Female Braggadocio and the Hip-Hop Highlander

[Note: This is my first guest post! Please welcome my good friend Michelle Ofiwe, who has an amazing blog called The Doorknocker, which you should add to your RSS feed right away!]

nickiminajpinkfriday
One of the biggest songs of 2010 was Nicki Minaj’s “Did It On Em,” a three minute pop-rap taunt fest that coined phrases like “all these bitches is my sons,” and made generous references to “nappy headed hoes” and other “rap bitches.”

It got incredible airplay and club promotion, so we could all sing along and lament about “[crusty] bitches,” whoever they may be in our lives. The lyrics read somewhat like a declaration: Minaj raps in a choppy-style about haters and other female rappers who seem less like peers and more like staunch competition. Still, the beat is nice and we know (or assume) that Minaj is not posing her golden shower fantasies and rage at us, but other anonymous “hoes” who have been unfortunate to cross her path. In that regard, the song seems pretty standard.

To say that “Did It On Em” floats in a league of its own would be highly improper. Plus, I am fearful of creating scapegoats. Minaj was not the first to participate in what I have called the “Hip-Hop Highlander,” or the never-ending, blood-thirsty competition between female rappers that aches for a unitary ruler. In “On Femcees and the Hip-Hop Highlander,” I coined the phrase to explain the ideas and methods we as fans use to engage with female rappers. Now I feel that the term has to be broadened. It’s not just us, or just them. It’s all of us. We all participate in the Hip-Hop Highlander, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that participation in that system is likely to garner success for the individual femcees themselves. “Did It On Em” sold millions not just in the spirit of competitive vanity, but also in the fervor of watching women fight.

On first glance, the Highlander seems to be a mixture of female braggadocio and confidence. For example, when Sasha Go Hard claims that “ratchet hoes [mean] mug because they can’t handle her,” in “Bad Bitch on Deck,” her dismissal of haters shines through her heightened sense of self.

Braggadocio is not a lost concept in hip-hop or rap — male rappers constantly use this to effect in their own music by comparing themselves and their style to other rappers. Yet, female braggadocio as part of a real expression of self-love and confidence is lost to the Highlander. A quick aside about a “weak bitch” or a “rap hoe” and the expressions change to include other women negatively, but still not at the (female) artists’ expense. Such tenements of hip-hop and rap change in similar was when applied to the realm of female rappers: looking for the “realest” (claims of authenticity) or “baddest” or “strongest” or overall “best” female rapper diverges from mainstream male rappers because all of these things have different meanings when applied to women.

So how do femcees let us know that they are these things, that they live up to their own hype? They come for other women. No “other bitch is fucking with” the “Realest Bitch in the Game,” who isn’t checking for “swagless hoes.” In a whirlpool of adamant individuality, the Highlander comes out loud and apparent in femcee rapdom, where every look is polished and every second of media is an opportunity to separate oneself from every other woman. One personal note I’ve taken is that this form of female braggadocio is aggressive. It can be slipped into every verse, every line, and every word. There is an underlying need to prove ones self as not only the best and most skilled rapper, but the best and most skilled woman.

In “On Femcees,” I question comparing “the Highlander” to typical (male-fronted) beef found in hip-hop culture, and that comparison is still pretty sketchy today. The Highlander is built on a lot of social ideals, namely the ones that encourage constant competitiveness between women in professional, social, and personal situations. The Highlander is as structured as female peers competing for the top spot at the local law firm, but as flighty as the “Who Wore It Best?” columns. In a society that (c)overtly compares women perpetually, it is not surprising that we find that same sense of “sisterhood” with femcees?

Competition between women can be a very personal thing, but when you engage in such in a very popular, very public avenue, your intentions may no longer be your own. I have seen plenty a song get lost in the mix to overzealous fans looking for a bloodshed, and it seems that even if a femcee tries to avoid the Highlander, she may still be sucked right into it. Sometimes, if she requests that the beef itself be dropped by her fans, it may not be fulfilled. In contrast, male rappers are able to disengage quite easily from beefs. For example, Meek Mill’s beef with fellow Phildelphian rapper Cassidy is deadened with a quick refusal from Mill. Standom — or the loyal & attached fanbases of (usually) female artists/rappers — may not sometimes grant an easy exit for female rappers. The culture itself is everywhere — in her fanbase, in her music, in her peer group, maybe even her label, and is just a small part of the eternal catfight that the media and society are perpetually seeking. Catfight tropes are not limited to just rap/hip-hop, though. They masquerade themselves as movie plots, titillating scenes in TV shows, and even pornography.

In that sense, female braggadocio– or the overt and unapologetic expression of self — can’t ever be just braggadocio. It becomes some unfortunate extension of societal expectations of women. Can female confidence sell without the rejection of another woman? Are we always asking femcees to perform in the arena? Are we letting them express confidence, (even misguided) anger, pain or other emotions and escape the Highlander?

Boys Will Be Boys

I just recently downloaded Cassie’s new mixtape, so in quasi-celebration of that (I’m a fan), I thought I would crank out a few long-sitting opinions about the video she and Nicki Minaj made for “The Boys.” The song is a typical narrative but from a different perspective — some nameless dude uses his money and power to bag a bunch of women as his prizes, but because it’s told from the perspective of women onlookers, the male braggadocio is something to be scorned, instead of praised. (“Your lipstick stain smells like a cheap hotel/
Diamond watches and a gold chain can’t make my frown turn around.”)

The video is also cartoonishly feminine, which is a common trope for Minaj, who frequently refers to herself as “Barbie.” Nicki commands a group of men dressed in bright pink, then enters a salon, which we see from the beginning will turn into a crime scene. There are surface-level comparisons to the video for Beyonce and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” which also prominently features a crime scene perpetrated by the singers, but “The Boys” is less an avenue for random chaos and more a story of control. Cassie is dressed in bright, feminine colors, but still postures herself in a masculine way, sitting with her legs spread and tossing money in mocking imitation of the men she sings about (“You get high/ fuck a bunch of girls / and then cry / on top of your world”). The murder of the men is a gendered revenge, a more gruesome role reversal, as it’s often women who suffer violence at the hands of men.