2014 looks set to be a vintage year for female rap. Current reigning champ Nicki Minaj announced her third album The Pink Print earlier this month, and we're expecting new records from Iggy Azalea, Trina and Shawnna, and hoping that much-delayed releases from Lil' Kim and Missy Elliott finally see the light of day. Maybe Azealia Banks will even release Broke With Expensive Taste. Also, artists on the come-up such as Tink, Chella H and Raider Klan's Amber London are cutting new licks and looks for the genre, with versatility and talent that doesn't just promise a breath of fresh air for female rhymers, but the rap genre as a whole. Here, we shout out all of the badass girls that have helped shape rap music as we know it.
A IS FOR ATYPICAL
The moment a woman decides to pick up a microphone to rap, she’s going against the grain. Women have had it hard since the earliest days of rap – for instance, female rap pioneer Roxanne Shanté, who was called out for no good reason on Boogie Down Productions’ “The Bridge Is Over”. The line goes “Roxanne Shanté is only good for steady fuckin.’” The decision to target a teenage girl in the midst of (male dominated) rap beef led to a whole schism where female rappers emerged to claim their rightful spot in the emerging art form, stating they were the “Real Roxanne.” If you follow the lineage, you know who the real Roxanne was, and that was Roxanne Shanté. Her post-rap years were slightly muddled as she claimed to have a PhD in Psychology that was later debunked as fake (she is, however, an acknowledged psychologist). It figures: as any woman in rap can attest, you need a strong mental capacity to handle the bullshit. When a female rapper decides to hit the platform, she knows her trajectory is automatically out of the ordinary. Clap for her.
B IS FOR BLONDIE
Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” is credited as being the first rap song in 1979. In 1980, however, Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry rapped on her track “Rapture”. While the NJ native is given proper props for being a disco queen, we can also shout her out as a pioneer of rap.
C IS FOR CHIPPY NONSTOP
Miley Cyrus' twerking came a little too late. Cali-bred Chippy Nonstop has been crafting twerking music for a while now. After briefly working for M.I.A. and later teaming up with Diplo and Mad Decent, Chippy has delivered an electrified take on rap, while also taking over the internet as part of Yung Klout Gang. Her ass-popping tunes started from the (apple) bottom with “Kicked Out Da Club” leading into her breakout track “Money Dance”. She also appeared on Kreayshawn’s ill-fated debut on the standout track “Ch00k Ch00k Tare”. While Chippy has traded in her twerks for more electro-pop (Check out her latest “Alone”), she is still regarded as a new school leader of the twerk-athon. She even has a twerking app in the works called Time 2 Twerk to carry the tradition of twerking on to the masses.
D IS FOR DRILL
Chicago’s Drill scene has been taking over hip hop – as documented in our 2013 Drill or Be Drilled feature. The combination of slowed flows and social commentary is slowly becoming a key theme within the greater rap landscape. While Chief Keef, Lil Reese and Fredo Santana are leading the charge, female Drill acts like Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard are some of the more prominent chicks in the mix. While the aforementioned have laid a solid foundation for the burgeoning rap niche, other ladies like Dreezy and Tink are definitely on the rise, bypassing any and every stereotype of female rap with some super new shit to offer.
E IS FOR EGO TRIP’S MISS RAP SUPREME
Following the success of 2007’s ego trip’s The (White) Rapper Show, VH1 decided to kick it up a notch with 2008’s ego trip’s Miss Rap Supreme. It was arguably the first reality show rooted in female rap. A familiar face from the show? Khia of “My Neck, My Back” fame.
F IS FOR THE FUGEES
The Fugees deserve credit for a number of things. They brought hip hop further into the mainstream, popularizing “the hip-hop band” (along with The Roots). Their combination of live instrumentation, rhyming and singing lumped them into the dubious category of Alternative hip hop, yet the trio flourished. Their second album The Score remains as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. It topped the charts in a number of countries, went multi-Platinum (and Diamond in certain countries), and earned the Best Rap Album and Best R&B Performance for “Killing Me Softly” at the 1996 Grammy’s. Winning for rap and R&B? Surely you jest, but that was what the Fugees embodied. They had it all.
Let’s keep it real though, the greatest offering from The Fugees was one Ms. Lauryn Hill. Lauryn Hill changed the game with her intricate lyricism. When she parted ways with her fellow NJ brethren, she went on to become an icon. Her solo debut album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, is labeled a multi-genre (and multi-Platinum) classic, fortified by Hill’s gift for effortlessly moving through hip hop and R&B. Not only is she a brilliant singer, but she sits at the top of Best Rapper lists as well. When she won one of her Grammy for Album of the Year in 1999, she stood in front of the microphone and said, “This is crazy, because this is hip hop music.” She had no idea of the impact she made, being a woman and uttering those very words on that fateful evening.
G IS FOR GHOST
On Beyoncé’s self-titled album that nearly broke iTunes with its swift sales, King Bey dropped a song called “Ghost”. It is arguably Beyoncé’s very first rap song, as she spits bars about being tired of the music industry in a semi-robotic cadence. “Soul not for sale,” she rhymes. “Probably won’t make no money off this. Oh well.”
H IS FOR HONEY COCAINE
Toronto’s own Honey Cocaine is slowly moving up the ranks, dropping slick bars for all of us to snack on. While discovered by Tyga by way of a YouTube freestyle, the rapper of Cambodian descent is carving her own lane these days. Keep an ear on Honey Cocaine. You won’t be sorry.
I IS FOR INSPIRATION (AND IMITATION)
It’s the sincerest form of flattery isn’t it? Sure we have our favorite female rappers of today, but there’s a direct DNA linkage to the veterans. It comes as no surprise that you can thank Lil’ Kim for the swag of Nicki Minaj and newbies like Honey Cocaine and Lola Munroe, but even artists like Lauryn Hill and Jay Z can be felt in rappers like Rapsody. Younger generations of girls are also already popping up from predecessor ponds. While an artist like Rye Rye did her boogie and bounced, we heard her style again in the chops of Azealia Banks, and it’s now been refined in the spirit of Leikeli47. Art inspires art inspires art. Isn’t that how the story goes?
J IS FOR JEAN GRAE
Jean Grae is a hip hop staple. Formerly known as What What?, Jeannie has maintained a consistency in her music. She’s witty, lyrically slick, and as you know from her Twitter, has no qualms about divulging info of the less fairer sex. Her latest EP jeannie. is a must have for the iPhone.
K IS FOR KIMBERLY JONES AKA LIL’ KIM
Where would hip-hop be without Lil’ Kim? The Queen Bee arrived as a protégé of the late Notorious B.I.G., delivering unapologetic edgy rhymes. She quickly became her own one-woman mafiosa show, and has inspired a number of artists currently out. While Kimbo Slice is currently a somewhat outlier, respect the vet that brought the raunch to rap.
L IS FOR "LADIES FIRST"
The 1989 feminist anthem was by far the greatest declaration of girl power to ever enter the hip hop realm. Queen Latifah, flanked by Monie Love, crafted a track to prove to the fellas that they were royalty, out for world domination, and demanded R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Take a backseat, guys. Ooh ladies first. Ladies first.
M IS FOR MISSY ELLIOTT
Few female rap artists ventured into the uncharted waters of both rhyming and production, but Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott not only pioneered it, but revolutionised it. Flanked by Timbaland, Missy helped launch the careers of a number of burgeoning young female artists by way of mentoring and cosigns including Tweet, Lil Mo, Mocha, Nicole Wray, and the greatest success story, the late Aaliyah. Of course in the meantime and in between time, Missy managed to kickstart her own gigantic rap career, sprinkling in some of her singing that dates all the way back to her role in the girl group Sista. A true Jane of all trades!
N IS FOR NICKI MINAJ
From rhyming in stairwells on The Come Up DVD to becoming a pop icon, Nicki Minaj is perhaps the greatest female in hip hop success story. Not only does she boast the biggest sales of any female rapper in history, but she's crossed over into an artist who can carry a pop smash as well as fire-spitting verses and mixtape cuts. As she put in a Power 105 interview last year, in a response to Kendrick Lamar's "Control" verse: “I’m the queen of New York, I’m the king of New York. Let me tell you why. Platinum albums, plural. Number one in five motherfucking countries. Don’t play with me. You better respect my motherfucking gangster, bitch.”
O IS FOR "ONLY FEMALE IN MY CREW"
The phrase was popularized by Lil’ Kim on Diddy’s “All About The Benjamins”, but it’s an idea that has lived up to its meaning. Most rap crews have only one girl rapper. Lil’ Kim was Bad Boy’s, Foxy Brown in the Firm, Lauryn Hill in the Fugees, Nicki Minaj in YMCMB, Queen Latifah in Flavor Unit, Shawnna in Disturbing Tha Peace, Eve from Ruff Ryders, and even more recently Lola Monroe in Taylor Gang.
P IS FOR PANTHER SOUNDTRACK
In 1995, the film Panther detailing the history of the Black Panther movement. The theme song for the film was an all-female ensemble – a first for women in hip hop. While there was an R&B version, the rap version featured everyone from MC Lyte to Left Eye, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Yo-Yo, and the list goes on.
Q IS FOR QUEEN LATIFAH
All hail the Queen! Latifah may have moved onto brighter pastures (read: her own talk show), but that doesn’t mean she escapes the rapper conversation. A pioneer to the culture, the NJ native brought a different take on feminism with tracks like “Unity” and the aforementioned “Ladies First.”
R IS FOR RAPSODY
A recent addition to the real lyricist pool, the North Carolina Jamla signee is on the 2014 watch list for artists about to blow up. Under the tutelage of producer 9th Wonder, Rapsody is a rare jewel of an artist who actually focuses on rapping, spitting stellar bars the defy gender. Imagine that.
S IS FOR SALT-N-PEPA
Salt-N-Pepa reinvented the wheel when they first rapped about sex on wax. Songs like “Push It” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” opened the floodgates to discuss “that thing”. Then they turned around and named it “shooping.” So basically, Salt-N-Pepa taught you about the birds and the bees.
T IS FOR TLC
While T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli collectively formed the group TLC, their mouthpiece Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was a pioneer of sorts in rap. The late rhyme-spitter was cut from the cloth of the aforementioned Salt-N-Pepa but discussing safe sex was her mission. Imagine how many accidental pregnancies she prevented?
U IS FOR UNDERGROUND
Oh you didn’t know that there is an entire underground of female rappers on the come up? Certainly. It isn’t reserved just for the guys. While past alum like rapper Invincible helped pioneer the movement, today we have a whole slew of talent to become your favorite rappers. Check out artists like Dessa and Awkwafina if you don’t believe us.
V IS FOR VITA
Murder Inc.’s prominent female was obviously Ashanti, but rapper Vita had just as an important role in the rap collective’s mix. The younger sister of Kima from Bad Boy trio Total, Vita embodied the "ride or die chick" mentality. She rhymed about moving weight and falling in love. Sexy and slick. Come back, Vita!
W IS FOR WHITE GIRL MOB
Kreayshawn, Lil Debbie, V-Nasty were the Bay Area vixens that were collectively known as White Girl Mob. The girls pissed off a lot of people with their dropping of N-bombs and mentorship of Lil B and Gucci Mane. It feels like that team has since diffused, but surely hip hop is all about the cheek? If that’s the case then they were a success.
X IS FOR MIA X
No Limit Records had their own femme fatale known as Mia X. The self-proclaimed “lyrical man-eater” is one of the fastest rapping ladies, similar to classic rap group JJ Fad, except the New Orleans native was a little more (dare we say) vicious. Whatever happened to the “Biggest Mama Mia”?
Y IS FOR YO MAJESTY
The duo of Yo Majesty made major moves for the LGBT community by being out lesbians – as well as Christians. The ladies hail from Tampa, Florida, and cut their teeth crafting party jams with the help of electronic team HardFeelingsUK. In the midst of party rocking, Yo Majesty inserted a degree of social commentary that boldly acknowledged and embraced their lesbian lifestyle.
Z IS FOR ZERO FUCKS
Let’s not forget that to be a female in the rap world, you have to adopt some degree of a zero fucks mentality. While strides are being taken, the hip hop word is still undeniably misogynistic, and a thick skin is necessary to rise to the top. Any woman who dares touch a mic to spit some bars has to leave all fucks at the door. Period.
Follow Kathy Iandoli on Twitter here @kath3000