“Cardi B way better than Nicki Minaj!”
Much like sports, hip-hop is no stranger to the hot take. With Cardi B’s single “Bodak Yellow” shocking the world to become the #1 song in the country, the VH1 star has set the bar for reality TV celebrities attempting to finesse that platform into out a music career. But let’s be real: Comparing her to Nicki Minaj is wildly unfair to both women.
If you slide over to Wikipedia really quick, you’ll learn that Nicki is the most commercially successful female rapper ever. She’s been nominated for 10 Grammy’s, and has won multiple Billboard, AMA, BET and MTV Video Music Awards. The New York Times suggested she could be, “the most influential female rapper of all-time”, while Time Magazine declared her one of the 100 most influential people in the world just last year.
Say what you will about her music, the elaborate outfits, the multiple personalities or the alleged Lil Kim biting—Nicki is a legend. End of discussion.
Cardi B has no business being compared to someone of Nicki’s stature. Yet even a perfunctory Twitter search for the words “Nicki”, “Cardi” and “better” will yield a thousand results. In fairness, most are Barbies rallying in defense of their fearless leader. But for this many rebuttals to exist in the twittershpere, there must be a strong contingent arguing on Cardi’s behalf. Somewhere.
And that begs the question: How come we never compare female rappers to male rappers?
Judging female emcees solely against other female emcees is lazy and counterproductive. It’s insulting to women (one would think), it pits women against one another (as if that hasn’t been done to death) and it puts male emcees on an often undeserved pedestal (because a lot of them are trash). Back in the late 1990’s, fans couldn’t wait to have Lil Kim/Foxy Brown arguments, because…ya know, we can only have one dominate female voice at a time, right? Even at the height of her success, we weren’t comparing Lauryn Hill to the elite male rhymers of the day. It wasn’t until about 10 years later when we heard Jay Z pay the compliment of comparing her to Andre 3000 on “A Star Is Born” (Jay actually compared him to her).
The women involved seem to feed into this at least somewhat. There always appears to be a beef between the top women in rap. Roxanne Shanté vs. The Real Roxanne, MC Lyte vs. Antoinette, Kim vs. Foxy, Kim vs. Nicki, Nicki vs. Iggy, Nicki vs. Remy, Banks vs. everybody; it’s old hat at this point, and seems disproportionate to the beefs involving their male counterparts. At what point though is it appropriate to cease shaking our heads at these women who refuse to get along and question whether or not the culture is forcing conflict upon them?
Sidebar: It was even once assumed Eve and Kim had static, a notion Eve shot down in a 2007 interview with Giant Magazine.
This could merely be learned behavior—we separate men in women at The Academy Awards and Grammys, which consequently conditions us to divide the two in discourse. Female rappers get in interviews and are invariably asked about other female rappers. We also don’t see an abundance of male/female rap collaborations, thus limiting the occasions where female lyricists can body their songmates (as Nicki famously did on “Monster“), earning the respect of the masses. And the elephant in the room is that by and large male rappers are much more popular than female rappers, which forces (fairly or unfairly) female rap into a pseudo-sub genre. Still, there are far more appropriate comparisons to be made.
A Cardi B/Kodak Black comp would make much more sense, considering Cardi’s smash hit was inspired by Kodak’s “No Flockin“. Evidently, flipping a rapper’s flow from a mixtape track and turning it into #1 song in the country doesn’t warrant quite the same amount of commentary as a Cardi/Nicki controversy. Cardi could also be measured against other rappers new to the game, such as 21 Savage or Lil Uzi Vert. She’s one of several rappers to be affiliated with the Bloods street gang, such as Game and Lil Wayne. You can compare her to other Bronx emcees, or other rappers of Hispanic descent, or even her boyfriend Offset.
You can even find commonalities between Cardi and other female rappers, other than them just being female. Cardi and Eve both danced exotically before stepping into the booth. Cardi and Joseline Hernandez both got their start on Love & Hip-Hop. Cardi and Nicki are both of Trinidadian descent. But alas, rap fans always manage to escort conversations involving female rhymers back to gender.
That level of reductionism is like saying, “Deshaun Watson is already better than Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb. And if he keeps it up, one day he’ll be better than Warren Moon.” Just imagine how Black Twitter would absolutely draaaaaaag any white ESPN analyst who drew such a connection. It would be bad enough that the President would find a reason to tweet about it, and we all know nothing good can come from that.
Sidebar: At least people are starting to catch on with the lack of cross-racial comparisons in the NBA Draft.
With “Bodak Yellow”, Cardi B just became the first female solo rapper to sit atop the Billboard Top 100 in 18 years! (No, Nicki never did it.) She deserves our praise for making history, believe it or not. You might not like her brand of music. Fine. But if you don’t, there’s a fairly decent chance you’ll vibe to Rapsody’s latest LP Laila’s Wisdom. That might actually be the hardest album out right now, not just the hardest of lady rap.
Perhaps an even more noble concept would be not to compare these artists at all. Rapsody alluded to as much on her song “Nobody” saying, “Before politics, arguing real vs radio hits/It’s all Hip-Hop, you can’t divide what ain’t different/Don’t like all underground music, I don’t hate all music that isn’t/I was just making it clap to Wacka Flacka last Christmas.”
But we all know that ain’t reality. The best we can hope for is to minimize the amount of low-hanging fruit rap arguments of one female emcee versus another stickily because they’re both women. With Cardi, Nicki, Rapsody, Remy Ma and Young M.A. carrying the torch, the case could be made the female rap game is in its best place in nearly 20 years. Their potential will never truly blossom though if the glass ceiling remains as prevalent here as it does in so many other walks of life.