Lady of War: The Female Rapper

Queens with Microphones.

Hip-hop always existed similar to comic book characters; many heroes, many villains.  With that comes the female rapper: the female heroine (or villainess) that lets you know that the ladies are indeed represented, skilled, and not forgotten.

I love hip-hop.  I love hip-hop culture.  Like any genre of music or cultural artifact there are in fact the good and the bad to factor in.  Right now I am concerned with the female rapper concept; I believe that they are being pigeon-holed into one uniform product that is the most simplistic in design, which isn’t exactly intellectually pleasing.  With that said, I’m going to reflect on past lady rappers as well as the present, with a couple of highlights in between.  Some will be those you might want to listen to, and others may make you cringe.  This serves as part two of my hip-hop documentary series, part one dealing with the extinction (or evolution) of wack rappers.  With that said, let us begin…

Breaking Ground, The First to Rock the Mic

While many folks think that Lady B was the first female rapper, actually it was MC Sha-Rock (Sharon Green) who lays claim to the original crown.  Starting around 1976, she was a standing member of a pioneer rap group called the Funky 4 +1 More.  At the time, the group was considered the Gladys Knight and the Pips of hip-hop.  Within hip-hop historian circles, she is considered the Mother of the Mic.  Diminutive in size in comparison to her male group members, her style was highly energetic and she stood out the most when rapping with her male peers.  Out of her group, she’s certainly the most remembered.  She currently has been appointed National Advisor for the Cornell University Hip-Hop Library.

Lady B (Wendy Clark) out of Philadelphia, became the first female artist to release a full length studio rap record in 1979.  She soon transitioned into a radio DJ in the 1980′s, and as a radio DJ she became the most influential lady in the hip-hop radio industry.  If you enjoy West Coast and your Southern favorites, she’s the one to thank; she aided in expanding hip-hop outside of New York.  She also assisted in jump starting the careers of Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and Cash Money.  With her still relevant influence on the game, she is ultimately considered the “Godmother of hip-hop.”  Never leaving the game, she is now broadcasting for Sirius Satellite Radio in New York City, and WRNB 100.3 in Philly.

The 80′s: Finding Definition

The Eighties was an era full of individualism.  Rockers wore face paint with big hair.  There were androgynous men who experimented with numerous musical concepts.  Others lit up sidewalks by walking on them.  With the eighties came the first female rap groupSalt-n-Pepa – in 1985.  The rap trio consisted of Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa), and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella).  Yes, even their turntablist DJ was a woman.  Easily influenced by rap trio Run-D.M.C., this all-lady rap crew rapped about diverse ideas and concepts, which in turn broke down a number of doors for women in rap music.  They were also one of the first rap groups to cross over into the popular mainstream, laying the groundwork for the music’s widespread acceptance in the early nineties.

Ushering an feminist awareness that later buttressed the nineties conscious rap styles, MC Lyte (Lana Michele Moorer) graced the world of hip-hop in 1988.  MC Lyte is considered among the greatest rap pioneers, ever.  If the rap game was analogous to comic book characters, MC Lyte is easily a high-flying, powerful heroine that villains really don’t wanna fuck with.  She is parallel to KRS-One in levels of hip-hop seriousness.  Any girl who wishes to be a rapper one day, I suggest giving her a healthy dose of MC Lyte, first.  From Brooklyn, New York, MC Lyte is the first female rapper to directly point out the sexism and misogyny in hip-hop in her songs.  On top of that, she also was a profound storyteller; her stories would allow listeners to peer into a pensive woman.  Her stories dealt with honest scenarios such as heartbreak, death, loss, said from a woman’s perspective.  This technique was later followed by rappers Eve and Lauryn Hill.  On that note, she had a level of vulnerability that was perfectly balanced with her lyrical roughhousing capabilities.  Her lyrical content and composition opened the door for acceptance of ladies such as Queen Latifah and laid the groundwork for Missy Elliott.

Further ushering the nineties was Queen Latifah (Dana Owens) in 1988 and Monie Love (Simone Wilson) in 1989.  Both were a part of the Native Tongue collective.  While Monie Love enjoyed two albums of playful lyricism, Queen Latifah took social awareness and Afrocentricity to a whole new level.  While male rappers fought to be King of New York or King of the West, she was simply a Queen, period. The Queen — long before the “Queen Bee” harlot movement.  She wore Afrocentric crowns, and they still remain a part of her residual image.  With singles like U.N.I.T.Y., you couldn’t find a greater demand for respect and community.  Much like the Fresh Prince, Queen Latifah later dove into acting, starring in both movies (Set It Off) and sitcoms (Living Single).  Among the most important pioneers, she remains a multi-talent with a career path to envy.

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