There Is No Hip-Hop Without Women. Every Day Is Ladies First (Video)
Throughout Hip-Hop history, there have been countless women who have helped carry a nascent culture into the mainstream. Not all of them do we know by name – the mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, and others who encouraged a child to write rhymes, pursue her or his passion for music, dropped her or him off at the studio…the list of integral women is endless. But even those women who picked up a mic themselves and became “firsts” in their respective categories are often forgotten when discussing the greatest MCs of all time. Far and wide, average lists compiling GOATs are absent of any woman’s name whatsoever, despite there being a vast supply of ladies who can not only compete alongside, but also destroy lyrically.
In a video produced by Ambrosia for Heads and narrated by Rapsody, we try to answer the question “why are women excluded from talks about Hip-Hop’s greatest MCs?” It’s not as though female artists haven’t broken sales records or influenced generations to follow in their shoes. So why do ladies always seem to come second? Citing women’s innovative styles and ability to provide Hip-Hop culture with a unique perspective in an industry dominated by men, Rap’ says these MCs are often “tackling issues that inform those very males (and females) about the world, femininity, and themselves.” Nonetheless, rarely do women get their just due. While names like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, Jay Z, Tupac, Biggie, and dozens more male MCs become instant contenders for GOAT rankings, names like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, and Lauryn Hill are usually absent.
“Since the Funky 4 + 1’s Sha-Rock, females have been moving at a supreme level in Hip-Hop,” says Rapsody. In fact, ever since 1976, there have been women creating, performing, and recording alongside male counterparts – and sometimes standing alone. Women were “pressed on wax before Rap sections were even established in record stores.” Crediting milestones like Sha-Rock’s performance on Saturday Night Live, Rapsody says a lot of women in the first 10 years of Hip-Hop “honed styles that their male counterparts borrowed, stole, or simply built upon.” Lisa Lee, Pebblee Poo, The Sequence, and Sparky Dee paved paths that would otherwise not be there, but their names remain mostly unknown to the average Rap fan.
Enter 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté. Upon her arrival on the scene in the early ’80s, women began proving themselves to be as feisty and ready for action as anybody else. Without her, there would be no Roxanne Wars, but in and of itself, the act of pitting women against each other would “prove to be a move employed in the industry through today.” But bigger problems were on the horizon, as the Bridge Wars brought a tenuous chapter to the still-growing culture – and MCs began being favorited for their role in the battle for regional supremacy. “As the would-be classics came out, the GOAT discussions began, simply driven off contrast,” says Rap’. Roxanne was used as a scapegoat, with KRS-One rapping “Roxanne Shanté is only good for steady fuckin’,” exploiting her gender as a weakness, and not a strength. That has been a characteristic of Rap music ever since. Not the only characteristic, and not present in music from all male MCs. But, a characteristic nonetheless.
Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, JJ Fad, The Lady Of Rage, Heather B., Bahamadia, and Da Brat would all be on the front lines of Hip-Hop as the 1980s wore on and the so-called “Golden Era” began, but none of them earned a comparable amount of attention as their contemporaries, as far as lyricism is concerned. By the late 1990s, artist like Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Eve, Foxy Brown, and Lauryn Hill dominated their careers and were sales juggernauts in their own regards. So where are they on GOAT lists?
As we mark International Women’s Day (and A Day Without A Woman), Ambrosia for Heads salutes every woman – known and unknown – who has made a sacrifice, blacked out on a freestyle, worked a double shift to pay for recording time, and any act big or small that has made Hip-Hop what it is.