Why aren’t there more female rappers in Aussie hip-hop?
Male voices dominate the debate surrounding rapper Iggy Azalea and her connection to the hip-hop scene of her home country, a symptom of the industry in general. We asked four female players in Aussie hip-hop to weigh in
(from the Guardian.com/UK)
Shannon Power: it’s time to diversify beyond ‘skip-hop’
Fewer than 10 female rappers are signed to any record label in Australia. It’s a sad figure, but there are plenty of unsigned ladies making some of the tightest raps in the game.
To understand why female rappers are not featuring more prominently, it’s important to understand hip-hop’s place in the wider Australian music landscape.
For a long time Australian music was the domain of the pub rock gods. Rock was the quintessential Australian sound. Over time music, like Australia generally, was introduced to the concept of diversification. Much like meat pies had to make way for Thai food, rockers had to give up their monopoly on the Aussie sound.
However Aussie hip-hoppers have had to make concessions to the genre’s roots to gain any recognition. Hip-hop was created by the disenfranchised black communities in New York in the late seventies and Aussie hip-hop couldn’t be any more different.
In a sweet twist of irony, it’s the middle class, white boys rapping about beer and partying that are the most popular here. There is some logic behind that: to compete in the industry, hip-hop has had to conform to a set of expectations. Any artist that looks or sounds different from the ubiquitous “skip-hop” sound has to work much harder for mainstream recognition.
The sublimely talented Remi has been both lauded and criticised for his “progressive” sound. The truth is, while he’s dope as hell, it’s just straight up hip-hop. What’s unique about Remi is simply that it’s not the sound we’ve come to expect from Aussie rappers.
Until hip-hop in Australia is ready to be more open to diversity, be it gender, race, content or style it will remain hard for female rappers to come to the forefront.
Let’s make sure female rappers don’t get left behind: put at least one female MC on every live hip-hop show line-up and radio presenters can play one Aussie female rapper per show.
- Shannon Power is a journalist and the producer/presenter of the long-running hip-hop radio show ShaPow Show on Melbourne’s Joy 94.9.
Chelsea Jane: sexism rife in the Aussie hip-hop scene
I’ve personally experienced a significant amount of sexism in the Australian hip-hop industry. So much so, I incorporated this theme into my new song Where The Boys At. The song discusses men and their belief they are the heart and soul of the hip-hop genre.
I am often told “hey, you’re a pretty good rapper for a girl”. To me, art is art and gender is irrelevant. Unfortunately these days people listen with their eyes, just as much as their ears.
And Australians can be resistant to new things. Recently we have seen the emergence of so many new styles of Australian and global hip-hop. However, people really stick to what they know. The outlet for Australian hip-hop is so small, if you aren’t heard on Triple J your chances of success in the market are slim. This is probably why so many artists venture overseas.
And while I don’t feel this is a problem specific to Australia, I do think it is a significant issue here. It seems listeners and artists in the US are much more open to change and development of music. There are so many genres to be explored in hip-hop, yet we seem to be resisting this divergence.
To change this, we need more awareness and to see more women at festivals. For example, I was the first female artist to play at Sprung, Australia’s largest and most popular hip-hop festival, and by that point I’d been rapping for about two years. That says a lot.
Women need more radio play and more blogs written about us, and people need to be willing to open their minds to new sounds, not just what is being played on mainstream radio.
I think Iggy Azalea is definitely doing something new. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Probably not. However, as a female rapper, I know how hard it is to succeed in this hip-hop industry so I admire her work ethic and determination.
Iggy is bringing recognition to the genre, to Australia, and to female performers in general, so I admire her for that.
What I am trying to do is showcase Australian hip-hop through a more authentic light. I rap in my accent and talk about relevant issues. By doing this I aim to raise awareness of both the art form, but also of Australia as a country, which has so much talent to offer.
- Chelsea Jane is an Australian rapper and winner of the 2013 Apra/Hilltop Hoods Initiative.
Naomi Wenitong: We will move up regardless of the odds
In comparison to male MCs in Australia it’s obvious there are very few female rappers choosing music as their first priority in terms of a career. But there are many more female rappers out there than people think. Whether they stay in the game long enough to become known by the rest of the world is up to them.
Music in general is a hard industry to succeed in, irrespective of your sex. We have a choice as females to view our gender as an advantage or disadvantage.
When I was 15, I worked up the courage to share with my parents my plans to become a professional songwriter, singer and rapper, and played them a song on the guitar that I had written. My dad immediately said:
“You should definitely follow your dream and we will back you up. But you need to know this: you are black, female and poor, so you’re going to have to work one thousand times harder than anyone else. If you’re prepared to do that then we will support you the whole way.”
Starting my journey knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy helped me not get down or disheartened by the obstacles that came my way.
I first came under management when I was 16 years old, wrote an album and by 17 was signed to Sony along with one of my best friends, as the duo Shakaya. Our first single went platinum. It was obvious to me the industry was very male orientated but I was OK with that. I had many positive male role models in my family so I was already comfortable with a male influence.
At this stage, rap wasn’t openly accepted in the Australian public or industry. Hilltop Hoods weren’t out yet so it was only US rap that made it onto our radio waves. This meant the odds were against me on so many levels. To be honest, sexism was last on my list of career problems that I was dealing with.
You can’t argue with raw talent. No matter what, Australian female rappers will move up in a big way, even in the face of all those odds stacked against us. Dawn Laird, Sky’High and Dizzy Doolan (to name a few) are some of the most talented female MCs I’ve been lucky enough to know personally.
And though I don’t know Iggy Azalea in person, I think she is an amazingly talented woman regardless of the fact she raps with an American accent. She’s made a name for herself and opened a door into the US market for female Aussie rappers, so you can’t be mad at that.
And if other rappers don’t agree with her methods they should take it as a challenge to top it.
- Naomi Wenitong is a proud Kabi Kabi woman, MC, singer songwriter and member of Australian hip-hop group The Last Kinection.
Yo! Mafia: mass population still look to America
Just like any underground scene, if you look close enough you’ll find a simmering melting pot of talent that has yet to rise to the surface. In this case, it’s Aussie female rappers. While we are bombarded with dynamic tracks from the blokes, such as 360 and Bliss N Eso, we’re still searching for a local lady to take the reigns.
Why is it that the only Australian female rapper to make a name for herself had to leave the country at 16 and drop her Aussie accent in order to top the charts? This should be the perfect time for female rappers in our scene to step forward and ride the wave of success coming off of Iggy Azalea’s recent number one record Fancy. The problem is that Fancy is a pop record, thinly veiled in a hip-hop sheath.
The female Aussie rappers making waves today, namely Chelsea Jane, Layla, Mistress Of Ceremony, Vida Sunshyne, Class A and openly gay rapper D’La, aren’t rapping about their high fashion clothes and getting paid. Their music is backed by a higher purpose, and can be traced back to Mother Tongues, an all female hip-hop record label created in 2003 to develop a more conscientious vibe in our homegrown scene.
I had the pleasure of opening for Azalea on her Australian tour recently, and it’s evident she puts in the hard work. At the end of the day, to achieve any sort of success on a wider market you have to hustle. In Australia the mass population still look to America as the benchmark for “making it”. Plain and simple, there’s more money invested in the music scene in the States and they’ve mastered the art of making something big out of nothing.
This is a double edged sword for any rapper (male or female) who want to be perceived both as an “artist” and as a “chart topper”. Unfortunately, in Australia these two no longer coexist.
- Yo! Mafia is an international hip-hop, genre-smashing party DJ who recently supported Iggy Azalea on her Australian tour.