If you think about the vocal work of the prominent female rappers of the past 15 years (all two of them: Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott), something should leap out immediately: they aren't just rappers. Both have sung extensively over the course of their (cooled) careers as hit-makers. Sound-wise, they have little in common beyond genre association, but when it comes to the use of their natural instruments, they're as familiar as mirror images (Missy's more a rapper, Lauryn's more a singer, but they're both impressively ambidextrous). I don't believe this is a coincidence -- I think it's a living example of the old adage that women have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition as men.
Missy and Lauryn they aren't the only ones: Queen Latifah sang her hooks from the start. Lil' Kim sings (albeit embarrassingly). The terminally ignored Smooth wove together singing and rapping to create a matrix perhaps too complex and disorienting to causal listeners. Mary J. Blige memorably rhymed during the title track of her first album, What's the 411?, and then recommenced spitting via her "Brooklyn" persona over a decade later. M.I.A. and Me'Shell NdegeOcello have spent much of their recorded time nestled somewhere between the two forms, in the land of sing-song. Georgia Anne Muldrow last month released her sophomore full-length, Umsindo, on which she mostly sings, but also bursts into MCing without warning. Her rapping adds a jagged texture to this stew of an album, which is so dense that I'm still trying to wrap my head (or tongue?) around it. Flavors flow in and out of a thick, sun-drenched base, which is present enough to make the album feel almost too samey. But maybe it's ultimately cohesive in its anarchy? See? I don't fucking know. Amanda Blank, who just released her debut, I Love You, also vacillates between singing and rapping, but she does neither particularly well. She's a sexed-up descendant of Peaches who seems to prioritize provocation way over craft. Her sound is less skillful ambidexterity and more flailing shit to see what sticks.
(And I acknowledge that plenty of men do the singing/rapping thing -- it's just a greater of concentration of noted female rappers do it since, duh, there aren't a lot of noted female rappers.)
And then there's the much-hyped Lil' Wayne/Drake/Amber Rose (/Kanye?) cohort Nicki Minaj, whose work falls somewhere between Muldrow's and Blank's ways of multitasking. She opens her latest mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty (released earlier this year), by announcing her desperation for fame: "I know in the end, it's not going to be about my talent, it's not going to be about my connections, it's not going to be about my looks. It's going to be about who wants it the most. And I want it the most." I think she has to believe that because of the three categories, only her connections are truly impressive. For all the big talk, Minaj has very little to say whether she's rapping or singing. And she seems to be no songstress either, as the only Scotty tracks that really stick out are covers of existing hits (although a collection of polished, original compositions is perhaps too tall an order for a mixtape). Minaj won't wow you with her flow, though her rapping voice sounds natural and shows no signs of the underlying desperation. She is competent in metaphor ("I get more head than a pigtail"), but she's also prone to nonsense catchphrases: she refers to herself as Nicki Lewinsky (after, I presume, Monica, means that she wears opportunism on her sleeve right next to the semen, I guess?), and even more often, calls herself "Harajuku Barbie." She never explains the latter (as far as I can tell), which makes me wonder if she knows what the fuck she's even talking about, since she looks neither particularly Harajuku nor Barbie-like.
One thing is clear: she happily submits to the man. In another interlude (and note that you're not doing your job as an MC when your spoken interludes say more about you than your rhymes), Minaj breaks down her dual modes: "They wanna hear me sing. You know, behind every bad bitch, there's a really sweet girlie girl. There's a really sweet Harajuku Barbie. And, now it's time for them to hear me get all nice and soft and moist." I wonder why she's showing her hand like this, but at least there's genuine insight on Minaj's general motivation. She isn't singing because she's happy, she isn't singing because she's free. Her eye is not on the sparrow, it's higher, into that nebulous territory where mega-fame exists that so few get to see. It's all about appeasing "them" and rounding out an image. It's as though this self-styled Barbie is so invested in gender norms, she's embracing the "work twice as hard" thing as an angle, not a lament. You can't knock her hustle, but you can't quite admire it as empowerment, either. She's so hungry, she's eating out of both sides of her mouth.