"We’ve gone backwards," [MC Lyte] said, noting that the space she and others helped open up for women rappers appears to have closed off. "This is pretty much what it was like when women weren’t able to get major recording and release opportunities."
She offered a number of explanations for the shift, but one of her points in particular caught my attention. According to Lyte, it’s far more risky to sign women artists today because of the costs associated with their physical appearance. Hair, make-up and wardrobe all add up, she said, and therefore women — who already face an uphill battle when it comes to selling records — become an even more questionable business proposition.
It’s an argument I’ve heard before, not only from other well-known artists, but from industry executives who cast themselves as the victims of unfortunate circumstances. It’s a shame that we don’t have more women recording, these executives lament, but they are just too expensive. While I have doubts about this to begin with — are we really supposed to believe that the crushing cost of hair and make-up has pushed a multibillion dollar hip-hop industry away from women? — it does reveal a disturbing assumption about women in hip-hop: that what they look like is at least as important as their musical talent.