Next month, VH1 and BET will air lavish awards shows celebrating hip-hop’s finest, including Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Jay-Z. But here’s the catch: Neither the Hip-Hop Honors (airing Oct. 6) nor the BET Hip-Hop Awards (airing Oct. 23) nominated a single female rapper. Next year’s Grammys may also follow suit, since the Recording Academy nixed its category for Best Female Rap Solo Performance in 2005. Why aren’t hip-hop’s leading ladies getting their props? ”Quite frankly, it’s a numbers thing,” says Stephen Hill, BET’s executive VP of entertainment, music, and programming. ”There were fewer than five videos submitted for the awards by female artists this year. None of them made the cut.”
It wasn’t always like this. From 1998 to 2003, female rappers such as Lauryn Hill, Eve, and Missy Elliott were among the genre’s most bankable artists. But nearly all of their successors — including Lil Mama, Kid Sister, Ms Dynamite, and Jean Grae — have struggled to connect with listeners. And it’s harder than ever to launch new talent. ”Hair and makeup is killing female hip-hop,” says a source. ”The grooming cost to break a female rapper versus a male rapper is 10 times as much per appearance. That tends to have an adverse effect on a record company’s willingness to even entertain a female rapper.”
Despite the dire times, MC Lyte is campaigning for the reinstatement of the ousted Grammy award. ”I think it destroys [hip-hop] culture to not have the perspective of a woman,” she says. ”It’s like our story is not necessary, our point of view isn’t mandatory.” The lack of awards attention is especially jarring considering that British soul/rap siren Estelle’s Kanye West collaboration ”American Boy” has notched more than 1 million digital sales, and London rapper M.I.A.’s ”Paper Planes” boasts sales in excess of 1.3 million.
BET, meanwhile, is looking to the past to galvanize the present: The Hip-Hop Awards will include a tribute to female rappers that ”hopefully will remind people of how great it can be when women rock a mic,” says BET’s Hill. It certainly sounds great. But we’d prefer an acceptance speech.