January 16, 2023
Photo by: (Left: Roxanne Shante by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives. Right: Lil Kim by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)
Women were at the forefront of the culture as emcees, rappers, and producers long before Hip-Hop was given its name.
Women have empowered one another and broken-down boundaries for future generations, starting with the initial icons of the 1970s and 1980s, moving on to the 1990s’ ground-breaking stars, and today’s chart-toppers.
Let’s celebrate the women of Hip-Hop!
Here’s a look at the history of women in hip-hop and a few of the women who revolutionized the genre.
When her rhymes secured her a seat in The Funky 4+1 in the 1970s, MC Sha-Rock, dubbed the “Mother of the Mic,” became the first female rapper of hip-hop.
She claimed that record labels and older generations did not take hip-hop seriously in its early years, thus musicians had to struggle for respect.
When they were asked to perform on Saturday Night Live, The Funky 4+1—with Sha-Rock at its core—became the first hip-hop group to secure a record deal and perform on national television.
This marked the beginning of hip-mainstream hop’s emergence.
In 1980, the release of “Rapper’s Delight,” the first hip-hop song to attain commercial success and the first to chart on the Billboard Top 40, by Sylvia Robinson, the founder, and CEO of Sugarhill Records, was another significant event within the culture.
During the 1980s, as hip-hop became more prominent in pop culture, femcees within the culture had to fight for acceptance in a sector that was predominately male-dominated.
This collaboration resulted in the timeless track “Ladies First,” which honors the lyrical skill and brilliance of women in the business.
The hit single, which was on Queen Latifah’s 1989 album All Hail the Queen, hailed women as “queens” at a period when some hip-hop lyrics gave women negative names.
Embracing Sex Appeal
In the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of female hip-hop musicians brazenly accepted their sexuality, sending women another message of empowerment.
And Salt-N-Pepa is where it all began!
The group’s style set them apart from other performers on the scene because they introduced sex appeal to the genre with the release of their first studio album in 1986, making them the first female rap group to sell more than a million records.
Artists like Lil Kim would elevate this image during the 1990s.
Lil Kim rose to fame for her explicit lyrics and unrepentant sex appeal after her 1996 first album, Hard Core, was awarded double platinum.
Trailblazing female artists created iconic work that continues to define and inspire hip-hop today despite the pressures of the industry.
Not only did Missy Elliott stand out for her distinct style when she launched her debut album Supa Dupa Fly in 1997, but also for her talent, which was demonstrated in her legendary, outsized concerts and music videos, the first of which was for her debut single, “The Rain.”
Tell us who’s your favorite femcee? Be sure to tune in to the 5th Annual of Urban One Honors MLK Day!