Hip hop is undoubtedly a male-dominated culture. Full of testosterone and aggression until very recently, female rappers arrived few and far between, and when they did arrive, they weren’t around for long. In hip hop, sexism has been very real for a long time. Since the art form’s conception, males have always had an unwavering assertion that female rap is innately inferior to male rap.
It is common knowledge among real hip hop fans that the MC Sha-rock was the first female MC in the hip hop culture. Her real name Sharon Green. MC Sha-Rock grew up in the South Bronx, where hip hop was born and became part of the Funky 4 + 1, one of the first hip hop groups.
However, this was in the late 1970s and even with Green as part of the group, the fact that she was the plus one, of the group, quite literally according to their name, sadly insinuated that, as a female, Green was detached from the group.
When it comes to female rappers, different artists mark different eras, and certain female rappers appeal to specific regions. After the ’70s, the 1980s didn’t see many female rappers. LA rapper Yo-Yo was around, but most of her material was as a featured artist for prominent West Coast male artists. MC Lyte also began to emerge. However, this was as the decade was drawing to a close.
During the 1990s, Lil’ Kim was hip-hop’s most prominent female rapper. As a result of her affiliation with Bad Boy Entertainment, The Notorious B.I.G and Diddy, Lil Kim received a lot of exposure and shine. Furthermore, she was operating in New York, the home of hip-hop and was bound to break through.
However, in the late ’90s, another female artist began to take hold of the southern states, which started just after Notorious B.I.G’s death. Alongside rapper Trick Daddy Dollars, Trina began to blow up in Miami, with her buzz spreading througout the south. Trina, akin to Lil Kim, was raw and sexually provocative. However, her legion of fans was in the south, while people in New York and its surrounding areas were still loyal to Lil’ Kim.
Sometimes female rap can become quite divisive and polarising, with fans perpetuating the narrative that “there can only be one queen”. During the early 2000s, Lil Kim began to fade slightly, and Trina began to rise. However, a new artist from New York also began to break through. Signed to Loud Records alongside Fat Joe, Remy Ma from the Bronx was popular as a battle rapper on the underground. However, she made a breakthrough with her appearance on the remix of M.O.P’s smash hit ‘Ante-Up’.
From here, Remy Ma began to ascend. The early noughties most definitely saw Trina and Remy as the two leading female artists in the US. Unfortunately, during the mid-noughties, just after the release of her debut album, There’s Something About Remy, which performed poorly, Remy Ma faced legal issues and got hit with a seven-year prison sentence in 2007.
A new face had emerged by 2007. This artist had been grafting since 2004, appeared on multiple mixtapes as a featured artist in New York, and appeared several times on the famous Come Up DVD. This person would catch Lil Wayne’s eye and change the definition of female rap forever. This person was Nicki Minaj.
When it comes to Nicki Minaj, timing played a huge part in her success. Lil Kim had been irrelevant for years, Remy Ma was in prison, and Trina was an unimportant artist by 2007. Nicki had the chance to study these artists, see where they had made mistakes and learn from their failures. As a result, she was the first female rapper in hip hop to turn mogul.
Minaj changed what was possible for a female rapper concerning the potential success levels. She appeared on a track featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rick Ross and destroyed them all. It was the first time hip hop had seen a female outbar, not just one man but males en masse.
Nicki broke down many barriers for women but struggled a lot to get into the position she is in now. You can see old freestyles of Minaj on the internet dating back to 2003. The rapper’s career only really took off in 2010. With such determination and groundwork put in when Minaj finally got her foot in the door, she did a lot to make sure she stayed there and (from artists and people behind the scenes) there have been several accusations of bullying.
The UK has also seen its fair share of female rappers. Honourable mentions must be made to artists such as Lisa Mafia, Lady Fury, Shystie, Nolay and Estelle for actually paving the way for female rap in the UK because, without these seminal figures, there would be no Lady Leshurr or Ivorian Doll.
Below we have assembled a mixtape of the 25 most essential female rap songs.
The 25 greatest female rap tracks:
- ‘U.N.I.T.Y’ – Queen Latifah
- ‘Ruff Neck’ – MC Lyte
- ‘Queen Bitch’ – Lil Kim
- ‘Big Bad Mama’ – Foxy Brown ft Dru Hill
- ‘I Can’t’ – Foxy Brown ft Total
- ‘Not Tonight’ – Lil Kim ft Angie Martinez, Da Brat, Left Eye & Missy Elliott
- ‘You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo’ – Yo-Yo ft Ice Cube
- ‘I Wanna Be Down’ – Brandy ft MC Lyte, Queen Latifah & Yo-Yo
- ‘Crush On You’ – Lil Kim
- ‘It’s A Shame’ – Monie Love ft True Image
- ‘Monie In The Middle’ – Monie Love
- ‘Lick Shots’ – Missy Elliott
- ‘Get Ur Freak On’ – Missy Elliott
- ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ – Missy Elliott
- ‘The Jump Off’ – Lil Kim
- ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ – Lauryn Hill
- ‘Lost Ones’ – Lauryn Hill
- ‘Conceited’ – Remy Ma
- ‘1980’ – Estelle
- ‘Beez In The Trap’ – Nicki Minaj
- ‘L8r’ – Azealia Banks
- ‘Bodak Yellow’ – Cardi B
- ‘Rumours’ – Ivorian Doll
- ‘Warning Shot’ – Hood Brat