Part 1 to my women in hip-hop series can be found here or on my homepage.
In the first part of my series celebrating the beauty that is womanhood in hip-hop, I talked about some of my favorite instances of which men advocated and praised women in the most poetic of ways. In this part, I will be talking about some of the actual women who helped shape hip-hop into what it is today, not just for female emcees but for the culture as a whole.
Some of hip-hop’s hardest lyricists have been women. And yet for some reason, they’re still separated into their own category of rappers. While that could be thought of singling out talented women, instead it creates more hurdles for them. For instance, if two women are on top at the same time, some sort of drama or tension will most likely be created to pin the two against one another. Rather than celebrating one another, only one can come out on top. Secondly, a significant emphasis will be placed on their appearance, who they’re dating, and other factors that don’t actually impact their musical skill in any way. And yet that hasn’t stopped these powerful wordsmiths from coming out on top and killing the charts. In fact, women are more prominent now than others. However, it took a lot of evolving for female rappers to get the recognition that they deserve.
One of the first women to release her own complete album was MC Lyte. She was extremely versatile. While you could hear her on tracks full of incredibly talented women creating girl-power anthems like “I Wanna Be Down”, which features Brandy, Queen Latifah, and Yo Yo, you could also hear her out-rapping the likes of Common and Erick Sermon. What I love about her is the fact that she never had to be delicate or overtly feminine to be extremely sexy. Her sex appeal came from just how heavy of a spitter she was. Even in songs like “Ruffneck”, she commands her audience, claiming what it is that she wants and letting them know who was in charge. Similarly, in a lot of her songs, she makes it known that she gives it her all when it comes to men, but she also isn’t naive enough to fall for tricks and games. She knows her worth, and in songs like “Paper Thin”, she lets men know that things are “in one ear and right out the other”. If you really want to hear her take on the big boys, I talk about her feature on Common’s “A Film Called Pimp” here. Similar in style and flair is Queen Latifah, who echoed the feminist movement in her song, “Ladies First”. This song celebrated what it meant to be as a woman, not only in general but as an emcee as well. Queen Latifah partnered with the amazing Monie Love, another absolute gem, to show that they shouldn’t be undermined and deserve for you to “pay [them] every bit of your attention”. Another one of my favorites is her song “U.N.I.T.Y.”, which calls for the unity within sisterhood, especially as men try to bring women down and disrespect them. This song calls for women to be strong and independent, and to stand up for themselves, which is something that will always be a timeless theme.
Salt-N-Pepa also created anti-slut shaming masterpieces such as “None of Your Business” which actually went on to win a Grammy! So not only was it two female rappers who received a Grammy, but with a song that advocated for respect and equality for women, especially in regards to sex. Even in 2020, I can’t imagine that happening for some reason. In their song “Shoop”, they rap about being at a bar and making the first move on a man that caught their attention. And they aren’t cute and dainty about it. They’re fucking badass, with a level of confidence that I could only aspire to have. With all of the music they made about being sex-positive women in a time where that wasn’t extremely prominent, they even went on to make a song called “Let’s Talk About Sex”, where they managed to educate their audience about how normal it is and how it needs to stop being viewed as taboo. And of course, as a woman in Philly, I have to mention Bahamadia, who made history as the first woman to have an LP that was co-produced and entirely written by a female MC.
“We’re feminists. We’re doing something that only guys are expected to do and doin’ it right! At our concerts we’ll do one hard-core rap song and then do one where we’ll be real sexy. I don’t like the fact that there are so few women in rap. There are a lot of good things that we can do. Maybe my example can help someone.”Salt
One of my favorites eras of hip-hop was the Soulquarian movement and the women did not dissappoint. Although Erykah Badu was the only official female member, the Neo-Soul conscious era of hip-hop included some incredibly beautiful contributors like Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott who went on to create some timeless pieces. These women once again found their own way to define and exude sexuality, embracing the natural side of the human body and womanhood. They also embraced being beautiful, strong, unapologetic black women in a way that was just so stunning to witness. Although Erykah chose to identify as a “humanist” rather than a “feminist”, her songs such as “Bag Lady” teach women to acknowledge their faults and release some of that baggage to truly love themselves. In her video for “Window Seat”, Erykah walks the streets as she strips down to nothing but her own body, drawing attention to the issue that nudity and the human form is something that is often misunderstood. Although she has had some controversial moments, she always advocated for the true self.
No stranger to controversy herself is Lauryn Hill. Although I’ve already discussed my thoughts on “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, it had a similar theme to “Bag Lady” in the sense that it taught self-love and also gave a bit of tough love. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill laid some beautiful foundations for black feminism. As the only woman in the Fugees, Lauryn had an incredibly toxic and heartbreaking relationship which she discusses in “Ex-Factor”. In a song that truly exudes pain and anguish, she asks for reciprocity and what it takes for her former lover to give her the respect and love that she always deserved, a feeling that we as women often feel and don’t truly receive. The song was later sampled in Drake’s “Nice For What”, and while I despise Drake for his predatory behavior (and music but that’s not important right now), I appreciate him for using such an important piece of music in an appropriate context. In both “I Used to Love Him” and “Lost Ones”, Lauryn sings and raps about the inequality women face in relationships and how they often get treated like second class citizens. Although Lauryn Hill has created a reputation for herself based on her behavior, I can’t help but sympathize with everything that she has been through. As a woman in the music industry, I worry about the fact that it could just take one man to ruin my career.
Now it would be a travesty if I didn’t mention the queens; Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. The ones who made it possible for women to embrace their sexuality, look hot as hell doing it and still be taken seriously. Often times Lil Kim was criticized for being so dolled up for being too sexual with her lyrics. But that’s also what separated the both of them from the rest. Lil Kim especially was able to be in this crew of all men, with her being the “token” woman. But rather than masking her femininity to be taken seriously, she decided to embrace it. She made herself desirable and regal, and on top of that, she had these incredibly intense lyrics that would make you stop dead in your tracks. The vulgarity of it just made you want to listen even more. And now you have an abundance of talent with female rappers such as Nicki Minaj, Doja Cat, Megan thee Stallion, Cardi B, Rico Nasty, Kash Doll, and Saweetie, who are sexy as hell with hard-hitting raps. With vulgarity and swagger, these women all have managed to dominate the charts in ways that have never been done before, and it’s incredibly inspiring to see. And the conscious queens such as Noname and Rapsody are spitting nothing but pure poetry and knowledge, often stealing the show on the tracks that they’re featured on. Their soothing voices and wise words always make me stop for a moment and truly reflect. Whenever someone asks me if I prefer one female rapper to another, I get a bit frustrated because we never compare men the same way. Some of the most incredible songs have been when female powerhouses come together and absolutely demolish a track, feeding off of each other’s energies. With women like Missy Elliot making history by being the first female hip-hop artist to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I’m hoping in 2020 and in this new decade we see more of women collaborating and less of women being pinned against one another.
As always, you have all of the songs mentioned above and some others below in a playlist. Make sure to leave your comments on some of your favorite female emcees and female-dominated songs. Share with your friends and subscribe with your email to get notifications for new posts.