Using a medley of repetition, metaphors and clever rhymes, rap artists piece together sing-along hits that have become hot on the top Billboard charts and are forever ingrained in our memories. Beginning in the 1970s all the way up to present day, female rap artists have made it big in the music industry by composing powerful songs in response to real-world issues such as discrimination, inequality and sexual harassment. In the spirit of Women’s Day on March 8, below are some of the most talented female rap artists of the last four decades.
Salt-N-Pepa, a women’s trio featuring Cheryl James, Sandra Denton and DJ Spinderella, began making music in 1985, joining forces to contribute popular rap songs now widely recognized as throwback hits. The group’s music was predominantly inspired by the sex-positive revolution in the ’90s, when many women finally felt comfortable about expressing and exploring their sexuality.
One of their most well-known hits, “Push it,” released in 1987 on their album, “Hot, Cool and Vicious,” was very outspoken about the artists’ sexual desires. One memorable section of the song is when the artists tell listeners to get on the dance floor, but “only the sexy people.” This song, along with many others encouraged women to embrace their beauty and feel good about the way they looked. Another song influenced by sexual positivity was “Let’s Talk about Sex.” Released in 1990, the lyrics of this song illustrate how self-confident many women felt during these years, especially about their bodies. According to udiscovermusic.com, in addition to messaging newly gained sexuality, Salt-N-Pepa preached feminist values and were one of the first female groups to speak out against assault and discrimination.
One of the earliest female rappers in hip-hop history, Queen Latifah knew she was destined to rap early in her life. Before becoming an independent artist, she formed a rap group in high school with a couple of her friends, calling themselves Ladies Fresh. Following high school, Latifah released her first song in 1989, titled “Ladies First.” This song, along with her 1995 Grammy-winning song “U.N.I.T.Y.,” voiced a powerful desire for women’s rights. In one line of “Ladies First,” Latifah sings, “Who said the ladies couldn’t make it, you must be blind.” Latifah strongly believed women were just as capable—if not more capable—than men, and deserved an equal chance to achieve success. In the song “U.N.I.T.Y,” she expresses her annoyance with men harassing women, singing, “I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame.” Through her empowering lyrics, Latifah encouraged women to stand up for themselves and fight back against mistreatment.
Lauryn Hill began her music career performing with a group in high school, just like Latifah, according to biography.com. Soon after, she joined The Fugees, a hip-hop group that rose to fame in the early ’90s and included Hill and two other male rap artists, Wyclef Jean and Pras.
After the release of the group’s second and final album, “The Score,” including the well-known song “Killing me Softly,” the group received comments about how Hill was meant to sing solo and was a more talented rapper than her accompanying male vocalists. In 1998, Hill decided to release a solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” From this album, Hill not only proved that the future was female, but paved the way for religious rapping. For example, her song, “To Zion” depicts her conversations with God during an unplanned pregnancy she had. Hill was able to touch on real-world issues that still affect women today.
A modern-day icon, Nicki Minaj gained popularity as a female rap artist after the debut of her 2010 album, “Pink Friday,” consisting of hits such as “Pound the Alarm,” “Starships” and “Super Bass.” Along with her lyrics, Minaj’s bold stage presence catches her audience’s attention immediately, sending the message that women are able to make a statement on stage without the aid of males. From Japanese streetwear to magenta wigs to push-up bustiers, Minaj is not afraid to stand out from the crowd, and her vibrant music echoes the same attitude. One song in particular that displays Minaj’s self-confidence and feminist beliefs is “Feeling Myself,” featuring Beyoncé. This song expresses to women that it is okay to focus inward, and do what makes you proud as a woman.
Suffering from sexual assault and abuse as a child, many of Iggy Azalea’s songs express her newly found confidence as she emerges from a traumatic childhood. Her songs “Work” and “Fancy,” both released in 2014, were catchy hits meant to motivate young women. In one line of “Work,” Azalea sings, “And my dreams were uncommon, guess I gone crazy, first deal changed me.” Azalea reflects in a lot of her songs about how she has achieved her goals through everything in her life. According to billboard.com, Azalea’s songs are meant to inspire women to dream big, no matter what setbacks they might face in life. In the same year this song was released, Azalea followed in the steps of the Beatles by becoming one of the only artists to rank number one and two simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Azalea’s 2009 song “Switch” and its accompanying music video made a bold statement that Azalea was not a woman to mess with. As Azalea sang, “They already know they can’t f*** with Iggy.”
According to Pitchfork, Cardi B is the most influential and notorious female rapper of all time. She was not only the first solo female rapper to place number one on the Top Hot 100 three times, but broke Hill’s record of two number one hits. One of Cardi B’s popular albums, “Invasion of Privacy,” won the Grammy for 2018 Rap Album of the Year, a major win for not only Cardi but for women around the world. “I Like It” and “Be Careful” are two songs on the album “Invasion of Privacy” that, according to Pitchfork, exemplify the newly gained empowerment and self-worth the artist has felt amidst the tragedy and anger the artist has experienced in her life. The lyrics of “Be Careful” tell the story of a man who has cheated on his girlfriend. Instead of giving into the man, Cardi B encourages girls to stand up for themselves in relationships, and utilize their strength and independence to follow their dreams. “I ain’t about to sleep on my dreams for no man,” Cardi B raps.