Mujeres On Top
The revolution might not be televised, but it will certainly be streamed, Tweeted, Instagrammed, and YouTubed. And make no mistake about it: fighting for gender inclusivity in the testosterone-fueled worlds of reggaeton, Latin rap, and Latin trap is nothing short of a revolution. Colombian singer Karol G, Dominican artists Natti Natasha and Amara La Negra, Puerto Rican rapper Audri Nix, and Mexican American rapper/singer Becky G are among those toppling the patriarchy in música urbana — no small feat considering that, for over a decade, Puerto Rican reggaeton star Ivy Queen held court as the only female performer of note in the genre.
Nowadays, La Caballota isn’t the only woman galloping towards the top of the charts. In 2017, Karol G’s debut album, Unstoppable, reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, while Becky G and Natti Natasha both cracked the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Latin charts: the former’s single “Mayores,” featuring Bad Bunny, soared to No. 3, while the latter’s “Criminal,” featuring Ozuna, peaked at No. 5.
So what’s changed? Have label executives sought out new female talent, hoping to fill a void in the market? Has there been a meteoric rise in the number of women trying to leave their mark in Spanish-language urban music? Or have these aspiring artists simply find new avenues through which to make themselves heard?
“We have to thank social media,” says 23-year-old Audri Nix, an emerging rapper from San Juan, Puerto Rico, who released her first EP, El Nuevo Orden, in 2015 and has been steadily gaining buzz ever since. “Social media platforms are the new A&Rs. Nowadays, you can record a song, make a little video, and upload it to Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube and gain exposure that way. You no longer need to rely on radio play or land a million dollar deal with a record label for your music to reach the public.”
This DIY approach was essential to Audri Nix’s own career. At the age of 17, she started producing her own tracks and making her own beats, then rapping over them and uploading the finished songs onto Soundcloud. Her music eventually reached the ears of influential hip-hop producer Overlord, and the two have been working together ever since.
Thanks to social media, Audri has retained control over her sound, her lyrics, and her image—without any meddlesome label executives imposing their own views on what would prove most marketable. “The days of factory-made artists are over,” she says. “Labels aren’t really taking artists and building them from scratch like they did before; if anything, they’re looking for artists that have established their own fan bases on social media, and whom they can promote and take to the next level.” The boom in female urban artists, then, might simply be a reflection of how the Internet and, more specifically, social media, have democratized the music industry.
After all, as Audri is quick to point out, these tools weren’t available to former generations of female artists, many of whom tried to launch successful careers to no avail. Take, for instance, Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Glory, who like Ivy Queen was one of the genre’s pioneers. In the ‘90s, Glory formed part of DJ Eric’s La Industria posse and, as such, appeared in many of the early underground mixtapes that led to the dissemination of reggaeton and its subsequent journey towards mainstream acceptance. She also sang the hooks on Daddy Yankee’s smash hit “Gasolina” and Don Omar’s “Dale Don Dale.” But despite all the stripes she’d earned during her pound-the-pavement years, Glory’s 2005 debut album, Glou, was met with disappointing sales and received little airplay.
Her single “La Popola” is perhaps most famous for being banned in the Dominican Republic due to its explicit sexual content (“popola” is slang for “vagina”). In the years that followed, Glory seemed to fall off the map, fading into obscurity. Would Glory’s fate had been different if, back then, she’d been able to communicate directly with audiences via social media? And how many other women like Glory were clamoring to be heard during that time?
Certainly social media has helped to level the playing field by allowing aspiring female artists the opportunity to bypass the predominantly male industry gatekeepers, but other factors—such as changing attitudes regarding gender roles— also play a role in the rising number of women in música urbana. Themes of violence, recreational drug use, and casual sex were once taboo for female artists across all musical genres. But that’s been changing thanks to female stars who have raised their middle fingers up at societal conventions regarding what’s appropriate or desirable female behavior. The rebellious, no-holds-barred, judge-me-if-you-dare attitudes of these stars have impacted people all over the globe and helped to shift existing conceptions.
So, while Glory’s “La Popola” was banned from radio stations in the Dominican Republic for daring to reference female genitalia, almost exactly 10 years later, La Materialista’s racy song “La Chapa Que Vibran” became a bonafide hit and the voluptuous dominicana’s NSFW video amassed over 100 million views on YouTube in a year’s time. Similarly, en “La Que Ta Buena Soy Yo,” Dominican artist La Insuperable sings about wanting a no-strings-attached sexual relationship and being frustrated over her lover’s clinginess. These female artists, then, aren’t singing or rapping about broken hearts or pining for one more kiss and one more romp between the sheets—they’re the ones doing the lovin’ and leavin’, the hittin’ and quittin’.
“I think it’s empowering and it’s a form of feminism,” says Audri Nix of many of her peers’ deliberately salacious lyrics. “We, as women, have long been objectified by men in urban music. All that time they spent telling us what they were gonna do to us? Well, now it’s our turn to treat them like our playthings.”
Not only are these female urban artists owning their sexuality—they’re reveling in it and stripping away all the layers of guilt and shame that society has historically imposed upon female sexual pleasure. By doing so, they’re speaking to the sensibilities of today’s empowered woman.
Traperas like Bad Gyal, Ms Nina, La Zowie, Nathy Peluso, and La Favi are also bucking convention by showing they can be just as crude and grimy as the men in the genre, recounting paper-chasing, drug-fueled, sex-filled escapades with as many seedy details and colorfully profane language as possible. If trap’s appeal is its rawness, its straight-from-the-gutter quality, then these ladies are happy to wade through those sewers and soak up all that filth. Moreover, these traperas aren’t playing Bonnie to someone else’s Clyde—they’re both Bonnie and Clyde. They’re not accomplices, but architects of chaos. They’re not damsels, and they’re never in distress. They’re as ruthless as Griselda Blanco, as tough and cunning as Domino Harvey, as ostentatious as Sandra Avila Beltran.
For young female listeners, then, the women of música urbana are an inspiration, a reflection of feminism in its most modern iteration. And while there’s still a shortage of women in the genre, the last five years show that the tides are changing
All that’s left to see now is whether these female artists can resist the urge to compete against themselves and, instead, come together as allies and sisters in rhyme. “When women finally unite, men will quake in their boots,” says Nix. “The entire music industry will tremble.” Time to shake things up.
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