I don’t think anyone on that list has matched the impact of female rappers of previous generations, such as Lauryn Hill or Missy Elliot, but they are young, so their best may yet be to come.
Women have been making big waves in rap since the early days, with Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Sha-Rock, and Salt N’Pepa all playing a pivotal role in the music genre’s evolution.
Later on, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Da Brat, Bahamadia, Lady of Rage, Yo-yo, Missy Elliot, and Lauryn Hill made huge progress, before the likes of Eve, Rapsody, Nicky Minaj, Dej Loaf, and all of those mentioned at the start of this piece. In Ireland, we’ve had the likes of Ophelia and MissElayneous, plus, more recently, Celaviedmai, but this country has produced more female soul singers than rappers, though that is changing rapidly.
A generation of young girls is now growing up listening to Cardi B and Nicky Minaj and their high-profile, no-holds-barred swagger is very influential. Gone are the days when you would struggle to name girls on rap line-ups and more women than ever are making big strides in the rap game. Some of them are the greatest to ever rock the mic. There can be no disputing that Lauryn Hill is one of the all-time best singers, but for many years in the 1990s, she was also one of the best MCs. Missy Elliot had spent most of that decade quietly writing hits in the background, but she soon blew up as a solo artist and also created a distinct legacy, that is very much alive today.
Lizzo would have been inspired by Missy and her own rise to the top is one of the best music stories of the year. She has been releasing music for many years now, but despite her obvious talent, nothing really significant happened until this year. She is probably the artist of the year and tickets for her recent Dublin show were more in demand than anything in 2019. She is multi-talented and, like Lauryn and Missy before her, she can rap and sing and do lots more, too. Indeed, many of the biggest r&b and soul and pop stars of the last 20 years or so can rap, and the likes of Erykah Badu, Rihanna, and even Beyonce, have been known to bust out some rhymes.
When it comes to straight bars, it’s hard to match Nicki Minaj and she is probably the dominant female rapper of the last decade. Her memorable verse on ‘Monster’, by Kanye West, remains one of hip-hops greatest moments, and even though she has often delivered some patchy material, Nicki is, bar for bar, a great rapper and she can slay both the best men and women on her day. Her biggest rival, most recently, has been Cardi B, another really capable MC who can go toe to toe with the best of them, and one who is quick to speak her mind, too.
As is often the case with the music industry, the media tries to pit women against each other and there have been huge rivalries between various women in rap since the 1980s, when Roxanne Shante used to diss practically every woman who came through. Lil Kim versus Foxy Brown, Nicki versus Remy Martin, and Iggy versus Azealia were some of the rivalries, with the rap media only too delighted to help stir up the beef, too. It’s led to some memorable songs and moments, though, and rivalries and beefs have always been part of the hip-hop game.
In 2019, it’s great to see so many big hits by women and, ultimately, it’s gonna mean things get even better, with the younger girls and teens taking inspiration from the rap stars.
Rap has often been terribly sexist, and while many of these women spit x-rated bars, too, it’s great that their own perspective is empowering more of them to speak up and do their thing on the microphone.