It’s a man’s world. That could easily be the slogan for the male-dominated industry of hip hop. As an aspiring female rapper it takes skill, drive, and a certain ‘it’ factor to break through. Consistency, a solid fan base, and surviving the ups and downs of the business keeps you relevant.
In honor of women’s history month, Billboard featured a female MC each day during March. The end result is a list of the 31 greatest female hip hop artists of all time. From pioneers like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, to women like Lil Kim and Trina who owned their sexuality, to groundbreaking artists like Missy Elliot, they all had an impact on the genre and culture. Through each generation women rappers have offered the female perspective. None have done it quite like Salt-N-Pepa, Lauryn Hill, and Nicki Minaj.
When you think of female rap in the 80’s Salt-N-Pepa should automatically come to mind. Hits like “Push It,” “Shoop,” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” solidified their position as the best-selling female rap group of all time. Their distinctive style, energetic vibe, and empowering female anthems made members Salt, Pepa, and Spinderella icons. They served as a voice for women of their time. They joined forces with R&B group En Vogue on “Whatta Man” for a smash hit collaboration that was true to their essence. They undoubtedly helped pave the way for future female MC’s.
Lauryn Hill is often regarded as the best female hip hop artist and for good reason. She came on the scene in the 90’s with the Fugees and proved her musical prowess. Her solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the most celebrated and respected albums in hip hop and R&B, in addition to being a monumental success which earned her five Grammy’s. Her soulful voice coupled with her lyrical ability made her a powerful force. Her songs were empowering, inspirational, and thought-provoking, such as her hit song “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
Let’s state the obvious- Nicki Minaj has a flare for the dramatic. The risqué outfits, facial expressions, and animated voices don’t change the fact that her lyrical skills are undeniable. With the support of Lil Wayne and Young Money she has positioned herself as the only consistent female hip hop artist over the past several years. Her content ranges from sassy to street to playful, garnering a loyal following of fans who she refers to as Barbz and Ken Barbz. She continues to break records and cross boundaries. Her single “Fly” featuring Rihanna speaks on her determination to win, which she clearly has done.
Over the past three decades many female rappers have had great success. Now the number of current mainstream artists are slim. The Editor-in-Chief of The Source Kim Osario shared her opinion about the current landscape of women in hip hop with MadameNoire. She says there has been a change and there’s a void that needs to be filled. “There was one point in time where Kim, Foxy, Lauryn, Missy, and Eve were all out and very successful.” But that’s not the case these days according to Kim. “Then that died and Nicki came out on the scene. She has been out for four years but we have not seen any mainstream female hip-hop artists since.”
Now it seems the next generation of artists are on the rise. Rappers such as Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks are making a name for themselves in the industry. Rapper, actor, and self-proclaimed ‘King of the South’ T.I. has signed on to executive produce Oxygen’s new series “Sisterhood of Hip Hop.” The show will focus on the journey of upcoming female rappers Nyemiah Supreme, Siya, Bia, Brianna Perry, and Diamond, former member of Crime Mob. Last December XXL magazine highlighted artists to watch in the article “15 Female Rappers You Should Know.” Veteran Eve recently released Lip Lock, her first album in nearly 11 years. So what does the future hold for women in hip hop? Only time will tell.