Female rappers continue to make waves, so why can’t they top the album charts?

(August 26, 2022).  Two of the highest profile female rappers of the past ten years released new music on August 12, and both of them entered the Billboard charts this past week. 

Nicki Minaj’s new bop “Super Freaky Girl” made a splashy entrance on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1, becoming her first single as a lead solo artist to do so (after 13 years and 124 total chart entries).  She’s had two No. 1s in collabos with 6ix9ine and Doja Cat, but never as a solo act prior to this week. 

Megan Thee Stallion’s highly anticipated new album Traumazine wasn’t so lucky.  It came in at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 album rankings behind the début of arguably lesser known rapper Rod Wave, who entered at No. 1, and two albums that had already been on the charts for weeks by Bad Bunny and Beyoncé at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.  

With albums generally entering at their peak positions, it’s likely Megan’s new one won’t climb any higher than its No. 4 starting position.

Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Traumazine’ has received positive reviews, yet only had enough activity to reach No. 4 on the Billboard 200

The 63,000 units Traumazine registered weren’t enough to overcome modest numbers posted by those other albums at a time when Megan is considered one of the most popular, or at least highest profile, rappers out there—male or female.  Traumazine was allegedly leaked a week prior to its official street date, but that wouldn’t completely explain the relatively low figure Megan pulled in during the tracking week feeding the August 27 chart.

More surprising is that her new album’s sum marked a significant drop from the 100,000 units that its predecessor, Good News, moved in its debut week in November 2020 when that album peaked at No. 2.

Megan’s shortfall—as well as that of other femcees—means that it has now been four years and four months since the last female rapper topped the Billboard 200.  Cardi B’s debut set Invasion of Privacy topped the list in its first week (April 21, 2018), which was exactly six years to the day that the previous No. 1 hip-hop album by a female occurred (Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded; April 21, 2012).

So dating back to August 2012, there has only been one No. 1 album by a female rapper in the past ten years (Cardi’s), despite the emergence of several female MCs in the rap game during that period.

Bronx rapper Cardi B was the last female rapper to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in April 2018.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why women in hip-hop find it so hard to even approach the same level of success—especially in the 2020s—as their male counterparts.  It’s certainly not for their lack of trying or that female rappers haven’t been making waves lately.

In the past five years alone, several hot new MCs have emerged including Cardi B, Saweetie, Doja Cat, and Lotto.  Even the very popular Lizzo, who is more of a singer but has been tagged with the rapper label by some industry trade publications, has yet to have a No. 1 album despite having major success at mainstream radio with several hit singles.

Most of these women have released new albums since Cardi’s Invasion of Privacy in 2018, with many of them hitting the top ten but none having climbed higher than No. 2, suggesting that there may be a glass ceiling when it comes to female rappers topping the industry’s preeminent list.

Long list: Here are the female rappers that have never had a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.

Stuck at Number 2 (or lower):

Despite bigger numbers last time out, Megan Thee Stallion’s previous album Good News peaked at No. 2 (albeit behind K-pop juggernauts BTS and their album Be, which more than doubled Megan’s opening week numbers).  Still, that outcome had to be disappointing for a rapper that was coming off two of the biggest No. 1 singles from earlier that year: “Savage” with Beyoncé, and “WAP” with Cardi B.

In Doja Cat’s case, her latest album—the still-charting Planet Her—has been one of the biggest of the past year.  It’s ranked in the Billboard top 20 for all but four of its 59 weeks on the list, with nearly eight months in the top ten (longest of any female rapper in chart history).

Doja Cat shown here trimming some phallic trees on her 2019 debut album cover for ’Hot Pink’

Yet when Planet Her launched last July, it could only muster a No. 2 début behind Tyler the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost, which itself has had no hit singles to speak of and exited the chart months ago.

Lizzo’s album Special debuted at No. 2 this July behind the No. 1 ranking of one of the year’s most resilient records, Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, which has been at either No. 1 or No. 2 every week since its May release.  Lizzo’s first-week numbers didn’t come close to Bad Bunny’s album, despite Un Verano already having been around for two-plus months and with Lizzo having a huge No. 1 lead-off single, “About That Time,” to help launch her set. 

More famously, Nicki’s last full project, 2018’s Queen, peaked at No. 2 behind the unexpected resurgence of Travis Scott’s Astroworld, which sparked some controversy and led to Minaj accusing Scott’s camp of chart manipulation in his album’s favor.  The turn of events prevented Minaj from achieving her record-extending third No. 1 album by a female rapper. 

Relative newcomer Lotto has had one of this year’s biggest singles in “Big Energy.”  That song has been on the chart for eleven months, peaking at No. 3 back in April.  Yet her album, 777, which was released in March, could only muster a No. 15 peak.

So what gives?  Why are female rappers having such a hard time topping the album rankings?

Don’t blame singles

As already mentioned, several of these women have had major success with their singles.  Over the past five years, Nicki, Cardi, Doja, Lizzo and Megan have tallied 12 No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 between them (with one of those—“WAP”— being shared by Cardi and Megan).

Typically, that kind of singles success translates into major album consumption.  Granted, the current album has to actually contain the songs in question.  In Lizzo’s case, while her previous album Cuz I Love You was charting, she was riding high with songs (“Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell”) from her earlier work.  This likely hindered Cuz I Love You, which peaked at No. 4, from fully capitalizing on her growing popularity.

The “Baddest Bitch” Syndrome

Many of these rappers peddle the same messages in their music—repeatedly—and those themes mostly center on one thing: being the “baddest bitch” in the game, a boast often supported by one of the following metrics: how good their sex is (or what sex act men are willing to commit with them), how many designer names they can drop, or how other women (or men) are fake and shouldn’t mess with or even try to compete with them.

The biggest purveyors of this are Cardi, Nicki and Megan, arguably the top three female rappers in the game today (not necessarily in that order).

Nicki’s new No. 1 single “Super Freaky Girl” speaks for itself.  Cardi’s last two chart-toppers, “WAP” (with Megan) and “Up,” are swimming in these themes.  The original version of Megan’s No. 1 smash “Savage” starts with the following lines: “I’m that bitch, been that bitch, still that bitch, will forever be that bitch,” before spending the next two minutes aiming to convince you that she really is that bitch.

Cardi and Megan had the most talked-about single of 2020 with their sex-drenched “WAP”

Learn about metaphors:  What do these lines in “WAP” really mean?

While the public clearly has tolerance for one-off singles with that sentiment, their tolerance level diminishes somewhat when it comes to listening to entire albums full of it.

For example, Megan’s latest album’s opening track “NDA” rhetorically asks, “how many more ways can I say that I’m the baddest bitch?” before she spends the next seventeen songs either answering that question or callously retaliating against those who’ve come at her wrong in recent years.  Incidentally, only five of that album’s eighteen tunes entered the Hot 100 during the album’s impact week, none higher than No. 49 (“Sweetest Pie” with Dua Lipa).

The albums (and images) presented by Doja Cat, Latto and others are turning down the ratchet factor and diversifying things a bit.  But it remains to be seen whether they can parlay that approach into longer term chart success. 

The old double standard: men can be about that life, but women can’t.

Boasting about one’s sexual prowess, material possessions, or simply being the baddest out there has been a part of hip-hop culture since the days of Sugar Hill Gang, Sequence and Grandmaster Flash.

But hip-hop has been a male-dominated genre since Day 1 and men clearly have reaped more of its rewards—regardless of lyrical subject matter—than their female counterparts.

The numbers speak for themselves: Of the 246 total number one albums by hip-hop or rap acts as of the latest chart (August 27), 232 are by solo men or male-only groups.  Eight were credited to various artists (such as soundtracks or curated multi-act albums), and the remaining six are by solo women.

Just six!

Those six albums are by Nicki (who has two), plus Cardi, Eve, Lauryn Hill and Foxy Brown with one solo No. 1 set apiece.  Only Nicki and Cardi have done it in the 21st century.  Foxy Brown, Eve and Hill achieved theirs before 2000.

These are dismal numbers to say the least, especially with women in general—and hip-hop in particular—experiencing big success on the charts over the past three decades.

‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ is the only Diamond-certified album by a female rapper (indicating sales of 10 million in the U.S.)

One of the best-selling and most celebrated hip-hop albums in history was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by the ex-Fugees rapper who eschewed cocksure ratchetness and braggadocio for introspection, spirituality, and social consciousness.

Miseducation spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1998 and has sold 20 million copies worldwide (10 million in the U.S.), earning five Grammys in the process.  As the best-selling album by a female rapper, it was proof that women can achieve upper echelon success without having to be so one-dimensional as most of today’s rappers are.

Lauryn famously exited the game after only one studio album, but why this type of music by other female MCs hasn’t been pushed by the industry in the nearly quarter century since Miseducation is astonishing!

Still too few female rappers in the game.

For nearly a decade, Nicki Minaj was seemingly carrying the female rap industry on her back as she was the only one even able to regularly get into the top 20, much less reach No. 1.  

Despite the recent uptick in successful female rappers, there are still only a few big-name female MCs out there, relatively speaking.  A Google search yielded a small number of people with name/face recognition and a bunch more who have yet to hit mainstream.

Lotto is leading the pack of new rappers to hit the mainstream in 2022

While there is hope for newcomers like Rico Nasty, Cupcakke, Lotto and the more socially conscious British rapper Little Simz, the hopes for women occupying the upper echelon of the Billboard charts will still have to be carried by the bigger names like Doja Cat, Megan, Cardi and Nicki until the newer rappers can get more mainstream exposure.  

The Cardi and Nicki factor: first new albums since 2018, but…

Cardi B was the last hip-hop female to have a No. 1 album in 2018 but hasn’t released a new album since.  Nicki Minaj, who was the last rap woman before Cardi to top the chart, likewise hasn’t released a complete album since ‘18.

Both are slated to release new projects this year, with dates yet to be announced.  Both are highly anticipated albums with high expectations for each.  If nothing else, each rapper’s considerable fan base—Cardi’s Bardi Gang and Nicki’s Barbies—should be enough to ensure a splashy Billboard chart debut. 

But both albums are also coming with dubious buildups preceding their arrival dates.

Nicki Minaj parlayed Rick James’ 1981 classic “Super Freak” into her first solo No. 1 single in 2022

While Nicki’s new No. 1 “Super Freaky Girl” bodes well for her, a precipitous fall down the chart by that single could spell doom for its parent LP by the time it’s released.  

And that scenario is not out of the question.  Minaj’s recent singles have been known to debut high but fall fast.  Her No. 2 hit from earlier this year, “Do We Have A Problem?” with Lil’ Baby, was completely off the chart after only 13 weeks.  Similarly, her prior No. 1 hit as a lead, “Trollz” with 6ix9ine, holds the record for fewest Hot 100 weeks spent by a chart-topping song, with a measly four total weeks on the list.

Cardi’s current situation isn’t any better.  Her latest single, “Hot Shit” with Lil Durk and Ye, has been more like a “Cold Turd” on the Hot 100.  The highly anticipated song debuted (and peaked) at No. 13 in July and tumbled out of the top 30 the following week.  It currently sits at No. 54 after only seven weeks on the chart.  

That doesn’t bode well for her album, even one by the female rapper with the most proven track record of all over the past five years.

We will continue watching the charts to see if Cardi, Nicki or another female MC can break the ceiling and get that elusive No. 1 album.

But for right now, things are continuing to look pretty bleak.

DJRob 

DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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DJRob
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