In today’s society, women have cemented their place in the music industry, many are flourishing at the very top of their game. However, if we dig deeper, we can see that many Black women, especially rappers who are at the top of their game, are more than likely going to be light-skinned. This makes me think that success has everything to do with the shade of your skin.
I believe dark-skinned female rappers are certainly overlooked and underappreciated. As a society and, in the music industry in particular, we are programmed to believe that the lighter your skin the better you are, or the more successful you will be. This narrative is so damaging and it affects dark-skinned female artists every day trying to navigate through a misogynist and colourist industry. Black women rappers face a double glass ceiling, and something must be done to break this ceiling forever.
Colourism in the music industry is not new. But it has become more prevalent in recent years and now conversations about the topic are more frequent, which is a good step towards making change. Colourism is pushed by major music corporations, however it is done insidiously. This is why when the BET Awards released the list for Best Female Hip Hop artist, I was shocked to see the lack of diversity. The whole list was full of light-skinned female artists. It was shocking as it was so very explicit to see the disregard and the overlooking of the dark-skinned talent that is prevalent.
The list included new rappers such as Coi Leray and Saweetie, but these female rappers have been sometimes accused of lacking a certain substance in their music and - to put it blankly - they have come under fire, especially Coi Leray, as having no talent and that they merely get by with ‘light skin privilege’. Light skin privilege is simply when you get by in the entertainment industry because your skin is lighter and has more European features and therefore the establishment deems you tolerable.
Credit photo: theface.com
This idea of 'the lighter you are the better you are' has stemmed from Slavery days, where slave owners would sexually mix with the African-American slaves and have children. These children were known as 'Mullato' and although they were still slaves and suffered punishment, they were immediately viewed in higher regard than the darker skin slaves. For example, instead of having jobs working long hours on the cotton fields, the Mullatos would be able to work in the houses on the plantation and have that luxury over the darker skin slaves. So, the issue of colourism has always been there but the difference is that it was created by the oppressor, the European. But now in the music industry, this message is spread by fellow dark-skinned male rappers. Kodak Black famously articulated that dark-skinned women are “too gutter” while light skin women are “more sensitive”. One could argue that this is just a personal issue and one of self-hatred, however we have seen this narrative pushed so many times before, mainly by Black artists, and nothing has been done to stop this.
Although colourism in the music industry is toxic and can be disheartening, dark-skinned female rappers are slowly breaking this glass ceiling and are making moves. Rappers such as Bree Runway unapologetically showcases her raw black beauty and her artistry and the numbers speak for themselves: she has 1.8M monthly listeners and constantly rewrites what is conventional. Furthermore, Little Simz was awarded Best British Album at the NME Awards, a great achievement that just goes to show the underappreciation of dark-skinned female rappers is soon coming to an end.
But the active discussions still need to be had about colourism to ensure it doesn’t prevail. Of course, Colourism is a problem in the music industry and one that needs to be changed, but dark-skinned female rappers refuse to be overlooked and underappreciated and are taking matters into their own hands. Kash Doll has stated she believes colourism only exists if you want it to exist, so through hard work and determination you can overcome those barriers and ultimately kill the haters with your success.
Written by Nyima Jobe