It’s hard for fully dressed female rappers to find an audience—particularly those who claim to follow Jesus. A small sorority in an already niche music market, these Christian performers are up against the economic pressures of the industry as well as the cultural expectations often heaped upon women of faith.
Take Houston native HillaryJane for example. Earlier this year, the 20-year-old, once-homeless singer, who began leading preteens in church choirs when she was only a few grades ahead of them, was elated after promoters wanted to add her to a multi-city Christian hip-hop tour. But the offer was rescinded because one of the record labels involved didn’t feel comfortable having her travel with their all-male roster.
The underlying concern: Late nights and close quarters with a mix of attractive, unattached young people might open the door to temptations for inappropriate romantic behavior from anyone involved. Or it could at least look like that was a possibility. (The same thought is probably why you’re unlikely to find a Christian college with co-ed dorms.)
While HillaryJane appreciated the protective concern being shown by her brothers in Christ, she admits the news was disappointing. After her debut EP reached the number 3 spot on the iTunes R&B/Soul sales chart in July, the tour could have been a career boon by introducing her to new, but already endearing, audiences of faith-based music fans. The extended time on the road would also offer a wealth of opportunities to network with other artists and provide a public co-sign from them. Such subtle endorsements from established performers are vital to up-and-coming hip-hop acts.
“I don’t know how V. Rose does it,” HillaryJane said of one of the few fellow female hip-hop artists who occasionally tours as the only lady on a boy-filled bill. “I can’t get anyone to do that for me.”
Aside from the “appearance-of-evil” issues related to a half-dozen male rappers traveling with a lone female artist, there are understandable economic concerns at play. When four guys can sleep in the same hotel room for the price of one, why should a struggling startup add a girl to the group? Booking a separate space for a solo woman singer is just an added expense that has to be recovered through ticket and merchandise sales.
Staten Island rapper HeeSun Lee knows her situation as a married mother adds another layer to the already complex career considerations for traveling artists. “How do you bring a two-year old on a tour bus?” she only half-jokingly asks. “I think that’s just one example of why you don’t see any females headlining gigs in the Christian industry. It’s not because we aren’t working hard enough.”
Most female hip-hop artists center their songs around vocal performances—a strategy used by both genders when aiming for a catchy hook to reach a broader audience. Hip-hop radio show playlists are filled with songs whose popular choruses are sung as opposed to rapped.
The 25-year-old Californian V. Rose, for example, leans toward pop and almost exclusively sings her lyrics. Her hip-hop identity is largely driven by her beat selection, slang, fashion, and social and professional affiliations with several rappers. HillaryJane has a similar bent, but tends compose and perform many of the rap portions of her songs herself. Elsewhere, HeeSun Lee employs a rapid-fire delivery of intricate, multi-layered rap lyrics in a style closely associated with her East Coast roots.