Ladies first – always!
Women are and have been the gold standard and blueprint when it comes to hip-hop. Since the very beginning, women have proved that rap is not just a boy’s club. Out-rapping and performing their male counterparts, female MCs have done it all.
In the beginning over 35 years ago, women such as Salt-n-Pepa, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, laid the foundation for women to speak up and speak out. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown presented the gift of rapping about sex, high fashion and living a life of luxury. Today, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Meghan the Stallion are taking over multiple charts – continuing the mission of bringing Female MCs to the forefront of music.
Celebrating Women’s History Month, BET.com takes a look through the decades at 25 of the most impactful women rappers of our time.
Roxanne Shanté - You couldn’t tell this teenage MC a single thing! In 1984, after out rapping men twice her age in her Queen, N.Y. neighborhood, Roxanne was tapped by then-producer Marley Marl to record the freestyle, “Roxanne’s Revenge.” “Everybody wanted to be Roxanne,” she told NPR about the ripple effect the six-minute track caused in the early days of hip-hop. Roxanne set the blueprint for women in rap, proving that it’s not just a boy’s game.
The first in many ways! “Lyte as a Rock” (1988) was the first full-length album released by a solo female rapper. MC Lyte went on to release eight albums and became the first solo female rapper to be nominated for a Grammy for her single “Ruffneck” in 1993. She became a model for many women in hip-hop as her career spanned outside of music into television, film and most notably, her work as the Mistress of Ceremony at various award shows including the BET Awards, GRAMMYs and more.
Let’s talk about Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella). One of the most decorated and celebrated rap groups of all time. Salt-N-Pepa changed the rules of the rap game as they freely expressed and dressed themselves as they pleased. Their decades-long run saw them becoming the first female hip-hop act to reach platinum status with “Push It” and make history as the first female hip-hop group to win a Grammy award for their hit, “None of Your Business”.
All Hail the Queen! The royal MC who built her career speaking out against sexism, violence is also responsible for bringing us “U.N.I.T.Y.” and putting “Ladies First”. Queen Latifah remained a maverick in hip-hop throughout her career that saw her win a Grammy award for Solo Rap performance in 1995. Leading by example, Queen proved that she was more than bars as she found success with her multi-faceted singing and acting careers.
Bringing a new sound and swag from across the pond, Monie Love entered the world of hip-hop and paid homage (and raped with) the women who came before her. Monie found success with her debut single “Monie in the Middle” (a song about the lady making choices for herself when it comes to relationships) and alongside Queen Latifah on her single “Ladies First”. Monie has been praised for influencing the likes of Nicki Minaj, Da Brat and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez.
Da Brat emerged in the early 90s swinging her hairbeads and putting ATL on the map. “Funkdafied” (her debut single) entered the rap charts at number 1 and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made her the first woman rapper to go platinum. Da Brat’s success includes five studio albums, two Grammy nominations, three Billboard awards and a Soul Train award. She has since transferred her gift of gab as a radio personality on the nationally syndicated “Rickey Smiley Morning Show” and as a co-host on Fox’s “Dish Nation.”
You better take heed! Yes, indeed, Lil Kim “the Queen Bee” emerged on the scene as the only woman member of Junior M.A.F.I.A. but found her wings as a solo act, and hip-hop has never been the same. Kim’s debut, “Hard Core” found chart-topping success with three singles, “No Time”, “Not Tonight” and “Crush on You”. Her lyricism and openness about a woman’s sexual appetite while enjoying the luxury of high fashion opened doors for other ladies to be as raw and real as they wanted to be. One Grammy, over 15 million albums sold worldwide and a host of female rappers later, Kim has remained the gold standard for today’s modern rap goddess.
You can’t talk about rap without mentioning the lyrically insane Foxy Brown. The Ill Na Na, who hailed from Brooklyn, N.Y. left her mark in the early 90s as she spit just as nasty as the boys (and was unapologetic) about every verse. Foxy’s biggest hits include “I’ll Be”, “Ain’t No Ni**a” and “Big Bad Mama”. After three albums, a Grammy nomination and several well-merited accolades, Foxy slipped off the scene, but remains one of the best MC’s in history.
Rapper, singer, dancer, producer (you name it)! Missy Elliott has done it all during her 30-year career. With the release of “Supa Dupa Fly,” Missy changed the landscape for music videos as she offered an eccentric and creative take on the process that earned her the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 2019. The four-time Grammy award winning rapper (who maintains control over all of her music) has released timeless classics (perfect for those uphill Peleton ride) like “Work It,” “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control,” on top of producing, supporting and inspiring countless other women in music.
The world was introduced to Ms. Lauryn Hill as the only female rapper/singer of the Fugees but she has since established herself as one of the greatest musicians of all time. After finding success with the group, Ms. Hill ventured out on her own and made history with the release of her debut solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” The album earned her four of her eight Grammy awards and was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time. Over 20 years after making her debut, Ms. Hill’s impact continues to resonate as she has been praised (and sampled) by Cardi B, Drake and many more.
The world wasn’t ready for the “Illest Pitbull in a skirt” but then came the “First Lady of Ruff Ryders.” Eve made her mark with stark lyrics about life growing up on the streets of Philly. Rapping with precision, edge and class, Eve found success with singles “Love Is Blind,” “Who’s that Girl” and the Grammy winning “Let Me Blow Your Mind.” Following in the footsteps of Queen Latifah, Eve found success with acting projects and as a daytime talk show host.
R to the Ezzy, M to the Yzzy! Remy Ma made her mark as one of the most dominant members of Fat Joe’s, Terror Squad. Remy’s deep bravado and lyrical excellence is reflected in her biggest hits, "Conceited,” “Lean Back” and “All the Way Up.” The Bronx native has made her mark as one of only six female rappers to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The Diamond Princess reigned as the leading lady of Slip-n-Slide records. Trina made her mark as she stunned the hip-hop community with her verse on Trick Daddy’s “Nann Ni**a.” Trina’s first single, “Da Baddest B****h,” peaked at number 3 on the rap charts and led to the success of her debut album. After releasing five albums and gaining BMI, ASCAP and Billboard awards, Trina has remained one of the pioneers of the Miami rap scene and continues to leave her mark.
The 2000's And Beyond
The originator of the “Pinkprint,” Nicki Minaj completely changed the rap game as she emerged as the colorful female MC of Young Money Records. Since her breakthrough, Queen Barbi has successfully crossed over as she has dominated the hip-hop and pop charts. Throughout her career, she has earned multiple BET, MTV, Billboard and American Music Awards. She takes the stage and the booth with colorful wigs, multiple personalities, comedic punchlines and lyrical genius all which has made her one of the most celebrated and influential rappers in music history.
An old soul in a new age, Rapsody has made her mark in today’s hip-hop scene with her melodic flows, reminiscent of MC Lyte (who she credits as one of her biggest influences). Three albums and two Grammy nominations later and wearing the crown as the 2020 Lyricist of the Year at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, the North Carolina-bred MC can hold her own during any cypher and is showing no signs of slowing down.
The TACOBELLA, Owns It! Setting herself apart from the mold, Rico’s music is a mixture of trap, punk rock and bubbly flows. Inspired by Avril Lavigne and Nicki Minaj, the Maryland native has found success in carving out her own lane and has even caught the eye of Rihanna, making an appearance in her Savage Fenty fashion Show.
In front of the mic and behind the pen, BIA has made a name for herself during her short (yet very bright) career. She rose to fame after appearing on the “Sisterhood of Hip Hop” reality show on Oxygen and has built her persona on embracing her authentic self and penning songs with fellow Latin artist J Balvin. To date, the part Puerto Rican, part Italian rapper from Boston’s biggest moment has been owning her verse on the Russ track “Best on Earth,” with her sultry flow and impeccable word play.
It’s been “Up” for Cardi since the release of her debut single, “Bodak Yellow.” After leaving “Love & Hip-Hop New York” in 2016, the Bronx MC’s career has not slowed down one bit. In 2019, Cardi made history as the first female solo artist to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album for Invasion of Privacy. Since, the MC has gone on to make Billboard history with her controversial singles “WAP” ft. Megan thee Stallion and “Up”. Not only is Cardi known for her rhymes, but she is also at the forefront of pop culture from everything including fashion to political commentary.
Speak on it! Chika’s career centers around her love of poetry and activism. In 2020, while the rest of the world was hunkering down, she was inducted into XXL’s Freshman class where she proudly stood out from the other MCs. Chika also earned a Best New Artist Grammy nomination and has used both her words and fashion sense to earn herself a Calvin Klein campaign focused on body positivity.
Always true to who she is Young M.A found breakout success with the release of her single “Ooouuu," which has gone on to reach quadruple platinum success, making it her biggest release to date. Young M.A takes pride in being able to spit about the same topics as male MCs, including her love for women, violence and wealth. And yet, throughout her career, her message has remained the same — bringing people together through music.
The Hot Girl Reign! Summer hasn’t been the same since Megan the Stallion coined the phrase “Hot Girl Summer” ft. Nicki Minaj. Influenced by Pimp C, Meg proved that she has a flow just as real and (nasty) as the boys. Within the last year, Meg has found success with the release of her singles, “Hot Girl Summer” and “Body.” Megan’s star shined even brighter as she became a three-time Grammy winner (joined by her fellow Houston hottie, Beyoncé) during the 2021 ceremony.
Social superstar! Doja Cat found success after her single “Mooo!” went viral and landed her a record deal. The California native has made a splash in hip-hop as her witty rhymes and accents have drawn parallels to Nicki Minaj herself. In 2019, Doja was joined by Nicki on her viral hit “Say So,” which topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 2020. And while she didn’t leave the Grammys as a winner this year, she did just move into a $2.2M midcentury home located in the mountains above Beverly Hills.
After winning “The Rap Game” in 2016, Miss Mulatto released her lead singles “B***h from da Souf” and “Big Latto,” which was certified GOLD by the RIAA. Mulatto was also inducted in XXL's 2020 Freshman Class and has gained respect from fellow rappers from the South, including Gucci Mane and Trina.
Icy Girl! Saweetie has no problem making music for the pretty girls. Saweetie’s career took off after the release of her breakout single “My Type.” The Bay area native has been deeply influenced by her roots, sampling Too Short on her follow up single “Tap In,” which earned her praise from the veteran MC. Despite all the news about her recent break up with Migos member Quavo fans are eagerly awaiting the release of her debut album Pretty B***h Music, which has been supported by her hit “Best Friend” featuring Doja Cat.
Flo Milli is the viral sensation who has unapologetically released rap tracks that have found both chart and social success. The Alabama native’s delivery is a breath of fresh air as she floats across tracks with her bubbly demeanor. Flo’s breakout single “Beef FloMix" went viral on Instagram and TikTok. The rapper’s mixtape “Ho, Why Is You Here?” has gained praise and helped her earn a Best New Artist nomination at the 2020 BET Hip Hop Awards.
(Photo by: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; Photo by Thaddaeus McAdams/WireImage; Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion and Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)