With Cardi B winning Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammy Awards, female rap is at an all-time high. As more female rappers are entering the game, it’s time to get schooled on the history of the female emcee. Plus, it’s a dope way to celebrate Women’s History Month!
Roxanne Shante laid the foundation down for what was to become of female rap. At the age of 9, Shante was a beast when it came to battle rapping throughout New York City. In 1984 the world of rap changed once 14-year-old Shante recorded her infamous “Roxanne’s Revenge” that sparked an entire movement called “The Roxanne Wars.” Shante was a hard spitter and sometimes her diss-records hit people really hard. Without her Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma, and other lady spitters in the game wouldn’t have gotten a chance. Shante’s career didn’t reach the heights of many other rappers, but her sacrifices paved the way for women like Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj, and Missy Elliot to be the legends they are.
While Shante was making her way up in the battle world, other femcees were making a splash on to the hip-hop scene in a completely different way. In 1985 Salt-N-Pepa was formed and they released their first single “The Showstoppa” in response to Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show.” Salt-N-Peppa are the original City Girls. They challenged the negative portrayal of women in the industry by owning their sexuality with songs like “Push It” and “Let’s Talk About Sex.” After the release of their fourth album, Very Necessary, they became the first female rap act to have a high-selling album after it sold over seven million copies worldwide. They have sold over 15 million records worldwide and still to this day are one of the best-selling female acts.
A year after Salt-N-Pepa hit the scene MC Lyte became the first solo female rapper to record a full album–Lyte As A Rock. She also became the first female rapper to be nominated for a Grammy for her single “Ruffneck” in 1994. Lyte has been very vocal about her experiences as a woman in the industry stating, “labels didn’t steer me any kind of way. They just wanted me to be me. All of us, in the late 80s/early 90s, were given the opportunity to express ourselves – lyrically and esthetically – in ways that we chose to,” according to Billboard. Rappers like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Yo-Yo and plenty of others all had their own lanes.
In the early days, there was a strong sisterhood in hip-hop. They did collaboration songs like Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down [Remix]” featuring MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, and Queen Latifah. Also, Lil Kim’s “Ladies Night” featuring Angie Martinez, Left Eye, Da Brat, and Missy Elliott showcased the sisterhood in hip-hop. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see more collaborations like these in the near future. The important thing for this new generation of artists to remember is that there will always be room for more than one female rapper at the top.
By Jordan Danae, Northern Illinois Alumna
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