The Female Approach: 20 Women Killing The Game
International – Originally published Feb. 15, 2016 – Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what our responsibility is to you, our readers. As contributors, we’re lucky enough to write for a publication that gives us the freedom to think as individuals, and to express our educated opinions without constraints. It’s of my own opinion that this freedom is accompanied by a responsibility to be careful about the culture and dialogue that we’re further influencing and supporting. When I write something for an audience, it’s because I really believe it’s in your best interest to know about it. Sometimes that means sharing an artist that you may not have heard of, sometimes that means sharing an artist’s story, and sometimes that means sharing my personal opinion so that you can form your own perspective from as much informed information as possible.
The conversation surrounding the female presence in the game (or the lack thereof) is fairly reasoned. We all know the stereotypical spiel – that it’s tough to be a female emcee in a generally male dominated culture. But, it’s also fair to say that the status of any topic in society has remained stagnant until new thoughts on it become voiced. Rather than continuing to complain about the lack of women in the genre, this is my attempt to bring you a list of 20 strong, and influential female vocalists who are currently killing the game.
This shouldn’t be confused with a top list of any kind, a list of the only female artists, or ones that are particularly new. These are just some chicas that I find particularly engaging, and who may change your opinion on the amount of talented women that are making some moves. Worst case scenario – you don’t vibe with any of these artists and you spend some time thinking about who should’ve been on here. Best case scenario – you find a couple of new artists to add to your library, and you still spend some time thinking about who should’ve been listed. Either way, it’s my hope that this article leaves you thinking about it more than you had up until now.
Lexii Alijai – St. Paul, MN
This girl has a sound that is incomparable to anyone else on the come-up right now, and a tone which is far beyond her 17 years. I first picked up on Lexii Alijai when she was featured on Kehlani’s track “Jealous”. When I eventually found my way to her soundcloud, I discovered an artist that was a boiling pot ready to bubble over in terms of her potential as a lyricist. She released her second mixtape this year, titled, Joseph’s Coat. “The Come Up” “Mourning After” and “Look at Your Game Girl” are my personal favourites, and display her wide range of talents as an emcee. Her lyrics are highly introspective, and her musical intuition is uncanny.
Listen to Joseph’s Coat
Mila J – Los Angeles, California
Jamila Akiko Chilombo, who goes by the stage-name of Mila J, is quite possibly my favourite female artist this year. I first heard her single “Me and My Girls” about a year ago which initially attracted me due to its’ notable feature from Ty Dolla Sign. The track is an epic female empowerment song which quickly became my crews’ favourite ode to the female bond of friendship within the party scene. At the time I thought she had just stumbled upon a single hit that she’d ride out, but news of her mixtape The Waiting Game surfaced online in late 2015, which proved to be a dynamic introductory project.
Mila J is no new face to the music world. She’s been in the business with previous girl groups before venturing out as a solo artist in 2006. It’s taken awhile for her to release music due to existing contract binds, but she finally found solid footing with Motown records in 2013. The title of the mixtape is a fitting representation of her journey so far. Whether you’re a true R&B fan or you love the grittier bars, Mila J brings a bit of everything to the table. She’s hard hitting without sounding too cocky, and her voice is feminine while remaining powerful. She’s a queen that you’re going to want to add to your library.
Listen to The Waiting Game
Jessie Reyez – Toronto, CA
I heard about Jessie Reyez through a friend of a friend who mentioned that there was a really great vocalist hiding out in Toronto. She’s a Colombian singer who initially got some noticeable attention from Noisey due to her collaboration on “Living in the Sky” by King Louie. Two months ago, London Future dropped “Hold Your Fire” which she also copped a feature on. Her voice kills me in the best way possible. She’s got an iconic, soulful tone that will never go out of style.
What attracted me the most to Jessie Reyez was her effortless ability to manipulate generic hits into soulful works of art. She generally posts 30 second clips on her instagram of her covers, and subsequently blows people’s minds with her renditions. She makes it seem like she’s just messing around, but her casual attempts make most other vocalists look amateur. At this point I’m just waiting for her to drop an album so the rest of the world can hear the talent that’s been brewing.
Listen to “Hold Your Fire“
Layla Hendryx – Toronto, CA
Layla Hendryx is a Canadian vocal lioness who has been making some waves as “Canada’s most well-known Somalian rapper”. It’s a little premature to say that she may be the next big thing, but what I can say is that her most recent mixtape Out of Time is a project worthy of considering as competition. She’s got a sexy, controlling voice which creates a futuristic R&B sound. Her style lays somewhat parallel (in terms of genre) to the likes of Tory Lanez, and relevant to what’s going on in rap currently.
Listen to Out of Time
Kay Cola – Los Angeles, California
There’s something so sweet about a true R&B artist who writes her own lyrics. Kay Cola is one of those unique artists that shows up with amazing songwriting skills, as well as the vocals to back it up. She’s a songwriter by origin – writing tracks for some of the biggest heavyweights in the game, such as: The Game, Dr. Dre, Ne-yo, and Eminem.
After building her lyrical portfolio, she branched out on a solo attempt by releasing her first mixtape For the Dreamers (Tape) mid 2015. It features tracks that sound nothing like a rookie attempt, with a standard of production that I wouldn’t ever expect from someone as new to the game as she is. The compilation is nothing less than professional in it’s entirety. “Como Un Sueno” is some spanish-influenced fire, and “Have 2 Call” features a surprising accompany from Iamsu which takes it to potential hit status.
Listen to For the Dreamers
Rocky Rivera – San Francisco, California
I’ve been following Rocky Rivera since I was 17 years old, and 5 years later she’s still on her grind. She’s part of a group of strong females from the Bay who have continuously released politically strong and vocally dominant songs in the most recent years. She brings an attitude that is an unapologetic statement which gives off the vibe of, “I am what I am – take it or leave it.” Her self-confidence offers a refreshing voice in an industry dominated by artists that are moulded into marketable packaging. She’s the kind of rapper who could lay you out mercilessly with her bars but still emanates competitive fairness in all of her moves. You can check out her latest EP Nom De Guerre, below.
Listen to Nom De Guerre
Ambre Perkins – New Orleans
Kehlani has made remarkable moves for herself this last year, but she’s been gracious with using her spotlight to support other upcoming female talents. She recruited New Orleans’ artist, Ambre Perkins on her cover of Drake’s single, “Preach”. The song garnered 4.21 million plays on Soundcloud and gave way to the rise of a fresh new face in hip-hop. Ambre has a calming voice that doesn’t attack the listener with too much aggression, but rather rolls over the beat in a type of rhythmic fluidity. Her mixtape, Wanderlust has that low-key/chill vibe that I’ve been really feeling. She’s still young and developing as an artist, but I’m really excited to watch her grow.
Listen to Wanderlust
Honey Cocaine – Toronto, CA
If you haven’t heard of Honey Cocaine you may be living under a rock. This lady is a real Canadian OG, and she’s solidified that status throughout the release of numerous bodies of work. In fact, the amount of music that she has released is admirable. Her latest project Like a Drug is my favourite, and gives us another example of the things she can do with that unique voice she wields. “Can’t Sit With Us” is creative, and epic in it’s sampling.
Listen to Like a Drug
Kehlani – Oakland, California
Is it too early to say that she’s superstar material? Kehlani is only 20 years old, but she’s had more success than many artists hope to receive throughout their entire careers. Her first debut mixtape, You Should Be Here was well received to say the least. I don’t know one other female artist, in recent history, who has received a grammy nomination for a mixtape. Her music is considered contemporary R&B, but her most recent single “Did I” is harder hitting than any of her previous works. Considering what she did with the release of a mixtape, I’m thoroughly sure that her upcoming album won’t disappoint.
Listen to You Should Be Here.
Tinashe – Los Angeles, California
Tinashe‘s story is a little longer and more seasoned than most. She got her start in the music industry in 2007 as a member of the girl group, The Stunners. The group was signed first by Columbia Records and then with Universal Republic Records. The group disbanded in 2011, and she began to pursue a solo career shortly after. She started out releasing notable covers on youtube which eventually to the release of her first debut mixtape. No rookie to the entertainment industry, she caught the attention of RCA records who recruited her to their label.
The last year we’ve watched her career take off following the release of her first solo album under the management of a label. Aquarius was received really well within the music community, and “2 On” was the hit of summer 2015. “Pretend” had an epic feature from Asap Rocky that solidified her star potential. As an artist, I’ve always really admired that her music was written and produced solely by her. While she’s recruited heavyweight producers to assist on bigger projects now that she’s not independent, she’s still continued to maintain a sound that is authentic to her original identity (which is rare).
Listen to “Ride of your Life“
Nitty Scott MC – New York, NY
Nitty Scott MC has been around longer than a minute. I caught onto her back in high school when I came across her “Monster” freestyle that had gone viral on Youtube. Her bars are comparable to poetic justice. She’s got a sound that is as close to classic 90’s hip-hop that you could achieve in the 2000’s. Her bars are elaborate – rolling over beats with rhyming schemes that are complex and words that thoughtful beyond her competitors. Her feature from Kendrick Lamar on “Flower Child” was the final indication that she’d been recognized as a true emcee. But, her most recent release “U.F.O. (Unfiltered Offering)” is a relevant and recent comeback from one of my favourite female emcees which proves that although she’s been around for awhile, she’s still got it.
Claire Mortifee – Vancouver, CA
We recently did an interview on this local emcee regarding the positive impact she’s making on the local community of Vancouver. But, the talent and voice of Claire Mortifee are separate entities that deserve recognition in themselves. She’s got more soul than most Vancouver emcees, and a sound that is enviably similar to the likes of Erykah Badu. My personal favourite, “Avocado Green” is almost better heard live, a feat that not many artists can pull off. A recent move to Los Angeles leaves us hoping and watching for even bigger things from this deserving homegrown talent.
Watch “Avocado Green” Live
Tonye Aganaba – Vancouver, CA
If there was a Vancity R&B veteran it would probably be Tonye Aganaba. She had a really great last year, copping a spot at Squamish Valley Music Festival. I was introduced to her music through a local friend and realized she needed to be on this list. R&B doesn’t really describe what she does though, because her vocal abilities are so much more than just some croons. Watching her perform is an experience in itself, and it’s a full body movement. My favourite song is a track called “The Look of Love” with her group The Red Gold & Green Machine. If you appreciate soul music you’re guaranteed to love her.
Watch “The Look of Love”
Ashleigh Eymann – Vancouver, CA
It’s impossible to put Ashleigh Eymann in a single box as either emcee or vocalist because she really does it all. She’s a local talent and Vancouver native who has acquired a broad resume due to her extensive experience performing. She was part of a hip-hop collective called, The Current, which allowed her to perform around greater British Columbia and open up for acts like Jurassic 5 and Brother Ali. Individually, she strays towards funk and soulful ballads. But, when the opportunity presents itself to showcase her bars, she steps up to the occasion.
Listen to “Pay Day”
Samaria – Oakland, California
Another artist who has the TSNMI mob, and Kehlani backing her rise – Samaria is an artist that we’ve unknowingly been needing. She came out of nowhere, and I just caught her album cover on my Instagram feed for a quick second. Her introductory project, The Story of Right Now is a project that is relatable to most women and speaks intimately on her experiences with love and loss. She runs her voice over beautiful instrumentals to use her songs as a method of storytelling rather than just repeating lyrics. My personal track from the project, “Antisocial” is a brutally honest and raw self-critical piece that I believe will connect her with a larger audience based on it’s previously untold perspective.
Listen to The Story of Right Now.
Tink – Chicago, Illinois
Since she was named as one of XXL’s 2015 Freshman Class, I’ve got this feeling that 2016 is about to be the year for Chicago-based emcee, Tink. She’s been on her grind independently since 2011 but things have really picked up for her in the last two years. She signed to Timbaland’s label, Mosley Music Group, and is readying the release of her debut album. One of my favourite tracks by her is “Ratchet Commandments” which is holding us over until the release of a feature project, and offers a teaser to prove she’s coming out as a serious competitor.
Watch “Ratchet Commandments”
Bibi Bourelly – Los Angeles, California
Bibi Bourelly is the artist that you unknowingly know. She’s the mastermind who wrote Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”, and she’s an artist that is about to do really big things within the music industry. Those may be big words to associate with an artist who hasn’t put out a feature project yet. But, it’s her singles and songwriting that give me a strange feeling that we’re just the passengers along for the ride, and she’s in control of the car. Her first solo release, “Ego” is beyond her years in so many ways. She controls her voices in means that are comparable to Rihanna, and belts some of those high notes with conviction that you only generally see from veterans in the game.
She’s the kind of female identity that the world has been waiting for, as well as a feminine presence that girls have been needing. She’s an artist who is sure of who she is, and inadvertently pushes her listeners to be sure of themselves as well.
Listen to “Ego”
Horsepowar – Vancouver, CA
Horsepowar is a Vancity talent that has a sound that is undeniably destined for bigger things than what Vancouver can offer. She released a mixtape titled Bollywoes mid 2015, and received a noticeable amount of attention online. Recently she got picked up by Fader with the release of her newest single, “Spawn” and I imagine it’s just a matter of time before other music heads catch onto her talents. “Spawn” is chillingly dark and features a down-tempo chorus which gives way to showcasing her haunting vocals and melodies.
Listen to “Spawn”
Meraki – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
This 18 year old R&B soul artist will probably surprise you with her vocal abilities. I definitely had to listen to her a couple times because I couldn’t believe she was as young as she is. I caught onto her rise pretty early, as she’s only released a couple of songs on Soundcloud so far. She’s not someone that you want to sleep on though, as she’s got a production standard going which has produced really well-rounded pieces so far. Her single, “Nomad” is a personal favourite.
Nova Rockafeller – Edmonton, CA
This chick had a really inspirational comeback from personal challenges that propelled her talent into public view. Nova Rockefeller went from being homeless and a high school dropout in Edmonton, Alberta to signing with Island Records and relocating to Los Angeles to pursue a music career.
Her latest project, Chest Rockwell presents N.O.V.A. is professional in it’s entirety and showcases her seasoned song-writing abilities. She’s been rapping since she was 12. She recruited Mod Sun for a feature on “Money + Mistakes” which acts as an anthem piece on the project. She seems to know how to throw in just the right amount of aggression while placing well-written hooks methodically to make her tracks enticing to an audience wider than just rap fanatics.
Listen to “Chest Rockwell presents N.O.V.A.” here:
Written by Kira Hunston for HipHopCanada
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily those of HipHopCanada or its’ affiliates.
Tags: Ambre Perkins, Ashleigh Eymann, Bibi Bourelly, Claire Mortifee, Honey Cocaine, Horsepowar, Jessie Reyez, Kay Cola, Kehlani, Layla Hendryx, Lexii Alijai, Meraki, Mila J, Nitty Scott MC, Nova Rockafeller, Rocky Rivera, Samaria, Tinashe, Tink, Tonye Aganaba
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