“After years of this, when do we concede that mainstream hip-hop has become largely defined by the negation of female voice and perspective? And what does that mean for new women entering the industry? Addressing precisely this, MC Lyte argues that hip-hop’s ongoing disrespect of women has ‘literally broken down our character,’ creating a market that is predictably hostile to female performers. ‘It has gotten to the point that we have been subjected to such harsh verbal treatment — assassinated even — that who would want to listen?’”
It has been just over a decade since a female rap artist who didn’t double as a pop music mouthpiece went platinum (yes, Nicki Minaj can certainly rap when she chooses, but her biggest hits are decidedly Top 40-leaning). Lil’ Kim’s 2003 album La Bella Mafia rode the success of “The Jump Off” and “Magic Stick” just over the precipice of a million records sold before Minaj’s first two solo albums benefitted from heavily pop-oriented singles on the road to platinum sales.
The intervening decade has been one of steep decline for female rappers in the public eye. Major labels have consistently invested less in hip-hop’s women; underground emcees have failed to break out of their respective pockets. The situation boils quietly beneath the larger hip-hop consciousness, with a combination of corporate interests, casual misogyny, and quick categorization leaving even those female rappers with popular potential grasping for methods to break the glass ceiling.
“To hear artists like Rapsody tell it, even if they release good music, women are treated like they don’t belong among the community of rappers, but rather they are relegated to a less-than-equal ‘femcee’ subcategory in which they are expected to perform with, or compete against, other women.“
Little Simz has what should be a rare dual handicap: Not only is she a female rapper, she’s a British female rapper. It’s the sort of tale of the tape that would leave her dead on arrival in the American market.
One listen to Simz, however, is to hear a rapper who defies the expectations of cursory classification. In spite of its goofy title, new single “Bars Simzson” exhibits the young Londoner’s prodigious ability, resembling vintage Busta Rhymes more than any contemporaries who would be compared to Simz because of gender alone. Even a passing listen reveals that Simz can absolutely rap her ass off. While she may still be finding a foothold for her particular perspective (as a young woman, as a human being), it seems clear that she is unwilling to allow for the restriction of being defined purely as a female rapper.
Listen to “Bars Simzson” and Simz’s recent set on BBC Radio 1 below.