Single white female

Rapper's sex, skin cast doubt on street cred

— Eminem has disproved the notion that white boys can't rap. White girls, on the other hand, have had almost zero impact on the genre in its 30-year history.

Remember Tairrie B? Probably not. Wait, there's ... hmmmm. Actually, the most influential white woman in rap history may be punk princess Deborah Harry, whose rhymes in the 1980 hit "Rapture" helped take rap mainstream.

But now a new face, Sarai, is raising hopes that there might be someone new -- a Feminem -- to go where none have gone before.

"Eminem has definitely opened people's minds, that there could be a white artist actually mastering the skill," says Sarai, a 20-year-old, blue-eyed blonde from Kingston, N.Y., about two hours north of the city where rap was born.

Her debut album, "The Original," was released by Epic Records last week. The first single, the party song "Ladies," has been getting airplay on hip-hop stations and MTV.

One of Sarai's producers is Scott Storch, a founding member of the hip-hop band The Roots who's worked with artists ranging from Eminem to Christina Aguilera.

Storch says when he first heard Sarai, "she was doing something different than I had ever heard before, sort of hip-hop with a white female, and actually bringing it off like a real sister. I was a little surprised and definitely a little intrigued."

Unlike Eminem, whose race is stamped all over his nasal delivery, Sarai's skin tone won't be readily apparent to listeners -- she actually sounds a bit like one-time Jay-Z protege Amil.

Checkered history

Until the superstar producer Dr. Dre ushered Eminem into the rap game in 1999, white people had a checkered history in rap.


AP Photo

Sarai, the new 20-year-old rap artist, is raising hopes that there might be someone new to go where no white woman has gone before. Like Eminem, she hopes to disprove the notion that white people can't rap.

Who could forget street poseur Vanilla Ice of "Ice Ice Baby" fame?

Even considering Vanilla Ice, rap has been worse for white women.

"I never came across a white female rapper who could rap," says Damon Dash, the Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder who helped put Jay-Z on the map.

A few have made blips. But for the most part, coming up with names of notable white female rappers seems like a challenging game of Trivial Pursuit.

Dash says that's "probably because there hasn't been anyone good enough. I mean, Eminem was like the first real good white male rapper."

"It's hard enough for any kind of female rapper to stay in the game and compete with the male rappers, so being white and being female makes it all that much harder," he said.

Princess Superstar, a sexually frank white rapper sometimes called the white Lil' Kim, can attest to that.

"We've got a lot of racial issues here, and sometimes it plays itself out in the music game," says the rapper, who puts out her music on her own label. "Any white female rapper is going to fight against being considered a novelty."

Street cred

In addition, since rap is as much or more so about the street life than black life, white acts are often rejected for not having street cred.

Sarai's official bio makes it clear she wasn't a child of privilege, noting she's the daughter of a "single mother" and mentioning she took jobs to help support her family.

"Everybody thinks that I'm from a big white house and this white picket fence and my parents bought me a Mercedes on my 16th birthday," she says.

Sarai says she grew up listening to Public Enemy, the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.

She describes her sound as more mainstream than hardcore rap, and her personality seems to bear that out. She describes herself as a "loving person" and doesn't pepper her talk with street slang.

Whether Sarai will make it big remains to be seen. But Dash says if she has the skills, she'll be accepted.

Record companies "are always looking to break a white rapper. They're always looking to break a white anything," laughs Dash. "If somebody is white and they can rap, that means MTV, that means middle America."

But Sarai says she hopes people eventually look past her skin color and see just another rapper.

"It's always gonna be, 'Yo, it's a white girl,"' she says. "Eventually, they have to look past it."


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