Published Dec 16, 2019Whether acting up or having a hot girl summer, women in hip-hop and R&B gave zero fucks in 2019. While women artists have always been fixtures in these genres, past narratives in women's music tended to centre men and patriarchal ideals. This year, however, the trend shifted toward breaking old norms and pushing women's stories to the forefront. It made for bold, carefree, honest music and a shifting narrative that makes more space for women to speak their truth — on their own terms.
Here are five hip-hop and R&B artists who led the charge:
Megan Thee Stallion declares it a "Hot Girl Summer"
While Megan Thee Stallion isn't solely responsible for hip-hop's culture shift, her influence is certainly felt throughout the genre. The Original Hot Girl's assertive, confident and carefree music became the basis for the meme-turned-movement "hot girl summer," and the sentiment she inspired on social media and beyond echoes in much of the art her peers released this year. Women rapping about enjoying sex, making money and having fun isn't new, but Megan's 2019 mixtape, Fever, takes an unabashed, "me-centric" approach to these activities: throughout the project, the Houston spitfire puts herself in the spotlight and defies the male gaze. And, perhaps influenced by Megan's white-hot trajectory, other artists were inspired to do the same.
JT shines on City Girls' "Act Up"
Hip-hop has a long history of men writing rhymes for their women colleagues. This isn't an issue in itself, but can be a troubling metaphor in a genre where women's voices aren't typically centred. Though "Act Up" was written largely by her Quality Control labelmate Lil Yacthy, JT of the City Girls shines on the song's last verse. The differences in tone between her writing and Yachty's are subtle but important. On the closing verse, JT puts herself at the forefront of the story — she lays out her own priorities, owns her sexuality, and highlights what she likes over what men might like about her. She lends a woman-focused, "for us, by us" touch to the song that surely contributed to its chart success in 2019.
Saweetie crafts her wishlist on "My Type"
On "Freek-a-Leek", the 2004 Petey Pablo single that serves as the sample for Saweetie's "My Type," the only time you hear a woman's voice is when she's asking Petey, "how you like it, Daddy?" Saweetie's take is a refreshing update. She's not asking what her male counterparts like — she's setting her own terms and making her desires clear. Like the song, the accompanying video for "My Type" shatters worn tropes in hip-hop and highlights the inclusivity of 2019's new carefree narrative. The three-minute clip is full of colourful camaraderie — rather than reduce anyone to a prop, the people in Saweetie's video are mingling, having fun and celebrating one another on equal footing.
Ari Lennox leans in on Shea Butter Baby
Unlike yesterday's R&B singers, who were glamorous, polished, and had a penchant for drama, Ari Lennox isn't afraid to embrace the mundane. The Dreamville crooner's coming-of-age album, Shea Butter Baby, is a sisterly celebration of the ordinary moments that pave the way to womanhood. On it, Lennox winks to those of us who have ever run into a super cute person while slumming it at the drug store, celebrates those of us turning the key to a new apartment, and, when our relationships go south, shares in our righteous indignation. It's super relatable content that plays like a slumber party between friends.
Summer Walker is simply Over It
On Over It, Summer Walker carves a path for young women who want love and romance, but aren't willing to contort themselves in order to "earn" it. It's an interesting position to take on an R&B album. In this genre, women often measure their worth by their ability to conjure and retain romantic love, and count relationships that don't work out as personal failures. Over It shows that Walker isn't immune to relationship woes, but refreshingly, she doesn't shrink in the face of heartbreak. Instead, she articulates all of the things women aren't supposed to say: "Maybe I'll just give up on this. Maybe I'll just sleep around. Maybe I'm not the problem. Maybe if I have to suffer for this, it's not worth it." Walker's take is a sigh of relief because it's raw, real, and not at all concerned with being palatable.
Check out Exclaim! best hip-hop and soul/R&B albums of 2019.