Women have been dominating a number of musical genres for decades. We’ve seen girl bands succeed, a solid amount of songstresses with amazing vocal ability go on to sell millions of albums. But the experience in grime has been quite different to many other genres. It’s no secret that for a long time, grime has been a male dominated scene. It’s overflowing with men bursting with talent. But we’ve now reached a stage where female MCs are a steadily growing entity. Though still a minority, the idea of women giving us bars is no longer an anomaly by any means.
We have female MCs such as Shystie and Ms Dynamite to thank for this, who proved the lyrical strength of women in the earlier days. Many of the ladies giving us bars have certainly shown that they are timeless talents, and not a novel act just because they aren’t men.
Yet despite the progress, the videos we see of all-female freestyles are still rare and precious entities compared to the freestyles we hear and YouTube clips we see of the “mandem” flooding the booths. So when Lady Leshurr recently decided to get together with the Red Bull Music Academy to curate a video titled ‘Girls in Grime’, she created something remarkably special. Getting together with what she called the “hottest, up and coming talent in the UK”, Leshurr decided it was about time that we all started making room for females to make a larger stamp in grime. In the short video, we see a number of MCs, namely Alika, Madders, Ms Banks, Nav Nav, Reiss Boogie & Monarchy at the Red Bull Studios, all giving us bars.
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We’ve seen female MCs prove themselves in freestyles before, but Leshurr’s intention behind the video is bigger than this, “It was important for me to make this video because I feel there is not enough unity between female MCs. I want us all to work together to make each other strong so that we can achieve more”. The idea of unity is not always something that is always outwardly promoted amongst females in music, (and even further afield many would say). As we’re well aware, there are a number of talented female grime MCs currently on the scene such as Nadia Rose, C Cane, Paigey Cakey and Leshurr herself, to name a few. A quick scan through some of the comments under their videos will tell you that people are often quick to compare female MC to each other, as if there is only room for one or two.
Placing females up against one another is all too common in music. Lady Leshurr has had her own experiences with this in her career when she was offered a deal from Atlantic Records. They were keen to rival her career against Nicki Minaj, “It was like: ‘She’s the biggest female MC and you need to take her down,’ and I wasn’t feeling that at all,” she told The Guardian. Despite this experience, Leshurr admits this isn’t something that only female MCs maybe experiencing - “it happens with men also” - while the ‘Queen’s Speech’ MC finds some positivity in this, saying: “It all helps with PR, I guess”.
Women of course, are all too aware of this, and this isn’t just restricted to grime. Alessia Cara, Rihanna, Lily Allen and Tinashe have all spoken out about this. With all this in mind, this is why the MC taking the initiative to promote unity is highly significant. It directly attacks this on its head, and in Leshurr’s opinion, this means more can be accomplished: “I want us all to work together to make each other strong so that we can achieve more”.
We tend to see male MCs quite frequently collaborate with their peers. However this seems much less common in grime amongst the ladies. Leshurr herself has worked with other female MCs such as Paigey Cakey. We’ve also seen Ms Banks team up with Stefflon-don on the “Uno My Style Remix”. But it isn’t something we see all the time. A look back in the archives brings up the Female Takeover remix of Tinchy Stryder's “Game Over”, and that was six years ago.
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I want us all to work together to make each other strong so that we can achieve more...
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As women continue to get played off against each other, it could well be that they feel a need to establish their presence before they turn to work with their “competition”. When we asked Leshurr why she thought that there were so few female MCs working together, she was none the wiser, “I’m not sure to be honest. I would love to do more collaborations with females”. The Brum MC has plans to work with the MCs in the video, “Every single female in that room has talent. I am not against collaborating at all.”
Whilst Lady Leshurr is positive about women in grime, she’s not naïve to the struggles she’s had to go through as a female in the male-led genre, “…women always have to work harder in music as a whole”. When asked why she thinks it has taken so long for women to be recognised in grime, Leshurr said, “I guess because it was predominately a male lead genre. But us females have the power as well, it just takes some time for us to shine”.
What’s interesting to note is that when Shystie released her debut album, ‘Diamond in the Dirt’ she saw her era as the time for women to breakthrough in grime, “This country will pick two or three lady MCs to come through, and at the moment there's Ms Dynamite, Estelle and me. That's it. In America there are hundreds. But if ladies are willing to MC, now is the time to come through as the doors have been opened". That was in 2004. If Shystie thought the doors had opened back then, but Leshurr is still of the opinion that women have to work harder, it shows that whilst the progress made for women is remarkable, more is still needed.
There’s stretches of the road that we still need to make time on when it comes to treating women as equals here, but we cannot ungratefully overlook all the hard work that they have done in grime. It’s not just MCs who are making their mark in the genre. Hattie Collins put together a succinct list of the The Unsung Female Heroes of Grime You Need to Know About, which includes the ladies who have flown the flag for the genre through the good and the bad, such as journalist Chantelle Fiddy and DJ/journalist/PR expert Sian Anderson.
Leshurr’s video is a sure reminder that when the cards look like they stack in the favour of men, it shouldn’t force divides within women, but quite the opposite. Grime’s women have proven that whilst navigating through the male-led genre can present some challenges, the negatives can always be turned into a positive. This is certainly the way Lady Leshurr is reflecting on her achievements, “If anything I think being female has been an advantage”.
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Words: Nikita Rathod