I almost exclusively listen to rap. My favorite artists range from those on-tour selling out arenas all over the world to my close friends writing, producing, and promoting their own music from their dorm rooms. While I enjoy a variety of work, I have a special place in my heart for female rappers. This is because the themes they explore resonate most with me. The past few years we’ve seen the rise of some powerful rappers like Nicki Minaj and most recently, Cardi B. I’ve compiled a list of some of my personal favorites from legends in the rap game to those just getting their start.
1. Ms. Lauryn Hill
I’ve started my list with Ms. Lauryn Hill as she is said to be one of the greatest legends in the music industry inspiring a plethora of works after her time. She made her breakthrough with the Grammy-winning group The Fugees (most famous for this song) and later established herself as a solo-artist with the release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This album is considered to be the most important artifact of feminism in hip-hop. At the 41st Grammy Awards, Lauryn Hill was the FIRST woman to take home 5 Grammy Awards in one night (not to mention, Album of the Year). This was not only a win for hip-hop, but a win for women. (Click here to read more about the impact of that album) Whether you are a diehard fan, or you are only familiar through Drake’s sampling of “Ex-Factor” on “Nice for What” there is no denying her power and the lasting impact she has made on the music industry.
All hail Queen SZA! After years of hard work, SZA has finally made her way to the spotlight as one of the most prominent artists of today. SZA’s first studio album, Ctrl, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold soon after. In 2018, she was the most nominated female artist at the 60th Grammy Awards with a whopping 5 nominations. Her success has ultimately been derived from her ability to be relatable on a visceral level, as lyrics navigate the complexities of relationships. Her sound rejects genre, and together with her lyrical honesty, SZA has completely paved her own way. And this is just the beginning.
Noname has a special place in my heart. A proud Chicagoan, Noname came onto the scene with a verse on Chance the Rapper’s breakthrough mixtape, Acid Rap. Since, she first released her debut project, Telefone. The entire album is a conversation. Through beautiful harmonies and soft vocals, her stark words hit home as she both discusses injustice and the intimate details of her childhood. I had the pleasure to see her in concert on tour for her sophomore album, Room 25, which is a, “…transcendent coming-of-age tale built around cosmic jazz and neo-soul, delivered by a woman deeply invested in her interiority and that of the world around her…” (read more here!)
4. Ravyn Lenae
At only 20 years old, Ravyn Lenae’s expertise expands far beyond her age. From releasing her first EP, Moon Shoes, as a sophomore in high school, to her most recent EP, Crush, her vocal prowess has only improved. Her dreamy vocals couple with her romantic lyrics reminiscent of topics that SZA so beautifully explores. As a fellow Chicagoan, she has collaborated with artists like Noname, Steve Lacy, and Smino.
5. Tierra Whack
My first interaction with Tierra Whack was this interview, in which she broke down her smash-hit “MUMBO JUMBO”. Technically the song has no official lyrics, so in order to conduct the interview she created lyrics and just went with it. Although this is the only song of hers without lyrics, it shows her interest in breaking conventions and her light-hearted energy. That energy translates to her debut-album, Whack World, as each song is a different journey of sound yet every track clocks in at exactly one minute. Tierra Whack has proven she is fearless in breaking conventions, and I imagine she’ll break many more as her career only blossoms.
If you haven’t heard these iconic women yet, do yourself a favor and check them out! It’s something you won’t regret.