The 2017 Rolling Loud Festival lineup was unveiled to hip-hop fans on Jan. 25. While major hip-hop figures such as Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne and Future appeared at the event, another eye-catching aspect of the lineup did not make headlines. Out of the 56 names that appeared at the highly-anticipated festival, only three were female. Rapper Dreezy performed at the event, while two R&B singers, Polly A and Teenear, also made the bill. However, the original lineup did not include Dreezy and Teenear. Only Polly A and an adult film star named Uma Jolie, who was slated to DJ at the three-day event, were featured.
Many people took notice of the eyebrow-raising lineup almost instantly, including Arkansas rapper Kari Faux and DJ Booth writer Brent Bradley. “I was looking at that [Rolling Loud] lineup and I was like, out of allllllll of the women right now that are doing poppin' sh*t, you're telling me not one is on this lineup? Not one?” Faux says over-the-phone in disbelief.
With so many female MC's changing the way we look and listen to rap, it’s mind-boggling as to why the industry still doesn’t seem to give them shine comparable to the males in the game. “They're coming out with music that's just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts,” says Bradley, who wrote a piece about Rolling Loud Festival’s absence of female musicians back in January.
Rolling Loud Festival’s founders, Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif, did not respond to requests for comment, however, they spoke to the Miami New Times regarding the festival’s lineup selection process and Rolling Loud’s staggering lack of females.
“Honestly, it’s not that we don’t want to put women on the stage; it’s mostly what people want to see,” they said. "Earlier in the year, we took to our Twitter account to ask what our audience wanted at this year’s festival. Most of the replies were Future, Kendrick [Lamar], Young Thug, and a few others, so we did our best to abide by that. Also, most of our audience is male, so they just happen to choose males.” When asked by writer Cristina Jerome if they will work to get more female musicians on the bill for future installments of the festival, the duo stated that they will keep their eyes on social media and the charts in order to “showcase hot emerging talent,” but not specifically stating if they would find female rap reps.
In the past few years, women have not only shown they can act as rap’s tastemakers, but they’re also helping to sway some important conversations in the genre: Young M.A. has done much for LGBTQ representation in rap, and Remy Ma’s “shETHER” raised the topic of competition between mainstream female MCs.
“I feel like [female rappers] have an added perspective, in that they don't have that inherent misogyny that takes up so much of rap's lyrical content,” Bradley continues. “There’s different perspectives that we're missing out on as a culture.”
In general, there still needs to be a bigger spotlight for women in the hip-hop industry. That support could very well start with more opportunities on the festival front. However, there are several aspects to consider when it comes to how certain artists are chosen to perform, which may ultimately give some female rappers the shaft.
Who Attends Music Festivals?
There are a host of major festivals that have had consistency in booking mainstream rappers as well as rappers with a cult following. Compared to popular festivals like Coachella, Governor’s Ball and Bonnaroo Music Festival, gatherings like Rolling Loud, Made In America and Hot 97’s Summer Jam provide a large selection of hip-hop artists to look forward to.
According to a study conducted by EventBrite in 2014, the 17-19 and 18-24 age groups are the two biggest age groups at music festivals, with 27 and 28 percent of festival goers falling in those age brackets. In 2016, a similar study revealed that male music fans make up 59 percent of festival goers, while female fans make up 41 percent.
Nielsen revealed insights in 2015 about the demographic of hip-hop listeners, with African-American and Latino (Hispanic) males in the 18 to 24 age range listed as the most fervent fans of mainstream hip-hop music. Additionally, Nielsen revealed in 2016 that Latino music fans are the highest draw at music festivals, with 51 percent of audiences identifying as Latino.
Since there’s a large demographic of male fans attending music festivals, there’s a possibility that there’s a lack of a female presence at the festivals because of the relatability factor.
“[I think men] just automatically are like ‘I'm not tryin' to hear nothing that she got to say,’ or it has to be a certain kind of content in order for a man to really listen,” suggests Faux, who performed at Summer Ends 2015 in Tempe, Arizona as the sole female MC.
“Personally, I know I have a lot of men that listen to my music. They’re coming to me like, ‘oh, you don't talk about your p***y’ and ‘you don't talk about this, that and the third.’ That still doesn't mean that you need to write off every female artist that you've ever listened to.”
Corporate sponsors can also influence the musicians who are invited to perform. Some festival sponsors include New Era and Budweiser (Made In America Festival), Xbox One and Heineken (A3C Festival and Conference) and Bacardi and Don Julio (Governor’s Ball). This is not to say that women can't enjoy these companies, however, the campaigns for them are typically geared towards men with the notion that men drink and play video games more than women.
“The bigger the festival, [festival coordinators] have to adhere to corporate sponsors’ specifics, and then the corporate sponsors have to make sure that the people being featured can have hits,” says Deneka Peniston, a photographer who has been shooting Hot 97’s Summer Jam Festival since 2011. “It's all drama and political back-and-forth to get it going.” As for what she’s seen from the pit, Peniston says that the lack of female rappers has been a conversation at Summer Jam in the past.
“[In] 2011, I was just excited to be there, I didn't realize what was going on, but by 2012, I did realize there weren't a lot of female MCs there,” she says. “Other photographers there also noticed. It seems like the person [performing] has to have had a real impact before they even get there. It seems as though they probably give a little more wiggle room to the males, like, ‘they already have a buzz going on, but we'll put them on the Festival Stage and get them started.’ I don't know if that's because there aren't a lot of female MCs out there, or they're just giving preference to the males.”
What Happens Instead?
In lieu of female acts, several music festivals seem to place precedence on older music acts to whet the appetites of fans. Public Enemy headlined Philly’s Made In America Festival in 2013, while Coachella is known for incorporating both newer and older acts as their headliners, such as AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Additionally, a large number of female R&B and neo-soul singers also seem to be placed high on many festival’s lineups. R&B and urban contemporary music (a fusion of hip-hop, rap and R&B) has a key demographic of 18 to 34-year-olds, according to Nielsen, and many of the genre’s biggest stars like Rihanna, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd appeal to a base larger than just black women and men, thanks to Top 40 crossover hits. Is there the possibility that featuring R&B singers is the safer, more profitable choice for festivals to go with?
“To make a movie analogy, they're kind of the romantic comedy,” Bradley says of R&B musicians. “They’re appealing enough to the male population of concertgoers that it's not going to detract them from going, but it's also gonna bring women.” Bradley also has reason to believe that the smaller amount of female listeners championing female rappers could also make it more difficult for festival slots to be open for the MC’s.
“It’s kind of like the old school hip-hop heads that talk about mumble rap and how rap is dying. They're not propping up the people that are actually good, they're just talking about the sh*t that they don't like,” he explains. “I feel like that tends to happen to female rappers as well. We're talking about the lack of female representation and we're talking about how there aren't that many really doing it, instead of propping up these women who are making really dope music.”
“At what point are they gonna be like, ‘oh, maybe we should actually try to diversify the lineup of these festivals’?” Faux asks about music festivals giving female rappers a chance to shine. “I feel like more really dope women are gonna come out and keep making a name for themselves."
Is There Still A Stigma?
Despite making moves with their music, providing fans with creative lyrics and gaining followings of their own, there’s also the possibility that female rappers aren’t booked for music festivals because the industry still does not know how to handle audience’s perception of certain images and lyrics, making many female rappers an afterthought because of what we see on the surface from a few representatives.
“Female rappers definitely straddle a really fine line,” Peniston says on how one’s image can hinder people’s thoughts regarding them and their music. “You're either hyper-sexualized, or you have no sexuality whatsoever, or you're geared towards more of a male aesthetic. Unfortunately, the hip-hop audience...they can't always handle the nuance of it.”
If it can be 32 ‘Lil Sum'n Sum’n's' and they can all rap about hitting people with the draco, then of course there can be more than one female artist. —Kari Faux
Bradley suggests that the mainstream media tends to focus on one female rapper at a time, which makes it more difficult for listeners to open up their minds to what else is out there since they’re seeing just one type of musician.
“Whether it's Nicki Minaj or Missy Elliott or Iggy Azalea, as much as I'm a fan of a lot of their music, we haven't been getting a full range of what's out there,” he says. “So I think when the average listener thinks of the female rapper, they think of pop tunes, they think of over-sexualized, and they think of not a lot of content. That’s not all of what's out there, that's just been what's getting pushed because it's safe.”
Is this focus on one mainstream female rapper intentional? Does the industry believe that there’s only room for one female rapper? The answer to those questions are tricky, however, it does seem certain.
Hot 97’s Summer Jam has featured a myriad of female rappers since its inception in 1994. However, research on the concert’s lineups show that only one female rapper per year was invited to headline, with the exception of 1999, where both Eve and Missy Elliott performed as headlining acts. Research also shows that these female rappers were invited to perform only if they had a project, single or upcoming release, seldom for the sake of performing on a whim. This year, Young M.A., who is promoting her upcoming project, is on the Festival Stage, while “shETHER” MC Remy Ma and Faith Evans, the latter of whom is promoting her collaborative album with the late-Notorious B.I.G., are on the Stadium Stage.
“I think that if it were up to people like us who love the music and want to see a diverse representation of the culture, then you'd absolutely see lineups that invite women outside of their press date or when they've just put something out that's poppin’,” Bradley says of Hot 97’s Summer Jam. “But, unfortunately, it's a lot like any other industry. They're just going with the safe picks. And that's not to say that it will always be that way, but right now, we're still seeing these corporations control the festivals, and when you have corporate money involved, you have to take the safe bet.”
Faux says that male rappers are getting a chance to make their music despite sharing similar images, ideals and material. Because of this fact, she says there’s no reason for female rappers not to be afforded the same opportunities, especially when women have so much to share.
“If it can be 32 ‘Lil Sum'n Sum’n's' and they can all rap about hitting people with the draco, then of course there can be more than one female artist,” she says. “As women, we're multi-faceted. Yeah, you may like to be ratchet sometimes, but sometimes you have to be intellectual, sometimes you have to be spiritual. It doesn't have to just be one thing. Men don't have to just be one thing if they don't want to. So why do we?”
Does the media’s overt obsession with the competition of female rappers make the selection process more challenging?
“Whenever there is more than one popular female rapper, it immediately becomes a competition between her and whoever is next. I think that's a really good way of making the competition small and making it to where we are solely focused on one or two people at one time,” suggests Bradley, who believes that the narrative should be changed so that music fans can discover a “full gamut” of female rappers. By keeping this in mind, Faux suggests instead of beefing or being “catty,” female rappers should have each other’s backs, because at the end of the day, they’re all in this together.
“I’m not saying that everybody has to be best f**kin’ friends, but just showing support for one another,” she says. “It only makes the people that don't wanna see that mad.”
What can be done to fix this issue? For starters, hip-hop fans who are eager to look at a fuller scope of rap artists at festivals should start by looking at the smaller festivals, which seem to place a greater importance on lesser-known female MC's. FYF Fest will be held from July 21-23 in Los Angeles. Missy Elliott will headline and Noname, Kamaiyah, Princess Nokia and Nadia Rose will perform. Made In America’s recently announced lineup gives Rapsody and Lizzo a chance to shine, while A3C in Atlanta also had female rappers such as Katie Got Bandz, Diamond and Lady Leshurr perform at their event through the years. Soundset, Panorama and The Outside Lands have also given lesser-known female rappers the spotlight they deserve.
“I think the underground does a pretty good job at embracing females a bit more than the mainstream does,” Bradley says. “I think of MCs like Noname or Little Simz who I think who are really embraced by the culture, and who are actually doing pretty well commercially as well, and I just think that when you get down past the Hot 100, Top 40 aspect of the game, there's a little more room for everyone else. Not everyone is gunning for the number one placements and everything like that.”
A greater question to ask while exploring the grand scheme of the issue would be: does the issue lie with the corporations? Peniston believes that once tastemakers are able to break away from the corporate aspect of the industry, it could make discovering new talent, especially in the rap game, a lot easier.
"There needs to be some sort of section [of websites and magazines] that really pushes what's happening that's new, the underground, and ‘this is what we think,’” Peniston suggests. “There needs to be more tastemakers who aren't attached to certain corporate entities. They should have some sort of segment where they can say, ‘this is what I think should be heard.’ I think if you give people a little more free reign, you'd be able to find things that are interesting."
Despite the hurdles that female rappers must hop over to get the recognition they deserve, Faux says she aims to stay true to her style, and doesn’t care too much about fame. What matters to her are her true fans.
“I'm gonna make the kind of music that I want, and the people that f**k with it, they're gonna f**k with it, because they f**k with me, and that's cool,” she says. “They say you have to look a certain way, you have to act a certain way, you have to dress a certain way, you have to make a certain type of music [to succeed]. I'm very happy and I'm just not down to sacrifice my happiness."