NEW YORK – Eve, Lil' Kim and the leading ladies of rap are facing some competition of a different color these days, as white girls enter the hip-hop arena in search of success.
Names like Sarai, Jessy Moss and the group Northern State each have their own sound, write their own lyrics and want the world to know white women can rap.
But white women won't earn hits easily in this black-centric music genre, said Toure, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone (search).
“Hip-hop is so much about blackness and maleness and black women can get in the game based on their blackness, and a white man can get in the game based on their proximity to black men,” Toure said. “But white women don’t connect on either end. It’s going to be really hard to envision a white girl on the mic having some credibility and legitimacy.”
Sarai (search), a strawberry blonde from Kingston, N.Y., would probably disagree. The 20-year-old has been dubbed "Feminem" for her hard-edge style, and hits on subjects like the problems of adolescence.
In “It’s Not a Fairytale,” she raps about the stressful life of a teenager: “Drama problems of all sorts, Stressing started smoking Newports, Carefree about the ones who care for me, Lost teen giving up on my dream, And as worst as it seems, Had me thinking crazy things, Like suicide that better everything if I jus’ die.”
And while most top rappers rhyme about the ghetto and hustling on the streets, these women are trying to keep it real and rap about what they know.
“My upbringing was a little crazy,” said Sarai. “But I’m not sitting here like I’m from the streets, or I had to carry a gun. I’m not claiming anything was tougher than it was. But I also don’t come from the easiest place in the world.”
Also from New York, Northern State, comprised of three post-collegiate MCs out of Long Island, rap about social issues, politics and their 'hood – in this case middle-class suburbia. “If we were to front like we were hard and from the streets it would obviously be a gimmick,” said Correne Spero aka “Spero.” “We’re not fronting.”
Spero, 27, Robyn Goodmark “Hesta Prynn”, 25, and Julie Goodman “Sprout”, 27, have earned praise for their debut album "Dying in Stereo" and comparisons to another white trio – The Beastie Boys.
Spero, who doesn't mind the comparison, said her group's lyrics reflect a similar outspokenness. In one song, Hesta Prynn raps: "You and I won't curl up and die, all we can do is try, to speak for the people who haven't any voices and feel for the women who haven't any choices.”
Rapping in a bluesy drawl, Jessy Moss, 24, looks like a fashion model, but rhymes about rough times, including the street violence she encountered growing up in Australia on her debut album "Street Knuckles," out Oct. 28.
Moss said trouble easily found her. For example, “Confessions” is a song she says is about “a situation I got into in Australia … I was held at gunpoint in this room with a bunch of blokes, having a proper conversation about whether I was gonna be killed or not.”
Each of the women said they’ve seen shock spread across faces when they rap.
Northern State has opened for established acts like De La Soul and Spero said the audience’s reaction has a “learning curve.”
“The first time they see us, the audience takes a few songs to digest what they are seeing, ‘yes these are three white girls, yes they are rapping. But by about the third song, they can start to actually go into next phase ‘do I like it?' and hopefully they will.”
Sarai, whose debut album "The Original" dropped July 29, said some audiences "don’t believe that it’s me doing it. They say ‘I can’t believe it’s coming out of you.’ I look like an little innocent girl, I don’t look like the typical hip-hop artist.”
Whatever the reaction, Moss isn’t bothered. “I don’t really feel like constantly proving myself … if people want to challenge it, let them.”
Despite that independent spirit, Toure said it all still comes down to winning over men.
“Males are the prime consumers of hip-hop. If you want to be a woman in hip-hop, you have to relate to men,” he said. “Female MCs are either sort of like strippers or tomboys or they are regal and above it all, like Queen Latifah (search).”
Spero said she's looking to change some of those perceptions.
"It’s hard for a label to put out a female MC who can’t easily be classified. But that’s how it is when you’re a trailblazer,” she said. “It’s not always easy.”