The Ladies of ’90s R&B
A couple of weeks ago my best friend Abby and I were just sifting through old YouTube videos of Brandy, like you do, when we came across this particular gem that neither of us had ever seen before. Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait.
Pretty dope, no? Despite the probable fact that Queen Latifah- my personal favorite of the three- seems to have written her verse in the car on the way over to the studio, Abby and I were both feeling the jam most heartily. We watched it about 5 times in a row and marveled at many things: the atrocity of Brandy’s leather dress-ensemble, the enviable dopeness of MC Lyte’s chambray shirt and orange anorak combo, and how it’s impossible to look at young Ray J for even a second without thinking of this. During our third viewing however, Abby put down the bong and stared at the screen.
“I just realized that all the rappers in this video are gay,” she said.
And she was right. Queen, MC Lyte and Yo-Yo: All lez. We marveled at the coincidence and how it was awesome that the best and best-selling female rappers of time–were three gay chicks. As the night wore on we spontaneously shouted out the names of other gay female rappers of the epoch: “Missy Elliot” I cried!. “Da Brat!” Abby responded “Monifah!” Wikipedia screeched. With the exception of Li’l Kim and Foxy Brown (who’s heterosexuality was as central a part of their persona as it was absent from these other ladies’), every female rapper of quality in the 90s seems to be, as my friend Tony’s grandmother would say, “that way”!
The cauldron of my stoned brain was suitably stirred! I started thinkin’ on women in Hip-Hop and R&B today vs. the early 90s and marveled at how different it is now. Stylish female rappers with a good flow and a good production team may be able to get a single on MTV or some indie buzz but the mainstream has no time for that. Artists like Rihanna, Ciara, Amerie, and Christina Milian have always been sexy ladies first, decent dancers/performers second and musically inclined third.
Also, there is the question of style. While undeniably sexy, the ladies of TLC rarely appeared in skirts and Mary J Blige wore almost exclusively jeans, puffy vests and Kangols. A quick Google search of any of the current R&B artists reveals bared shoulders, heavily glossed lips and sexy poses. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I miss my down girls of the 90s who preached UNITY and Cold Rockin Party’s and bein Funkdafied. I don’t know if I’m going anywhere with this. I’m probably not since you can’t draw conclusions like “black gay women were/are awesome rappers” cause doye, generalization, but calling attention to this phenomenon seems imporant. Who out there now has the flava to carry the torch? To let ’em know you ain’t a bitch or a ho? With the exceptions of Erykah Badu and kiiiinda Alicia Keys I can’t think of a strong female artist of the past ten years who’s come with the same degree of talent, flow, ferocity and style as the ladies above and that’s a bit of a shame.