Femcee and Lady Labels

I came across this video of Jean Grae where she talks about her career, her parents, and her frustration with the way people talk about female rappers. Gender discussion starts at about the 6 minute mark.

“I really hate talking about female rap. I am so sick of that shit. And not that I don’t support women who do hip-hop, but I just… It just seems so condescending to separate it. I don’t care, the race or gender doesn’t matter to me. And it bothers me, it DID bother me so much that people were so concerned with it, that it was such a big deal. I was like, I don’t understand why you’re making it such an issue. Why can’t you just enjoy the music? Do you like it or do you not? If you don’t like me then just don’t fucking like me. Don’t be like ‘You are so good! How do you have a vagina yet you’re able to put words together?’“

This is definitely not the first time Grae has expressed dissatisfaction with the conversation surrounding her music and gender. Between having a tour called “WTF is a Femcee?!” and her snap at music critics in the BET Cypher (“2012, stop saying femcee/ that’s not a word/ I hop the curb and hit you with my ten-speed”), she’s made it pretty clear that “femcee” is not something she identifies as.

The problem with the term femcee is that it creates a separation between female rappers and “normal” ones. (Dudes.) It’s one of the more common ways to steer conversations around female artists in an uncomfortable direction that bridges on novelty. (Think about why it’s so thrilling for music writers to write about an “all girl band.”) When being a lady rapper (or any other type of musician) is such an extraordinary thing that it gets it’s own extraneous label, it’s hard to command the same level of respect and acknowledgement that men do.

That said, I pretty firmly stand in the “identify as whatever you’d like” category when it comes to musicians (or more generally, people), so if femcee is a self-selected label I have no qualms about that. Gendering musicians usually has negative or tokenistic effects on women, so I’m wary of superfluous references to femininity, and how that will continue to affect women who try to make it in the music industry.