In 2011, while a repetitive number of “Female Rappers Who Are Not Nicki Minaj” lists continued to be reproduced, two young women from Chicago’s rap scene had surfaced. What seemed to be guerilla style shooting in the streets of the windy city, Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz released respective videos that sent the internet into a frenzy and swiftly became viral. Today, both Katie and Sasha are household names when it comes to: the Chi, the city’s “drill” scene, women rappers and viral rap. Looking back, what is so intriguing about these Midwest artists is the fact that when they initially hit the scene they were make-up free and completely raw, they were not blatantly trying to mirror the heyday of Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina. They assisted in the revamping of Chicago’s rap scene, which hadn’t really been highlighted since Kanye West broke out as an emcee, becoming more than just Jay Z’s producer. 

They’ve came a long way from guerilla videos and still haven’t fallen victim to the stereotypical “female rapper.”  You know, the one who trades in her pair of jeans and sneakers for a dress and six inch heels, as soon as deals are on the table and the major touring begins. Interestingly, Sasha doesn’t like make up and totally feels comfortable with her bare skin.  “I do not like make-up! I don’t like having all those different types of things on my face. For one I don’t feel like I need it, my face is not perfect but I’m comfortable with it,” Sasha explained in a recent interview with Noisey. “When I do get made up it will be for a special occasion like a photo-shoot.” In a day and age when women are urging to “wake up like this” and look “flawless,” it’s extremely liberating for a woman to embrace her imperfection and feel comfortable without any enhancements. Not to mention a woman in hip hop where the ideal image is the highly-curated and often-photoshopped Kim Kardashian. During a phone interview with HNHH, Katie said that she didn’t feel like she needed to be overtly feminine and hyper-sexualized in order to be successful. 

“I don’t rap on the same level as certain female emcees and I get a lot of  respect because I’m not selling sex,” she said. “I’m selling myself as an artist.”

Last September, Katie performed in New York City at Mishka’s “Decade of Destruction,” ten year anniversary party with fellow Chicago rapper and collaborator King Louie. She graced the stage in a t-shirt, jeans and rain boots and the crowd immediately went crazy. Moshpits were formed and liquor began flying, as people danced and rapped along. In the audience, I stood in awe because I had never seen a crowd get so excited for a fairly new artist, especially a woman artist who wasn’t hyper-sexualized and over-glamorized. 

Katie’s story, slightly different from Sasha’s, is intricate because when she first hit the scene she didn’t take her music seriously. “I wasn’t taking it [music] seriously. I didn’t expect to be where I’m at right now,” she revealed. She was just looking for a new outlet to turn to rather than continuously disappoint her mother by getting in trouble with the law. “I did 32 days in Cook County Jail. That’s what really brought me to reality,” Katie explained. She went on to reveal that her mother was stressed out and tired of picking her up from jail. Out of circumstance, when Katie first started rapping she did numerous things independently simply because she wasn’t able to depend on others. “I actually didn’t take my first video serious, if you pay attention to my energy from my first video to my most recent video,” the “Pop Out” rapper continued to explain. “When I first started I used to get mad because people didn’t show up to video shoots or people around me weren’t moving. That’s what my energy was based off of. But then I came to my senses, like I don’t need anybody to help me get to where I need to be.”

Two years before Katie and Sasha appeared, an eager woman from Southside Jamaica Queens catapulted to fame and surprisingly proceeded to dominate hip hop for the next three to four years. Nicki Minaj, who signed to Cash Money/Young Money Records, is unarguably the most successful woman in hip hop but, her fame and success didn’t come without a price. It’s no secret that the “Beez in the Trap” rapper altered her backside, had dental work done and watered down her street persona during the rise of her glory. Although Nicki has been constantly criticized for this, she’s not the first and won’t be the last to do so. A myriad of her predecessors did the same or similar things, with the notion that it was required and/or would assist in their success.  Unfortunately, this seems to be inevitable amongst women in hip hop who go mainstream or who are attempting to. Insert Republic Records’ Angel Haze. When Angel first started gaining recognition she was androgynous and dressed blatantly masculine. By the time she made her first major appearance at the 2012 BET Awards, she garnered hair extensions, make up and dresses. But what deserves more conversation than the alteration of her image is the fact that although she garnered what most would call success by signing a major record deal, it remains questionable whether or not Republic Records is actually beneficial for her. In December, the “Battle Cry” rapper leaked her debut album, Dirty Gold and took to Twitter to air out her frustrations with her record label.  Mirroring Angel’s dismay, a month later, Azealia Banks had a similar episode on Twitter where she vented about her disappointment with her record label and begged Sony to buy her out of her contract with Universal. 

Clearly, with a major record deal, unless you are Nicki Minaj it’s going to be fairly difficult to manouever seamlessly in the music industry as a woman rapper, which brings an interesting question to mind. Are women emcees winning by staying independent and not going mainstream? When an artist is able to book tours, garner press, gain endorsements, broaden their fan base, control and own their image, all without losing their integrity and autonomy, it doesn’t seem to get any better than that. And that’s what Katie and Sasha seem to have honed. With an endorsement deal with Urban Outfitters and having recently finished a European tour, with performances in Stockholm, Berlin, Bordeuax and London, Sasha’s future seems bright.  So does Katie’s. She’s done countless interviews with mainstream radio stations, performed all across the nation and remains a topic of conversation. While we’ve seen a lot of attention in recent months on the male rappers hailing from Chi-town, specifically the likes of Lil Durk, Lil Herb and Lil Bibby, it’s refreshing to see female emcees also start to flourish in the same drill-affiliated scene.