Upscale is celebrating 50 women who impacted 50 years of Hip Hop. During this series we highlighted nine women who shaped Hip Hop Education and nine women influencing the Business of Hip Hop. This final installment will highlight 32 Women Who Rocked The Mic.
The Birth (1973-1982)
Hip Hop Culture was born August 11, 1973, during a Block Party organized by 17-year-old Cindy Campbell and djayed by her brother DJ Kool Herc. This block party created a spark that became a flame in 1979, when Sylvia Robinson co-founded Sugar Hill Records. Robinson signed the group The Sugar Hill Gang, and produced “Rapper’s Delight,” the first recorded rap song, which received global acclaim.
Within the year, Sugar Hill Records signed the Funky 4 +1, which included MC Sha Rock, the first signed female rapper. The Funky 4 +1 also made history as the first rap artists to perform on national television with their appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1980. Within their inaugural year, Sugar Hill Records also signed the first all-female rap trio The Sequence, which included Angie Stone.
To be clear, women have been part of the rap music industry from the outset. The precedent was established by Sugar Hill Records. But it would be in Hip Hop culture’s second decade that the influence of women would grow exponentially.
The Emergence of the Golden Age (1983-1992)
Roxanne Shante opened Hip Hop’s second decade with “Roxanne’s Revenge” popularizing battle raps on wax. The following year JJ Fad was on the West Coast establishing a look and a sound for the era. By the late 1980s, Hip Hop’s Golden Age was in full swing.
The Golden Age (1988–1995) was a time of unprecedented creativity. Rap’s leap into the mainstream, without the restrictions of major labels, gave artists limitless range. This was true for the women of rap too. The world would witness future legends Salt N Pepa, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah make their mark.
During this period, Monie Love proved rap had no geographic boundaries, while Sister Souljah proved it held limitless political possibilities as well. And by the decade’s end, we witnessed the introduction of artists ranging from YoYo to the incomparable Ms. Lauryn Hill.
And there was no end in sight to the wave of women rappers grabbing the mic.
“The sheer number of stylistic innovations that came into existence…in these golden years, a critical mass of mic prodigies were literally creating themselves and their art form at the same time.” – Dr. Jelani Cobb
The Climax of the Golden Age (1993-2002)
As the Golden Age continued through Hip Hop’s third decade, so did the musical innovations. Left Eye, Lil Kim, and Foxy Brown expanded the boundaries for women rappers. While artists from different regions like Da Brat, Mia X, and Gangsta Boo put on for their cities expanding the culture’s reach.
As the Golden Age waned, and Hip Hop’s third decade rolled on, women rappers continued to emerge. From Trina to Eve, Saroc to Jean Grey. This decade also welcomed Missy Elliot, who would later become the first female rapper nominated to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.
The Transition (2003-2012)
The second and third decades of Hip Hop culture ushered in a swath of women rappers. The world was shifting from analog to digital. The music industry was changing. It was the mixtape era, and artists like Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks were using this platform to launch their careers.
Yet despite Nicki’s success, the range that once existed among women rappers no longer existed. However, by the end of the decade, North Carolina rapper Rapsody entered the game to fill this gap.
This was the beginning of the Renaissance.
The Renaissance (2013-2022)
At the start of Hip Hop’s fifth decade, noticeably fewer women were rocking the mic, but the spark had already been lit. Artists like Noname stoked this spark while Cardi B added fuel to the fire becoming the first woman to win a Grammy for a solo Rap Album.
By the midpoint of the decade, City Girls and Kash Doll were creating lanes and women rappers were back on top. And like decades past, new female rap artists were entering the fold in a myriad of ways.
Artists like Flo Milli went the independent route while Latto made waves with the majors. One of the most awarded women rappers of this era was Megan Thee Stallion, while Mumu Fresh was one of the most versatile.
The Future (2023 and Beyond)
Women have shaped Hip Hop culture since its inception. From Cindy Campbell organizing the Block Party in 1973 to Sylvia Robinson co-founding Sugar Hill Records. This influence expanded as women began rocking the mic, creating the soundtrack of our lives. Today as we celebrate Hip Hop 50 and Women’s History Month, we revel in knowing that women will continue Hip Hop’s cultural elevation.