Are female rappers getting sold short? -- Record company politics and R&B competition may be holding them back

Missy Elliott recently won a VMA for her ”We Run This” video. But, considering it was for special effects — and that she was the only female rapper nominated — that accolade felt more like a consolation prize. Not that long ago, Elliott, who’s sold more than 7 million albums, led a charge of ladies in hip-hop — which also included Lauryn Hill (7 million), Lil’ Kim (4 million), and Eve (4 million). Now Elliott is hard-pressed to push 630,000 copies of her latest disc, 2005’s The Cookbook. It’s a decent achievement, to be sure, but one that marks a 70 percent dive from 2002’s Under Construction. Why are Elliott and her rivals getting a bum rap these days? EW breaks it down.

The challenge for any female artist: to relate to women and appeal to men. So while some time in the slammer didn’t hurt rappers such as 50 Cent and T.I., handcuffs were not a flattering accessory for Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. Besides, in Foxy’s case, any lady who specializes in bragging about diamonds and designer clothes should probably avoid getting fingered for shoplifting.

Who’s to blame when an album fails to meet expectations? Depends on whom you talk to. Although Lil’ Kim was incarcerated and unable to promote her fourth album — last year’s The Naked Truth, which stalled at 380,000 copies
she still wants out of her contract with Atlantic Records. And last month, Trina split with that same label when her third LP, 2005’s The Glamorest Life, fizzled. But where will these ladies go? ”A lot of female rappers are only capturing black audiences,” says Ebro Darden, assistant program/music director at New York City’s hip-hop radio station Hot 97. ”It makes more sense for labels to spend money on artists who can capture a broader audience.”

R&B pop stars such as Beyoncé, Fergie, and Ciara are stealing female rappers’ thunder by embracing street-smart looks and hip-hop sounds. ”The lines are blurred now,” says Darden. ”Gwen Stefani and Fergie don’t have street credibility or MC credibility, but they’re selling the hip-hop lifestyle and that’s what’s getting them the audience.”

Even in 2006, hip-hop remains a man’s world where female rappers’ best strategy for success is to become the ”first lady” of an all-male clique (think: Eve and the Ruff Ryders, Lauryn Hill and the Fugees). ”The nature of hip-hop is grimy male s—,” says Darden. ”Spray-painting walls, spinning on your head, and getting on some turntables. It has nothing to do with anything that we learn socially to be feminine. And because hip-hop record buyers are generally young white men — and women tend to purchase R&B
female rappers [still] need a male crew to be taken seriously.”