The History of Women in Hip-Hop

Women have been involved in rap music before hip-hop even had a name, before it was a recorded music phenomenon, and before we had superstars such as Queen Latifah crossover from musician to actor to author to model. She is one of hip-hop’s biggest success stories and she’s a woman.

Welcome back to DOPEfm’s 3rd Annual Women in Hip-Hop Spectacular. We are taking a close look at the history of women in hip-hop today. Yesterday, we covered the years from 1912 all the way up to 1985. Today, we will continue right where we left off.

You can download this hip-hop history podcast for free, stream it with the player at the bottom of the post, continue reading, or do all three. However you take in the program, we are happy to have you here.

So far, the artists that we have looked at are not quite household names. Those outside of hip-hop culture might not be able to call up these names when talking about the important milestones of the music. But nonetheless, they are important names. We looked at The Mercedes Ladies, Lady B, Sha Rock, and Roxanne Shante,

This brings us up to 1985. The year we first heard of the trio Salt N Pepa. Their debut album dropped in 1986 and was called Hot, Cool, and Vicious. They were the female rap group of their time and they had quite the string of success. They received four Grammy nominations and finally won one in 1995.

This was one of their most popular songs that year and it’s notable because they flip the script on what’s become a popular trope in commercial rap music.

successful female rap group

That was Salt N Pepa “Whatta Man” and those three ladies took the hip-hop world by storm when they hit the scene in 1985. Rap music was just starting to get popular and their single “Push It” literally helped push it to new heights. They released five albums, went on very successful tours, and received quite a few awards.

Two years ago, Salt N Pepa received the I Am Hip-Hop Award from BET. They were also part of the Legends of Hip-Hop tour with such artists as Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Doug E Fresh, Biz Markie, Naughty By Nature, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, Slick Rick and Chubb Rock.

There was another famous lady on that bill, MC Lyte. It’s hard to believe that her album “Lyte as a Rock” was the first full length album released by a female MC. Why did it take nearly ten years for a female rapper to head up her own album? I don’t know.

All I know is that it is a classic. The album is called “Lyte as a Rock” by MC Lyte. And just in case you didn’t know, light is spelled “Lyte.” This is her song “Paper Thin” that came out in 1988. And this is Chase March celebrated the Women in Hip-Hop as we observe International Women’s Day here on DOPEfm. Stay tuned as we explore the pivotal moments in the history of female hip-hop this hour and all night long as we shine a spotlight on the women in hip-hop with mixsets, artist interviews, and a special roundtable discussion.

female rapper

That was “Paper Thin” by MC Lyte from her classic album “Lyte as a Rock.” It came out in 1988 to a wide range of critical appeal and underground success. She continued to make great music and her fourth album was certified gold. That record also gave us “Ruffneck,” a Top 40 hit.

All in all, she has released seven studio albums and shows no signs of slowing down. She just released new material with her group Almost September. And like many other rappers, she ventured out into acting. I really liked seeing her on Ice T’s Rap School, a television show that had her mentoring young girls in the art of emceeing.

MC Lyte is even featured in Smithsonian Institute. Her turntables, diary, and records are part of a collection entitled “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, the Rhymes, the Life.” That exhibit highlights how important hip-hop is and shows that it is a valid part of our history.

It’s really cool to see that women in hip-hop are represented at the Smithsonian. I am a hip-hop historian and love to see our history being recognized by those outside of the culture. Of course MC Lyte deserves to be there. She was the first successful female rapper to go solo and her lengthy career is a testament to her skills on the mic.

She also inspired a whole new generation of women to get started in hip-hop. Up until this point, men had been ruling the show. Women didn’t take over by any means but we finally heard a voice that had been lacking for many years.

The next important female voice in hip-hop we need to look at emerged from Canada in the mid 1980s. Her debut album came out in 1991 and was entitled “Jamaican Funk – Canadian Style.” This was the first Canadian hip-hop release. She was the first rapper from the country to get signed by a major label. Her name is Michie Mee and here is the title track from her debut album.

Canada's First Rapper

That record proved that Canada had talent and it paved the way for artists such as Maestro Fresh Wes, Drake, Classified, and everyone else who came after her. That was Michie Mee and LA Luv ‘Jamaican Funk – Canadian Style.”

Welcome back to Hip-Hop’s Better Half. This is Chase March and we’re focusing on the important moments in the history of female hip-hop in this special edition of Know Your History.

Ya know, Michie Mee really had to hustle to be heard in an industry that was pretty much dominated by men. She got started well before MC Lyte showed that a solo female rap artist could be marketable. Starting in 1984, she regularly visited the hottest hip-hop spots in New York to make herself seen and heard. And it worked.

She caught the ear of DJ Scott La Rock of BDP. Her reggae style was something that impressed Krs-One and you can hear her influence in his records. Of course, BDP did more that just borrow her style. They supported her, put out her music on a compilation album in 1987, and even came up on Canada to share the bill with her. This was a cosign that helped spark her career and get her signed to a major American label.

Many people falsely think Maestro was Canada’s first rapper but it in fact was a woman. Michie Mee wasn’t merely the first lady of Canadian rap. She was the first Canadian rapper. Period.

Very cool history here as we celebrate International Women’s Day on DOPEfm. All seven hours of our programming tonight are dedicated to the women in hip-hop. This is our third annual radio special and we’re so glad that you’ve tuned in. That’s right, we’re putting ladies first.

Ladies First rap

That was “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah from her album “All Hail the Queen” It came out in 1989 and that song features fellow emcee Monie Love.

That is an important record to talk about when looking at the history of women in hip-hop. Queen Latifah showed us a strong, intelligent woman with a no nonsense attitude.

Here are some of her lyrics from that song . . .

“I break into a lyrical freestyle
Grab the mic, look into the crowd and see smiles
Cause they see a woman standing up on her own two
Sloppy slouching is something I won’t do
Some think that we can’t flow
Stereotypes, they got to go
I’m a mess around and flip the scene into reverse
(With what?) With a little touch of ‘Ladies First’”

Great lyrics from a great emcee.

Queen Latifah has achieved more than any other female artist in the history of this hip-hop. She has starred in movies, a few television series, has written books, earned a Golden Globe, two SAG awards, a Grammy award, and several other nominations for a variety of award shows. She continues to act, sing, and rap as well. Very few rappers ever achieve the level of fame and list of accomplishments that Queen Latifah has.

As popular as Queen Latifah was, she wasn’t the first female rapper to earn a platinum record. Can you guess who that was?

I’ll give you a hint. The record came out in 1994. It was entitled Funkdafied and this is the title track.

This is Chase March and we’ll be back to celebrate more of the achievements of women in hip-hop right after we hear from Da Brat. Stay tuned!


That was the title track from Da Brat’s debut album, “Funkdafied.” She was the first solo female rap artist to earn a platinum record. It’s hard to believe that that hadn’t happened sooner. I can’t understand why hip-hop became a male dominated art form. Some of my favourite emcees are woman and I must admit that I had this album on cassette and I bumped it like crazy back in the day. Her next album was good too but it didn’t manage to pull in such impressive numbers.

Although another female rapper who would smash even more records made her debut that very same year. I was immediately drawn to her vocals and really liked “Blunted on Reality,” the debut album from a group called The Fugees.

That was one of my favourite records from 1994 but it didn’t bring them immediate success. It was their sophomore album that made people sit up and take notice. The female emcee of the group started to receive a lot of attention. She could sing, she could rap circles around the best rappers at the time, and she was quite the looker as well.

There was no doubt that Lauryn Hill would become a huge star. She released her solo record in 1998 and it is one of the most popular rap albums ever released. It has sold close to 20 million copies and won five Grammy Awards. Lauryn Hill took home Album of the Year and Best New Artist, the latter I didn’t quite understand because I’d already been jamming to her music for close to five years.

She is still celebrated as one of the best voices hip-hop has ever been graced with. Many people name her as top female rap artist of all time. And with good reason. There is just something magical about her music. There is no denying it.

So, let’s listen to one of her songs right now from that record breaking album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Stay tuned as we continue to look at the history of women in hip-hop as we celebrate International Women’s Day all night long here on DOPEfm

Hip-Hop royalty

That was “Lost Ones” by Lauryn Hill from her debut solo record “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” That album smashed so many records. She was the first female act in the history of the Grammy Awards to be nominated for 10 awards. She took home five trophies in the 1999 Grammies. A pretty impressive feat for a rapper.

Her debut album stands as a classic. It blended genres and forms. She rapped and she sang and her talent just couldn’t be ignored or denied.

But then she disappeared from the music scene. We were left with this incredible debut record and two albums from her rap group The Fugees. And that was it.

There was a void in mainstream hip-hop when Lauryn Hill decided to focus on family instead of her music career.

But we didn’t have to wait long for another innovative artist to come to the forefront and represent the ladies on the mic.

This is Chase March and if you are just joining us, make sure you keep that dial on lock. This is our third annual spotlight on the Women in Hip-Hop as we celebrate International Women’s Day. This is a day where we recognize and celebrate the achievements of women across the globe.

We’re gonna be doing that all night long here on the program. This hour we’ve been looking at the important moments for women in the history of hip-hop. Later, we’ll have mixsets where every single track we play will be from female rap artists. We will also have special interviews and a roundtable discussion. Stay tuned for all of that. We have seven hours of programming to celebrate this important day.

It’s International Women’s Day on DOPEfm.

We’ve been working our way through the entire history of hip-hop and the important role women have played throughout. We’ve looked at some of the biggest artists to ever work in this genre and we’ve made out way up to the late 1990s.

The next artist we are going to look at is the only female rap artist to stack up six platinum records. I’m talking about Missy Elliot. Her debut album “Supa Dupa Fly” came out in 1997 and she continued to drop highly successful records every couple of years. In fact, she is even slated to release a new one later this year.

successful female rapper

That was Missy Elliot, one of the most successful female rap artists of all time.

In the late 1990s, female fronted hip-hop was all the rage. Missy Elliot was just one of a handful of popular artists. I’m slowly running out of time though. I couldn’t expect to bring us completely up to date with the accomplishments of the women in hip-hop in a one hour special.

An hour ago, we started with the first women deejay, who began broadcasting a hundred years ago. We then looked at the first rap record most people ever heard and saw how that project and label was masterminded by a woman. We looked at the first rap group to ever appear on national television and how a female rapper was at the forefront of that. We then looked at the success female rappers have had since hip-hop’s very inception all the way up to the 1990s.

Stay tuned later tonight for another spotlight on the history of women in hip-hop. We’ll pick up where we left off here and look at the female artists of the late 1990s all the way up to the present day.

I’ve been focusing on the commercial appeal of hip-hop in this special but it’s important to note that women have been quite active in the hip-hop game. There are countless female rappers who have released albums on independent labels. We’ve played many of them on the show here over the past eight years and will continue to champion great music.

It’s been a lot of fun celebrating the women in hip-hop in this special hour-long edition of Know Your History.

Remember International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8th. Here on DOPEfm, we dedicate the entire overnight programming to the Women in Hip-Hop every year. This is our third annual special and we have lots more great content to share with you.

We still have some dope mixsets, artist interviews, and a roundtable discussion. Stay tuned for all of that and remember to go to to find out more about me, for some great hip-hop articles and home of my podcast, and to get more content from the radio show right here on 93.3 CFMU.

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