There was a time when women weren’t properly represented in Hip-Hop. After Sharon Green a.k.a. MC Sha-Rock first broke out on the scene in the late 1970s, plenty of women followed her lead and infiltrated the rap space and cemented their place in music history. Innovators like The Lady of Rage, Yo-Yo, JJ Fad, Monie Love, Jean Grae, Rah Digga, Charli Baltimore and Angie Martinez have all broken the mold of the average expectation of a MC. They would go on to inspire generations of female lyricists.
Over the years, the world has bared witness to the rise of multiple women who’ve left their mark on Hip-hop culture. These icons have paved the way for prominent women who’ve come up in Hip-Hop like Dej Loaf, Snow Tha Product, Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea, and even the late Magnolia Shorty. They’ve served as inspiration for women who are currently rising within the ranks of the rap game Che Noir, Leikeli47, Atlanta’s Omeretta The Great, New York City’s DreamDoll, Detroit’s Kash Doll, Tierra Whack, Saweetie, Latto, Flo Milli, Rico Nasty, Dreezy, Shenseea, BIA, and Doja Cat. Even TDE’s latest signee Doechii, Young Money’s Mellow Rackz and CMG’s GloRilla are all destined to live up to the women who came before them.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re uplifting 22 groundbreaking women, both veterans and today’s stars, who’ve impacted Hip-Hop since the genre’s inception 50 years ago. By “impact,” we mean fierce ladies who became pioneers of rap in their cities, independent women who changed the game with their lyrics or creative directions, and talented artists who’ve made history in Hip-Hop and the music industry as a whole.
In the early years of hip-hop, Roxanne Shanté was the first-ever “Queen of Rap.” The Queensbridge, New York native was the first woman to make rap beefs popular in the hip-hop community. In 1984, Shanté’s breakthrough single “Roxanne’s Revenge,” aimed at all the male members from rap group U.T.F.O., blew up in the streets. The controversial record not only became a hit, but it also glorified rap beefs for the first time on a mainstream level. Shanté’s song, which she wrote at age 14, shattered all expectations of female rappers and inspired women to be themselves on the mic.
Queen Latifah was destined to make history in hip-hop. She was the first female rapper who signed to Tommy Boy Records in 1989. She first made noise with her well-known feminist hit “Ladies First” featuring Monie Love off her debut album All Hail The Queen in 1989 and followed-up with Nature of a Sista’ in 1991. Following her exit from Tommy Boy, Latifah went on to drop her third album Black Reign in 1993, which features her smash hit “U.N.I.T.Y.” The song helped her become the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Rap Performance. Latifah’s passion for acting began once she landed the leading role on Living Single in 1993. From there, her acting resume continued to grow. She even became the first female rapper to be nominated for an Oscar in 2002 for her role in Chicago. After over 30 years in the business, Queen Latifah has undoubtedly made an impact on a generation of creatives through her powerful music and her Oscar-nominated performances.
Brooklyn’s own MC Lyte was just 12-years-old when she wrote her debut song “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” which was a song about the crack era. At 16, she released the record and became an integral voice for women in hip-hop from the late ‘80s and beyond. She became the first woman to release a full-length LP as a solo artist thanks to groundbreaking her debut album Lyte As a Rock in 1988. After she followed up with her sophomore LP Eyes On This in 1989, Lyte began her historic reign on the Billboard charts with songs like “Cha Cha Cha,” “Capuccino” and “Ruffneck.” Eventually, she went on to work with other top-tier artists like Janet Jackson, Brandy, Xscape, Missy Elliott and Diddy. She was also one of the first women in hip-hop to embark on her own acting career. She starred in numerous films like Fly By Night (1992) and Playas Ball (2003). Over the years, she’s become a coveted DJ and sought-after voiceover artist.
Whenever anyone speaks of women in hip-hop, Salt-N-Pepa cannot be left out of the conversation. Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa), and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella) made history as one of the most successful female rap groups of all time. The group first formed in 1985. Two years later, they had their first smash hit “Push It.” The song was eventually added to their debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious, which also has other memorable songs like “I’ll Take Your Man” and “The Showstopper.” After releasing other influential bangers like “Let’s Talk About Sex,” Salt-N-Pepa went on to become the first all-women rap group to take home a Grammy in 1995 for their song “None Of Your Business.” After disbanding in 2002, Salt-N-Pepa reunited in 2007 and have been touring together off-and-on ever since. Last year, Salt-N-Pepa were immortalized in film thanks to Lifetime’s biopic which was executively produced by Queen Latifah.
Lauryn Hill quickly became a hot commodity in the music industry in the early ‘90s. Although she got her start acting in the 1993 film Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, it was her breath-taking voice that enticed Pras Michel to recruit her to become the sole crooner and supporting MC for The Fugees. Once Wyclef Jean joined the group, The Fugees dropped off two albums including their Grammy award-winning sophomore album, The Score. After flexing her rapping skills on hits like “Ready or Not” and “Fugee-La,” the New Jersey native eventually branched off on her own to drop her debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998. The album, which contains influential songs like “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Ex-Factor” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” was nominated for 10 Grammys with Hill leaving with five awards. The album also held the record for the longest running debut album by a female rapper on the Billboard 200 for over 21 years. Her music has gone on to inspire a generation of musicians and she’s still considered one of the greatest female rappers of all time.
Mia X was the first woman in the South to make a name for herself in hip-hop. Before she became the first lady of Master P’s No Limit Records, the New Orleans native had already been rapping for 10 years with a local rap group and as a solo artist. Although her debut album Good Girl Gone Bad (1995) didn’t make a mark on the charts, the rest of albums such as Unlady Like (1997) and Mama Drama (1998) had plenty of commercial success. Mia X’s journey in the rap game opened doors for other ladies in the South to match (and/or surpass) their male counterparts.
There weren’t a lot of prominent female rappers from Chicago before Da Brat hit the scene. The rapper began her career in 1992 after Jermaine Dupri signed her to So So Def. Two years later, Da Brat delivered her debut album Funkdafied, which made her the first female rapper to go Platinum (and second next to Salt-N-Pepa). Throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, Brat delivered numerous memorable tracks including “What’chu Like” featuring Tyrese and “Ladies Night (Not Tonight)” along with Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Lisa “LeftEye” Lopes, and Angie Martinez, the latter of which was nominated for a Grammy in 1998. She also became a remix queen after jumping on popular remixes of songs like Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker,” “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” by Destiny’s Child and Dem Franchise Boyz’s “Oh I Think They Like Me.” Even though she’s focusing on her radio ventures nowadays, Da Brat’s rap career will go down in hip-hop history.
As a teenager from Brooklyn, Foxy Brown made her debut on LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya” (Remix) in 1995 and was signed to Def Jam the following year. Brown released her debut album Ill Na Na in 1996 with features from hip-hop’s finest at the time JAY-Z, Method Man, and Kid Capri. The album’s lead single “Get Me Home” featuring Blackstreet was a major commercial success that made her a household name in hip-hop. Foxy had an unprecedented amount of versatility. She would craft gritty bars that fit a wide range of instrumentals from classic boom-bap to reggae-inspired beats. Shortly after the album dropped, she joined Nas, Cormega and AZ to form the rap supergroup The Firm. After appearing on Nas’ It Was Written album, The Firm dropped their debut album through Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. She continued to drop solo projects like Chyna Doll (1999) and Broken Silence (2001). Although she hasn’t formally dropped any new projects since 2008, the illest rapper of the ’90s still garners respect from every major woman in the rap game today including Nicki Minaj, who praises her every chance she gets.
What more can we say about the original Queen B? Lil’ Kim is the original prototype for the majority of the current generation of female rappers. She began infiltrating the rap world with her raunchy rhymes and gutter flows alongside the Notorious B.I.G. and his Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew. Once she made her debut on the group’s debut album Conspiracy in 1995, Kim took off and quickly ascended to the throne as the Queen of Rap. Her debut album Hard Core (1996) went on to become a classic and has been double Platinum since 2001. Her other earlier albums like The Notorious K.I.M. (2000) and La Bella Mafia (2003) are also certified Platinum. Kim’s notable records like “Ladies Night (Not Tonight),” “Crush On You,” “Lighter’s Up” and even her pop collaborations like “Lady Marmalade” still inspire new women in hip-hop today. Outside of her ventures in music and film, Kim is known as a fashion guru and continues to set trends and inspire millions with her captivating wardrobes.
Lisa “LeftEye” Lopes
TLC’s Lisa “LeftEye” Lopes crawled so that rappers like Cardi B can run free. Despite getting her start with singers Chili and T-Boz as TLC, Lopes was very focused on perfecting her rapping skills. Her sassy flow on songs like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “No Scrubs” made her stand out in the group and eventually attracted other artists who wanted to work with her. Her most memorable contribution was on “Ladies Night (Not Tonight)” alongside Lil’ Kim, Da Brat, Missy Elliott and Angie Martinez. Although she passed away in 2002, Lopes’ iconic music career will forever be remembered by fans and the hip-hop community overall.
Eve stays committed to hip-hop no matter no matter what ventures she pursues. After becoming the first lady of Ruff Ryders, E-V-E’s debut album Let There Be Eve… Ruff Ryder’s First Lady, produced primarily by Swizz Beatz, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. She became the third woman in hip-hop to achieve that feat. Her next albums Scorpion (2001) and Eve-Olution (2002) would come full of iconic hits from “Who’s That Girl” to “Gangsta Lovin’” featuring Alicia Keys. She also became a buzzing featured artist with memorable verses on Missy Elliott’s “Hot Boyz” (Remix) and City High’s “Caramel.” After landing her first role in Ice Cube’s Barbershop, she continued to focus on her film career by starring in all three of the Barbershop films, other movies like The Cookout, a self-titled TV show, and a host on CBS’ The Talk. Currently, Eve continued her legacy as a successful rapper by portraying one on ABC’s Queens alongside Naturi Naughton and Brandy.
Don’t ever talk about women in hip-hop without mentioning the Diamond Princess. After getting her big break on Trick Daddy’s “Nann” in 1998, Trina entered the music industry as the first woman from Miami to represent the crib in her rhymes. Upon signing to Slip-N-Slide Records, Trina dropped her debut album Da Baddest B***h in 2000 which holds her classic hit “Pull Over” and featured a couple of rap’s heavyweights at the time like Trick Daddy and Twista. Since then, she’s become one of the most consistent female artists in the game with six albums, four EP’s and 11 mixtapes. Not only has she worked with hip-hop’s greatest rappers like Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Missy Elliott and more, but she’s also become a TV icon thanks to her run on VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop: Miami. Trina’s been cited as an inspiration to several of today’s leading women in hip-hop like Latto and City Girls.
Missy Elliott’s reign in the rap game is probably the most diverse and prolific. After forming the all-female rap group Sista 1991, Elliott formally launched her music career and began writing for other artists. She spent the majority of the early ’90s putting together songs with Timbaland for the likes of SWV, 702, Total, Destiny’s Child and the late Aaliyah. Following her work on Aaliyah’s One In A Million album, Elliott was ready to drop her own album, Supa Dupa Fly in 1997. From there, Elliott became a household name in the rap game. She collaborated with plenty of heavyweights like JAY-Z, Da Brat, Angie Martinez, Lil’ Kim, Nas, Q-Tip, Ludacris, Trina and so many more. After dropping solo albums like Miss E… So Addictive (2001) Under Construction (2002) and This Is Not a Test! (2003), her chart history strengthened and her influence in Hip-Hop had been cemented in history.
Remy Ma made her mark on the rap game as the first lady of Terror Squad, Discovered by Big Punisher, Remy first appeared on two tracks on the late rapper’s Yeeeah Baby album and on M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” (Remix). After Pun’s death in 2000, the New York native signed to Fat Joe and officially became a Terror Squad member. Her gritty rhymes in her verse on the group’s smash hit “Lean Back” helped her core her first Grammy nomination in 2004. Two years later, Remy came through with debut album There’s Something About Remy: Based on a True Story, which contains her notable tracks “Whuteva” and “Conceited.” In recent years, she’s reunited with Fat Joe for their joint album Plata o Plomo and become a staple in Love & Hip-Hop. She strengthened her legacy by launching her first-ever all female battle rap league, Chrome 23. Remy Ma has never been the type to conform to what other women in hip-hop have done in the past, which is why her classic contributions to the culture are so valuable.
During a time when there were only a few female rappers scattered throughout the south, the late Gangsta Boo made history in her own right. The Memphis, Tenn, native was the first woman to join Three 6 Mafia, and the first female rapper from Memphis to make waves on the charts. After appearing on three albums with rap group, Gangsta Boo finally dropped her debut album Enquiring Minds in 1999. Since then she’s released two other albums, 10 mixtapes and has been apart of rare collaborations with a slew of rappers from Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz to Run The Jewels. Gangsta Boo’s persistence and consistency on wax has been an inspiration to a wide range of hip-hop artists. Unfortunately, Gangsta Boo passed away of a drug overdose on New Year’s Day in 2023.
Over the past 15 years, Nicki Minaj has delivered a handful of unforgettable albums and an array of classic collaborations that have influenced a generation of women in hip-hop, fashion and beyond. Since 2007, Nicki Minaj has been serving up hardcore bars and luscious looks that cater to her various personalities. After her Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape blew up in 2009, Minaj landed her deal with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment and released her debut album Pink Friday the following year. Her massive collaborations with Kanye West, JAY-Z, Ludacris and fellow labelmate Drake along with successful albums like Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012) and The Pinkprint (2014) made Minaj a mainstay on the Billboard charts. By the time she dropped her Queen album in 2018, Minaj’s influence music and film had already spread like wild throughout an entire generation of artists. Even as she embraces her fresh roles as a new mother and a budding actress, Minaj’s unforgettable lyrics and flows still makes her the reigning Queen of Hip-Hop.
City Girls changed the dynamics of what to expect from a female rap duo. From the second they dropped their debut single “F**k That N***a, Caresha Brownlee and Jatavia Johnson, a.k.a Yung Miami and JT, were inadvertently making game changing moves that would clear a path for their successful career. City Girls gave whole new life to After signing to Quality Control in 2018, the Miami duo released their debut mixtape Period, which was also their popular adlib that impacted Hip-Hop’s unique dialect for years to come. Although they’ve released major hits together like “Take Yo Man” and “Where The Bag At,” they’ve also branched off to do separate collaborations with other artists, which proves just how versatile the duo can be. The duo may draw inspiration from the likes of Salt-N-Pepa and Trina, but Yung Miami and J.T.’s music is currently influencing the next generation of women in Hip-Hop as we speak.
Rapsody’s catalog is the embodiment of classic hip-hop from a woman’s point of view. In 2007, the North Carolina native made her first appearance on 9th Wonder’s sophomore album. The esteemed artist-producer eventually signed Rapsody to his label in 2008, and released her breakthrough mixtape Return of the B-Girl in 2010. She recruited the likes of DJ Premier, Big Daddy Kane and a young Mac Miller to come through for her first album. From there, Rapsody continued her pursuit to preserving hip-hop’s integrity through her music with her second mixtape Thank H.E.R. Now with Raekwon, Jean Grae, Murs, Big K.R.I.T. and more. In 2016, Rapsody signed to Roc Nation and dropped her label debut Laila’s Wisdom, which earned the songstress her first two Grammy nominations.
Young M.A first made waves when her “Brooklyn Chriq” freestyle went viral in 2014. Who knew that one freestyle would help establish her iconic career in Hip-Hop. Two years later, she hit the streets with her debut single “Ooouuu” and the rest was HERStory. Young M.A ruled the airwaves for weeks with that one record, which also received the remix treatment from rappers like Jadakiss, Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj and more. Her blunt rhymes about everything from past trauma to her sexuality made Young M.A stand out among other rappers, male or female. Recently, she joined the all-female line-up on the official soundtrack for Bruised starring Halle Berry. The rapper could continue to flourish as an artist or even embrace her acting niche, but one thing’s for sure. Hip-Hop will never forget Young M.A’s contribution to the culture.
Cardi B’s legacy is still being written but the achievements she’s racked up since the beginning of her rap career has already solidified her in rap history. Since debuting on Love & Hip-Hop, fans have watched the Bronx rapper go from dropping mixtapes like Gangsta B***h Music Vol.1 to landing her deal at Atlantic Records. Her breakthrough single “Bodak Yellow,” which went on to defeat Lauryn Hill’s record on Billboard Hot 100 chart, was just the beginning of her game-changing career. She became the first woman to have a Diamond record (“Bodak Yellow”) and her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, went on to become triple Platinum. Cardi’s bold rhymes and extravagant fashion taste have already made an indent in Hip-Hop and will be remembered for years to come. The best part is that she’s nowhere near done yet.
Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion was the first female rapper from Houston to make it big outside of Texas. From the time she signed to 300 Entertainment in 2018 to her appearance on Wale’s “Pole Dancer” in 2019, fans had a feeling that her striking verses and enticing music videos would make her one of the most innovative rappers in the new generation of Hip-Hop. After dropping brief projects like Fever (2019) and Suga (2020), Meg released her debut album Good News with songs like “Crybaby” featuring DaBaby and the iconic “Savage” (Remix) featuring Beyoncé. Since then, Meg has gone on to achieve plenty of rare accolades. She became the first woman to have three No. 1 songs in the same year. She’s also the female rapper to cover Sports Illustrated and perform at the Academy Awards. In 2022, she delivered her long-awaited album Traumazine. Although she’s only been around for six years, Megan Thee Stallion has become a household name in Hip-Hop.
After beginning her rapping career nearly 10 years ago, Coi Leray’s music has finally gained plenty of notoriety recently. The daughter of rap mogul Benzino may have just become a prominent figure in Hip-Hop, but her lyrical skills and unique delivery has already begun to impact the rap game. In a short amount of time, Leray managed to create a rare style of rapping that differentiates herself from the rest. Following her breakthrough single “No More Parties,” Leray has already gained co-signs from fellow queens like Nicki Minaj, who recently joined her on her song “Blick Blick.” With the arrival of her debut album Trendsetter, Coi Leray is destined to leave a lasting impact on Hip-Hop like all the trailblazing women who came before her.
GloRilla quickly came up as one of the most influential women in the rap game. From the moment she dropped her breakthrough hit “FNF (Let’s Go)” in 2022, she gave young people across the country the confidence to do anything they put their mind to while turning up to the HitKidd produced banger. Big Glo’s rugged flows yet quirky personality made her fans fall in love with her. The chart-topping record led to her first major deal with Yo Gotti’s CMG, and her first Grammy nomination. Since then, she released her debut EP Anyways, Life’s Great… featuring her other smash hit “Tomorrow 2” featuring Cardi B. She’s also dominated all sorts of stages from music festivals to nationally broadcasted events like the Recording Academy’s tribute to 50 years of Hip-Hop.