Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part series.
In the last few decades, hip-hop has become a multi-billion dollar industry.
It was a woman, Sylvia Robinson, who produced the first commercially successful rap track. However, rap remains an unquestionably male-dominated industry. Female rappers usually enjoy less success than males.
A new wave of female emcees, however, is rising.
And music streaming services like SoundCloud are making it easier for young female emcees to build a name for themselves.
Meet DonMonique, a 23-year-old rising artist from New York. She made waves of her own with her 2015 breakout track “Pilates (Kendall, Kylie, Miley).” The song has been played at high-profile events, such as Alexander Wang’s fall and winter fashion show in February 2016. The song was also heard in Kylie Jenner’s snapchat story; Jenner is the seventh-most followed Instagram user in the world.
DonMonique describes her style as “Thirst Trap.” That is also the name of her first EP.
She said,“…I feel like when you hear one song, you’re...thirsty to hear more and more and all of a sudden you’re just trapped in the world of Don."
DonMonique names artists like Cardi B, Foxy, Lil Kim, Lil Wayne and ‘old Eminem’ as her musical influences. But she also says “every female rapper that’s out and rapping,” inspires her.
DonMonique first became serious about her music career after releasing her first song “We Don’t” on SoundCloud. She says the song was released on her 20th birthday.
“Pilates (Kendall, Kylie, Miley)” was the second song DonMonique released. She published the video for the song until a year later. Then, she says, she got a Noisey feature. Noisey is a music brand that documents music around the world.
DonMonique says, “From there it just went everywhere. I definitely wasn’t expecting that at all.”
In the music video for her 2015 song “Drown,” DonMonique raps over a soft beat. The video has more than 300,000 views on YouTube and over 200,000 listens on SoundCloud. It was also included on the soundtrack for the HBO television series, “Insecure,” which often features female artists.
In one part of the video, DonMonique is shown lying in a bedroom with a cigarette in her hand. In another part, her long hair braids hang down as she bends in front of a neon-lit store. She looks fiercely into the camera while rapping:
Used to never check for me now they pose for pics. /Now I’m gettin’ everything I’m supposed to get.
DonMonique’s music has a distinct New York sound, she says. It also represents the “hustle” of being self-made.
“I feel like I bring that New York feel definitely, cus’ it doesn’t matter what type of beat that I’m rapping on, you can always, always tell that girl's from New York..."
When DonMonique was first starting out, she faced some difficulties.
“It was hard because I always wanted to do rap and stuff like that, but my mother, she wasn’t having it. So I kind of had to wait until I was old enough to really get out of the house and do my own thing for real...”
For several months, DonMonique questioned whether a path in music was what she really wanted. She had gone to school to study fashion marketing. She also had started her own business.
But, she says of her career in music, “slowly but surely it all came together.”
DonMonique says the New York rap scene is offering more opportunities for women. But, it still has a long way to go.
She also notes the differences among female rappers.
“All of us are different in our own ways. We all have our different style of rap, our different looks...” she said.
The inspiration for some of DonMonique’s songs comes from her lived experiences. She says that there are still many stories she has not had the chance to cover.
And, she says, the experiences of female emcees deserve more attention.
“I feel like it’s something that needs to be talked about. I feel like women in hip-hop, they don’t get treated the same,” she says.
She also sees a strong need for a female perspective in rap.
“Right now, I feel like all these rappers are talking about the same thing and girls need something they can ride to with their friends when they’re on their way to the parties. We need something that we can listen to when we break up with our boyfriends, or whatever the case may be. So, I feel like that’s what I’m really here to do, just put that female perspective on things.”
While she admits that female emcees face barriers, DonMonique believes female rappers can dominate the industry in the future.
“Slowly but surely we’re taking over,” she said, “And we just have to keep on pushing through.”
I’m Ashley Thompson. And I'm Caty Weaver.
Rachel Dennis reported and wrote this story. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Word in This Story
decades- n. a period of 10 years
commercially- adv. related to earning money
dominated- adj. the state of having control
emcees- n. a person who raps as part of a performance
streaming- adj. playing music, audio or video continuously as data is sent to a device over the internet
high-profile- adj. attracting a lot of attention
EP- n. a musical recording with not enough songs to be an album
thirsty - adj. a strong need for something
feature- n.to have or include (someone or something) as an important part
braids- n. an arrangement of hair made by weaving three sections together
neon- a. extremely bright
fiercely- adv. having or showing a lot of strong emotion
distinct- adj. different in a way that you can see, hear, smell, feel, etc. :noticeably different
hustle- n. energetic activity
fashion- n. the business of creating and selling clothes in new styles
perspective- n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)