The Dilemma Of Female Rappers In Sexist Nigeria
On March 11, 2018, Eva Alordiah, arguably one of Nigeria’s finest lyricists, tweeted what seemed to be a normal rap artist’s penchant for the grandiose, only this time, there was a tacit undercurrent of the gender disparity that has become one of the limiting factors for female emcees in Nigeria.
“When you love to rap and even do it better than mosta the guys,” she tweeted with an accompanying video of a song that saw her rap in a quick-fire style over a jangly, searing beat.
Her rap repertoire is far from being a child of straitjacketed artistic bent. Having featured on different tracks with heavyweights such as Phyno, Olamide, Sarkodie, Sinzu, BoogeyThat, Femi Kuti, Darey Art Alade and Reminisce, Eva has more than paid her dues as a top rated artist. But the Nigerian entertainment industry is one that is prone to the glorification of hype above real talent, bar some instances. And when being a woman is thrown into the mix, the problem becomes acuter.
“Female rap artists in Nigeria are almost like an endangered species,” says Terry Tha Rapman. With over 20 years in the industry that is not kind to rap music in itself, Rapman’s opinion holds some validity.
But the problem is reflective of the limited opportunities women have in the larger Nigerian society, another male rapper, Ela Joe, says.
The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017, which benchmarks 144 countries, finds that the parity gap across health, education, politics and the workplace is widening for the first time since records began in 2006. The report notes that 68 per cent of the world’s gender gap is now closed, with the reversal driven by declining gender equality in the workplace and political representation.
With Nigeria ranked at 122 out of the 144 countries indexed, the seeming retrogression from 94 in 2006 to the present position came on account of a decline in women empowerment and reversals on the educational attainment sub-index. In both instances, Nigeria is ranked 135.
The uninspiring statistics are reflective of Waye’s experience. The upcoming rapper thought being a female would give her an advantage until she started doing music professionally. The odds piled up and discouragement rolled in. She had to deal with the sceptics who discounted her talent without even listening to her.
All the females interviewed for this piece like Eva said back in 2014 on ‘Eva Says,’ one of the tracks in her 2014 eponymous EP – “Don’t box me in the stereotype that the society imagines a girl should be. I am more than just a gender. I am more than just another girl who cooks and cleans, whose only asset is the fruit that springs forth from within the well between her legs” – insist they are more than just talentless girls without ambitions.
“There are a whole lot of talents. But I don’t know why they are being relegated to the sidelines. For strange reasons, like it is in every sector of the country, women are sidelined,” says Ela Joe, a member of the defunct Da Thorobreds, a hip-hop group which comprised of IllBliss, B-Elect and Obiwon.
In spite of the burgeoning pool of talents, the stifling environment created by inadequate access to opportunities has demeaned the stock of female rap artists. Concerts and festivals hardly have female rap artists as opening acts. Having one as a headliner can only be imagined.
Hardly has any female rap artist been absolute in her impact since 2006 when Weird MC dropped ‘Ijoya’, a track that fused the boundary of traditional drumming, pop, and hip-hop with easy-on-the-ear lyrics.
While Weird MC may have been a reference point for her kind, her mainstream hits are grossly limited. And she’s well aware of that fact.
“I use myself as an example,” says Weird MC in an interview. “Allen Avenue came out from nowhere and it became a huge success. Then I took my time and I came up with Ijoya.”
She, however, thinks that the problems are more than gender discrimination and lack of equal opportunities. Female rappers, she says, are timid and lack the goal-getter mentality of male emcees.
“They let me know about their element of fear; maybe because of how I relate with a lot of them and because of my demeanour they find it so easy to approach me,” she says in an interview.
“They tell me that it is a male-dominated industry and I agree with them. It is not just peculiar to Nigeria; it is so in a lot of industries in the world. It is about you striking out and believing that you have to stand out.
“I talk to them sometimes on the phone. I have had an experience with one of them; I attended a show and she got booed and started crying. I told her that even if she had to cry, she should do it in private. I do not want to see her cry, it is awful already. You are giving me a very negative perception of your brand.”
The timidity goes beyond not seizing opportunities when they come. It is, perhaps, the female rappers themselves not seeking the right opportunities that will sell their talents to a larger audience.
“The thing about the rap industry for female artists is that there is really nobody coming up to say, ‘I want to take the space’,” says Olori Supergal, an entertainment and lifestyle blogger.
That reluctance to hug the limelight finds its roots in the inability of budding female artists to find someone with deep pockets to bankroll their careers. Without necessary financial outlay for getting top-notch recording sessions, video production and necessary promotions, talent might just not be enough to take up the torch left by the likes of Sasha P and Weird MC.
“Financial issue is much a bigger problem for female artists than it is for male ones,” Butafly, an aspiring female rapper, says.
But the problem may not be limited to gender discrimination, say DJ Jimmy Jatt and radio host Folu Storm. Both agree that the quality of rap music churned out in Nigeria in the last six years has done more damage to the chances of female rap artist having a pedestal to market their art.
“Rap as a genre sort of declined in the last five, six years,” Storms says.
The problem may have to do more with Nigerians’ penchant for preferring anything foreign, rapper Kel believes. Less a fortnight after the release of latest album K.O.D. American rapper J. Cole was in Nigeria for a concert. The Nigerian audience had mastered the lyrics of the new album to Kel’s amazement.
“Seeing so many people rapping along to old and new songs (KOD), I’d like to ask, why exactly do we have a problem with rap music in Nigeria?”
“I ask, why exactly do we have a problem with hip-hop in Nigeria? And I’m talking real hip hop? Why do we “shun” the hip-hop artists we have over here? Why do we not support and love them as much?”
But there are those who say female rappers may also be victims of their own inability to adapt to the changing faces of the Nigerian industry, which in the last few years has seen the likes of Davido, Wizkid and Olamide morph into huge superstars with international reckoning, riding on the wings of pop sounds which, though are replete with infectious, catchy refrains, are somewhat monotonous.
“The scenario is different now and keeping up is not as easy as it used to be,” says B-Elect, who like Elajoe was a member of Da Thorobreds.
But Butafly disagrees. She acknowledges that female rap artists, like their male counterparts, do music because of the love they have for it. Hence, producing songs tends to be from a subjective point. But that does not imply that they do not think of the needs of the audience for whom the songs are produced.
“I want to do music that I love first. But I also think about what will make someone love the music better,” she says.
“So I want to put in real work, not just for the passion, but I also have to be strategic.”
A rethink is needed if such strategy does not involve how to properly monetise the songs churned out regardless of the absence of necessary structures that could aid content monetisation. In fact, an analyst says the absence of such structure should spur the need for artists, male or female, to create strategies that cater to their needs, factoring in how the internet affects the music distribution and consumption.
Storm says: “We can talk about Weird MC or Sasha P today, but how much did their music make them?”
But there is a way out, she explains. Reinforcement of the positive aspirations of the girl child has to be heightened. The society, she notes, must move away from the practices that deliberately confine the woman to a set of professions.
And just like Butafly says in one of her songs, “I’m not one of the stupid bitches that are steadily begging for credit,” female rappers need not put themselves at the mercy of an inclement industry that has consistently undermined their talent, creativity and the diversity they bring to the table.
But they do need to recreate themselves, evolve and retool their strategies. Fast!