1. Ladies Night
Female rappers have delivered some of the greatest anthems, strongest lyrics and incredible beats we’ve ever heard. To mark the 19th anniversary of The Fugees album The Score that introduced us all to the musical genius that is Lauryn Hill, we’re celebrating us and our presence in the boy’s club–hip-hop.
2. Black Pearl by Yo-Yo
The criminally underrated Yo-Yo released her second album, “Black Pearl” in 1992. It was a raucous declaration of Black girl power during the aggressive era that was gangsta rap. Born Yolanda Whitaker, she’s from Compton and was a protege of Ice Cube, as she appeared on Cube’s “It’s A Man’s World” from his iconic LP “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.” ’90s teens will also remember her from Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” remix.
3. Very Necessary by Salt-n-Pepa
Salt-n-Pepa, and our homegirl Spinderella, dropped “Very Necessary” in 1993 and it was a huge moment for the trio. They were already notable acts in hip-hop (“Push It”, hello!) but they became the first female rappers to win a Grammy for “None of Your Business” from this album. They also won 3 MTV VMAs for “Whatta Man.” Spunky and in-your-face, today they’re hip-hop legends. Their LP “Blacks’ Magic” is great too!
4. “Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa featuring En Vogue
Salt-n-Pepa! En Vogue on the hook! This collab was everything back in the day and we’re still here for the grunge/hip-hop look of the outfits too.
5. Funkdafied by Da Brat
Shawntae Harris, or Da Brat, was the brassy kid sister we all know and love and her 1994 album “Funkdafied” was the first by a female rapper to go platinum. Her style was tomboy chic (who could forget those rubber-band ended braids!), but the album had a fluid mix of ’70s soul and funk with a ’90s hip-hop flow. Some of Jermaine Dupri’s most impressive productions are on this album.
6. “Give It 2 You”
A pefect example of the soul meets hip-hip mix of her debut, this clip also features cameos from Biggie, Puff, T-Boz, MC Lyte, Mary J., and our fave MTV bae Bill Bellamy.
7. Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady
Philly’s own Eve dropped a mean debut album on us in 1999. As the sole woman of Ruff Ryders, her album had bars as memorable as DMX and The Lox. And speaking of, our favorite tracks, “Maniac,” “Let’s Talk About” and her sisterhood collab with Missy Elliott “Ain’t Got No Dough.” Chile, we’re STILL jamming to that one! Of course, Eve returned the favor for Elliott’s electrifying “Hot Boyz” remix.
8. “Love Is Blind”
Hip-hop music rarely speaks on the serious subject matter of domestic abuse, but Eve bravely spoke against it on this powerful track.
9. Broke With Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks
Banks may be easy to hate when it comes to her “public persona,” but her finally released debut was exhilarating in its genre-bending and wordplay. She rapped, sung, even went a little goth-rock, ’90s club kids, and surprisingly, 1960s beach bunny on one of the album’s closers “Nude-Beach-A-Go-Go.” Also check out “JFK,”, “Ice Princess,” “Desperado” and “Gimme Chance” where she raps in Spanish without a flinch.
10. All Hail The Queen by Queen Latifah
Dana Owens gave us the feminist ode “Ladies First” and it’s still on our empowerment playlist. Latifah’s first album, released in 1989, was a part of the resurgence of Black Power in mainstream hip-hop, but her contribution specifically aimed at uplifting Black women. Her delivery was defiant and musically took notes from late ’60s and ’70s R&B, with the influence of the 1980s DJ thrown in.
11. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
No one saw this 1998 gem coming despite how great Hill’s work was on the Fugees’ “The Score.” Deservedly, she won every award under the sun, including Album of the Year, had the 1st hip-hop album to win & MTV’s Video of the Year for “Doo-Wop.” Soul & reggae influenced, matched with the vulnerability of her lyrics, “Miseducation” was beyond perfect. Favorites include “Forgive Them Father” and “I Used to Love Him.”
12. “Everything Is Everything”
This video had Hill living life in the concrete jungle.
13. Kollage by Bahamadia
Another underrated talent of the female rapper spectrum, Bahamadia’s “Kollage” was released in 1996. Pure East Coast grit, she displayed a presence similar to that of a Black Panther. But her debut, featuring production by DJ Premier, had its softer moments and in general was a flowing mix of hip-hop with jazz elements.
14. The Pinkprint by Nicki Minaj
Say what you want about Minaj, but the Barb proved her musical prowess on The Pinkprint, a title played off of Jay Z’s The Blueprint. Unexpectedly sad at times, confrontational at others and in-between sexy. The cartoon character she played at the start of her career finally had a story to tell and Onika Maraj willingly shared.
15. A Little Deeper by Ms. Dynamite
Ms. Dynamite’s debut “A Little Deeper” was heralded as a new dawn for female rap in the U.K., and the album’s music backdrop was garage, ska and hip-hop. In 2002, Ms. Dynamite (Niomi Arleen McLean-Daley) won the prestigious Mercury Prize (the U.K. version of Album of the Year). Well deserved for an album that wore feminism and self-respect proudly on its sleeves.
16. Hard Core by Lil’ Kim
No, we couldn’t forget about Lil’ Kim and we’re going to have to go with her 1996 debut Hard Core. Listeners and critics nearly blushed at the sexual content of the lyrics, but there was no denying that the Mafia-wife style of Kim and its production was a thrilling moment for women in hip-hop because Kim owned it! She went on to become a pop culture fixture and remixes for “Not Tonight” and “Crush On You”= ’90s jams.
17. “No Time”
Based on this video, Kim would’ve fit right in with the girls from “Set It Off.”
18. Under Construction by Missy Elliott
It’s hard to pick a favorite Missy album because, they’re all fantastic. Seriously. Rolling Stone gave her three 4-star reviews in a row, and they don’t hand them out for free! But we’re going with 2002’s Under Construction. While she was already a superstar, the lead single “Work It” encapsulated all that’s great about her (and this album): playful yet intricate rapping, dancing ability and creativity in spades.
19. “Gossip Folks”
Impressive dance moves and HD colors, an Elliott video never fails.
20. Lyte As A Rock by MC Lyte
It doesn’t get more ’80s than this album cover, but MC Lyte’s debut is an important hallmark of New York City hip-hop and female rappers after her have interpolated her lyrics into their own (she originally said: “hot damn, ho, here we go again.”) Born Lana Michele Moorer, the Brooklynite was 18-year-old here, speaking up as the only girl in the boys club. Later hits came with “Ruffneck” and “I Rock the Party.”