I’ll start by letting you know that I have mad love for Nicki Minaj, and I have trouble seeing how you couldn’t. Even if you hate her music, don’t tell me that you don’t at least respect the fuck out of her drive to remain a dominating figure in the music industry. The fact that she does this successfully, and that she seems to have a serious death grip on Meek’s balls, should be enough to make you realise just how bad she is. There’s definitely a reason why she has such a huge following, and it’s because she absolutely slays on multiple levels as a role model, a recording artist, a songwriter, an activist, etc. If there’s one defining moment where Nicki’s excellence as an overall human being shines through, you better believe it was her acceptance speech for Best Hip-Hop Video at this year’s VMAs. You all know what I’m talking about: the iconic “Miley, What’s Good” moment, otherwise known as The Drag Heard Round the World. The masses rejoiced in reaction to the female rapper’s publicly-broadcasted slamming of Miley Cyrus and her pseudo-feminist, culture-appropriating ass. In that instant, with those three words, she reminded everyone of the day-to-day oppression she faces as a black female in the music industry, and that she will not stand idly by and become a victim of ridiculous stereotypes. If that’s not someone you should look up to, I don’t know who is.
Here’s the catch, though. Nicki Minaj is not the end-all be-all of female MCs. For those of you that were instantly butthurt by that statement, I’m sure that if you asked Barbie herself she would back me up. So, hear me out. In this age, where venturing outside of the iTunes Top Ten seems to be a terrifying feat for some, it can be easy to forget that there are actually other listening options when they aren’t made immediately available to us. For this reason, I can understand how there simply aren’t any other female rappers out there that receive anywhere near as much praise as Nicki. The rap game is so heavily male-focused in the first place, and, on top of that, a majority just hate being inconvenienced when it comes to developing their own music taste. As a result, you have Nicki standing alone on this crazy high pedestal, while there are plenty of women out there that are just as, or, dare I say, even more talented rappers that deserve equal amounts of spotlight.
I think I’ve made my case, and hopefully now you feel keen on figuring out who exactly these underrated ladies are. If you have no idea where to begin, fret not. I am here to shed some light on a few femmes that are worthy of just as much attention as Nicki, not to mention their male counterparts.
The first time I heard Chynna’s “Glen Coco” I was in the library studying for finals. I had been listening to whatever was on my Soundcloud stream at the time, and at this point I’d entered one of those trance-like states where I could’ve been listening to white noise for two hours and not have noticed. All of a sudden I’m hit with this creepy-ass beat. It sounds like something I would walk through a post-apocalyptic wasteland to, so, naturally, I’m into it. Before I know it, Chynna is going off, and I’m still trying to register what is happening. Her flow is so effortlessly quick and steady that it catches me off guard. Within seconds I’m packing up my stuff, because I know I need to go home and re-listen to her music on some quality speakers. I don’t know about you, but if a song is the reason I have to stop what I’m doing and get into a setting where I can try to fully appreciate its craft, I tend to think that the artist is doing something right.
Well, Chynna is definitely doing something right. The 21-year-old Philly native was making big impressions on people in the hip-hop scene from the ripe age of 15, when she reached out the late A$AP Yams on Twitter, hoping to intern for him. Yams was known for many things, and his eye for talent was one of them, so when he encouraged Chynna to start writing her own rhymes you can only assume that he knew she’d be able to hold her own as a part the A$AP Mob. At this point, she’s been releasing singles for years, and recently released a seven-track mini-project this July called I’m Not Here. This Isn’t Happening. It’s incredible how many poser-types she puts to shame on this project, with some absolutely murderous flows over mad grimy beats produced by the likes of VERY RVRE and Cloud Atrium. If I were you, I’d pay special attention to the tracks “Earl Grey Tea” and “E.C. Interlude.”
The first time I heard “Earl Grey Tea,” I thought I was going to combust, and I mean this in the best way possible. It’s a bit of a switch from the quick delivery I’d usually associate with Chynna, but refreshing to hear her slow it down nonetheless. Also, if you like “E.C Interlude,” check out the unofficial video she put up. It’s basically just her dancing around at what looks like a photoshoot of sorts (she also models professionally), but the fact that she tackles the worlds of modelling and rap successfully, not to mention simultaneously, was what impressed me.
It’s beautifully ironic that Chi-Town’s own Fatimah Warner goes by Noname Gypsy considering that she’s had ongoing collaboration with some of the most relevant rappers in her city for the past couple of years. In 2013 she began really turning heads after appearing on the track “Lost” off of Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, leaving everyone impressed by the way she glided over the beat. Since then, she has featured on several of Chance’s projects and records, including the recently released Donnie Trumpet album Surf and his single “Israel (Sparring).” The best part is, she seems to outshine him with nearly every song they put out together, which is a big deal considering there aren’t many rappers out there right now that are able to keep Chance on his toes.
There’s a soothing quality to her sound, which likely has to do with the fact that she started out doing slam poetry and translated several aspects of this style of performance into her delivery as a rapper. It’s clear that she puts hard work into creating verses with impactful lyrical content and insane phonetic complexity, but the way that she is able fire them off in a crisp nonchalant manner is what amazes me the most. If you have yet to experience Noname’s magic for yourself, it might be helpful to know that her website describes her raps sounding like “Marvin Gaye and Gwendolyn Brooks had a baby who sipped Henny.”
With regard to her upcoming solo project, Telefone, Noname has kept us in the dark- with the exception of her newly released single “Open Apology”, featuring fellow Chicago rapper Saba. As expected, Noname’s flow dances over the silky smooth beat, leaving you thirsty for more. Keep an eye out for Telefone, because there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s gonna leave us at a loss for words.
During Tink’s set at this year’s SXSW, Timbaland came out on stage to share a dream he had about the late R&B goddess, Aaliyah, that confirmed his faith in Tink’s talent. He said, “I don’t touch any of my sister’s records. I don’t touch Baby Girl’s records—you know that’s Aaliyah. I was riding home one day, sleep. She spoke to me in my sleep and said, ‘She’s the one.’” After which, Tink goes on to perform an unreleased song that samples Aaliyah’s “One In A Million.” If Timbaland is gonna go ahead and make a such a grand statement like that about you, you’ve probably got some sort of crazy edge to you, and Tink does.
The Chicago rapper is only 20-years-old, but she’s currently giving everyone in the game a run for their money. Earlier this year she was listed on XXL’s 2015 Freshman list, an annual issue of the magazine dedicated to recognising rappers to watch out for. Past Freshman includes the likes of Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, and J. Cole. Since 2009, a part of being an XXL Freshman has involved releasing a freestyle of sorts, and Tink tackles this with ease. She showcases her raw talent as both a quick-witted rapper and a skilled vocalist, chronicling the story of how she began as a rapper, and highlighting issues of race and gender in the music industry.
Her debut album Think Tink is due to come out in 2015, and seeing as we don’t have much time left in the year, hopefully that means the release is right around the corner. In the mean time, do yourself a favour and check out some of her earlier records, my personal favourite being “Sounds Good,” where she keeps it real over a sick otherworldly beat.
Ultimately, Nicki deserves every drop of attention she receives. She is a genius in her own form. However, I urge you to explore beyond the more mainstream pop-rap music that she seems to have perfected and established her consumingly powerful presence within. There are countless women in the hip-hop scene that grind just as hard as Nicki when it comes to producing boundary-pushing artwork. By this I mean that Nicki is not the only person out there constantly fighting to create music that goes far beyond what is accepted and expected of female rappers. There is an infinite number of women across various genres and sub-genres of hip hop doing the same and more. It’s all a matter of reaching out and remembering to show these underrated ladies more love, because, if we do, they are sure to love us back.