With October being Black History Month, we are taking a look into the art and style of the black women who made waves in hip-hop. Although these sensational female artists are celebrated every day of the year, here we list just a few of the most influential.
Hip-hop would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the women who shaped it. Whilst originally being looked at as a male’s space that women were allowed to frequent, this ideology quickly shifted when those women were rightfully respected as the creators.
Sha-Rock: The First Lady of Hip-Hop
Sha-Rock was making waves in hip-hop before it was even born. Growing up in the Bronx, New York, during the 70s, the early development of hip-hop was starting to come together. She would start her career as a B-Girl. Surrounding herself with the art and style of this new movement led her to discover her love of MCing. Firstly auditioning in a basement for The Brothers Disco Work with a dream and a rhyme she wrote on the bus, Sha-Rock became their newest MC.
Now with a career already filled with highlights, this young aspiring artist cemented herself even further in the scene when she joined the original lineup for the Funky 4 (later becoming the ‘Funky 4 + 1’). Ultimately this led to her being the first-ever female MC to get involved in rap battles in hip-hop.
Roxanne Shanté: A Force to be Reckoned With
Roxanne Shanté became a pioneer for hip-hop when she hit the scene at such an early age. She grew up in America’s largest public housing project situated in New York City. The upcoming star made a name for herself when she released a response to U.T.F.O.’s ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’. The song paints a picture of a woman who is ‘stuck up’ because she will not respond to their advances. As a result, this did not sit right with the 14-year-old artist and she made a response.
‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ was released in late 1984 and is celebrated as one of hip-hop’s best-ever diss tracks. In fact, she would go on to battle some of hip-hop’s biggest male names, beating every single one of them bar her controversial loss to Busy Bee Starski. The celebrated artist has gone on to run a non-profit organisation supporting young women, called Mind Over Matter.
MC Lyte: Paving the Way
MC Lyte kickstarted her career with her honest and hardworking style. Whilst living in and amongst the hip-hop scene that was ever-growing in New York, the sensational artist started rapping when she was 12. A close friend she would write with, Eric Cole, told her of an audition for a female MC. Whilst in the basement as this audition was taking place, she caught the attention of Nat Robinson of First Priority Records. She then re-recorded her track ‘I Cram to Understand U’ and the rest is history.
Due to a fresh new style made up of strong beliefs and the outlook she had on the world around her, Lyte dared to make music that nobody else was making. Rightfully so, she was deemed as another one of the pioneers of the genre we all know and love. This brave artist spoke openly and truthfully about the drug issues in New York City, something that no one else was putting a spotlight on. She then released her debut album ‘Lyte As A Rock’ in 1988. It stands proud as the first full-length studio album by a female MC.
Queen Latifah: Fighting for Unity
Queen Latifah says it best herself, “Hip-hop chose me.”.
Born In New Jersey, Queen Latifah claimed her throne when she took the world by storm with her brave and empowering words. Including a style that focuses on bringing light to the issues black women face in their everyday lives, the Queen’s main priority is sisterhood.
As a result of a whole new support system, the women who thrived in the hip-hop world were making room for people to tell their own stories. Allowing her to bring her own story to the plate, she went on to set herself apart by going back to her roots and honouring the places that inspired the music she loved so much. Ultimately she won a Grammy back in 1995 for ‘Best Rap Solo Performance’ for the empowering ‘U.N.I.T.Y.‘. Finally, the culture was being celebrated in mainstream media and getting the recognition it has always deserved.
Rapsody: Telling Stories
Rapsody had a slightly different start to her career. While not in the hustle and bustle of the New York hip-hop scene, she had something to say. Although she grew up in ‘the sticks’, (Snow Hill, North Carolina) and despite her life experience being different from those who came before her, she knew that her stories mattered.
In addition, she found a lot of inspiration from MC Lyte. The fierce rapper started her career by joining a hip-hop collective by the name of H20. She had a pure belief in herself and a talent for inspiring those around her. Further to this, she encourages aspiring listeners to know that no matter their background or experience, the words they say matter. This is as long as they stay true to who they are.
Nicki Minaj: Queen of Rap
Nicki Minaj has been a longstanding entrepreneur within the music industry. She constantly is taking risks and proving her ability to perfect anything she tries. Born in Trinidad, many of Nicki’s upbringing and musical influences are apparent in her work. Additionally, the legendary rapper takes much inspiration from those who came before her, naming one of those as Foxy Brown. This is clear as well as Lauryn Hill, Left Eye, and Missy Elliot.
Minaj even went so far as to release a tune under the name ‘Roman’s Revenge’, paying homage to Shanté’s ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’. Nicki cemented herself as the ‘Queen of Rap’ with her ability to not only sell records but the fire she brings to the songs she features on.
Latto: Big Energy
Latto made her claim to fame when she competed in ‘The Rap Game’ exec-produced by Queen Latifah herself. A girl from Ohio, she has stomped her way right into the veterans of the hip-hop games’ hearts. Namely, she proves her love of the culture and style that comes from the genre. The knockout rapper constantly pays homage to this triumphant sisterhood.
Furthermore, Latto makes representation the most important part of her music. The star is praised for her ability to create something new out of the music she holds so dearly. For instance, she uses features as her main way of creating a safe space for artists of every age, style, and message.
The impact of the culture
Along with all the artists who promote female empowerment, it is important to recognise the impact of hip-hop overall. This is as well as the remarkable changes because of it.
Despite a time when artists like Sister Souljah were being scrutinised, artists were standing up and fighting the battle all black men and women faced. We now have artists like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in the U.S. and the likes of Little Simz in the U.K. These artists and many others use their platforms to encourage these discussions.
In conclusion, we will always celebrate the awe-inspiring black women who made waves in hip-hop. Not only is this in music but in history itself.