Cardi B won the 2018 BET award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist as well as the Coca Cola Viewer’s Choice award for her debut single Bodak Yellow, the song that she says changed her life and “made people give me a chance”. Bodak Yellow also made her the first female rapper to reach number one since Lauryn Hill in 1998 with the legendary Doo Wop (That Thing). Cardi posted her acceptance speech on Instagram as she was not in attendance at the BETs due to being, in her own words, ‘really, really close to her deadline’, more commonly known as a due date.
Her Instagram post features a heavily pregnant Cardi B chilling in her home with two cups of crushed ice, her latest pregnancy craving. In her endearing, no-frills manner she thanked the Bardi Gang with the following message:
“You know female rappers really get it the hardest when it comes to the music industry, we always getting blamed because of our raunchy lyrics and the way that we raunchy, our raunchy outfits and sh*t. You know, practically doing the same shit that the n*ggas do but you know get blamed the most for it. We constantly getting threatened by people like ‘Oh, you not gonna make it next year, you not gonna make it next year’, so we always gotta keep up, keep up and keep up, always putting female rappers against each other and you know, I’m just really grateful for winning the award because female rappers be going through some f*cking sh*t.”
Her speech calls out some of the many ways that misogyny infiltrates the music industry. It is widely acknowledged that female musicians will, in reflection of wider society, be criticised for overt sexuality within their music and performances long before male musicians ever will. Women are also heavily underrepresented in the music industry, so will of course need to work harder than the average male to maintain their music career.
Cardi also addresses the ever-present spectacle of female artists being pitted against each other in a competition that neither contestant asked to be a part of. Think of the alleged battle to be crowned ‘pop-princess’, which saw Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera constantly positioned as rivals. This narrative completely ignored the fact that the two had been friends and co-hosts on the 90s kids TV show, The Mickey Mouse Club and played on the underlying assumption that two females of similar ages and backgrounds cannot both enjoy successful pop careers without some form of rivalry or envy. At the very same time Westlife, Boyzone and the Backstreet Boys were free to co-exist in a harmonious monopoly of pop records, six-packs, dance routines and hair gel. And while these mandatory female rivalries are customary throughout the music industry, they are especially prominent within Hip Hop, where commentators rally around the notion that there can only be one successful female rapper at any given time.
It’s likely that Cardi B’s comments about ‘putting female against each other’ refer partially to the animosity that’s been constructed between herself and Nicki Minaj. This alleged beef has been continuously speculated since 2017, despite both artists repeatedly denying any ill feeling. It appears that this ever-present reach for the two artists to be in beef with each other may be root cause behind the recent tension involving Nicki’s verse on MotorSport. As acknowledged by Cardi B herself, drama is created because it’s entertaining, but it’s important for those who are pushing these narratives to take responsibility for the type of environment that they’re creating.
The 90s and early 00s was definitely something of a golden era for female rap, with an abundance of talented and successful women such as Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Lisa ‘Left-eye’ Lopez, Foxy Brown, Kelis, Salt-N-Pepa, Lil Kim, Trina and Eve. As we moved through the 2000s, however, the number of prominent female rappers started to dwindle. It is suggested that as Hip Hop became more commercially viable in the 2000s and as record executives began deciding which artists to promote, it became more difficult for women to break through. Enter Nicki Minaj, the larger-than-life, self-proclaimed Black Barbie signed to Lil Wayne’s record label, Young Money, back in 2009. As Nicki’s career crosses the decade mark with spectacular success, critics observe that she has re-defined what it now means to be a female rapper. Because of her prominence, any female now entering the rap game is automatically pitted against her and portrayed as a threat to her success. Because of this we see a big difference in the way the male and female rappers are discussed. While the conversation around women tends to focus on ‘who is the best female rapper’, the conversation around male rappers will consider a multitude of relevant angles such as flow, influence, longevity and stage presence, which acknowledges of the space for variation between rappers and the value in that variation.
In less than two years Cardi B has gone from reality TV star, to breaking records and gracing the cover of the Rolling Stone with husband Offset, who she confirmed to have married in secret in a post on Twitter. She is firmly cementing her position in the music industry but her success story is not a threat to career of Nicki Minaj or any other female rapper – present or future. There is space for multiple women in rap and we welcome that variety and diversity. The last couple of years have seen a strong female empowerment movement, where people are standing up and speaking about the many ways that misogyny is affecting women’s lives. At a time when the conversation is centring around holding men accountable for their actions towards women, breaking the glass ceiling and generally lifting women up instead of berating their every action, this tired rhetoric of female rappers automatically disliking each other and needing to be the only female rapper in the game, is starting to feel a little dated.