Why Did Grime Never Go Right For Women?
1Xtra DJ Sian Anderson asks why it's only the mandem who seem to be flouncing about in their BMWs, looking like ballers with Ps and dat.
Yes Noisey, we get it, grime’s had a good year. But why has it only been the mandem who have flounced about in their BMWs looking like ballers with Ps and dat? Where did all the female MCs go?
A few weeks ago, I became MC Sunshine and dropped my verse on Meridian Dan’s German Whip as part of a clash with DJ Target on 1Xtra. It was a bit of fun, but I was probably one of the only British female MCs played on 1Xtra that week. It got me thinking, why isn’t there a response track? You know the type of thing: “see me driving his German whip, scratched out his windows like a cat.” The answer can only be one of four options:
1. Ladies don’t have German Whips (but we know that never stopped Big H)
2. Ladies aren’t a fan of leaning back (that’s more of a personal preference thing)
3. The tune was shit and ladies didn’t want a version (nope)
4. There weren’t actually any female MCs left (bingo)
Female UK rap had a promising headstart in the early 2000s, with the MC collective Female Allstars who borrowed from rap, garage and dancehall to create a series of lively if disorganised cyphers. But all of them have struggled to build a career. They held the flag for the gyaldem, lyrically on par in a scene that was dominated by men. Shystie was collaborating with Kano and clashing Lady Fury. Lady Sovereign was opening for Dizzee Rascal and being the voice for every single frustrated female being told they couldn’t MC if they were white. Sure, not all of them were that talented, but the ones that were - Queenie, Fury, Lioness, Nolay - continue to release mixtapes, feature on radio sets and make a small income from PRS and live shows.
As grime started to establish itself as its own genre, the likes of Lady Leshurr, RoxXxan and Amplify Dot stepped to the forefront (I think the less we say about Mz Bratt the better). During this era everyone, including the MCs themselves, were a bit confused about whether they were grime or rap or whether it even mattered. They could all do 140BPM, they could all spit on Eskimo if they wanted too, Roxxxan had even joined the OG’z and Kozzie in 09 for a DJ Cameo set where she sat nicely on grime. But, in the words of Manga, "they never went Deja they never went Rinse, they never went Eski they never met Gift." It was never going to be authentic enough to stick; they weren’t really convincing the masses.
Without the roots in a real grime scene, female MCs were more susceptible to the damage wreaked by major labels. They were being given opportunities to trade some of their cool with priority major label acts, such as Stooshe, in exchange for some dolla dolla bill. Tinchy Stryder really went and fucked up the base with the Game Over Female Takeover and it all just went tits up from there.
Now it’s 2014 and, aside from Lady Leshurr and Nolay, I’m struggling to see who’s left. It’s embarrassing. How could it just stop?
This would never happen to the boys. If the grime scene died and everyone got day jobs, then one day Joey Essex dropped a verse on Circles VIP and Preditah approved the beat, I’d like to think that Skepta would quit his job in Sports Direct and jump back in the booth to revive grime asap.
So what’s required of the girls? I think the problem is relatability. I want to feel like someone else in the world is going through what I’m going through. Back when I was growing up and the only access I had to music was Channel U (at my friend’s house because I didn’t even have Sky). I clearly recall riding my pushbike to the block every day after 6 Form to sit on the shop roof with a bottle of vodka and my pals and freestyle over GYPE Riddim because the UK wasn’t producing anything I could lyrically connect with. I had to just make up my own.
Nowadays I listen to Katy B's "Little Red Light", Beyonce's “Flawless" and Kiesza's "Bad Thing". While I’m being flawless checking through my man’s BlackBerry like a fiend for the bad things I am safe in the knowledge that these very successful and talented ladies have done it too. It makes me happy that when I’m going through an emotional break up I can fling my ex the MP3 of ‘Taylor Swift – We Are Never Getting Back Together’ and get on with my day.
There is a precdent here. In 2010 Lioness made “Sing For Him”, a refix of Ghetts’ "Sing For Me" in which she talks about the repercussions of finding out the guy she’s seeing is cheating on her ("It’s nothing I’ll sing for him, cause now I know I’m just a thing to him, I’ll let him think that I’m still into him, and get enough evidence and ruin things for him"). Some thought it was completely unacceptable to ruin her ex’s new relationship, while others we’re like "hell yeah, let him suffer." Either way it sparked huge conversation, hit a few nerves and gave ladies a solution (however evil) to a problem they may also be having.
Similarly, Nolay’s legendary Link Up TV session happened in 2012 and, as always, she brought the realness - launching off with the lyric "When mummy never had shit I’d shot and I’d steal, 13-years-old I’d shot and steal." Although I personally didn’t live that, I’m sure there are people out there who thought,"Wow, there’s someone going through what I went through who have come out on top and who aren’t ashamed to speak out about it.
Male or female, I could name hardly anyone as blunt who consistently delivers a message of embracing your past whilst looking to your future. Then in 2013 I was sent Janet's "Sorted It Out" featuring Slickman and, although it didn't have the powerful messages of Lioness or Nolay, it was definitely time for a greeze female who could shut down the clubs with reload bars and get us all into gas-mode.
I badly want to bring all this back, at this level of quality, because unless I’m being ignorant, I haven’t found the equivalents of those moments since they actually happened.
So this is for all the ladies who are on the come up, all the ladies who have taken a break, all the ladies who are doubting their point on this musical industrial earth – please pattern up, us ladies need you. We need quotables, we need Frankee-and-Eamon like responses and we need someone to wipe out Lethal Bizzle because I refuse to believe that (as talented as he is) there isn’t someone on this earth who can beat his record of having the top three charting grime songs of all time.
Girl wherever you are, please come and find me. I’ll make it happen for you I promise, Tulisa if you’re out there, I strongly believe we could recreate you as an MC and make you the UK Iggy. Your verse on “Girls” was like the dream.
I did a seminar in Birmingham last week and a young lady stood up and said, “yeah but it’s harder for women in music and female MCs”. I nearly exploded. It’s not harder, it’s exactly the same as for a male, and right now due to the lack of women here – it’s actually easier. There’s a gap in the market for you – please take it, for my own satisfaction if anything: I’m dying for someone to do a response to Section Boyz which allows us ladies to let the mandem (and our ex-boyfriends) know they can keep their crusty jumpers. We don’t want them *flicks weave*.