There have been many female rappers over the years, and the number of MCs entering the culture is continuing to grow. From old-school legends like Missy Elliott to new stars such as Cardi B, women are now dominating the game and showing they can overshadow and surpass their male peers. Different artists mark certain eras, and specific female rappers appeal to particular regions. In this article, we’re going to look at the timeline of women in rap in a quest to identify the most successful female rapper of all time.
During the 1990s, Lil Kim was hip-hop’s most prominent female act. 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, creating a buzz throughout 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.
Female rap has always been very divisive and polarising, with fans perpetuating the narrative that “there can only be one queen”. During the early 2000s, Lil Kim was slowly but surely fading as Trina started 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 esteemed 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’ in 2001.
Following this mainstream exposure, the Bronx act (real name Reminisce Mackie) began to ascend. The early 2000s undoubtedly saw Trina and Remy as the two leading femcees in the US. Unfortunately, in 2006, just after her debut album, There’s Something About Remy, Mackie faced legal issues and received a 7-year prison sentence, swiftly rendering her a defunct artist. A new face had emerged by 2007. This artist had been grafting since 2004, appeared on multiple mixtapes as a featured act in New York, and was a regular feature several times on the famous Come Up DVD. This individual would catch Lil Wayne’s eye and change the definition of female rap forever. This person was Nicki Minaj.
Regarding 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 woman concerning her 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.
However, many assume that because Minaj has been a beneficiary of mass marketing and high budgets, she is the highest-selling and most impactful female rapper ever. This is partially true and, like the majority of issues within the music industry, is a little more nuanced than it would appear. As a result of technology, how we consume music has shifted drastically over the years. Moreover, the tools used to market it have changed. These adaptations have since led to discrepancies in sales.
From CDs to iTunes and now streaming services, it is getting increasingly hard to put a number on sales. Missy Elliot’s Supa Dupa Fly was released in 1997 on CD only, whereas Cardi B’s 2018 album, Invasion Of Privacy, was released on streaming platforms and CD. Missy’s marketing campaign would have focused heavily on radio and US music magazines. On the contrary, Cardi B would have utilised YouTube, Instagram and podcasts. How can the two be equally assessed? The reality is they cannot.
The list below focuses on the ‘traditional’ form of record sales, with only physical disc or digital downloads counting towards overall totals. This is the fairest way to truly analyse who, across all generations, is truly the most successful female rapper. You can see the list below.
The most successful female rappers:
- Missy Elliott
- Lauryn Hill
- Nicki Minaj
- Lil Kim