Why you should care
Because there’s a straight line from the blond bombshell from hell to I-G-G-Y.
On paper, rapper Theresa “Tairrie B” Beth was a coked-out record exec’s dream. The Anaheim, California, native boasted pinup-caliber looks, a fuck-you swagger and a powerful cosign from gangsta rap provocateur and N.W.A. front man Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. Tairrie B also happened to be white — a rhyming blond bombshell who stands as the precursor to today’s über-popular yet polarizing Australian rhymer Iggy Azalea. While the Beastie Boys had already crashed the cipher with 1986’s License to Ill, leading the way for other aspiring white MCs, finding a female Caucasian rapper in the ’80s was as likely as spotting a unicorn on the subway.
Tairrie B was a more than competent rapper who simply got buried by over-the-top gimmickry.
Forget subtlety. Signed to Eazy’s Compton Records imprint in 1989, Tairrie B was boldly packaged as the hip-hop reimagining of Madonna without the boundless pop ambitions. “Eazy definitely exploited the fact that there were no white women rapping at that time,” says the co-founder of the influential rap news site AllHipHop.com, Chuck Creekmur, who recalls being taken aback by the glaring image of a pouty lipstick gangsta chick amid the more grounded black female lyricists like Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte, Monie Love and Queen Latifah.
However, when Tairrie B’s debut album, Power of a Woman, was released in 1990, hip-hop fans tuned it out. “The whole tough-girl image … nothing about her came across as real,” says Creekmur. Yet it should be noted that Tairrie B was a more than competent rapper who simply got buried by over-the-top gimmickry. A cringe-worthy video for the fast-paced, menacing single “Murder She Wrote” showed Tairrie rocking a Godfather-style fedora, flanked by a Mafioso crew of drop-dead-gorgeous toughies. Cute. However, there was nothing cute about Tairrie B’s tumultuous run-in with the Ruthless posse. When she balked at the idea of N.W.A.’s Ice Cube writing her lyrics, she constructed her own spitfire diss titled “Ruthless Bitch,” aimed at the self-proclaimed World’s Most Dangerous Group, raising the ire of future super producer Dr. Dre. “I thought [Dre] wouldn’t do anything because we were at the Grammys, but he was drunk and fucked up and he hit me right in the mouth … full on,” Tairrie B said, describing the alleged attack in an interview with Record Mirror some years later.
“Back then the idea of a white person, especially a white woman, coming into hip-hop culture that was still at the time very black and Latino, people weren’t ready to open up the circle,” says Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, culture editor at the women’s lifestyle blog Jezebel. Tairrie B would ultimately find redemption — just not in the world of hip-hop. She’s charted a 10-year-plus run as an alternative metal vocalist for the critically acclaimed band My Ruin. More than two decades later, the irony of the chart-topping pop ascendance of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is not lost on Shepherd. Street cred is no longer an issue for today’s hip-hop fans when rappers are gleefully recording EDM songs.
“I think it’s gotten better in certain ways since Tairrie B,” Shepherd says, citing younger up-and-coming women rappers like Tink and Angel Haze, who are getting their work out to fans online, even if they may not reach the fame of stars like Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott or Nicki Minaj. Hip-hop’s range of artists may be expanding, but Shepherd says the success of Iggy Azalea’s pop hip-hop, with its echoes of Tairrie B’s manufactured tough white chick pose, has people “worried that the culture will end up at a spot where hip-hop is going down like rock ’n’ roll.”
Somewhere, Little Richard is screaming.