At Coachella, the future of rap is female

Tank and the Bangas perform at week two of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
(Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

At the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, hip-hop has most certainly reigned supreme.

Rap acts occupied a large swath of real estate in this year’s lineup with Eminem and young voices such as Post Malone, Migos and Tyler, the Creator billed high.

But two weeks of catching sets in the desert confirmed one thing: The future of rap is female.


Femcees by and large one-upped the boys last weekend, and this weekend it too seemed like the fest would be led by women.

On Friday afternoon the jazz- and funk-soaked hip-hop of Tank and the Bangas moved the intimate Gobi tent in ways main stage acts could only dream of.

The New Orleans collective, led by frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball, shined with a rapturous fusion of spoken word, soul, funk and storytelling.

Ball is as nimble a lyricist as she is a vocalist, with a malleable voice that’s powerful in its command. One moment she’s unpacking sinewy couplets and rhymes with fury and the next she’s wailing like she’s at a church revival.

As the band navigated through the classic soul grooves, hard hip-hop and stacked jazz arrangements of its debut “Think Tank,” Ball’s vocals provided the compass, even when she stepped aside to ad lib lines as backing vocalists Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph and Kayla Buggage dialed up the sweet harmonies.

Rapper Princess Nokia takes the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

Princess Nokia, like Tank and the Bangas, resides on the fringe of what’s getting major mainstream attention at the moment.

Fresh off the release of her stellar mixtape “A Girl Cried Red,” the New York rapper is one of the more interesting emcees on this year’s bill, making her showing in the Sonora tent this weekend a must catch (she’s due to play Sunday).

She’s a versatile, imaginative talent with a knack for shape shifting. Last week, she delivered a set that was steeped in East Coast rap, bounce, emo, noise-rap and house that offered a strong counter to the more traditional showmanship from ladies like Kamaiyah and Dej Loaf.

Kamaiyah continues to be a scene stealer with her eclectic and energetic mix of wistful ‘90s-inspired hip-hop and R&B. The Oakland rapper’s charismatic presence makes her a captivating watch, and she’s a far more commanding emcee than a lot of the other club rappers punctuating the bill (watching her over Migos is the best decision you can make).

Cardi B performs on the Coachella Stage during Day 3 of the festival.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times )

However, the weekend’s biggest draw on the rap front was newly minted superstar Cardi B.

Her Coachella showing is the second leg of her ongoing victory lap. She just made history as the first female rapper to have a No. 1 album since Nicki Minaj did in 2014 with her catchy, smartly produced debut “Invasion of Privacy” and her main-stage set last weekend definitely lived up to the hype.

She came dressed like the late Left Eye from TLC — a nod to a sadly bygone era where scores of female emcees were getting mainstream attention — and tore through a set that paid homage to her stripping days while showing exactly why she’s the year’s star to watch (being heavily pregnant didn’t stop her from twerking during much of her spirited show).

There’s a reason Chance the Rapper, G-Eazy, YG and Kehlani all came to play with Cardi during Week 1, and that’s because there was far more buzz about her than anyone not named Beyoncé. And that’s quite a feat, given Eminem is closing the festival.

It’s unsurprising that hip-hop dominated this year’s bill, given the genre’s prominence and cultural influence that’s seen institutions like Broadway, the Grammys and the Pulitzer Prizes be disrupted. But with women in the genre having a creative renaissance, it only made sense that a festival bill would reflect that.

Thankfully, Coachella did, and the ladies have more than delivered.

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