Rap may be a male-dominated genre, with many of the more touted figures being men, but contrary to popular belief, women have played an integral part in the growth of the culture and have served as its backbone for the last four decades.
Dating back to the earliest days of rap's humble beginnings, names like Sylvia Robinson were among the first to help establish rap as a legit form of music. She enabled pioneers like The Sugarhill Gang to showcase their talents via classics like "Rapper's Delight" as the founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records. Robinson instantly proved how invaluable women were to hip-hop culture and that fact would be even more evident as rappers began to step behind the mic.
While names like Millie Jackson helped influence men and women with her racy bits and routines, it wouldn't be until the likes of The Sequence, Roxanne Shante, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte came along that women were truly represented in full as actual masters of ceremonies in their own right.
The 1980s may have been the golden era of female rappers, but the 1990s would see a full-on explosion of talented ladies step to the forefront, including Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Eve and Trina, all of whom saw platinum success. With the invisible wall holding back female MCs being chopped down to size, hearing a female rapper is no longer an anomaly thanks to the efforts of the more celebrated women in the culture, like the aforementioned names.
However, while homage is paid to these trailblazers, there are also a crop of female MCs who have gone unsung or have been forgotten for their own contributions to rap music, no matter how big or small. We've highlighted 20 of these veteran rappers that helped fans realize that it ain't no fun if the ladies can't get none.
One of the more notorious cases of being exposed in hip-hop is the story of Boss. Born Lichelle Laws in Detroit, Mich., Boss relocated to Los Angeles after graduating high school, where she was taken under the wing of DJ Quik, leading her to be signed to Russell Simmons' imprint, Def Jam West. Boss' debut album, Born Gangstaz, was unleashed in 1993, and spawned two No. 1 rap hits, "Deeper" and "Recipe for a Hoe," which would be a marginal success. However, when it was revealed that Boss was from a well-off family and attended private school, her street credibility plummeted, instantly putting a dent in her rap career. Moving to Texas and becoming a radio DJ during the mid-1990s, Boss has sporadically released music, but her focus has turned to her health. In 2011, she announced that she is currently battling renal disease and in search of a kidney donor, whom has yet to be found.
The late 1990s was a time of blockbuster crossover rap hits and one artist who was able to get in while the getting was good was Sole. First appearing on J.T. Money's single, "Who Dat," the Kansas City-born beauty would deliver her debut album, Skin Deep, in 1999, featuring the hit single, "4,5,6," which fell just short of a Top 20 hit, peaking at No. 21 on the Hot 100. Skin Deep would be Sole's sole album, as her marriage to Ginuwine and motherhood would prompt her to step back from the spotlight. A comeback is not completely out of the question, but Sole's days on the A-List are a thing of the past and her name is rarely mentioned when listing off great female artists.
Catching her first big break under the tutelage of Missy Elliott, rapper Mocha was one of the star's first proteges to be presented to the public. Tacking on rhymes to label-mate Nicole Wray's 1998 single, "Make It Hot," Mocha looked to be on her way to widespread notoriety. But despite a collaboration with Destiny's Child, and having worked with Mariah Carey, DJ Clue, Total and Gina Thompson, among others, Mocha's debut album, Bella Mafia, would be shelved and never see the light of day, making her career a footnote in the grand scheme of things.
Talib Kweli and Mos Def's 1998 collaborative album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, is considered an undisputed classic by most fans, with one of its best cuts being the grand finale, "Twice Inna Lifetime," a posse cut which is kicked off by a wordy MC named Jane Doe. Hailing from New York City and a presence in the city's underground hip-hop scene years prior to her appearance on wax, Jane Doe's talents would be showcased when she was afforded the opportunity to flex her skills alongside some of the finest lyricists in the game and blew the track to bits. Jane Doe's performance may have been a memorable one, but her career beyond that was virtually nonexistent, giving her one perfect game and a batting average that shall never be blemished.
G-Unit's takeover of the rap game is well-documented, but one piece of the puzzle that often gets lost in the shuffle is Scarlett O'Hara. A native of Harlem, the feisty firecracker appeared on the track "Elementary," from the crew's 2002 mixtape, No Mercy, No Fear, and her bubble butt was also showcased in the music video to 50 Cent's hit single, "Wanksta," both of which made her inclusion into the G-Unit family a no-brainer. But artistic differences between the two parties would cause for her to split ties with 50 and company shortly after and O'Hara would fail to make any further waves in the rap game.
Latins in hip-hop can oft go overlooked, but anyone around in the mid-1990s should be vaguely familiar with Hurricane G. Born Gloria Rodriguez in Brooklyn, she would become the First Lady of EPMD's Hit Squad crew, appearing on tracks from group members like Redman and Keith Murray, as well on guesting on tracks from other artists, most notably her appearance on P. Diddy's single, "P.E. 2000." Hurricane G's debut album, All Woman, would be unleashed in 1997, and spawn the Top 10 rap single, "Somebody Else." However, the project would amount to a blip on the radar in terms of sales and fanfare, becoming her lone solo album. Despite popping up for a track or a collaborative effort here and there, such as Mami & Papi, her 2013 joint album with Thirstin Howl III, Hurricane G has kept it pretty low key and may skip the minds of rap fans when recounting notable female rappers of their time.
One of the deaths of a rap artist that often goes overlooked is that of MC Trouble. Born LaTasha Sheron Rogers, MC Trouble was one of hip-hop's first teen female rappers and was the first female rap signee of Motown Records. In 1990, MC Trouble scored a hit at the tender age of 19 with "(I Wanna) Make You Mine" featuring The Good Girls. The song reached No. 15 on the Hot Rap Single chart, giving her career a promising start. The release of her 1990 debut, Gotta Get a Grip, would set her up as one of the rising stars in hip-hop, but tragedy would strike the following year when MC Trouble, who was born with epilepsy, passed away on June 4, 1991, while asleep at a friends home after an epileptic seizure led to heart failure. MC Trouble's death would be mourned by members of the hip-hop community like A Tribe Called Quest, who dedicated the song, "Vibe and Stuff," from their sophomore album, The Low End Theory, to the late star-in-waiting.
Lady Luck, who first gained notoriety through her freestyle and battle skills, was one of the most hyped teenage talents to pass through the hip-hop world during the latter half of the 1990s, Earning a lucrative record deal with Def Jam Records, Luck would make a standout appearance on Def Squad's 1999 single, "Symphony 2000," raising anticipation for her debut album. When the project failed to materialize, Luck would hit the underground circuit, most notably coming up short in a battle against Terror Squad rapper Remy Ma, which caused major waves around the time of its release to the public. While Lady Luck has kept busy with work on mixtapes and the sporadic song release, she's a long way from being on the radar she was as a can't-miss prospect more than 15 years ago.
Coming out of Philadelphia, Ms. Jade was touted as one of the more formidable female rappers in the game and looked prime for super stardom. Appearing on hit singles like "Are We Cutting" by Pastor Troy, Nelly Furtado's "Turn off the Light (Remix)," and with an affiliation with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, Ms. Jade's debut album, Girl Interrupted, had more than a few ears in her direction. But when the album, which spawned the singles "Big Head," "Ching Ching" and "Feel the Girl," failed to make a considerable dent on SoundScan and garnered dismal sales returns, Ms. Jade's star would slowly fade away. Aside from a high profile appearance on Beyonce's "Diva" remix, and teaming up with Freeway for her 2010 buzz cut, "Blowin' Up," Ms. Jade hasn't had a shot at the big time in over a decade, but remains one of the more respected lyricists of the early aughts and can still go rhyme for rhyme with the best of them.
The late 1980s featured a rise in female rappers, one of the more notable being Antoinette. Making her first appearance on wax in 1987 with the song, "I Got an Attitude," which would lead to two solo album releases, the first of which, Who's the Boss, put her in direct opposition of MC Lyte. After Antoinette's sophomore album, Burnin' at 20 Below, saw dismal returns, Antoinette would vanish from the scene, with her most remarkable musical contributions behind her.
After Dipset's rise to prominence, the group began using the mixtape scene as a farm system for up-and-coming talent, one of them being Jha Jha. Becoming the first lady of Dipset, she would appear on various albums and compilations by members of the Diplomats' crew, but one of her most respected moments is her opening verse on Jim Jones' 2005 single, "What You Been Dranking On," putting her alongside heavyweights like P. Diddy and Paul Wall. But like many Dipset affiliates, Jha Jha's moments in the spotlight would be few and far between and she would never release a major label album. As a result, she has become just short of a foot-note for mixtape enthusiasts of the aughts.
One of the more obscure names on this list, there's not much background info on Keema, but diehard rap fans are more than familiar with her voice. Having played foil to Cam'ron on his 2000 battle of the sexes single, "What Means the World to You," Keema, whose own verse was written by Juelz Santana, would be exposed to the public after the official music video for the track was released. Unfortunately, Keema's appearance on "What Means the World to You" would be her one and only big break, as she has yet to be featured on another record of note in the past decade and a half.
Grime may be making a big impact in the U.S. these days, but over a decade ago, the genre was beginning to make its initial waves across the pond and stateside. One of the leading flag bearers during this first incarnation of grime artists to make their bones in the land of the free is Lady Sovereign, who would earn a record deal with Def Jam during Jay Z's Presidency at the house that Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin built. After releasing two EPs, 2005's Vertically Challenged, and her 2006 effort, Blah Blah, Lady Sovereign would roll out her Def Jam debut, Public Warning, which would peak at No. 48 on the Billboard 200 and No. 12 on the US Top Rap Albums chart. After a spat with Island Records, Lady Sovereign's stint in the major label system would come to an end, with her deciding to releasing her sophomore album, Jigsaw, which would be her last full-length studio album to date.
Queens native Isis (born Lin Que), was one of the more militant female spitters to emerge in the history of rap. As a member of the hip-hop crew, the Blackwatch Movement, Isis rocked alongside legends like X-Clan, which would pave the way for her own solo debut, Rebel Soul, which arrived in 1990 to positive reviews. After releasing two more albums, This Is It & Rip It Up, in 1993, and her 1995 offering, Let It Fall & Parley, Isis would eventually jump ship from the Blackwatch Movement to team up with MC Lyte. She would also make a name change, using her government name as her new moniker, under which she released a number of singles through SME Records and Elektra Records, respectively. A brief stint with the Wu-Tang Clan affiliated group, Deadly Venoms, and a dive into becoming an A&R would follow, with Lin Que's 2007 album, GODspeed, being her last full-length release to date.
Sister Souljah may be more known for her 1999 best-selling novel, The Coldest Winter Ever, as well as drawing the ire of then-President Bill Clinton for her loaded remarks following the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but she was also a presence in hip-hop as well. First appearing on tracks by Public Enemy, Sister Souljah (born Lisa Williamson) would become a full-fledged member of the group during the early '90s and would release her lone solo album, 360 Degrees of Power, on Epic Records, in 1992. From there, the long-time activist would become an author, writing her memoir, No Disrespect, in 1995, before following that up with her most famed literary work, The Coldest Winter Ever. With six published books to her credit, Sister Souljah may be remembered more as a scribe and lightening rod, but was also a capable rap artist.
Lady Crush got her foray into hip-hop after winning a citywide radio contest, earning the chance to appear alongside Baby T on Tim Greene's 1984 single, "The Facts of Life." The song would, which gained additional fanfare after it was reworked by the late famed remix maven C.O.D, would launch the Camden, N.J. native's rap career. Releasing her debut solo single, "MC Perpetrators," in 1985, Lady Crush, born Rochelle Ryndia Ray, would go on a hiatus until returning with the raunchy EP, 50 Shades of Fuck, which spawned her 2015 single, "F*ck," and has also made her presence felt in 2016 as well, appearing on "She No Lie, She On Fire" by rapper Banga Boy.
Def Jam is the Los Angeles Lakers of rap labels, so being one of its the flagship artists is a major honor. Nikki D experienced this when she was courted by Def Jam Records, who would make her their first female rap artist on the label. Nikki D's debut single for Def Jam, "Lettin' Off Steam," that same year. But it would be her 1991 single, "Daddy's Little Girl," which topped the rap charts, that would be Nikki D's biggest success, and would be the lead single for her debut album of the same name, which was released in September of that year. After her rap career failed to gain further steam following the release of Daddy's Little Girl, Nikki D would step behind the scenes, becoming vice president of A&R at Flavor Unit Records in 1998, a position she would hold for two years, and is currently the marketing manager at Russell Simmons' brainchild, Phat Fashions.
The Sugarhill Gang are credited with having the first hit rap record, but another pioneer that crafted one of rap's earliest classics is Lady B. Born Wendy Clark and hailing from Philadelphia, Lady B would score a gig at the WHAT radio station in 1979,but would eventually take her talents to Power 99 FM in 1984. Recording her debut single, "To the Beat Y'all," just months after making her radio debut, the song would be featured alongside classics like Spoonie G's "Spoonin Rap," and Funky Four Plus One "Rappin' and Rocking the House" on the 1980 Sugar Hill Records compilation, The Great Rap Hits. Lady B would go on to appear alongside The Roots on the track "Without a Doubt" from the group's 1999 album, Things Fall Apart, and is currently a DJ on Sirius Satellite Radio and WRNB 100.3 The Beat.
Compton, Calif. has been a breeding ground for some of rap's greatest talents, but one native of this hallowed ground that hasn't gotten her just due is Shaunta Washington. First appearing alongside singer Montell Jordan on his debut album, Shaunta would parlay that big break into an opportunity to tour alongside LL Cool J and R. Kelly on the Down Low tour, furthering bolstering her reputation as an up and coming talent. But the highlight of Washington's career would be when producer Timbaland tapped her to appear on the remix to his single, "Luv to Luv Ya," earning her a record deal with Atlantic Records. After her Atlantic debut was shelved, Shaunta Washington would join up with Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, making appearances on The Wash soundtrack and 8 Mile soundtrack, but would again fail to release an album while on a major label. Since then, Shaunta has spent much of her time behind the scenes, focusing on other budding talent and her own venture, Victory Entertainment Inc.
Atlanta native K.P. may be known for her association with singer Envyi due to the success of their collaborative single, "Shorty Swing My Way," but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her musical contributions. First getting her feet wet as a member of the rap group Da Kaperz alongside rapper and reality star Rasheeda, K.P. would team up with Envyi in 1998, gaining a Top 10 Billboard hit for her efforts. K.P. has since appeared on tracks by the likes of Jermaine Dupri, but has faded into obscurity somewhat, with her last notable public appearance coming back in 2011, when she reunited with Envyi to perform "Swing My Way" at the A-Town Legends Concert.