With her painfully public feuds, love for explicit language, and controversial past, Afro-Latina rapper Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, better known as Cardi B, may not be considered as an ideal role model for young women by the general public. Nevertheless, the 26-year old New Yorker just made history; at the 61st annual Grammy Awards earlier this year, Cardi B won the category “Best Rap Album” for her 2018 release “Invasion of Privacy,” making her the first female solo artist to ever achieve this. Role model or not, Cardi B’s win marks an important milestone in the history and continuous rise of female rap.
Female rap first got proper recognition by both the music industry and the public in the late ‘80s, when New York City born MC Lyte released “Lyte As A Rock,” the first ever full-length female rap album. With her song “Ruffneck,” MC Lyte was also the first female rapper to be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Single in 1993. Over the past three decades, the contribution of powerful women like Queen Latifah, rap duo Salt-N-Pepa, Foxy Brown, The Fugee’s Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim, and Missy Elliot has made female rap a crucial element of the hip-hop genre.
Women’s perspectives have been shaping hip-hop culture for over thirty years – so why did it take so long for a female solo rapper to not just be nominated for a Grammy, but win it? While receiving some recognition and praise for the quality of their work, female rappers of the past did not receive equal treatment within the music industry. For the most part, women have remained an under-represented group among hip-hop labels. However, public cases that drew issues within the entertainment industry, such as #MeToo, the Time’s Up-movement and Kesha’s struggles against producer Dr. Luke have drawn attention to gender disparity. The music industry was forced to change and improve the treatment of women and also dish out long-deserved recognition.
While the most successful female rappers of today, think Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, might not directly address relevant political issues or feminism in their lyrics constantly, their confidence and unapologetic lyrics set the tone for the way female rappers and all women in the music industry demand to be treated: equally. They stand for a whole generation of women who say and do what they want and command proper recognition for their work. On her Grammy-winning record, “Invasion of Privacy,” Cardi B unapologetically raps about dedication, making money, proving people wrong and setting record-record sales. "If you want it, and the more you keep hearing you can’t have it, you just go and get it," she said in a recent interview. Maybe she is not such a bad role model after all.