, & Oh Blimey on the map for a minute but we all know how hip hop heads avoid SF and Oakland like the plague also out of England Roxxxan, Amplify Dot, Lady Leshurr all released solid EPs or Mixtapes but they’re facing the same issue bay girls do. aint nobody looking for them

    p.s. iggy dont need to be on this list she lost her pass when she referred to herself as “a white slave master” in a verse

  • Rosie Le Rouge

    well…i’ve got something to share… http://www.reynaissance.com or http://www.reynaissance.bandcamp.com .. there are dedicated female hip hop artists with the passion to create dignified, thought provoking and entertaining art. peace+++

  • Dynasty Yagirldy

    2013 may have sucked for women in hip hop as far as main
    stream/commercial hip hop goes (just like the last several years)…but it was a
    great year for me. two international tours, album dropped through an indie label out of Germany (shameless plug: google “a star in life’s clothing”), festivals, merch/album sales, major blog love, joints with Talib and DJ Premier, building with youth in the community and the list goes on.. the bottom line is the “powers that be” in American mainstream aren’t really checking for women like that.. ESPECIALLY if you aren’t showing everything and talking about… well, nothing. you just have to find what works for you and make it happen which I think emcees like Nitty Scott are doing. at the end of the day…a dope emcee is a dope emcee. my career has taken the long route because it is organic, and built through genuine support from real people…but I know that every opportunity that I have is earned, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. ~dy

  • Realistically

    The problem is simple. Nicki said it best, really: music is an entertainment BUSINESS. Meaning, in order to be successful, you need to be: 1) entertaining, and 2) business-minded. If these “female rappers” are not seeing success, it is because they are lacking one or both of these characteristics. From what I can tell, they’re all boring and generic.

    Complaining about being a female rapper is ignorant if you ask me. Because simply being a RARITY is what got you noticed in the first place. So take that attention, craft a niche, add a spice of color, and run with it. Everyone sounds the same: they’re either trying super hard to be “conscious”, “hard”, or a “sex-kitten”, all of which is catering to a male audience. Why not switch it up and write relatable songs for women? Business, kids.

  • http://mtv.com/artists/prestige-de-santos/ Prestige De Santos

    I agree … KEEP MOVING! http://youtu.be/h9-XWltEDWA

  • riddickhater1

    2014 will be the year for female rappers!

  • SickFlow

    Nicki’s next album is just going sit on some of these female rappers. Nicki is different that other female rappers because instead of straight up talking about how she will murder bitches she makes some male rappers feel like bitches song. Did anyone hear her boss ass bitch freestyle ….SHE WENT IN!

  • SickFlow

    So much typos ugh to lazy to fix them

  • M.p.H

    ^THIS

  • M.p.H

    Yeah, I feel like that “I dropped one of the best projects, but didn’t make it onto a list” thing was a bit of a copout, honestly. Her mixtape was great, but she’s not developed yet. She’s not a character. She’s just a dope rapper. There are plenty of dope rappers. But she’s not differentiating herself as a personality enough to make her notable.

    Anyones top favorite MC is always someone with character. And she doesn’t have it yet. I’m looking forward to it tho

  • Paula.

    Iggy AZALEA*.

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  • Adía

    MIA is dope. I believe a lot of these rappers shouldn’t be boasting about all the men they have on their songs and how the won’t tour with other ladies. I’d go see tour with all women then to see one lady open for guys

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  • Freaky Pete

    Jean Grae is the only good female rapper.

  • TopJoshDragon

    I feel like this article could have more purpose. With the title being “WHY 2013 WAS A TERRIBLE YEAR FOR WOMEN IN HIP-HOP” and the voice aimed mostly at Hip-Hop fans it won’t do any of these MCs any good.

    It could have been “WHY RESPECTABLE RECORD LABELS NEED TO RESPECT FEMALE RAPPERS.” That way the audience isn’t just Hip-Hop fans, but record labels as well. Telling fans of female rappers to care more will only get you so far.

    We need great labels with great artists. Not great labels with bad artists nor do we need more bad labels with great artists.

    I’d choose any one of these MCs in this article over the likes of Chief Keef or Sage the Gemini any day. The talent and respect is there, they just need more exposure. TBH I only know of Azealia, Iggy, MIA and Nicki. Noname Gypsy, Nitty Scott, and Rhapsody just blew my mind.

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  • Nakeeta

    Well I think you should all give GAY rap a try! Listen to Lil’ Ellie. He is great! Youtube him… Lil’ Ellie – In The Hood

  • DAMN

    well, I for one think M.i.a. deserves credit . her wording is so much better and creative then all these other people blasting about “pussy” she’s smart and really brings a lot to the table. you guys need to go back cuz she was and is still on the right track. ARULAR! hello are you kidding me. she’s the one who influenced so many out there.all art needs to progress . she is the progress .

  • DonnaWetter

    totally agree – on the minaj part too that is^^

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