MC, n. /ɛmˈsiː/: microphone controller. The term itself isn’t gendered, but the in the context of the hip hop industry, the differentiation is always made. ‘It’s always “Who’s your favourite female rapper?” It’s never “Who’s your favourite rapper?” and we’re actually considered in that [category]’ says Gigi LaMayne. ‘I hate the fact that for some reason I’ve had people say “For a female rapper, you killed the guys on that track!” or “You’re the best female rapper in the country”. For me, that’s not good enough. I think, when you decide to do something, whether you’re in the classroom writing an accounting test, or whatever, you wanna be the best student regardless of your gender. I wish that was the same with music.’
We spoke to four of the more prominent rappers in the game; Fifi Cooper, Gigi LaMayne, Nadia Nakai, and Nomuzi Mabena on issues of identity and how they’ve positioned themselves in the industry, their personal outlook and brand, and what needs to be done to elevate yourself as an artist.
‘For me, really, it wasn’t even about one day seeing myself being the biggest female rapper, it was just a fun thing for me’ says Fifi Cooper on her title as the First Lady of Motswako and her growth as an artist. ‘I’ve always believed in versatility, and I’ve always been a musician. I loved trying new things and I decided to try hip hop because of where I come from, which is Mafikeng. All I saw when I grew up was hip hop, was motswako. I got inspired because I felt like if I believe in versatility, I can be able to do that and represent where I come from, and still push the whole Maftown culture that I grew up around.’
As one of the more renowned female rappers in the game at the moment, being the only one of the current crop that has released an album, and with a host of nominations and wins at both the MetroFM awards and the SAMAs, Fifi’s success has come at a cost that not many have had to make. On finding a balance between being a working mom and a traveling artist she says ‘I don’t see my family and my son as much as I want to, but I do it because I know I’m doing this for all of us and for my son to have a better life. I make sure I see him once or twice a month. But personal life? I don’t have one at the moment. I probably get one day to rest.’
Fifi’s defined by her lyrical prowess and originality. ‘I feel like the reason why other female rappers are not really making it is because they’re desperately running after trends and what’s working now for somebody else, [and] not focusing on who they really are.’ When asked if her success is owed to her lyrics being a reflection of her as a person with everything else coming second, she says ‘Originality is more important because that’s how you know you have real fans, loyal fans.’
It’s a sentiment echoed by Nadia Nakai who refuses to tone down her femininity to cater to conceptions of what a rapper is supposed to look like. ‘My personal brand and positioning is about a woman that’s in a male dominated industry but that is very in touch with her femininity, in touch with her sexuality, represents women as women are; loving their hair, loving their nails, raps and spits bars, and handles men, but handles men as a woman, not as a woman that’s tryna be one of the guys.’
Her journey with the genre began in Kenya, where she grew up with a dancehall influence, evident in one of her first releases, Calypso, in 2012, but graduated to the more polished verses she delivered on Riky Rick’s Amantombazane remix and Tumi Molekane’s Hello Kitty remix. She still feels like it will take a bit more time for women to permeate the industry. ‘We can’t make it easy on them. Yes, it is a male dominated industry but A-list males fought to get where they are and it must be the same thing for women. People must understand that hip hop itself is a very young genre in South Africa, and women being in the game is gonna take time for us to be, not dominant, but equally in the game’ she says, ‘I feel like people are putting so much pressure on female rappers to be in the game. It’s gonna happen, just give us time to work on our shit.’
Nomuzi’s been subject to a bit more scrutiny, having gone from working exclusively in TV, to making a move to the realm of rap. ‘I think that coming from the TV presenter side into music, it opened my eyes to different opportunities that I think some people miss or wouldn’t necessarily exploit. But I’ve been working in the industry for such a long time that, whether it’s on the TV side of things or on the music side of things, you realise that at the end of the day it’s all me and it’s all part of one machine’ she says on her versatility. ‘It’s just different facets of myself and my brand and I just try to exploit every opportunity within all these facets.’
‘For the first time ever, being different and being weird is cool, and I really wanna teach people that you can use your differences of all the people around you to really do something amazing’ Moozlie says on what she hopes to achieve.
On how we can grow the industry Gigi LaMayne says ‘We need to change the stigma of there only being one female rapper at a time, we need to change the discourse around people asking who the best female rapper is, almost as if that’s all there should be; [that] there should be one female rapper and the rest should fall behind. We definitely should start putting each other on more, collaborating more, just [have] that kind of unity amongst ourselves.’
She wants to be known as the African Iron Lady. ‘Margaret Thatcher was a female in a male dominated parliamentary system and she could go out and say things, and at first she seemed completely ahead of herself and people didn’t take her seriously but inevitably she’s gone down as one of the biggest names in parliamentary history and I think that’s what I want for myself’ she says. ‘People don’t take you seriously, but in the end people see what you were about, what you were standing for and it’s no longer a question of gender anymore; it’s something historical, something inter-generational.’