As Vancouver’s bi-annual hip-hop festival at the PNE prepares to rev up its engines for a third time this weekend, featuring the likes of A$AP Rocky, Rae Sremmurd and Young Thug, one name from the undercard stands out.
The soft-spoken yet confident and assertive ICY GRL herself, Saweetie, is the only female rapper playing the festival and easily the biggest name amongst those they’ve booked so far, which have included Rude Nala, Killumantii and Kodie Shane over the past couple iterations.
Even though she’s the only one, her inclusion amongst these megastars is important in a world where the state of female hip-hop is decidedly shifting.
In the early years of the decade, it seemed as though there could only be one female rapper in the public eye at a time, the singular female voice to offer a feature verse from time to time and be the one to offset the scores of male ones.
For a long time, that voice belonged to Nicki Minaj. She became known as one of the best feature verse artists in the game for the number of times she got on a male rapper’s song and did just that, usually shutting down sexual advances or simply being confident and dismissive in a way that came across as comedic, or at least surprising when a kind of voice you didn’t usually hear in the genre arrived and spit just as well as the guys.
Nicki’s verse on Kanye’s iconic track “Monster” was a welcome party for a superstar. She accepted that prescribed role as the one and only female rapper as soon as she started dubbing herself the “Queen of Rap” and beefing with older legends like Lil’ Kim … apologies for making you recall the track “Stupid Hoe” in the year 2019.
Her fans ran with it too, shutting down any new female rapper who, in their eyes, was trying to take the crown. Iggy Azalea did it for one summer, then Cardi B’s inescapable “Bodak Yellow” dropped and the narrative switched. Nicki’s career was essentially over in many people’s minds.
When her latest album, aptly titled Queen in a final attempt to re-assert herself, failed to debut at #1, she started losing her mind on Twitter and digging herself a deeper hole.
But now, in a post-Cardi world, things aren’t quite the same anymore. A lot of that has to do with social media, something that was essential to Saweetie finding her place.
Her biggest hit, “ICY GRL,” started as a freestyle that she rapped in her car and posted to Instagram as part of an ongoing series. The continued growth of social media platforms has helped aspiring artists connect with their own widespread audiences faster, allowing new female stars to all show up on the charts together.
It’s the same reason why there are countless creators on YouTube you’ve never even heard of that have millions of subscribers. There’s so much content that it’s easy to skim right over some hyper-dedicated fanbases.
Social media also helps communicate the “real” version of an artist, rather than the manufactured image, to fans–which is another major reason why people are so drawn to this new wave of female rappers. Most of their music is loud, confident and unapologetic, whether it’s coming from Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo or the City Girls, all sitting comfortably on the Billboard Hot 100 right now.
Cardi did it first–it was her “realness” that made her a star. Now we have many artists who have a similar public persona, but are very different in terms of their artistry. Lizzo, for example, has the same energy, but a completely different message as she preaches self-love.
The world was desperately waiting for female artists to start talking about things the same way their male counterparts did. Look at the way SZA exploded in the world of R&B. Finally, there was a female artist talking about “secretly banging your homeboy” and detailing highs and lows of her hookups just as bluntly as crooners like The Weeknd and 6lack.
There’s always been this double standard in hip-hop, the women being unfairly criticized for talking about their sexuality while the men did it freely and often. Male hip-hop fans could often be seen posting online that women approaching these topics made them uncomfortable. But now hip-hop is the biggest genre in the world–it’s for everyone.
In a world where Drake is by far the most popular artist, so many of his male counterparts are seen essentially following whichever new trend he lays out with each of his albums. When you have so much competition, new male rappers coming up try to get people’s attention by copying an aspect of one of the big dogs.
In the world of trap music, we have Auto-crooners like Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD piggybacking on the style that Young Thug birthed, as well as the ever-present Migos triplet flow. Artists more focused on lyricism and technical skill like J.I.D. and Logic take the storytelling of J. Cole or the flows of Kendrick Lamar.
Now at Breakout Festival we have someone like Saweetie, who grew up idolizing Nicki Minaj but is far from trying to be anything like the over-the-top character that her heroine presented. If anything, Saweetie, as well as her modern female counterparts, drew inspiration from Minaj’s confident persona rather than her artistic style.
On the male side, we have a couple of uber-popular innovators and legions of artists following in their footsteps, but on the female side we’re starting to see a new and exciting crop of unique, talented artists supporting each other and not seeing each other as competition like they might have in the past.
Even the two biggest albums of the year so far, Ariana Grande’s thank u, next and Billie Eilish’s WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? were made by female pop stars with a heavy dose of hip-hop influence.
While you can’t account for Twitter stan wars–those will be stirring up needless drama until the end of time–the strong performance of female rappers on the charts right now certainly reflects that something is shifting for the better.