Hip-Hop is better off when women are fully participating, period. All these years later, female rappers are still pushing past any and all boundaries, be they sexism or a sucka MC, even if the lines look different.
While we’re learning new things about streaming and algorithms daily, female rappers are still thriving at levels higher than ever before. Ask Cardi B—long gone are the days of reality stardom for the Bronx artist with the big personality. She’s recently become the first female rapper to cop a diamond plaque [for her first single “Bodak Yellow”] and it seems the only way for her to go, is up.
The genre is no longer the staunchly regulated boy’s club of the ’80s and early ’90s. The framework set in place by artists like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah has allowed, in huge part, for the empowerment of women in Rap today. Over the course of 50 years, rap has evolved far beyond what it was at the beginning. And much of that has to do with the infinite talents of the women who fell in love with the culture, helping it along on its journey.
Dana Owens flipped and finessed an acting career out of her Hip-Hop roots. Missy Elliott is legendary for the trends she’s set, both on and off-camera, behind the boards or behind the mic and she’s getting her flowers still, more than 20 years after her debut LP Supa Dupa Fly. These women, and so many more, have kicked down doors to make room for others like Nicki Minaj, Tierra Whack, Day Sulan, Noname and Rapsody to rush in and take the reins. Every generation allows for more women into the next, leading with camaraderie and respect. Talk about style and grace.
With March being Women’s History Month and all, we here at Hip-Hop Wired have put our heads together to compile a comprehensive list of 30 women—don’t even think “femcee”—those who made history and those who are currently doing so. With or without a cosign from your favorite MC with the Y chromosome.
We present the Top 30 Greatest Female Rap Artists of All Time, ranked.
Check out the top 10 in the gallery below.
11. MC Lyte
12. Salt N Pepa
13. Lady of Rage
14. Left Eye
16. Jean Grae
17. Cardi B
19. Megan Thee Stallion
21. Mia X
22. MC Sha-Rock
23. Gangsta Boo
25. Roxanne Shante
26. Ladybug Mecca
28. Young MA
29. Monie Love
30. 3D Natee
1. Queen Latifah – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Queen Latifah told y’all what it was on her 1989 debut All Hail the Queen: Ladies first. Latifah, born Dana Owens, can be credited with being one of the first MCs, male or female, to turn her rap career into a longstanding position in Hollywood. She might be the queen of reinvention as she’s been able to add actor, jazz vocalist, actor, author and talk show host to her repertoire. In hip-hop, she showcased the duality of being a woman in this business: she could be sensitive and sensual but she also wasn’t to be toyed with. In 1993, Queen Latifah released Black Reign, her most commercially successful rap album to date, then she took off and we had to share her with the world. Recently though, Latifah dropped a fiery clip on social media featuring nothing but bars, reminding everyone that she still knows where home is.
2. Lil’ Kim – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Lil’ Kim may have had a bit of writing help at the start of her career but there’s a special kind of talent in knowing how to deliver those lyrics. There’s also something to be said about embodying the attitude and flair necessary to pull off lyrics like: “Tell me what’s on your mind when your tongue’s in the p___y… / Is it marriage? / Baby carriage? / S__t no, on a dime s__t is mine / Got to keep ’em coming all the time…” Years after “Big Momma Thang” sent shock waves through Hip-Hop, we’re seeing inflections of what Lil’ Kim did: from the colorful wigs and the outlandish wardrobe, to the delectably foul-mouthed anthems, irresistible to recite. There’s room for every woman these days though, one major difference from the mid-’90s. In 2020, no one has to pick a side and although that divide persists in hopes of separating women in rap we’re further than we’ve ever been. Evolution couldn’t have happened without Lil’ Kim putting a crack in the door for artists like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj to bumrush their way through, borrowing key Kim elements en route to the top.
3. Missy – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott controlled the charts from the mid-’90s to the mid-aughts but some rap fans seem to forget her impact. Missy is one of the few artists to come out in 1995 and completely change the general idea of what a female rap artist “should” look and sound like. She focused on being as creative as she wanted to be visually whether she was in a trash bag or a rhinestone-studded denim suit. Lyrically, she made the catchiest bops that have resonated through decades of commercial success, so much that, if you play Missy’s greatest hits for any teenager, they’re bound to recognize quite a few tracks that were released before they were even thought of. When Missy debuted with Supa Dupa Fly / Da Real World in 2003, Missy invited us into her abstract universe and hip-hop changed for the better.
4. Lauryn Hill – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Lauryn Hill is the stuff of legends. To be named in our top five Greatest Female Rap Artists of all time, she had to have had quite an influence, despite having dropped only one proper album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. And that wasn’t even comprehensively a rap album — Hill did a lot of singing on that record. Still, when she did rap, she made you pay attention. She made you hit rewind. The Miseducation, coupled with her turn in the group, The Fugees, Hill was a standout. Even Nicki Minaj, who’s taken clear cues from another artist on this list, felt the urge to (literally) bow down upon meeting her recently. Whether she was calling us all out on “Doo Wop (That Thing)” or showing off her lyrical prowess on “Ready or Not,” Lauryn Hill earned her place on this list by giving it to us raw.
5. Nicki Minaj – Greatest Female RappersSource:Bernard Smalls
It was Nicki Minaj‘s third mixtape, 2009’s Beam Me Up Scotty, that thrust her into the consciousness of hip-hop fans, but it was her features on tracks like Yo Gotti’s “Five-Star Chick” and Young Money’s “BedRock” that catapulted her into the outer limits of superstardom. It’s where she’s made herself a home and has continued to exist through industry feuds and misguided treks through the valleys of EDM. But hey, it’s opened her up to a realm of fans that she wouldn’t have attracted before. Fans who can’t be swayed by hard-body lyricism like she displayed on Kanye’s “Monster,” where she absolutely stole the show, switching rhyme schemes and vocal inflections as easily as her cotton candy wigs: And I’m all up, all up, all up in the bank with the funny face / And if I’m fake, I ain’t notice ’cause my money ain’t / So let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie? / But my features and my shows ten times your pay? / 50K for a verse, no album out / Yeah, my money’s so tall that my Barbies got to climb it.”
6. Rapsody – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
In 2019, Rapsody responded to an Instagram video posted by Cardi B where the Bronx rapper praised female rappers on the other side of the unspoken margin and shouted out the Eve creator [“There’s a lot of female rappers that be rapping they ass off that don’t be talking about their p___y and y’all don’t be supporting them and they mad dope. Let me tell y’all about some rappers that are really f___ing dope… I don’t feel like they get the recognition that they deserve.”]. Rapsody responded, saying, “It takes a village. Reals [sic] ones always rise. Stay your authentic self always Cardi B. People ask me about the state of Hip Hop and women in it all the time. My answer is always it’s BEAUTIFUL! There are sooooo many dope ladies rockin! To the sisterhood….keep doing YOU….there’s room for us all.” And that’s the way it’s been for the Carolina MC. For over a decade, Rapsody has been laying the groundwork and planting her seeds quietly. It’s never been about tearing others down because it’s possible to coexist. This is a woman who dedicated her most recent album to women. We see the influence of MC Lyte and Miss Lauryn Hill in Rapsody’s work, yet she manages to implement her own style. She’s vulnerable on some tracks like, “Knock On My Door” where she pushes a crush to hang out and beastly on others, like “Serena.” From her turns on 9th Wonder’s compilation projects to her own three studio LPs — the last two being critically acclaimed — Rapsody is a rapper’s rapper and she’s a woman. No need to compromise on either side.
7. Foxy Brown – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Foxy Brown was 16 years old when she debuted as Jay Z’s protege of sorts. It’s common knowledge that he penned a few tracks for the fellow Brooklyn rapper but that rough, no-nonsense pitch and her flippant disregard for playing the role of your average teenage girl made Foxy a beloved figure of ’90s hip-hop. When she stepped out of that coke white Benz in the “Ain’t No” video in 1996, she upped the ante for sophomore girls everywhere. “What up, boo? / Just keep me laced in the illest snakes / Bank rolls and s__t, back rubs in the french tubs / Mackin’ this b___h, wifey n___a / So when you flip that coke / ‘Member the days you was dead broke…” As she grew older, she held on to that attitude as one third of The Firm alongside two very accomplished MCs — Nas and AZ, and even on her own, Chyna Doll and Broken Silence hold substantial weight in the Hip-Hop conversation with the latter being her most vulnerable body of work to date.
8. Da Brat – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Chicago-bred Da Brat, born Shawntae Harris, entered hip-hop on a high with her LP Funkdafied. The album hit the Billboard charts at number 11 and soared in sales, making Brat the very first female rapper to score platinum certification as a solo artist. It was her spitfire technique that drew rap fans in and although she didn’t see commercial success to follow up her first album, she did garner a few hits over the years with songs like, “What ‘Chu Like” featuring Tyrese and “That’s What I’m Looking For.” Overall though, Da Brat shone especially bright on everyone else’s songs, so we never had a chance to forget about her skill, whether it was on Total’s “No One Else” or Missy’s “Sock It To Me.”
9. Rah Digga – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Rah Digga, the lone woman on Busta Rhymes’ Flip Mode Squad, was a force on her own, long before linking with Buss-A-Buss. In fact, she had ties to Lauryn Hill way back in 1995 when she recorded her contribution to The Fugees’ debut The Score — Digga was on “Cowboys.” But it would be another five years before she dropped her own debut, Dirty Harriet, arguably the hardest first album out at that time. Her gruff vocal delivery, sharp sense of humor and overall skill, put Rah Digga head and shoulders above many, regardless of their gender. On “Curtains” she quips: “Bust it, from the d__k I’m dissin all y’all punk crews / Y’all wack and won’t even think of punchlines I don’t use / And to the niggas whose LP’s I kinda liked / I’m fresher than that, and that new shit you tryin to write…”
10. Remy Ma – Greatest Female RappersSource:Getty
Remy Ma thought she’d have more time with her mentor Big Pun who brought her into the fold, but it turns out she was equipped to run things either way. Maybe that’s what he saw in her. Clearly Fat Joe saw it too and brought Remy on as part of Terror Squad. Despite having to serve a seven-year stint in a prison far from her native Bronx (2007 to 2014), Remy had put in enough work as part of TS beforehand with her debut LP There’s Something About Remy, which yielded three charting singles: “Whuteva,” “Feel So Good” with Ne-Yo and “Conceited” her biggest hit to date. When she came home in 2014, Remy simply picked up where she left off, making sure that rap fans knew she was around, dropping mixtapes here and there, joining the cast of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop. But in 2017, Remy lost patience. Not with her fanbase, but with one longtime rival and she decided to put an end to it with the release of the esteem-shattering “ShETHER.” She raps: “I told you I wasn’t talking about your dumb ass / It looks stupid, you literally got a dumb ass / Talkin’ cray, and we all know that you as dumb as / You get Donkey of the Day, yeah, you dumb ass / Let’s be honest, you stole that line ’bout bitches bein’ your sons / How you take my ’09 tweet and run? / Talkin’ about bringin’ knives to a fight with guns / When the only shot you ever took was in your buns…”