There are many examples of female rappers blazing trails through the last five decades of hip-hop music. “The ladies will kick it / the rhyme that is wicked / Those that don’t know how to be pros get evicted.” That catchy lyric is from the hit song “Ladies First”, by Queen Latifah, featuring Monie Love. It’s a song that I can remember vividly since its late ’80s release. Like the Queen, some of the best female rappers have made tremendous marks in music history.
When you first listen to a song, it only takes an instant for you to recognize if it’s a hit. In fact, a recent study finds it takes less than five seconds for people to know if they really enjoy a new song. An NYU research team concludes that reactions to clips could predict how people would feel about the entire song. They say their findings, published in the journal Music Perception, indicate that humans respond more to the “general vibe” of a track, rather than its musical notes.
In the early days of hip-hop, just a handful of female MCs were rhyming in a world primarily consisting of male rappers. But the music underwent an evolution. Enter the bold women, unafraid of sharing raw lyrics, and stories depicting life on the streets. Topics like race, sex, drugs, crime, money and power, at the forefront of many of their rap songs and music videos.
Since March is Women’s History Month, we went searching for the consensus greatest female rappers in history. These are the artists who are game-changers, paving the way for today’s top female rap stars. StudyFinds compiled a list of the five best female rappers of all-time, as ranked by music experts, to find who dominates the industry, both past and present. As always, we’d like to see your own recommendations in the comments below!
The List: Best Female Rappers of All-Time, According to Music Experts
1. Queen Latifah
“In 1993, she released her album Black Reign, which became the first album by a female rapper to become certified gold. The album included her hit song ‘U.N.I.T.Y.,’ which raised awareness about violence against women, especially toward black female sexuality,” according to Music Grotto.
Always finding ways to branch out beyond her rap roots, Latifah has starred in both TV shows and movies. She’s “one of the first MCs, male or female, to turn her rap career into a longstanding position in Hollywood. She might be the queen of reinvention as she’s been able to add actor, jazz vocalist, actor, author and talk show host to her repertoire,” notes Hip-Hop Wired.
“Queen Latifah is referred to as the ‘rap’s first feminist,'” says Musician Wave. “In the 90s, Queen Latifah stepped into the Hollywood world, becoming the first hip-hop artist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. She was also nominated for an Academy Award as a supporting actress in 2002. She’s also a Golden Globe, Grammy, and Emmy award winner.
2. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj burst onto the rap scene in 2007, after releasing her debut mixtape, “Playtime Is Over.” The Trinidadian-born rapper grew up in Queens, New York. She’s known for putting a lot of personality in her rap style.
Minaj is the only female rapper to crack the top ten on Billboard / Vibe’s 50 Greatest Rappers of All Time’ list. “Nicki Minaj earned her crown as the modern-day Queen of Rap with her fierce, braggadocious spirit. Her 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty established her as a lyrical powerhouse,” points out Billboard.
And her accolades show it: “As one of the best-selling music artists with more than 100 million records sold worldwide, Nicki Minaj is one of the most influential rappers of all time,” notes Musician Wave.
3. Missy Elliott
Virginia-born rapper Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott put out her first record, “Supa Dupa Fly” in 1997. However, she collaborated with other artists in the early 90’s, before emerging as a solo artist. Her star shining bright in the early 2000’s. Elliott’s 2001 song, “Get Ur Freak On” is one of her biggest hits. That was followed up by her memorable 2002 hit, “Work It.”
The Teal Mango notes the works that make her so great: “from Miss E… So Addictive to Under Construction and This Is Not a Test! Missy cemented herself as the best female rapper on the planet.”
“Elliott has used samples innovatively, rapped using fierce intellect and unconventional rhymes, and created tracks as radio-friendly as they are groundbreaking. And she has always stood up for women,” according to Dig!
According to Musician Wave, “Missy was one of the game-changers in rap history as she removed the limits of how a female rap artist should sound and look with her unique approaches. It did not matter what she was wearing, as she was only concerned with being creative. She was and is well-known for her catchy lyrical content and experimental and abstract concepts in her music videos.”
Missy Elliott is also the first female rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
4. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill was born in Newark, New Jersey. She found success as a member of the hip-hop group, The Fugees. In 1998, her first solo offering, “The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill,” changed the musical landscape. That album is part of the National Recording Registry of The Library of Congress.
“With that album she blurred the lines between hip-hop, jazz and R&B, and went on to become the first hip hop artist to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The singer’s output has been sporadic and her life has been chaotic ever since. However, with each rare performance she further solidifies her iconic status of one of the greatest female rappers to touch a mic,” according to Beats, Rhymes & Lists.
5. Lil’ Kim
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lil’ Kim was discovered in 1994, by The Notorious B.I.G. Shortly after, in 1996, her first solo studio record, “Hard Core” became a hit. “Critics were impressed with her rap style, which was seen as raw, controversial, and aggressive,” notes Music In Minnesota.
It’s impossible not to notice the impact Lil’ Kim’s raunchiness had on future female rappers. “Years after ‘Big Momma Thang’ sent shock waves through Hip-Hop, we’re seeing inflections of what Lil’ Kim did: from the colorful wigs and the outlandish wardrobe, to the delectably foul-mouthed anthems, irresistible to recite,” adds Hip-Hop Wired.
According to Musician Wave, “One of the first artists to be called ‘The Queen Of Rap’ was Lil Kim in the 90s. As a top-selling hip-hop artist with over 30 million singles sold worldwide, she became a social and fashion icon with her emphasis on sex-positive feminism and the importance of female pleasure.”
Honorable Mention: MC Lyte
I couldn’t end this article without mentioning MC Lyte. Also raised in Brooklyn, New York, MC Lyte’s lyrical style continues to be a major influence on the rap world today. “The Hip-Hop legend was the first female rapper ever to be nominated for a Grammy Award, the first rap artist to perform at Carnegie Hall, and the first female artist to earn a gold single. She’s also one of the first female rappers to point out the sexism and misogyny that often runs rampant in hip-hop, often taking the subject head on lyrically in her songs and helping open the door for such future artists as Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott,” according to Xttrawave.
Kulture Vulturez points out MC Lyte is, “one of the most respected hip-hop artists of the 1990s as consistency led to MC Lyte’s longevity as well admiration for her artistic abilities, being one of the best hip-hop lyricists of all-time.”
You might also be interested in:
- Music Grotto
- Hip-Hop Wired
- Kulture Vulturez
- Musician Wave
- The Teal Mango
- Beats, Rhymes & Lists
- Music In Minnesota
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