The 20 Best Female Rappers Of All Time
Today provides another example of ladies running the show. After releasing her debut album last week, Iggy Azalea’s full-length The New Classic lands at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with 52,000 copies sold, less than a thousand fewer than perennial chart-topper Future debuted with his sophomore effort Honest. Supported by singles such as “Fancy” featuring Charli XCX and “Work,” the album marks another milestone in the perennial quest of a non-gendered rap world, with The New Classic becoming the highest-charting female hip-hop artist on the Billboard 200 since Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded hit the top of the chart in 2012. But those are just current facts; throughout history women have been able to prove themselves.
There are many different ways of assessing success, of course—sales, chart positions, influence, milestones, and legacy all come in to play when assessing who might be better than another. With all this in consideration (and with all due respect), XXL gathered the 20 best female rappers of all time, honoring those that have, or are still, breaking down the stereotypes that have slowed the way. Keep in mind that we have omitted groups—just to let all the Salt-N-Pepa and JJ Fad fans know—and stuck strictly to solo artists who have put out an album (and left things unranked). These are female MCs who have made significant strides that we felt needed to be honored. Click through to find out that made the cut. Who run this mutha? —Kiki Ayers, Kellan Miller and XXL Staff
Queen LatifahAge: 44
Years Active In The Game: 26
Notable Songs: “U.N.I.T.Y.”; “Paper”
Why She Is The Best: This empowering New Jersey native needs no explanation to why she’s the best. Her name says it all. Queen Latifah was one of the first ever to provide a voice for women in hip-hop. Her top chart singles like “U.N.I.T.Y.”—which won her a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo performance in 1995—allowed her to use hip-hop as a platform to address the disrespect surrounding women. Lyrics like “'Who you callin' a bitch?” and “U-N-I-T-Y (you gotta let em know)/Another black woman from infinity to infinity/You ain't a bitch or a hoe,” caused her words to be thought of as anthemic. Along with having a Grammy and six additional Grammy nominations, Latifah also won Image Awards, a Golden Globe and has been nominated for an Emmy and an Academy Award. She currently hosts her own show on CBS, The Queen Latifah Show, which earned her a People’s Choice Award. As she continues to inspire through both music and television, the Queen has been considered one of hip-hop’s most devoted feminists.
Da BratAge: 40
Years Active In The Game: 22
Notable Songs: "Funkdafied"; "Give It 2 You"; "Ghetto Love" featuring T-Box
Why She Is The Best: The Grammy-nominated Chicago rapper made history when her debut album, Funkdafied, sold a million copies, making her the first female MC to hit Platinum status. Her sophomore album, Anuthatantrum, then went Gold, proving she could follow up on her success. After making history, Da Brat turned more toward featured appearances, striking with hit after hit. In 1993 she was featured on Kris Cross track “Da Bomb,” and 1996 brought Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby (Remix)." The following year, she was featured on "Ladies Night (Not Tonight)" alongside Missy Elliott, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Lil Kim and Angie Martinez. Both her feature on Mariah Carey’s “Loverboy” alongside Ludacris and her feature on Dem Franchize Boyz “I Think They Like Me,” sparked No. 1 slots on the Billboard charts. Da Brat continues to put in work, dropping a new single last year, though she hasn't put out a full project since 2003.
Years Active In The Game: 16
Notable Songs: Ruff Ryders’ “What Ya Want”; “Love Is Blind”; “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”; “Gangsta Lovin’”
Why She Is The Best: E.V.E. is an all-around talent: rapper, songwriter, and actress. The First Lady of Ruff Ryders made quite an impression when she rocked with the best of them on her 1999 debut—only to excel in her solo work that includes 2001’s Eve-Olution. Recently after a hiatus filled with notable movie roles (Barbershop 2: Back In Business, The Cook Out), she released her first album in 11 years, Lip Lock. While not commercially a best-seller, the album proved she could still return to the rap game and deliver something her fans would love. For a veteran like Eve, that’s a big win.
Foxy BrownAge: 35
Years Active In The Game: 20
Notable Songs: “Get Me Home” feat. Blackstreet; “I’ll Be" feat. Jay Z; “Big Bad Mama” feat. Dru Hill
Why She Is The Best: Foxy Brown’s success in music can’t be overlooked. She definitely held it down for females in hip-hop during the mid to late 1990s. Her album Ill Na Na hit strong with sales the moment it dropped, debuting at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 in 1996 and eventually being certified Platinum by the RIAA. The Brooklyn native has worked with hip-hop legends such as Nas, Jay Z and Dr. Dre, and earned herself a coveted spot on Jay’s debut Reasonable Doubt, which was one of the main catalysts for her mainstream success.
Gangsta BooAge: 34
Years Active In The Game: 19
Notable Songs: "Where Dem Dollas At"
Why She Is The Best: This Memphis rapper stepped out into the game strong as the only female member of the legendary rap group Three 6 Mafia. When she split from the group after having financial disputes, she released her first solo album Enquiring Minds, largely helmed by the Mafia's Juicy J and DJ Paul, which landed her a spot on the Billboard charts. She went on to release two more albums that placed her on the Billboard charts again, before reuniting with her Mafia brethren—minus Juicy—last year for the re-formed Da Mafia 6ix.
Jean GraeAge: 37
Notable Songs: "Hater’s Anthem"; "Black Girl Pain"; "U & Me & Everyone We Know"
Years Active In The Game: 18
Why She Is The Best: It’s no secret that the “female” epithet eliminates any claim of legitimacy for many hip-hop heads, and this is especially a crime when one considers the work of Jean Grae. Despite the fact that Grae has proven repeatedly that she can rap circles around at least 80 percent of the game, she remains relegated to underground status—not that she minds, however. Grae’s talent couldn’t be denied when she released Jeanius alongside 9th Wonder back in 2008, which just about every major publication gave rave reviews. Grae relies on her rhyme skills and often-hilarious personality to garner her mass appeal, and her best work stacks right up there with the likes of Common, Talib, and Mos Def.
Lisa “Left Eye” LopesAge: 30 (Deceased)
Years Active In The Game: 12
Notable Songs: “No Scrubs”; “Waterfalls”; “Girl Talk”
Why She Is The Best: Better known as one-third of the Grammy Award-winning group TLC, Left Eye had boundless potential that showed in her original raps. Balancing out the hip-pop melodies of T-Boz and Chilli, Left Eye’s rhymes were often dynamic. We can recite many of her lyrics from TLC’s hits that sometimes make it feel like she never left. While the late lyricist had a short solo run with her only posthumous release, 2009’s Eye Legacy, she’ll forever be remembered for her outspoken attitude and flamboyance. That colorful personality can never be replicated.
Years Active In The Game: 16
Notable Songs: "Pull Over"; "No Panties"; "Here We Go" feat. Kelly Rowland; "B R Right" feat. Ludacris
Why She Is The Best: Trina has continued to make her presence know in the rap scene for almost two decades, so much so that in 2010, XXL named her the “most consistent female rapper of all time.” She broke into the industry with her feature on Trick Daddy’s hit single "Nann Nigga" in 1998 and two years later released her solo debut album Da Baddest Bitch, which went Gold. The Diamond Princess has released five studio albums, all of which landed her a spot on the Billboard charts. To date, she has 8 BET Nominations for Best Female Hip-Hop artist, along with being nominated for the MTV Video Music Awards, American Music Awards and the Soul Train Awards, and won a Billboard Award. As she gets set to drop another album this year, Miami's finest female continues to live up to her self-proclaimed name "Baddest Bitch" title.
Lil KimAge: 39
Years Active In The Game: 20
Notable Songs: “Crush On You”; “How Many Licks?”; “Magic Stick”; “Lighters Up”
Why She Is The Best: The Queen Bee has a storied career that begins with her friendship with the late Notorious B.I.G. When Big took her under his wing and made her part of Junior M.A.F.I.A., she made history as one of the first female rappers who paved the way for brash and unadulterated rhymes. It seeped through in 1995’s Conspiracy and 1996’s Hard Core—both huge milestones for Kim’s budding career at the time. She used sexuality in a slick and punchy way, which placed her at the forefront of rap music because she wasn’t afraid to take risks. Despite former feuds with the likes of Azealia Banks and Nicki Minaj, there’s no denying her legacy has influenced a lot of women to get behind the mic.
MC LyteAge: 43
Years Active In The Game: 28
Notable Songs: "Paper Thin"; "Ruffneck"; "Keep On, Keepin' On"; "Cha Cha Cha"; "Cold Rock A Party" feat. Missy Elliott
Why She Is The Best: When recognizing the best female hip-hop artist, it would disrespectful not to mention the pioneer MC who paved the way for them all. MC Lyte became the first female solo rapper to be nominated for a Grammy. Her debut album Lyte As A Rock was released in 1988 and became one of the most celebrated albums in early hip-hop history. Lyrics like, "I got the power to spit out and devour and/At the same time, I'll eat you up with a rhyme," provided a platform for female rappers to be taken seriously. Her fourth studio album Ain’t No Other was the first to go Gold for this Brooklyn “Ruffneck,” with that single earning her Grammy nod. With almost three decades in the game, she has released 10 albums and continues to be one of the most notable and respected icons in hip-hop.
Missy ElliottAge: 42
Years Active In The Game: 23
Notable Songs: “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”; “Hot Boyz”; “Get Ur Freak On”; “One Minute Man”; “Work It”; “Gossip Folks”
Why She Is The Best: Miss Demeanor has expanded her influence simply by being herself. Associated with the likes of Timbaland and Aaliyah, she’s made an impact for her creativity, multi-talents of being a rapper/singer/songwriter and prolific output. Numbers don’t lie—Elliott has five platinum albums under her belt and dozens of hits. With over two decades of experience, her legendary status is highly respected.
Monie LoveAge: 43
Notable Songs: "It’s A Shame (My Sister)"; "Work It Out"; "Grandpa’s Party"
Years Active In The Game: 26
Why She Is The Best: Before Monie Love became a familiar radio voice, she had garnered mass respect for her rhyming abilities. She made a name for herself with shining guests spots on timeless hip-hop jams like Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” and De La Soul’s posse-cut, “Buddy.” Her debut album, Down To Earth, received two Grammy nominations and invaded house parties the world over with cuts like “It’s A Shame (My Sister)." Even though Love cut back on her musical career in exchange for a historic radio one after collaborating with some of the most-respected musicians in the game, she showed in 2013 on Rass Kass’ “Sometimes” that her skills have not at all declined.
Iggy AzaleaAge: 23
Notable Songs: "Pu$$y"; "Work"; "Fancy"
Years Active In The Game: 4
Why She Is The Best: Iggy will be the first to tell you she has struggled to make the kind of impact she would like. But the Australian born MC has withstood the criticism, and to the contrary of what many have said about a manufactured creation, she is a true student of the game. This is the main reason Nas and T.I. have both co-signed her effort to be the next big star to blow up. Although her debut album The New Classic left more to be desired for some critics, Iggy showed signs of staying power—and chart success—by debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart today, the highest-charting album for a female rapper since Nicki Minaj in 2012. Who else is hitting those heights?
Years Active In The Game: 7
Notable Songs: ”Thank H.E.R. Now”; “Thank You Very Much”; “Jedi Rap”
Why She Is The Best: She may be still relatively young in the rap game, but at the tender age of 26 this North Carolina-born budding star has worked with more legends in the past seven years than most artists do in their whole careers. Her first mixtape, released in 2010, featured collaborations with heavy hitters such as Mac Miller and Big Daddy Kane. She then went on to collaborate with big names like Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Raekwon, Jay Electronica, DJ Premier, Ab-Soul and Common. Her latest mixtape, She Got Game, was one of XXL’s best of 2013; if she keeps on this trajectory she and her 9th Wonder-helmed Jamla label will only keep rising in the game.
Remy MaAge: 33
Years Active In The Game: 15
Notable Songs: "Conceited (There's Something About Remy)"; "Feels So Good"
Why She Is The Best: Remy Ma stepped into the scene strong, holding it down for the ladies when joining Fat Joe’s Terror Squad. She had everyone doing the “rockaway” after spitting a verse on the smash single hit “Lean Back.” The song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for three weeks and resulted in a Grammy nomination for the group. The Bronx native has won a BET Best Hip-Hop Artist award, Source Awards and Vibe Awards, and despite going to prison in 2008 has remained towards the top of the list in terms of most influential women in the rap game.
Roxanne ShanteAge: 44
Years Active In The Game: 30
Notable Songs: "Roxanne's Revenge"; "Loosey's Rap"
Why She Is The Best: You can't trace the beginnings of hip-hop without recounting the Bridge Wars, the 1980s feud between the South Bronx's Boogie Down Productions and Queensbridge's Juice Crew, headed up by Marley Marl. And among the Juice Crew's stories MCs—Big Daddy Kane, MC Shan, Big Markie, Kool G Rap, Masta Ace—Shanté stands tall as the solo female voice. She started a beef all her own by responding to The Real Roxanne on "Roxanne's Revenge" in 1984, sparking the Roxanne Wars and raising hers and the Juice Crew's profile in the process. The number of MCs she's influenced is a longer list than we can type, but maybe her biggest contribution came when she used her status in the Queensbridge projects to influence a young Nasir Jones to stop messing around and getting serious about his raps. Now that's a legacy.
Notable Songs: "Paper Planes"; "XXXO"; "Bad Girls"; "Born Free"
Years Active In The Game: 12
Why She Is The Best: M.I.A. is by far the most eclectic artist on this list, and she has proven to be a tour de force in all musical genres she's tried her hand at. Most fans came to know her by way of 2003’s single “Gangalang,” from her critically acclaimed debut album, Arular, but she shot to stardom after releasing what would eventually become one of the all-time great stoner anthems, “Paper Planes,” in 2005. Although her style has been described as unorthodox, she is proficient in the art of crafting infectious rhythms regardless of what genre she is working under. For instance, “Born Free” is such an expert blend of punk-rock and hip-hop it sounds like an outtake from The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. She's been consistently impressive for a decade now.
The Lady Of RageAge: 38
Years Active In The Game: 26
Notable Songs: "Afro Puffs"; "Get With Da Wickedness"; "Big Bad Lady"
Why She Is The Best: Like Nicki Minaj, Rage specialized in super bass. Respected in the game solely for her skills on the mic and not sex appeal, she made her introduction to the mainstream on Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, providing a necessary counterbalance to the G-funk pioneers. After a series of guest spots on those timeless Death Row recordings, including notable later spots on Tha Dogg Pound’s “Do What I Feel” from the Dogg Food album, Rage’s long awaited debut album was shelved until most of her more famous labelmates had jumped ship, with Eargasm finally coming out in 1997 to critical acclaim. After a short hiatus from recording to focus on her acting career, Rage still can be heard rapping alongside Daz Dillinger, RBX, and Kurupt to this day.
Nicki MinajAge: 31
Years Active In The Game: 10
Notable Songs: Kanye West’s “Monster”; “Starships”; “Moment 4 Life”; “Beez In The Trap”
Why She Is The Best: Nicki is arguably the best rapper—female or otherwise—in the game. Ever since she first stepped onto the scene with Young Money, the Jamaica, Queens rapper has grown into one of the most popular artists on the label. She’s been everywhere in the mainstream, from her stint as a judge on American Idol to her recent silver screen debut in the Fox comedy The Other Woman. Her impact is felt through her ubiquitous personality that shines in her music, whether in her emotive and fun pop records or boastful, ferocious rhymes. With her third project, The Pink Print, coming out this year, Nicki’s aiming for the undisputed hip-hop crown. Bow down.
Lauryn HillAge: 38
Years Active In The Game: 23
Notable Songs: “To Zion”; “Doo Wop (That Thing)”; “Ex-Factor”; “Everything Is Everything”; “Turn Your Lights Down Low”
Why She Is The Best: What is there left to say about Lauryn Hill? The former Fugees member dropped a hip-hop classic with 1998’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill that contained all her biggest songs. With huge commercial success off the LP—and five Grammy wins at the 41st Grammy Awards—she was propelled into superstardom. As a purveyor of hip-hop, reggae, funk and R&B, Hill is an icon that resonates with the present. Although she’s battling tax cases again and rarely making music, we’ll always remember her dominant past that placed her as one of the undisputed greats of all time.