Women have been integral to Hip Hop since its inception. While DJ Kool Herc is credited with throwing the iconic Back To School Jam on August 11, 1973 (Hip Hop’s birthday), it was his sister Cindy Campbell who helped mastermind the whole event.
“The Mother of Hip Hop” Sylvia Robinson, founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, was the driving force behind two groundbreaking singles: The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message.” Each song helped introduce Hip Hop to a more mainstream audience, immortalizing both groups in the process.
Women have continued to shatter the glass ceiling as Hip Hop has evolved over the years. In 2014, Sylvia Rhone was handpicked by L.A. Reid as Epic Records’ new president where she’s bolstered the careers of artists such as Future and Travis Scott while launching the next generation of hitmakers. In 2019, Desiree Perez was appointed as CEO of Roc Nation and named “Executive of the Year” by Billboard a few months later.
Needless to say, women are leading the charge in a typically “male-dominated” industry — and that includes the artists. While mainstays such as Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B still crush the pop-rap charts whenever they drop new music, 2021 has seen an explosion of female rappers who are making their mark. From City Girls and Coi Leray to Little Simz and Tierra Whack, the rap landscape has permanently shifted toward inclusivity. Yes, some of it is homogenized to the point of of boredom, but the variety is there — we just have to dig a little.
In an effort to highlight some of the women who’ve contributed to Hip Hop/rap this year, HipHopDX has compiled a list of some of the women who somehow impacted the space.
Don’t call it a comeback — Lauryn Hill has been here for years. But still, the Fugees MC/singer made more noise in 2021 than she has in a long time. In August, the elusive artist popped up on the Nas track “Nobody,” one of 15 songs on King’s Disease II. The cut arrived 25 years after they originally connected on “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” from Nas’ sophomore album It Was Written.
Aside from illustrating Hill’s lyrical aptitude, her meticulous verse showed she’s well aware of what people say about her: “Now let me give it to you balanced and with clarity/I don’t need to turn myself into a parody/I don’t, I don’t do the shit you do for popularity/They clearly didn’t understand when I said “I Get Out” apparently/My awareness like Keanu in The Matrix/I’m savin’ souls and y’all complainin’ ’bout my lateness/Now it’s illegal for someone to walk in greatness/They want the same shh, but they don’t take risks.”
Hill also proved the impossible was, indeed, possible when she reunited with her Fugees brethren Wyclef Jean and Pras for The Score‘s 25th anniversary tour. Although the international run was cut short due to COVID-19 concerns, it was a magical moment to see the talented trio back on the stage. According to Jean’s autobiography Purpose, Hill — who was having an affair with Jean — lied about the paternity of her son Zion and led him to think the child was his, when it reality the baby belonged to Bob Marley’s son Rohan.
“In that moment something died between us,” Wyclef wrote at the time. “I was married and Lauryn and I were having an affair, but she led me to believe that the baby was mine, and I couldn’t forgive that … She could no longer be my muse. Our love spell was broken.”
But Hill explained in a statement there was enough healing that had been done to move forward. The reunion dates are expected to be rescheduled in 2022.
Megan Thee Stallion
It seemed like Megan Thee Stallion hit her peak in 2020, but 2021 has proven to be just as fruitful for the 26-year-old rapper. On December 16, Netflix announced she signed an exclusive first-look deal with the streaming giant. The Houston native fulfilled her late mother’s wish of graduating from Texas Southern University just a week prior as well.
Before Megan Thee Stallion’s career exploded, she was attending college at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, where she was planning on getting a health administration degree. But once Megan’s career took off, she put her education on hold. Despite her enormous success, she went back and completed her degree anyway.
2021 also saw Megan crowned Glamour‘s Woman of the Year, earn multiple American Music Award nominations (although she didn’t perform), do a clothing collaboration with Cash App and earn another platinum plaque for “Thot Shit.” She also contributed to the Coming 2 America soundtrack with “I’m A King” featuring Bobby Sessions.
Doja Cat almost fell victim to a fictional “cancelation” in 2020 when an old video of herself allegedly laughing at racist jokes in an incel chatroom resurfaced online. But in a real life example of “cancel culture doesn’t exist,” she bounced back stronger than ever and won Push Best New Artist at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards and Best New Act at the 2020 MTV Europe Music Awards.
Riding the wave, Doja Cat teamed up with Saweetie on “Best Friend” in January and a week later, hopped on Ariana Grande’s single “34+35” with Megan Thee Stallion. The song reached a new peak of No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 following its release. She was also nominated for three Grammy Awards at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards and placed on TIME‘s 100 Next list. She was then named Top Female R&B Artist at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards in May.
In June, Doja Cat dropped her third studio album Planet Her, which spent four weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The project also broke the record for the biggest opening day for an album by a female rapper on Spotify. The album generated four singles, “Kiss Me More” featuring SZA, “You Right” with the Weeknd, “Need to Know” and “Woman.”
Doja Cat routinely does Instagram Lives while listening to some of her favorite Hip Hop, which evidently includes Little Brother and Homeboy Sandman. More recently, she announced she wanted to do albums with producers 9th Wonder and Jay Versace.
It’s been a slow and steady grind for Latto, but the self-proclaimed “Queen of da Souf” has come a long way since winning The Rap Game competition in 2016. After ditching the problematic “Mu” from her name, Latto began reinventing herself. In March, she became the first female rapper from Atlanta to have a gold and platinum solo record when “Bitch from da Souf” (2019) and “Muwop” (2020) crossed the RIAA milestones.
In September, the 23-year-old released the lead single from her upcoming second studio album, “Big Energy,” which became Latto’s highest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 69. The visual for the track has over eight million YouTube views to date. She also dropped a video for another single called “Soufside” last month.
Additionally, 2021 saw Latto win the Global Push Artist of the Month from MTV and earn a Push Performance of the Year nomination at the MTV Video Music Awards for “Sex Lies.”
Yung Miami and JT have been on a steady climb toward rap glory over the last 365 days, and it looks like they’ve achieved their goal — or are at least getting close. In December, the Miami duo was honored with the Future Is Female Award at Variety’s Hitmakers brunch in Los Angeles, while the “Twerkulator” video arrived in July directed by bona fide Hip Hop legend Missy Elliott. The visual has racked up over 12 million YouTube views to date, proof the City Girls’ music is in high demand.
Tierra Whack’s innovative debut, Whack World, arrived in 2018 with 15 tracks perfectly crafted for Instagram. Since then, the Philadelphia native has released a handful of singles as well as the RAP? EP just this month.
Comprised of just three songs (yes, short projects are her jam much to the chagrin of her fans), the EP showcased her versatility with an uptempo banger and two more subdued numbers. She also collaborated with Vans on her own signature line of sneakers, which are as vibrant and colorful as she is.
Coi Leray has blossomed from just “Benzino’s daughter” to her own undeniable force in the last 12 months. With the help of a viral TikTok moment, the 24-year-old earned her first Billboard Hot 100 entry in January when “No More Parties” peaked at No. 26. The track was ultimately certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). A remix of the song featuring Lil Durk arrived roughly a month later, breathing new life into it.
But the accolades didn’t end there. Leray was nominated for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist and Best New Artist at the BET Awards 2021 as well as Best New Hip Hop Artist at the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards. She was also a featured guest on numerous singles, including “Ocean Prime” from Bfb Da Packman’s debut album, Fat N-ggas Need Love Too and “Push Start” from French Montana’s latest album They Got Amnesia.
London-born rapper Little Simz earned her highest-charting album in September when her fourth studio effort, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, debuted at No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart. The 19-track project found the 27-year-old rapper digging into her most private thoughts, divulging details about her fractured relationship with her father, past lovers and internal struggles with fame.
The first single, “Introvert,” came with a gorgeous visual that not only puts her lyrical ingenuity front and center but also her artistic sensibilities, something that has become somewhat expected from the multi-faceted creative. Little Simz also recently graced the cover of 032C magazine alongside fellow Brit Skepta.
When it comes to Saweetie, one thing’s certain — she was everywhere this year. Whether posted up on the ‘Gram or chillin’ courtside alongside Lil Baby, the Santa Clara native felt like an omnipresence in the rap space, especially after “Best Friend” with Doja Cat arrived at the top of 2021.
Serving as the third single from her forthcoming debut album, Pretty Bitch Music, the song landed at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, her highest-charting song yet. But the follow-up single, “Fast (Motion)” featuring Gwen Stefani, failed to chart despite the No Doubt singer’s star power. Saweetie also went through a high-profile breakup with Migos rapper Offset in March.
Still, Saweetie couldn’t be stopped. In July, she announced her own signature McDonald’s meal and then became Mac Cosmetics’ brand ambassador in September. “Saweetie’s message of self-confidence and female empowerment is the perfect match for a brand like MAC that has always embraced unapologetic self-expression with open arms,” SVP and Global Creative Director Drew Elliott said. “She has always loved our products, she told me she has swallowed pounds of M·A·C lip gloss in her life.”
Pretty Bitch Music is expected to arrive sometime in 2022, which will either elevate or slow Saweetie’s reign. Time will tell.
Cardi B leveled up all year — she was appointed a new role at Playboy, had another baby and was crowned the “Queen of Hip Hop” by Halle Berry after collaborating with the actress on the Bruised soundtrack. But above all, the Bronx spitter became the first female rapper to earn three diamond-certified singles from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Earlier this month, “I Like It” featuring J Balvin and Bad Bunny hit the rare milestone along with her Maroon 5 collaboration “Girl Like You” and 2017 breakthrough single “Bodak Yellow.” Taken from her 2018 debut Invasion of Privacy, the Latin-tinged anthem hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for Record of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
“I want to say thank you to my fans and tell y’all that I fucking love y’all,” she said in a recent celebratory Instagram post. “I’m thankful and grateful. I want to say thank you to J Balvin. I have accomplished so much, but I still want more.” And she’ll likely get it.
Nicki Minaj had a few notable wins this year, despite not releasing a new album. In May, she dropped a reissue of her 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty. The project landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, marking the highest debut for a female rap mixtape in chart history. “Seeing Green” featuring Drake and Lil Wayne peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, while her verse from “Fractions” earned a nod for Best Verse from Complex.
In November, Nicki became only the second female rapper to receive a diamond certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) when her 2010 Pink Friday single “Super Bass” crossed the 10 million line. She also won the Best Hip Hop award at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2021.
Missy Elliott released a project called Iconology in 2020 but has already proven what makes her iconic. This year was special for the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee in many ways. Last month, Missy received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a milestone for anyone in the entertainment industry. While she credited all female Hip Hop artists during her speech, she highlighted a few of her favorites.
“I can kind of give this to my female MCs in Hip Hop, to my sisters in Hip Hop. I wanna say I love each and everyone of y’all,” she said. “The ones that’s popping now, the ones that’s about to be popping. But I want to give a big, big shoutout to the godmothers of this, and that is Queen Latifah, Monie Love, [MC] Sha-Rock, Angie Stone, Roxanne Shanté, Yo-Yo, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa.”
"Through the grace of God and faith, I've kept going. If I hadn't, I wouldn't be standing here," Missy Elliott says in front of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "I'd come here 20 years ago and used to walk past all these stars and imagine." https://t.co/Tec2oS5aGB pic.twitter.com/hRv0vXucQc
— Variety (@Variety) November 8, 2021
Missy also added another directing credit to her résumé when she got behind the camera for the City Girls’ “Twerkulator” video. Over Afrika Bambaataa’s iconic “Planet Rock” anthem (by way of Kraftwerk), Yung Miami and JT rap about their twerking skills against a vibrant graffiti backdrop and fake city skyline.
New music from Missy might be just around the corner, too. On December 1, frequent collaborator Timbaland teased another dream team production with the tweet, “Who ready for that @missyelliott Timbo album?????” Hmmm.
Monie Love has been rocking the mic since the 1980s when “Ladies First” with Queen Latifah became a certified Hip Hop anthem. Decades into her career, she’s still basking in the limelight. In July, Monie performed alongside MC Lyte, Lil Kim and Rapsody at the 2021 BET Awards as a tribute to Queen Latifah who was receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award.
She also made appearances on both Drink Champs and The Breakfast Club where she addressed her relationship with the late Tupac Shakur. In October, Monie decided to draw back the curtain and let fans into her private life as part of WEtv’s Marriage Boot Camp: The Hip Hop Edition.
Speaking to HipHopDX at the time, the London-born MC noted women have made progress in terms of equality but still have a ways to go.
“A lot has changed, but a lot remains the same,” she said. “When I say a lot has changed, there’s all sorts of things that have taken place over the course of time since ‘Ladies First’ was released. We have the MeToo movement. We have a lot of awareness that has come about in terms of women in the entertainment industry and their earning versus a man’s earnings. In the entertainment business in Hollywood, in any field, there’s a lot more awareness.
“Now the question is, have these things diligently been addressed and fixed? That remains to be seen in a lot of cases. I would say there has definitely been some progress. There has but the work isn’t over. We can’t roll our sleeves down, wash our hands and be like, ‘OK, we’re done. Good job girls.’ Like no, there’s definitely more work to be done.”
MC Lyte hasn’t dropped an album since 2015’s Legend, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t rhyming. In addition to sharing the stage with Monie Love, Lil Kim and Rapsody at the 2021 BET Awards, she also found herself back on the small screen as part of the sitcom Partners In Rhyme. Executive produced by Bentley Kyle White and MC Lyte, the ALLBLK original series tackles the generational gap between those who grew up during Hip Hop’s golden age and those who have only witnessed its current incarnation.
In an interview with HipHopDX, MC Lyte explained how easy it was for her to play the role. “I just really did it in first person,” she said. “Like, OK. So what would it feel like having a niece who the record label wanted to sign and not me? So what does that mean? Is there animosity? They’re blood and they should get over it.
“All throughout the season, it was like, ‘Is this true school versus new school? Where, ‘We say it like this. No, we say it like that.’ Like, ‘What are you talking about? Well, that is how we say it now.’ You know, it’s us being able to have fun with what is clearly a distinction between two different generations.”
Da Brat was signed to Jermaine Dupri’s label So So Def in 1992 and just two years later, she became the first female solo rap act to receive a platinum certification when her debut album Funkdafied hit the milli mark. The album also made her the second overall female rap act (solo or group) after Salt-N-Pepa to achieve such a feat.
After years of speculation from the public, Da Brat came out as a lesbian in March 2020 with the support of her girlfriend and Kaleidoscope Hair Products CEO Jesseca “Judy” Dupart. Like Monie Love, Da Brat again entered the world of reality television in 2021 when she announced a new show called Brat & Judy. The series follows the couple as they navigate their relationship and various business endeavors.
Speaking to HipHopDX in August, Da Brat explained why she wanted to let the world in on her love life. “What I love about this show is that it’s just us, our people and who we’ve decided to put on our show who have real life situations that people can relate to,” she said. “My friend and little brother for years, Montana, he and his wife were going through a divorce, their relationship is kind of toxic, so you get to see some of that. And we just wanted to put things on there that everyday people go through. Not just the glam and glitz that you see on Instagram, but the love, pain and vulnerable moments.”
Sa-Roc finally dropped her debut album The Sharecropper’s Daughter in 2020. Comprised of 15 tracks, the project featured Black Thought, Styles P, Chronixx and Saul Williams while effortlessly showcasing the Rhymesayers MC’s lyrical precision. In June, Sa-Roc followed up with a deluxe version of the album that included an unreleased verse from the late MF DOOM on the song “The Rebirth.”
During an interview with HipHopDX in October 2020, Sa-Roc spoke about the called for more diversity among women in Hip Hop — but didn’t place any of the blame on the artists. In fact, she understands it’s all part of the bigger picture.
“I feel like it’s interesting there are artists who have songs that are actually speaking to things that are socially relevant and they don’t get the same promotion, they don’t get the same push as that song. I’m not judging the song one way or the other because, to me, I’ve already made my statement at the beginning. People make what they make. That’s the beauty of being an artist. You’re able to express yourself whatever way you see fit. But this lack of diversity within women in Hip Hop seems like a concerted effort to maintain.”
She added, “This is sensationalism though, and that’s reflected across all genres, right? It’s that whole sex sells idea. We’ve seen that reflected in Hollywood. It started to become harder for the independent art house films and one-off films that are more thoughtful or whatever. These films really don’t get the funding they need. People want these blockbuster hits. They want Fast and Furious 25 [laughs].
Gangsta Boo’s career got a little jumpstart in 2020 when Killer Mike and El-P recruited her for the RTJ4 track “walking in the snow.” But the Three 6 Mafia vet has seen somewhat of a resurgence in her career this year, too. The highly publicized Verzuz battle between Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony on December 2 kept her name alive, especially after Bizzy Bone tossed a water bottle at her during the event.
Bizzy Bone wasn’t having it ? #VERZUZ pic.twitter.com/y3oWlos3RK
— P-DRO (@P_DRO520) December 3, 2021
In the aftermath of the controversial battle, Gangsta Boo went on VladTV where she played coy about the entire incident. She did, however, offer, “It was the throwing stuff at me. I don’t care what you was going to say or what you didn’t say. The throwing stuff … everybody has triggers, and that was a scary moment to see my multi-millionaire friends … I don’t even remember it. I remembered it when I watched it.”