In 2015, The Rap Year Book was released chronicling the evolution of rap from 1979 – 2014, highlighting the most influential song from every year and written by the hysterical Shea Serrano. It included giants like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Notorious B.I.G., N.W.A. but also shone newer talent with Big Sean, Macklemore and Rich Gang.
However, the book thirsts for one thing – female emcees; nary a female is mentioned, more or less breathed. Female emcees are flooding the industry but are repeatedly ignored because of the ridiculously tired tradition of women as delicate and submissive objects; society refuses to take us seriously outside of this haggard perception. With our constant degradation within hip-hop culture, women are less respected and recognized as genuine rap artists. I decided to create my own list comprised of solely female emcees; a contrasting commentary on Mr. Serrano’s insightful collection.
So….will the Missy Elliotts, Lil’ Kims and Salt-n-Pepa’s of the world PLEASE STAND UP?
1979 – Paulette and Tanya Winley “Rhymin’ and Rappin’“
I’ll be with you for just a little while, or long enough to say my rhymes”
Paulette and Tanya “Sweet Tee” Winley are the daughters of Paul Winley, founder of Winley records, a doo-wop turned influential hip-hop label. As one of the earliest tracks featuring female emcees, “Rhymin’ and Rappin'” is funk heavy and with Paulette and Sweet Tee’s simple and approachable rhymes; the track is perfect to groove to.
1980 – She “Ms. DJ Rap It Up“
“Others have tried but fail to succeed, You see my funky rap is the rap you need”
Another early, yet relatively obscure track, She’s rhymes are also simple but pack a punch with the funkdafied beat. Released on the Clappers label it is most often overshadowed by the label’s other release, “How We Going To Make the Black Nation Rise?“
1981 – Blondie “Rapture“
“Fab Five Freddy told me everybody’s high, DJ’s spinnin’ are savin’ my mind”
“Rapture” is quite possibly one of the greatest songs ever. A mixture of disco, funk and hip-hop, it features Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry rapping in all her slinky, awkward glory. It was the first single featuring rap to top the charts and was the first rap video to broadcast on MTV (when they still played music videos of course). Harry namechecks Fab 5 Freddy in the first line of her rap verse but then it transforms into an amazingly intriguing drug-induced dream sequence.
1982 – Sister Nancy “Only Woman DJ With Degree“
“Who ah know any man who can do it like me”
Sister Nancy remains one of the most influential dancehall DJs and the first female to dominate the scene during a career spanning over two decades. A lesser known song of hers, “Only Woman DJ With Degree” speaks for itself, throughout the entire song she reminds us that she is not only extremely intelligent but she is the baddest vocalist and lyricist in the world. Born in Kingston, Jamaica she brought an untouchable confidence to the industry and a global voice to the emcee culture and it’s no surprise that her music is some of the most sampled in hip-hop today.
1983 – Dimples D “Sucker DJ’s (I Will Survive)“
“I got big brown eyes, holes in my cheeks, Keep in time with rap, every time I speak, Yeah I can make you fall in love if you give me a chance, I ain’t talkin’ ’bout sex or no kinda romance”
A little known answer song to Run DMC‘s “Sucker MCs“, “Sucker DJs” did not receive much attention in the U.S. but was a shining example of the more complex rhymes that female emcees were spitting during this time. In addition to incorporating the much loved Run DMC song, Dimples D also samples one of the greatest empowerment songs of all time, Gloria Gaynor‘s “I Will Survive“.
1984 – Roxanne Shanté “Roxanne’s Revenge“
“So, the UTFO crew, you know what you can do, Lemme tell you one for me, and then I’ll, tell you one for you, Every time you sayin’ somethin’ just-a like-a this-a, It ain’t nothin’ that I don’t want to miss-a”
There once was a 14-year-old girl by the name of Lolita Shanté Gooden. She was walking outside a New York City housing project called Queensbridge when she overheard a radio DJ talking about rap trio UTFO‘s cancelled show and thus sparked one of the greatest hip-hop rivalries in history dubbed the “Roxanne Wars“. Gooden was not the “real Roxanne”, subject of UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” but she offered to make a record that would get back at the boys using the moniker Roxanne Shanté. It became an instant hit and remains one of the most popular revenge songs.
1985 – Sparky D vs The Playgirls “The Battle“
“So listen up D this is what you should do, go back to your cage, it’s the zoo”
In one corner, there was Sparky D, in the other, her old crew The Playgirls; what ensued has to be the most epic head to head of female emcees ever. The sheer fact that it is recorded in a single track makes you feel like you are watching the actual battle; the opponent’s response is immediate, no two month wait for each other’s response to be recorded in a studio, no twitter for a clever comeback and no Instagram to hashtag a cunning meme. Take notes people, this is how a battle is done.
1986 – Salt-n-Pepa “My Mic Sounds Nice“
“And you know if I was a book I would sell, Cuz every curve on my body got a story to tell”
“My Mic Sounds Nice” exemplifies the lyrical pioneers that are Salt-n-Pepa. They forever changed the game with their scantily clad outfits, brash opinions about men and fearless rhymes about sex. Salt, Pepa and Spinderella‘s onstage charm and chemistry only added to their unique presence which would fuel their future success.
1987 – Salt-n-Pepa “Push It“
“Push it good, Push it real good”
While “My Mic Sound Nice” introduced Salt-n-Pepa to the game, “Push It” turned them into a bonafide supergroup when it was remixed and released as a single in 1987. One of the most prolific rap songs of the 1980s and early 1990s, it showcased three strong females talking about sex. Unhinged and utterly honest, they made it ok for women to talk about sexual needs and desires. Let’s not forget that every teenager in the country was all about this song, only to realize in their adult years, what they were actually singing about…awkward.
1988 – JJ Fad “Supersonic“
“We know you like us girls so you better get sterile, Cause we are the home chicks that are rockin’ your world”
JJ Fad made themselves unique by incorporating electro beats into their music which made them incredibly accessible to pop audiences. With witty, singable rhymes, their delivery was less in your face than other rap acts and their dance routines made them memorable and just plain entertaining to watch. They were the first female rap group to be nominated for a Grammy and they also deserve some props for making “sterile” and “world” rhyme.
1989 – MC Lyte “Cha Cha Cha“
First Priority Music, Atlanta Records
“Do my thing with an ’89 swing, The dopeness I write, I guarantee delight, To the hip-hop maniac, the uptown brainiac, In full effect, MC Lyte is back”
MC Lyte was only 18 years old when “Cha Cha Cha” was released and it is one of her most popular songs to date. From her second album, Eyes On This, it spent 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles and peaked at (not surprisingly) number one. At such a young age, she was constantly noted for her no holds bar lyrical style. She carried herself with swagger well beyond her years and set the standard for future rappers.
1990 – MC Trouble “Gotta Get A Grip“
“Where I’m from ain’t topical, but more than depth, the troubled step, to wake up my brothers and sisters, who have slept”
MC Trouble‘s “Gotta Get A Grip” was a triumph in black empowerment. Not as well known as her counterparts, MC Trouble delivered her political lyrics with sheer honesty, fierceness and swagger. She was the first female rapper to be signed to Motown Records but sadly she passed away in 1991 during the recording of her second album due to complications from epilepsy.
1991 – Yo-Yo “Girl, Don’t Be No Fool“
“Here’s a message to the ladies, Married, single and even the ones with babies, Listen to YoYo once again, As I conversate about ways of men”
The protegé of Ice Cube, Yo-Yo‘s music advocated female empowerment and addressed the frequent sexism found in hip-hop music. Her style was mostly uplifting and unfortunately did not translate with the majority of hip-hop audiences, however, she created a style all her own and her positive message has been influential in the role of women in rap. She currently runs her own hip-hop school…teach what you know.
1992 – Yeastie Girls “You Suck“
“When you hear ‘safe sex’ you snicker under your breath, We’ve gotta take cover we’re flirting with death, AIDS is our problem, we’ve gotta talk, Break out your dental dam and your latex sock”
Short-lived San Francisco feminist rap-punk trio, Yeastie Girls, shocked and awed with the handful of songs they released during the early 90s. “You Suck” is their most popular track and does not give a fuck about what you think. Yes it talked about going down on a woman and enjoying it but it also promoted safe sex and awareness of STDs, specifically HIV/AIDS. And in a drastically roundabout way also promoted women’s sexual rights.
1993 – Queen Latifah “U.N.I.T.Y.“
“Everytime I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho, Trying to make a sister feel low, You know all of that gots to go”
“U.N.I.T.Y.” is one of the most widely known female empowerment songs to have ever graced this earth. In a male dominated industry with works commonly degrading women, it spoke out against the disrespect of women in society in general, addressing issues of street harassment, domestic violence and the image of women in hip-hop culture, all issues that still exist today (24 years later). Queen Latifah won a Grammy for “U.N.I.T.Y.” in 1995 for Best Rap Solo Performance, besting Coolio, Craig Mack, Snoop Dogg and Warren G.
1994 – TLC “Waterfalls“
“My only bleedin’ hope, Is for the folk who can’t cope, With such an endurin’ pain, That it keeps ’em in the pourin’ rain”
Ok so technically not a full-on rap record but Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes‘s verse on it is probably one of the most well-known in rap history and one of the most attempted in karaoke bars all over the world. The song catapulted TLC to R&B stardom and is their signature record. It tackled socially conscious issues including illegal drug trade, HIV/AIDS and promiscuity. For a whopping seven weeks it was #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and earned the group two Grammys nominations. Amidst their comeback after a hiatus, Left Eye tragically passed away in a car accident and the group never sought a replacement. They are considered one of the most important musical groups in music history.
1995 – Diana King “Shy Guy“
Work, SME Records
“Roughneck man me no want none a dem, Beat up me body lick off me head top”
From the Bad Boys soundtrack, “Shy Guy” was a notable reggae fusion record from Jamaican born singer-songwriter, Diana King. Not a traditional rapper, her style is similar to Sister Nancy’s, straightforward, approachable and danceable which made it a chart success from a relatively unknown artist. And let’s be real it’s one of the most popular throwback jams of the 90s.
1996 – Lil’ Kim “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)” featuring Da Brat, Angie Martinez, Missy Elliott and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
Undeas, Big Beat, Atlantic
“Oh this is ladies night, and our rhymes is tight, Oh this is ladies night, oh what a night”
The original version of “Not Tonight” was featured on Lil’ Kim‘s debut album Hard Core and then she went and fucked all of our shit up with the remix and added Angie Martinez, Missy Elliott, Da Brat and Left Eye to the recipe. What resulted is the most beautiful “ladies get yo shit, have fun” anthem; the YOLO before YOLO actually existed. Let’s also pay some respect to the fabulous music video that ensued; just a bunch of fly women at a tiki bar, kicking in the sand, getting serviced by oiled men, complete with a lit up dance floor and jet skis.
1997 – Missy Elliott “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)“
The Goldmind, Elektra
“Me I’m supa fly, Supa dupa fly, Supa dupa fly “
There isn’t much that can be said about this stupidly amazing record that hasn’t already been said. It put the iconic artist Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott on the rap map and helped turn her into one of the greatest emcees of all time. Missy is a legit lyricist but even more than that she has a giant yet quiet personality. She adds a comical and carefree element to her music and her onstage persona is just pure happiness. The music video for “Supa Dupa Fly” was equally iconic; directed by Hype Williams, it was the first video of Missy’s career and featured fisheye lens shots, bright color schemes, cameos from other famous rappers (Da Brat, Timbaland, Lil’ Kim and Puff Daddy) and made trash bags wearable.
1998 – Lauryn Hill “Lost Ones“
“Hypocrites always want to play innocent, Always want to take it to the full out extent, Always want to make it seem like good intent, Never want to face it when it’s time for punishment”
By the time “Lost Ones” was released, Lauryn Hill was already a well respected emcee from the phenomenal rap group, the Fugees. So when she released her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, her boss status only grew. As the most rap heavy track on the album, “Lost Ones” is perfect to say the least. Her lyrics are so fluid, so easily delivered yet so poignantly effective, so in your face yet able to sit steadily right next to you. Her album pushed hip-hop into mainstream and in 2015, was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.
1999 – Foxy Brown “Hot Spot“
Violator, Def Jam
“You can catch me at the hot spot cause I Fox, I plots, at the bar y’all, all night, I pops, Is it alright, sho’ you right, you can’t stop it, This is our world, me and my girls”
Foxy Brown was a chart topper with “I’ll Be” (featuring Jay-Z) by the time “Hot Spot” released on her second album, Chyna Doll, but the latter cemented her status as boss lady emcee. It did not match “I’ll Be”‘s success on the charts by any means but she nixed the appearance by a male emcee on the track and made it her own. It is important to note that around this time is when WWIII started between Foxy and Lil’ Kim.
2000 – Lil’ Kim “Suck My Dick“
Queen Bee, Undeas, Atlantic
“Imagine if I was dude and hittin’ cats from the back, With no strings attached, Yeah n***a, picture that!, I treat y’all n***as like y’all treat us”
What would you do if you had a dick? Well Lil’ Kim answers in “Suck My Dick”. Literally, it’s a song about all the shit she’d do if she had a dick. She would get her dick sucked, fuck people with her dick and make even straight girls get high off her dick. But really this is an important song in gender role reversal using the idea of a penis as a position of power and instead she makes the vagina a symbol of power. She is unhinged in her delivery of the issues of sexism and degradation of women in hip-hop culture in a truly unique way that only Lil’ Kim could.
2001 – Eve “Gangsta Bitches” featuring Da Brat and Trina
Ruff Ryders, Interscope
“You aint really tryin to fuck the game up, you just a tease, You don’t want it when I really, get buck, you wanted peace, Have you hidin in a hole when my album got released”
“Gangsta Bitches” released on Eve’s Scorpion album, is virtually unknown due to the popularity of the album’s hit single, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” but more so than its counterpart, it was a bad bitches anthem for the new millennium. At once it’s a seriously hard song featuring other bad bitches Da Brat and Trina, yet there are lighter moments (i.e. cameo by comedian Mo’Nique). There’s something for everyone; beauty, brains and freaking dope rhymes.
2002 – Missy Elliott “Work It“
“Is it worth it, let me work it, I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it, Ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gniht ym tup I, Ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gniht ym tup I”
Quite possibly Missy’s biggest hit to date (it reached #2 on the Billboard Top 100), inspiring millions to attempt rapping backwards. With no less than 4 samples total (including songs from Blondie, Run-D.M.C., Bob James and Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three), elephant trumpeting, backsmash vocals and frequent use of onomatopoeia, it remains one of Missy’s most progressive songs, revolutionizing how hip-hop could be produced.
2003 – Erykah Badu “Love of My Life Worldwide” featuring Queen Latifah, Angie Stone and Bahamadia
“Funk you right on up, we gon’ funk you right on up”
“Love of My Life Worldwide”, is the funkdafied remix of “Love of My Life (An Ode To Hip-Hop)“. The original version is your first drink when you arrive at a bar, it’s getting you started, you’re grooving and five drinks and a round of shots later, you find yourself in the remix, falling all over the place and feeling untouchable as hell. While Erykah keeps the chorus similar in the remix, everything else is drastically different; the minimalistic beat is thrown out for a complex funk beat with Bahamadia, Angie Stone and Queen Latifah providing equally funky verses.
2004 – Jean Grae “Fyre Blaze“
“With them horror comic comedy terms (You know you love it), Squirm in your seats, let the bass burn you to pieces, Frown ’til your face keeps all those permanent creases”
Jean Grae‘s rhymes are extremely raw; delivered so calmly, so fluidly, it’s like she’s not even trying. None of Jean Grae’s music could be considered mainstream whatsoever but nonetheless are her signature style. With no hooks, no catchy chorus for an audience to recite, “Fyre Blaze” is just purely raw; generously giving listeners time to reflect between verses on what she just lyrically shit on you.
2005 – Lil’ Kim “Spell Check“
Queen Bee, Atlantic
“I’m the B-A-D-D-E-S-T, Chick in the game – what the fuck I gotta spell it out?, I keep it G-A-N-G-S-T-A, What more can I say – what the fuck I gotta spell it out?”
“Spell Check” was released on Queen Bee’s last full length record in 2005, The Naked Truth, while she was serving a federal prison sentence. In the song, she spells out words at the end of almost every bar, the words aren’t spelling bee status but spelling them out over the beat gives them power and makes you think about what Kim is saying. She’s making us work while feeding us rhymes.
2006 – Remy Ma “Bilingual” featuring Ivy Queen
SRC, Universal, Terror Squad
“Now ya’ll tell me, What bitch is the baddest, Miss Remy con la queen, You need fire, Tu sabes fuego esta aqui”
Remy Ma is a scary woman. She was released in 2014 from a six-year jail sentence stemming from a shooting incident in 2007. She’s legit. Keeping in the Remy tradition, “Bilingual” is an a scary song. She talks about cutting dude’s balls off and raping them; an extremely extreme metaphor for gender role reversal and the end of patriarchy in society if you will. But the most interesting idea in the song is that Remy will teach you how to “rhyme bilingual”, paying tribute to where she grew up in the Bronx and also suggesting bilingualism as a lyrical entity.
2007 – M.I.A. “Paper Planes“
“No one on the corner has swagger like us”
“Paper Planes” has been described as electronica, worldbeat, hip-hop, pop and alternative dance amongst other things and propelled M.I.A. to a chart topping artist. Sampling “Straight To Hell” by The Clash, it became a non-traditional anthem for globalization. Already a well known “political artist”, M.I.A. incorporated children from the Brixton district in London to sing the chorus, comprised of very few lyrics, and added gun shot and cash register sounds, creating the most irresistibly singable chorus in recent emcee history.
2008 – Trina “Killin’ You Hoes“
Slip-n-Slide, EMI, DP Entertainment
“I don’t care what a bitch think or how a hoe feel, Cause ain’t nann one of you hoes payin my bills, And ain’t nann one of you hoes finna buy me a crib, And ain’t nann one of you, hoes finna get me a whip”
“Killin’ You Hoes” starts off with a bunch of gun shots going off in which we can only presume at that moment that Trina is in fact killin’ hoes. She’s one part glam, one part sexy and a million parts bad bitch. Trina disses her female hating counterparts praising her dope looks and their not so dope looks, her dope rhyming skills and their not so dope rhyming skills. But what’s most appealing about the song is that she claims to have just as much money, cars and sex as male rappers do, fearlessly and strategically putting herself on the same level.
2009 Uffie “Pop the Glock“
Arcade Mode, Ed Banger Records
“Boys call on me when they feel freaky hot, I run this show, you got too slow, Pick up the pace, with your cracked out face”
If a macaron and KAYTRANADA had a baby, it would be Uffie. Her soft shit talking rhymes over electronic beats makes for a groovy club atmosphere and was an underground hit in 2006. Her heavy beats and delicate yet rigid rap style are a perfect example of the crossover of music genres and the unique spectrum of artistry found in hip-hop. And she also made popping the glock sound like an adorable activity.
2010 – Ludacris “My Chick Bad (Remix)” featuring Diamond, Trina, Nicki Minaj and Eve
Disturbing tha Peace, Def Jam
“My chick bad, my chick hood, my chick do stuff dat ya chick wish she could”
Rarely does a remix completely blow the ass out of its predecessor but that’s exactly what the remix of “My Chick Bad” did. Luda got Eve, Nicki, Trina and Diamond together and they all flawlessly bragged about how boss they are. What makes it truly beautiful is that Ludacris took a backseat and let the ladies do the rhyming; always send a bomb ass female emcee to do a male emcee’s job.
2011 – Nicki Minaj “Super Bass“
Young Money, Cash Money, Universal Motown
“When he come up in the club, he be blazin’ up, Stacks on deck like he savin’ up, And he ill, he real, he might got a deal, He pop bottles, and he got the right kind of build, He cold, he dope, he might sell coke, He always in the air, but he never fly coach”
And then there is Nicki. Quite possibly the most successful female rapper to date, she burst onto the scene with her electronic, pop and hip-hop mega hit “Super Bass”. With many mixtapes and features under her belt at the time of its release, the obvious hit “Super Bass” put her on the top of the charts (which can be credited to Taylor Swift). The song crossed barriers and was accessible to both pop and hip-hop audiences and highlighted Nicki’s rapping as well as her singing ability.
2012 – Nicki Minaj “Beez In the Trap“
Young Money, Cash Money, Universal Republic
“Bitches ain’t shit, and they ain’t sayin’ nothin’, A hundred motherfuckers can’t tell me nothin'”
“Beez In the Trap” is “Super Bass”‘s grimey younger sister. The latter tells a story of a girl falling in love with a boy while the former talks about gettin’ money and shittin’ on someone’s life. Void of the catchy upbeat pop hooks in “Super Bass”, “Beez” has a minimalistic spacious beat. And instead of her usual schizophrenic style of rapping, she adopts a mellower flow, which makes her vocal delivery more adaptable to the calm beat.
2013 – Rocky Rivera “Ain’t No Way“
“Peace to all my people with a drop of Filipino in they blood, Cuz you a warrior, Third world resident, Fuck a FEMcee cuz my gender is irrelevant”
San Francisco-born and raised rapper Rocky Rivera detracts from what we normally see in rap music. Free of the novelty of gold chains and money we find in hip-hop, Rocky instead focuses on uplifting her community (including those of the Filipino and Feminist nature) and speaking to their issues. Freeing herself from the common female rapper shortcuts of cuteness and overt sexuality, she expresses herself primarily through her rhyming and activism.
2014 – Awkwafina “Queef“
“I’m F. Scott Queefsgerald, Gatsby of the queef game, Wuthering queefs, cuz I’m queefing like a Brontë”
In 2014 the most gorgeous and maybe only song dedicated to queefing was released by comical, satirical rapper, Awkwafina. Dripping with clever references (has anyone equated queefing to classic literature? No, no they haven’t) and feminist tones, she fearlessly talks about the female body and creates an open space to speak about these issues in a comedic way. Instead of the common flashy gimmicks found in rap, she uses a normal bodily function to express power. Her queef game strong.
2015 – Missy Elliott “WTF (Where They From)“
“This another hit, I got an ace in the hole, Boys on my back, playa did you peep that?, You got a small stack, playa, you can keep that, I’m a Big Mac make you wanna eat that”
Missy’s last full album was a decade before her comeback Superbowl XLIX halftime performance with Katy Perry in February 2015. However, the ruckus it provoked was monumental. 14-year olds who are the same age as some of her songs were immediately fascinated. 9 months later “WTF (Where They From)” was released; a classic Missy record with it’s futuristic tempo, heavy drum line (featured in a number of Missy’s previous hits), comical lyrics and pure infectiousness. The music video also introduced two of the best marionettes ever created. As one of the only female emcees to withstand and overcome the misogyny of hip-hop culture and the changing tide of music in general, her reemergence and untouchable popularity proves how important she is to the industry.
2016 – Young M.A “OOOUUU“
“Like I don’t always keep the hammer next to me? Like I ain’t got a hitter to the left of me? Like we ain’t in these streets more than sesame? If that’s ya chick, then why she texting me?”
Young M.A started rapping at the tender age of 9. Now, she’s the first, highly-profiled, openly gay emcee in the rap game. In “OOOUUU” she delivers punchlines with her signature raspy voice and oddly calm demeanor. What’s most interesting is that her gender-bending, sexual identity has catapulted her to success in a historically cis-hetero genre, which no one before her has been able to do. She is fearless and refuses to compromise and is slowly paving the way for other LGBTQ artists.