You know, it’s been long overdue but it’s time I show the ladies some love around here.
I’ve always been fascinated by female rappers. In an industry dominated by misogyny and machismo, female MCs were forced to be much more creative than men to get their messages across. That has spawned some of the greatest voices ever to touch the mike. Today, we honor the 10 best.
But first, check out our other lists:
You back? Good.
As always, here are the ground rules:
Rankings were determined by lyrical skill and creativity, sales success and overall impact on the industry. This isn’t just my list of favorite rappers (the artist listed at No. 6 is proof of that).
While I usually break these down by decade, this list will be a bit different, featuring artists from the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and 2010s all ranked together. Of course, that means I had to leave out some really great artists (sorry, Lady of Rage).
Also, since this is a list of solo female acts, I had to regretfully cut the groundbreaking Salt-N-Pepa from the running. I didn’t think it was fair to judge them collectively.
So sit back and enjoy. This is ladies’ night.
Honorable mentions: Trina, Jean Grae, Rah Digga
10. Da Brat
Albums: Funkdafied (1994, platinum); Anuthatantrum (1996, gold); Unrestricted (2000, platinum); Life, Luv & Niteclubz (2003)
No. 1 singles: “Funkdafied” (1994, rap)
Edd said: Brat made history in the early 90s by being the first female solo rapper to go platinum. It was a well-deserved honor; Brat could deftly switch from an insane double-time flow to a laid-back delivery with ease. Her versatility and manic personality made her a star.
Albums: Let There Be Eve … Ruff Ryders’ First Lady (1999, 3x platinum); Scorpion (2001, platinum); Eve-Olution (2002, gold); Lip Lock (2013)
No. 1 singles: “What Y’all Want” (1999, rap); “Love Is Blind” (1999, rap)
Edd said: Let me take you back to 1999, when rap was dominated by men in doo rags and wifebeaters. Eve broke through the pack, releasing punchlines as hard as her Ruff Ryder brethren, but with a feminine edge. Eve was one of the hottest rappers — male or female — on the planet by 2000. She peaked way too soon, but at her height she was a force.
Albums: Ill Na Na (1996, platinum); Chyna Doll (1999, platinum); Broken Silence (2001, gold)
Edd said: In the mid-90s, female MCs used their sexuality to tempt listeners before beheading them with razor-sharp rhymes. Fox Boogie played the role of mafioso mistress to perfection, becoming a proven seller and an in-demand guest artist.
Albums: Supernova (2001); Eye Legacy (2009)
Edd said: Chances are, you haven’t even heard Left Eye’s two solo albums. Well, don’t worry, she’s not ranked here because of those albums, it’s her contributions as one-third of the groundbreaking R&B group TLC that cemented her legacy. Left Eye might be the most underrated female lyricist ever, giving TLC’s melodies a rugged edge. By the late ’90s, she began to step out on her own as a solo artist; sadly, her life tragically ended before she reached her full potential.
Albums: Pink Friday (2010, platinum); Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012, platinum); The Pinkprint (2014, gold)
No. 1 singles: “Your Love” (2010, rap); “Moment 4 Life” (2010, rap and R&B); “Anaconda” (2014, rap and R&B); “Only” (2014, rap and R&B)
Edd said: Y’all know I have little patience, and even less love, for Young Money’s pink princess. But even I have to put personal biases aside and admit that, for better or worse, she’s been the measuring stick for female rappers in recent years. When Nicki is focused and puts the gimmicks away, she can hold her own in the booth — she has the sales to prove it. For better or worse, she’s the standard-bearer in the 21st century.
Albums: All Hail the Queen (1989); Nature of a Sista (1991); Black Reign (1993, gold); Order in the Court (1998); The Dana Owens Album (2004); Trav’lin’ Light (2007, gold); Persona (2009)
Edd said: If you’re currently saving up for your girl’s prom corsage, you probably only know Latifah as an actress, model or talk show host. But before she was getting selling y’all makeup, she was a premier rap artist. Latifah’s afrocentric rhymes and aggressive delivery positioned her among rap’s elite in the early 90s. Give it to ’em, queen!
Albums: Supa Dupa Fly (1997, platinum); Da Real World (1999, platinum); Miss E … So Addictive (2001, platinum); Under Construction (2002, 2x platinum); This Is Not A Test! (2003, platinum); The Cookbook (2005, gold)
No. 1 singles: “Hot Boyz” (1999, rap); “Work It” (2002, rap)
Edd said: I dare you to find an artist, male or female, who exhibits the level of creativity as Missy Elliott. Missy made a career out of crossing lines and turning heads. What she lacks in lyrical skill, she makes up for with boundless energy and a vivid imagination. Missy always did things her way, that’s why she’s a legend.
Albums: Hard Core (1996, 2x platinum); The Notorious K.I.M. (2000, platinum); La Bella Mafia (2003, platinum) The Naked Truth (2005)
No. 1 singles: “No Time” (1996, rap); “Crush On You” (1997, rap); “Not Tonight” (1997, rap); “Lady Marmalade” (2001, pop); “Magic Stick” (2003, rap)
Edd said: It’s easy to write Kim off as a punchline in 2015 but don’t sleep, young’ns, your favorite rappers WISH they could be as good as Kim in her prime. Sure, she was in the forefront of rap’s sexual revolution in the 90s, but she’s more than just panties and a pretty face. Kim often flowed side-by-side with some of rap’s most prominent voices, outshining them every time. And that Cookie y’all love so much from Fox’s Empire? Inspired by Kim. She was a pop culture phenom.
Albums: Lyte as a Rock (1998); Eyes on This (1989); Act Like You Know (1991); Ain’t No Other (1993); Bad As I Wanna B (1996); Seven & Seven (1998); Da Underground Heat, Vol. 1 (2003)
No. 1 singles: “Paper Thin” (1988, rap); “Cha Cha Cha” (1989, rap); “Poor Georgie” (1991, rap); “Ruffneck” (1993, rap); “Cold Rock A Party” (1997, rap)
Edd said: The blueprint. Every artist on this list followed the lead of Lyte, who paved the way for legions of ladies. In a male-dominated industry, Lyte had to be twice as good as her male peers to be taken seriously. She lived up to that challenge. Her contributions as an MC have taken a backseat to other projects in recent years, but don’t underestimate her impact on the game. She didn’t just open doors, she dropkicked them off the hinges.
Albums: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998, 8x platinum); MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2002, platinum)
No. 1 singles: “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (1998, pop)
Edd said: Yes, I know Lauryn only has one solo album to her name. I know she’s often considered a mere cog in the machine known as the Fugees. And yeah, in 2015, Lauryn’s more known for legal troubles and media gaffes than music. All of that is irrelevant; here’s the bottom line — there has never been a female rapper who has delivered rhymes with the passion and intellect as Miss Lauryn Hill. Her album is a modern-day classic and her honest, introspective rhymes inspired millions of fans. She may be an enigma, but that just adds to her legend. She’s the best female rapper of all time, bar one.
Who did I miss? Show your love for your favorite female MC.