However this year the doors have opened and Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Saweetie, Doja Cat, Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Ms Bants, Little Simz, Stefflon Don, Kash Doll, Flo Milli are just a few of those doing big things.
In Ireland Denise Chaila is one of the breakthrough artists of the year, while Celaviedmai, Ade, Melanin Tee and a whole host of others are making big moves. Things have progressed both here and abroad, and it’s great to see music welcoming so many of these new voices into our lives.
In some ways, it’s sad that so many more of the greats from before, didn’t quite get the recognition and success they deserved. For every Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot, there was a Bahamadia and Roxanne Shante, great rappers who were successful, but who really should be household names beyond hip-hop.
Today I want to shine a light on a few of these inspirational women, who have always been a part of my own journey as a DJ, but who sometimes remain on the margins of hip-hop history.
First up let me disqualify from the conversation, a few of those who became huge stars anyway. Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, M.I.A., Neneh Cherry, Salt n’Pepa, Queen Latifah, Missy, Eve, Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, Foxy Brown and Trina, are just a few of the greats, who I won’t highlight here, as their contributions are pretty obvious to anyone with even a working knowledge of rap history.
Sure, a few of them could have been bigger, and sure, the industry often used play them against each other, but overall, most of us recognise their massive contributions to this genre that many of us love. These women helped shape hip-hop from the breakthrough in the late 80s to the global success of the modern era, and all of the rappers in the third paragraph owe them a big debt of gratitude.
Roxanne Shante could arguably be included amongst them too. But sadly I don’t think she ever became as big a name outside rap itself. She’s one of the most important rappers of all time and she could probably go bar for bar with anyone on my list from old to new.
When she burst on the scene, her raw energy and skills were impossible to hold back, and the teenager matched anyone in the late 80s on the mic. Like many female MCs, she was quick to battle other girls in a rap climate that seemed unable to accept more than one at a time, and in “Big Mama” back in 1992, she ripped up Latifah, Monie Love, Salt n’Pepa and Mc Lyte. It’s one of my favourite diss tracks of them all, but this is what Shante had been doing since she was 14. God help those who got in her way!
Shante was respected as a rapper but she was one of those MCs whose time on top just preceded the era where hip-hop really made commercial gains.
The same can be said for my next few MCs. Bahamadia was a Philly rapper who recorded some of the best rap of the 90s, and who worked with legends such as DJ Premier and J Dilla. Her voice is one of my all time favs, and she remains really unique and very influential.
Jean Grae (formerly What? what?) is another rapper whose long career has been more on the margins of the big time, but she is a very capable and very respected MC with a pretty big catalogue.
Both of these rappers were more left-field than those who blew up anyway, so they were never gonna be stars in the commercial era of the 90s and beyond.
There are many more I should mention but time is running out. In Ireland, Ophelia remains a very important rapper who is also a brilliant singer and lyricist too.
We are lucky to have had her living with us here in Cork for many years, often teaching the new generation through workshops too.
Others worth mentioning are Rah Digga, Paula Parry, Remy Ma, Da Brat, Lisa Lopez, Sha-Rock and the Lady of Rage, but just remember, female rap ain’t a genre, and there are thousands of more women rappers who are worthy of our time and respect.