Missy’s music is so wild and eclectic (especially her fruitful partnership with mega-producer Timbaland) that she is considered to be in a class by herself. Her list of hits is unprecedented, and arguably no other female rapper has gotten more props from their male counterparts.
Essential release: Respect M.E. – Missy has so many solid albums your best bet is probably this superb greatest hits collection which captures the highlights of her phenomenal career.
A soulful singer as well as an incisive lyricist—Lauryn Hill is beloved by audiences for her work with The Fugees and her dynamic debut album.
Essential release: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – This blockbuster, Grammy-winning classic stands alone as one of greatest musical statements of the 90s and all hip-hop.
Before numerous legal woes sidelined her, this Jay-Z protege was one of the most respected female voices in the rap game. Her frank, unapologetic lyrics set a high bar for future female MC’s.
Essential release: Il Na Na – Foxy’s first release is still her best. Featuring the classic cut “I’ll Be”, this album is so well-regarded Foxy attempted an ill-fated sequel, which has yet to be released.
One of the brightest stars to emerge during hip-hops late-80s’ golden age, MC Lyte was one of the first female MCs to be hailed as a lyrical genius. She hasn’t slowed down in recent years expanding into film, television and fashion.
Essential release Lyte as a Rock – MC Lyte’s 1988 album was a real breakthrough for female rappers and has been recognized as one of the seminal hip-hop releases by any artist, regardless of gender.
One of the most successful pop/hip-hop girl groups ever, Salt-N-Pepa made music that crossed over without losing its street cred. To this day, “Push It” puts people on the dance floor.
Essential Release: Very Necessary – Their most popular release (it contains ubiquitous hits “Whatta Man” and “Shoop”) still holds up as quintessential mainsteam rap.
Now best known for her prolific film career (she was Oscar-nominated for her role in Chicago), Queen Latifah got her break as a strong MC preaching female empowerment on hits like “Unity” and “Ladies First.
Essential release: All Hail the Queen – Latifah’s bold 1989 feminist statement flew in the face of her misogynistic male counterparts and cemented her as a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop.
The first female rapper to record a platinum-selling album, Da Brat set herself apart early with a funky, singular sound. Legend has it her persona was molded to resemble a “female Snoop Dogg”.
Essential release: Funkafied – Still her most popular and widely recognized album, this 1994 gem perfectly captures the swagger of that era.
Already controversial and she hasn’t even released an official album yet—Minaj has proved to be a polarizing figure in hip-hop. Still with major backers like Drake and Lil Wayne singing her praises and a highly anticipated debut album due this fall (Pink Friday), she is the most buzzed about female rapper of the moment.
Essential release: Beam Me Up Scotty – This killer mixtape made her a hip-hop household name and yet again pushed the boundaries of explicit rap lyrics.
Brash and overtly sexual, Lil’ Kim redefined the image of female MC’s (for better or worse) in the mid-90s with her salacious raps and in your face personality. Plastic surgery how now rendered her unrecognizable but her music remains timeless.
Essential release: Hardcore – Kim’s debut album shocked and offended audiences and set the bar high for every female MC that tried to follow in her footsteps.
This rebellious UK artist (of Sri Lankin descent) has brought radical politics and some seriously adventurous beats into the hip-hop. A provocateur as well as a credible MC, MIA broke into the mainstream with her catchy “Paper Planes” but is still unafraid to shock and offend.
Essential release Kala – Her first album, Arular, is undeniably great, but her second somehow managed to up the ante. Oddly accessible while still uncompromising.
Trina is known equally for being eye candy, her raunchy lyrics, and for being the first relevant female rapper from the south. With her Miami based Slip-N-Slide record crew, Trina burst on to scene as a guest feature on the classic Trick Daddy track “Nann N*gga”.
Essential release: Diamond Princess – Trina’s most successful album to date. With guest appearances by Ludacris, and a then unknown Rick Ross, this album proves that Trina can hang with the big boys.
LISA “LEFT EYE” LOPEZ
This larger-than-life MC’s life was tragically cut short by a fatal car crash in TK, but she left behind an indelible legacy of accessible raps on numerous hit TLC records.
Essential release: CrazySexyCool – TLC’s biggest release also happens to be their best. Any child of the 90s would recognize Left Eye’s contributions to hits like “Waterfalls” and “Creep”.
A fierce battle rapper and early hip-hop pioneer, Roxanne became legend with her response record to UTFO’s famous diss, called “Roxanne’s Revenge”.
Essential release: The Bitch is Back – This 1992 release probably best shows of Roxanne’s intimidating, aggressive style.
Eve has become far better known lately for her film and television work but its her legacy as first lady of the Ruff Riders that make her an icon for many hip-hop fans.
Essential release: Scorpion – This critically acclaimed 2001 album has some suggesting she could be the heir apparent to Lauryn Hill.
A former protégé’ of the late Big Pun, Remy Ma is known for her raw and explicit lyrics that mirrored her harsh upbringing in The Bronx. While being featured as a guest collaborator on MOP’s hit “Ante Up (Remix), her biggest claim to fame was her smash hit with the Terror Squad’s posse anthem “Lean Back”.
Essential release: There’s Something About Remy – Unfortunately for Remy Ma fans this is the one and only solo release to listen to—fortunate for fans of hardcore hip-hop, it’s excellent.
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Last night, BET debuted a well-rounded documentary called My Mic Sounds Nice, which documents the evolution of female rappers in hip-hop. This got the staff at theGrio thinking, who are our favorite leading lady lyricists? In recent years more and more women have entered the rap game but these classic icons are still the best behind the mic.
Some of our picks include Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill, Lil Kim, MC Lyte, Missy Elliot, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah, but CLICK THROUGH THE SLIDESHOW TO SEE THEM ALL.