Lady of War: The Female Rapper

The Nineties has begun.

With California gaining dominance thanks to NWA affiliates, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Lady of Rage (Robin Yvette Allen, 1991) and Da Brat (Shawntae Harris) brought it hardcore from the West Coast. Both were very tomboyish in style of dress. Jermaine Dupri had a hand in da Brat’s image being that she was intended to be a female counterpart to Snoop Dogg; she later would shed that image.  Da Brat’s debut album in 1994, Funkdafied, sold one million copies making her the first female solo rapper to have a platinum-selling album.  Lady of Rage, being a lyrical technician, was interviewed for the making of the book How to Rap.  She laid down much of her technique and the importance of having different styles of flow, good vocabulary, pauses, researching reference material, etc.

With MC Lyte and Queen Latifah still rapping the positivity game, the nineties ushered a golden age for rap music, with various styles and tropes of lady rappers. Lauryn Hill first made her appearance with the Fugees in 1994, and later dropped a hip-hop essential, masterpiece album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1997.  Lauryn Hill seemed like a woman beyond her time; in the wake of the “rap diva” trope she stuck to her guns reminiscent of MC Lyte and Queen Latifah and didn’t make it a point to be stripperific in dress.  Her natural hair styles was also a message.  Unlike the rap diva, Lauryn Hill was immensely lyrical, and her Afrocentric essence along side of her intelligent lyrical content won the hearts of millions of sapiophiles.  She was also a multi-talent, she often sung on her work, and she was the best reason to watch Sister Act 2.  Lauryn Hill since has developed a cult-like following in hip-hop, and regardless if she drops a new album or not she still remains a relevant force in music, with her essence and spirit in high demand.

Out of Virginia, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot (Melissa Elliot) proved to be a futuristic, new type of lady of war when she picked up the mic.  A childhood friend of master beatsmithe Timbaland, it’s understood that she is as just as good producing as he is.  Missy first worked on tracks for Aaliyah, Total, and 702.  Her first album Supa Dupa Fly (1997) proved early that she can harmonize, sing, as well as rap.  On the production of her first album, I’ll say that she was certainly a rapper who came before her time.  Elliott is the only female rapper to have six albums certified platinum, with one album Under Construction (2002) double platinum.  Missy Elliot always had a very psychedelic, eccentric style, and her lyrical versatility makes her a rap powerhouse.  No one’s ready to fuck with Missy.  She collabs a lot with MC Lyte.  As a songwriter and producer she has worked with artists such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson, as well as Ciara and Monica.  Missy Elliot is certainly on of the heroes in the rap game, being that she always adapting to the times, staying relevant regardless of generational change.

Harlot Rap and The Diva Wars.

With hip-hop growing into a worldwide cultural phenomenon, the hardcore lady rap branched out into a new concept:  The Rap Diva/Harlot Rapper.  Lil’Kim (Kimberly Jones) and Foxy Brown (Inga Marchand) are accredited as the first in this new “Rap Diva” division, and they were the primary ones who defined this rapper trope and their influences remain an element to female rappers current today.  The story follows the similar design of the fiercest of personal rivalries:  Inga and Kim were actually high school friends.  Despite becoming Lil Kim and Foxy Brown and joining rival rap factions (Junior Mafia, The Firm) they still remained somewhat close.  In pioneering and codifying the rap diva trope, these two women’s formula consisted in exaggerating sex appeal.  Extreme and edgy, the rap diva was very stripperific in appearance and very illicit; they were not ones to hold their tongue on sexual conquests, and the hardcore demeanor was much spent on being in your face in telling detail of what goes when fucking them.  They bragged about sucking, fucking, swallowing, and all types of harlot activities.  While MC Lyte and Queen Latifah were well covered, these two made it a point to expose skin.  Are they heroes or villains here?

With their parallel personas and image, the rivalry came to a start after both of their debut studio albums were scheduled for release a week apart in 1996.  Similarities between the album art of Kim’s Hard Core and Brown’s Ill Na Na were made… as well as the lyrical content.  The biggest rap beef between lady rappers was born.  Lil Kim and Foxy Brown got into the most beefs out of all female rap artists.  Beefs Lil’ Kim got into involved Foxy Brown, Shine, Charli Baltimore, and Nicki Menaj.  Beefs Foxy Brown got into involved the following: Lil’ Kim, Eve, Jay-Z (a mentor), Charli Baltimore, MC Lyte (huh?), Lady of Rage, Queen Latifah (what?), Ms. Jade, Nas (another mentor), 50 Cent, Lisa Left-Eye (why?), Trina, and Jacki-O.  Foxy Brown got into a lot of fights.

There’s something that needs to be said about the diva ego.  In throughout all the years of their feud, Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim could have obviously focused more on how alike they were.  They both scrapped their concept collaborative album Thelma & Louise.  A Kim and Foxy collab album?  Talk about missing out.  In sacrificing lyrical prowess for focusing on exaggerated sexual attention, rap divas heavily relied on other rappers to write their work; this is the precise reason why they often shared the verbal register of their writers, Foxy Brown with Nas and Jay-Z in her early years, and Kim with Biggie (all the “uh” sounds).  Nonetheless, these two ladies redefined what it meant to be a female rapper and to this day their impact is seen.  Trina (Katrina Laverne Taylor) and Jacki-O (Angela Kohn) one of the many who will adopt this style in the near future.  The overwhelming majority of mainstream female rappers will now at least keep a layer of “raunchy” in their playbook.

Tragedy and Loss

Left-Eye of the R&B group TLC (Lisa Lopes) brought rap flavor to a singing trio in 1990.  With a high-flying flow better than many lady rappers, she eventually branched out as a rapper collaborating with many another artists a decade later.  Before she truly began as a solo rap artist, tragically a vehicular accident claimed her life in 2002.  Happening around the same time as singer Aaliyah’s death, losing two icons in one year was too painful for hip-hop fans to absorb.  After the deaths of Biggie, Pac, Big Pun… the realization that we can lose our women too, was gut wrenching.

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