I swear, this is not another “I miss Lauryn Hill” article, even though, yes, I do miss her output. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (and, to a lesser degree, the Unplugged double album) changed my life for the better. But as often as Hill is cited for being the greatest female rapper of all time (I agree) and, in some circles, the greatest rapper, period (I also agree), she wasn’t the only. There were several, and as an ’80s baby, I grew up watching them and sneaking to order their videos off Video Jukebox and playing dumb like I didn’t know where the charges came from when my parents got the bill. Oops!
I was musically raised on three genres: 1) the obscure Motown songs that my father—a former DJ in Detroit during the ’70s—prided himself on knowing all the lyrics of, claimed were better than the hits and blasted loud enough to wake me up on Saturday mornings; 2) any and everything Luther Vandross or Celine Dion, which served as my mother’s driving and/or cleaning music; and 3) hip-hop, the kind that actually had women—note the plural—in it.
Twenty years later, give or take, I can still rattle off the lyrics by Roxanne Shanté or MC Trouble or Oaktown 3.5.7, or J.J. Fad or Salt-N-Pepa or MC Lyte. After that, Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Trina, Lauryn Hill and more. Sometimes their lyrics were deep or profane, funny or boastful, or hard or occasionally politically incorrect, but they reflected a point of view that some women could relate to without having to suspend reality or change the pronouns when spitting along.
I liked seeing women who looked like me making music in the genre I loved. And I took for granted having readily available options and differing perspectives. I’ve thought about this from time to time in recent years but again on Sunday night, as Nicki Minaj accepted her fifth BET Award for best female artist. It’s been a long-running joke, for about five years, that the network even bothers nominating other women, when half the audience thinks “Who?” or “She had an album?” because Nicki is the only name they really know with a recent hit or radio play.
I don’t like or dislike Minaj, really. She doesn’t make music for me, and that’s OK. I just wish she had some real competition from other women on her level or at least somewhere close. Surely there are other women with something to say worth hearing. And while I’m sure that T.I. protégée Iggy Azalea—aka the blond, white Australian girl Forbes magazine bafflingly described as “running hip-hop,” and the only other female rapper to perform on the show—is a nice person, she seems more like a marketing gimmick than an MC with something to say.
Let me be more specific: I want to see black women—plural—back on hip-hop’s main stage. It matters for the same reason black kids need black dolls and folks complain about the images of black women on TV—scripted and reality. Or why having a president, and first lady, who are black matters. It’s about being included and having a voice and being recognized as someone with something important to say. And yes, women—black women—can do and currently are doing these things in any number of fields, but it should happen in hip-hop, too, where there’s room on the main stage for more than just one.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.