World over, Female rap first got proper recognition by both the music industry and the public in the late ‘80s, for example in the USA, 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 in the USA, the contribution of powerful women like Queen Latifah, rap duo Salt-N-Pepa, Foxy Brown, The Fugees’ Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim, EVE and Missy Elliot have made female rap a crucial element of the hip-hop genre. Hence inspiring women all over the world including our own pioneers of female rap in Uganda like Lady Slyke and MC Yalla.
The other fact though is that Women in Hip Hop have been often overly sexualized, dismissed and overlooked. Exceptions do exist, however, but some songs would make even the extreme anti-feminist cringe. Women aren’t always given the mic, but when they are, they prove to be just as talented, if not more talented than their male counterparts. Nicki Minaj has outdone most of her male peers in an effort to dominate the genre, outselling some of the biggest men in rap with millions of units sold in the United States alone. She has become a mogul, dipping into other businesses that have allowed Minaj to expand and strengthen her brand.
In Uganda, the rap genre has been and still is a male dominated field where rappers like GNL, Navio, Lyrical G, Big Trill and others have been riding high; scoring hit songs, selling albums and headlining concerts and shows both in and outside Uganda. Not to mention the many endorsement deals they have scooped.
In the year 2010 for example, you could probably mention ten Ugandan male rappers with ease but you would probably struggle when it came to naming girls who rap in the same breath except for a few acts like Keko and maybe Lady Slyke and MC Yalla. But the rest were all struggling to catch a break with the boys.
The history of women in Hip Hop has developed in the same way as Hip Hop itself. In its beginning, women used storytelling and metaphors to get important messages across. Although lyrics reflected situations that weren’t ideal, there was a lesson to be learned in each track. USA`s MC Lyte’s “Poor Georgie” (1991) discussed the dangers of drinking and driving and Salt-N-Pepa (from USA) expressed the importance of safe sex in “Let’s Talk About Sex” (1990). They injected sexual verses into their rhymes and roared confident affirmations into party anthems that made anyone believe these ladies were the best of the best in a world full of men. They denounced derogatory remarks made by their male counterparts and demanded respect.
As time progressed, women took a sexual turn in their rap personae. Artists like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina boasted raunchy lyrics, earning them widespread popularity and a fair share of album sales. It cannot be argued that they hold a legendary seat in the rap game, but it’s questionable whether or not their overall image helped women progress in the genre as more than just sex objects and that is the same case you can make for our Female rappers like Keko, MC Yalla and Lady Slyke.
Men have always boasted their sexual tenacity and have glorified polygamy at the expense of women. As a result, these females reclaimed their sexuality with the same radical methods upon which the genre was founded. The music in itself has been reclaiming some of the negative stereotypes associated with minorities in urban communities. It can also be argued that the erotic language made them equal to the men, adopting a major theme of hip hop and putting their own spin on it. They aggressively assumed the posture, if you can do it, I can do it too. You can witness this in the Hip-Hop cyphers organised by Talent Africa and Vuqa, where Keko lyrically “bodied and killed” almost all the other male rappers. Same as she did on that 2011 all star hiphop track called “The Competition Is Dead”.
Besides Keko and the other two legendary Femcees(Slyke and Yalla), other female rappers have emerged and given women a voice all this time – from the talented frontrunners like Tshila who has the ability to blend rap-like styles into Afro-Soul, Tushi Nabakyala who at one time won the End Of The Weak Mic Female Challenge and also emerged as the Hiphop Queen at the 2014 Hip-hop Camp.
There is also Kween G, Ella Tyga, Vkaycee, Recho Rey who uses her catchy phrase “Black Girl Fly” to send a message to anyone who dares go against her like how she took fellow upcoming rappers in 2018 to the trenches in the “Who Is Who” challenge thus setting the foundation to the new generation of very young talented girl rappers like Felista and Stone Age who are now carving out space for themselves.
Last year, American Record Producer Jermaine Dupri aired his grievances about female rappers, stating “I Feel Like They’re Showing Us The Same Things. I Don’t Think They’re Showing Us Who’s The Best Rapper. I Think They’re Trying To Show — For Me, It’s Like Strippers Rapping.” Given that misogyny and patriarchal ideals are already deeply woven into hip-hop’s fabric, it’s not surprising to hear ignorant takes like this. When you think about the background of some of the best rappers in the game such as BIGGIE, Kendrick or Jay Z, they are narrating the life they live(d), and showing the entire world what that entails. Rappers like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are doing the same thing, so it’s curious that the male mc’s life stories are revered, whilst the female mc’s aren’t taken seriously.
When you consider that this is the case in the “progressive” western world, you can understand how far behind the Ugandan music scene is in the scheme of things. We could all agree that men use their music as a means to motivate each other, and women should be allowed to do the same. This is why the collective efforts of the new-gen female rappers are not lost, and it’s extremely comforting to see a crop of women who are unwilling to compromise the right to speak their truth in Uganda`s Hip-Hop industry.
In conclusion , we should also give thanks to platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, SoundCloud, and Instagram, along with the pseudo-democracy of streaming services, Our female rappers can tap into their audiences directly and find measurable success.
Now, the industry is being held hostage by the lyrical prowess and sheer force of Queens. They are now competitively reigning over the Industry and given the current climate towards women, especially at this very moment, there’s no better time for women to have a platform to say what they want to say unapologetically.