By Paul Cantor
It'd be a stretch to say hip-hop's been anything more than a male-dominated genre in recent years. Sure, there have been a few noteworthy female MCs (Trina, Diamond, Shawnna), but up until recently, none have captivated the mainstream's attention the way Nicki Minaj has. On Sunday, when Nicki performs at the VMA pre-show alongside will.i.am for their new single "Check It Out," it'll mark the first time since 2006 that a female MC has performed at the ceremony. The occasion raises the question, can Nicki Minaj's VMA performance help to single-handedly bring female rap back?
"She's not crashing the stage like Lil Mama and she's probably not going to be felt up by Diana Ross like Lil' Kim," said Carolina Bermudez, of Z100's "Elvis Duran and the Morning Show," noting that Nicki's being highlighted for the right reasons - her music. "She can be who she wants to be and there's no judgment."
Yes, it's about time female MCs reintroduced themselves.
"Nicki Minaj is definitely helping us get familiar with the concept of female MCs again," said Ernest Baker, associate editor at Complex. "Image, talent, and co-signs have allowed Nicki Minaj to make a place for herself in the public's consciousness and this year's awards are the perfect opportunity for her to capitalize and push her star power even further."
Legend, of Onsmash.com, agreed. Like Mr. Baker, he chalked up Nicki's ascension to the perfect storm of things clicking in place for her, but also a dearth of talent in the female MC space. "Nicki Minaj is definitely filling the void of the female MC in hip-hop at the moment, something hip-hop hasn't seen in a while," he said. "With the female MC lane wide open, she took the whole highway for herself ... she's the voice of the new female generation."
That's actually a tricky position to be in, because while it seems like the public's ready to hand over the crown, some are still unconvinced of Nicki's talent. Is she really that good, or is she just a little better than some female rappers who are actually terrible?
"Not taking away from her abilities or her talent," said Amy Andrieux, a former executive editor of The Source, but "for now she wins by default because she stands alone and has no one to compete with."
That doesn't necessarily disqualify Nicki's VMA performance from being one of the most-anticipated in some time. It's comeback season. Not for her, but for female rap.
"This year's VMA performance for Nicki is like Britney's 2007 comeback," said Dee Vazquez, a radio personality for New York's HOT97 and Sirius/XM. "Nicki has to show the female MC still has what it takes, and that they're not to be dismissed."
Ms. Andrieux agreed. "I'm super-amped to see Nicki performing at this year's VMAs because if hip-hop is going to be well-rounded, we need her presence," she said. "We [need] the presence of femcees. Not just one, but many. And hopefully Nicki will inspire a slew of other female rappers to step up to the plate."