As Women’s History Month unfolds, it’s time to reflect on some of the most pioneering women in the world of rap. The following is not a ranked list, but rather a collection of some of the most important female voices in the rap world. It is by no means exhaustive and is intended to be a highlight reel of women empowerment in Hip Hop over the last 4 decades. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8 (3/8), here are 38 of the most important women rappers.
For those that haven’t peeped the Netflix biopic, Roxanne Shanté is a rapper from Queens, NY that made a name for herself with “The Real Roxanne” and her battle with UTFO. She was the only female member of The Juice Crew.
The Brooklyn rapper/ actress started writing raps before she was a teenager and became the first female rapper to release a full-length album with her debut, Lyte as a Rock.
Missy made a name for herself as a producer before making it as a rapper. She is responsible for helping start many careers, including long-time friend and collaborator Timbaland. She is one of the most innovative artists to ever do it.
British rapper Moni Love worked with Whitney Housten, Prince, and other notable acts of the 1990s. She is the first British rapper to be nominated for a Grammy Award and was a member of the Native Toungues.
In the early 2000s, it was hard to find a more respected street rapper, male or female, than Jean Grae. South African in origin, her career got started on the streets of Brooklyn, where she became one of the most respected independent rappers among other emcees of the time, like Talib Kweli and Hov himself.
Chance the Rapper introduced the world to Chicago’s Noname and she has been turning heads ever since. More recently, she has shifted her focus to revolutionary Black politics and runs a book club that highlights Black authors and authors of color.
Another Brooklynite on this list, Young M.A made waves with the street anthem “Ooouuu” in 2016. She openly identified with the LGBTQ community and raps about her attraction to women in her music. She created the KWEENZ Foundation with her mother to help people in her East New York neighborhood deal with trauma.
Before Love & Hip Hop: New York, Remy Ma was well-known as a rapper. Her stand-out verse on M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” remix opened doors for the Terror Squad member. After serving a seven-year bid she came back with a vengeance and blew up again with her verse on “All the Way Up” with Fat Joe.
One of the most fly Philly rappers to ever touch a mic, Bahamadia is a creative force of nature. She has rapped on records with The Roots among others but her solo album Kollage is a must listen.
The West Coast rap scene started out very masculine but that didn’t stop Ice Cube protégé Yo-Yo from stepping up to represent Cali. Her lyrics are known for women empowerment, like her track “You Can’t Play with My Yo-Yo,” featuring her mentor.
Rap duo (trio when you count DJ Spinderella) Salt-n-Pepa had fans grooving to their breakout hit “Push It” when it dropped in 1987. They reinvented themselves in the ’90s with their songs “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Shoop,” and “Whatta Man.”
Miss Latto won season one of The Rap Game and used the momentum to put herself on. Her style fits the confident persona most successful rappers have yet her words have been divisive when it comes to the topic of colorism. The Atlanta rapper doesn’t let the controversy stop her reign as Queen of Da Souf.
New Jersey spitta Rah Digga was an original member of the Outsidaz before joining Busta Rhyme’s Flipmode Squad. She was featured on the Fugee’s album The Score on the song “Cowboys.”
Speaking of The Fugees, L-Boogie made a lane for herself as part of the trio, and beyond, with her smooth vocals and razor-sharp lyrics. Her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, led to five Grammys and classic status, even though her fame and reputation have faded in the years since.
Snow Tha Product
California rapper Snow Tha Product is the first Mexican American woman rapper on this list and she flips rhymes in both English and Spanish. Her roots in San Jose and San Diego make her a West Coast representer with a rapid fire flow.
The Lady of Rage
When Death Row Records was making its impact on the rap world, it was due in no small part to The Lady of Rage. Her song “Afro Puffs” had stereos blasting the Above the Rim soundtrack all that summer. She has since left the label and gone full indie while pursuing acting.
Arguably the best woman rapper of all time, Nicki Minaj is in a class of her own. She is the most decorated female rapper with respect to awards. While she has feuded with several other rappers on this list, she still has the support of a loyal fanbase known as Barbs. Minaj briefly retired in 2019 but has since returned to music.
Dana Owens aka Queen Latifah has had many incarnations in music and entertainment. Her early success with “Ladies First” featuring Moni Love gave way to her anthemic song “U.N.I.T.Y.” before she transitioned into acting.
The Miami duo of Yung Miami and JT made rap fans take notice in 2018 with their song “Act Up.” After JT had to do a short prison term for identity theft, the two reunited in 2020 with their album City on Lock.
No other rappers can claim to do what Lil Kim’s done. She was a member of Biggie’s Junior Mafia and turned the rap world on its ear with her Bad Boy debut album titled Hardcore. Her gangster persona and sexuality put the Brooklyn rapper in a league of her own for most of the ’90s. Her musical output was slowed down by serving some time in jail but she is still active.
The exotic dancer turned reality star turned A-list rapper pretty much sums up Cardi B’s rise to fame. “Bodak Yellow” got her a number one spot on the Billboard chart, the first woman rapper to do so since Lauryn Hill at the time. She has released hit after hit since and it doesn’t look like she is slowing up her game anytime soon.
This Trini rapper from Brooklyn got in the rap game with some help from both Jay-Z and Nas. While she had some help, Foxy made noise on her own while signed to Def Jam. Later, she would have issues with her hearing that made recording music difficult but she remains one of the most popular female rappers of the 1990s.
Megan Thee Stallion
With a Best New Artist Grammy and a loyal fan base, Houston hottie Megan Thee Stallion is having a moment. Her album Good News came on the heels of a very public altercation with Tori Lanes, where she was shot in the feet. The setback hasn’t slowed her down and few rappers have a future as bright as she does, male or female.
The self-proclaimed “baddest bitch,” Trina has been a sex symbol since she burst on the scene rapping on Trick Daddy’s “Nann Nigga.” Her consistent flow and confidence has made her a rap icon.
The Dallas native made her big break as a neo-soul artist but when she dropped “Love of My Life” she cemented herself as a rapper as well. Her career has expanded to include acting and she is a practicing doula. She also has children with well-known rappers Andre 3000, RBX, and Jay Electronica.
The Detroit rapper has been on the rise since 2014. She made money as an exotic dancer for a short time but started rapping as a way of earning money to help her family. Her smash song “Ice Me Out” and other popular songs like “Check” showcase her get money attitude.
The Chicago rapper was discovered by Atlanta duo Kris Kross. Under the wing of Jermaine Dupree, Da Brat released Funkdafied and became the first female solo rapper to go platinum. From 2008-11 she was incarcerated on an assault charge and she has also come out as a lesbian. While she struggled with her identity, she has liberated herself and continues to express herself creativly.
For those that remember, Ruff Ryders was a movement and Eve was the main woman riding with the big dogs. Her work with the crew and as a solo star came after a failed deal with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. She had success with the songs “Gotta Man” and “Let Me Blow Your Mind,” among others.
Bay Area rapper Saweetie is one of the most popular female rappers currently out. Her jam “My Type” got the attention of rap fans and she’s been on a roll ever since. She has a degree from USC, proving she has beauty and brains.
The Maryland rapper is known for pushing boundaries in rap with her punk rock aesthetic. She counts Nicki Minaj as one of her inspirations. She started an indie label called Sugar Trap to release her music.
While Doja Cat is very much a pop artist, the woman can rap. Her approach to music involves a lot of genre blending and social media to get her songs circulating online. She has worked with Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion in the past.
Jamla artist Rapsody is one of the most lyrically gifted rappers to ever get in a recording booth. Her wordplay is second-to-none and her concept album Eve was a game changer for the rap genre.
Another Philly rapper to make the list, Tierra Whack was a member of XXL’s 2019’s freshman class. Her style is very animated and she credits Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu as influences.
No Limit Records put the south on the map and Mia X helped pave the way as the first woman to be signed to the label. She was featured on the classic posse cut “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!”
Oakland is known for producing some of the most authentic rap in the game, and Kamaiyah is no exception. She founded her label GRND.WRK after having some issues with major record labels and continues to release music via mixtapes, albums, and features.
The Alabama-bred rapper has come a long way in a short amount of time. Her skills as a poet and freestyle rapper on social media got her some major looks and led to a deal with Warner Records. She is Grammy-nominated and also has several fashion endorsements in addition to making music.
Before The Fugees, there were Digable Planets. Ladybug Mecca was the Maryland rapper that made it “Cool Like That” to be the only female rapper in a rap trio. She has since expanded her career to include a solo effort and Brazilian fusion with BROOKZILL!
The Alabama rapper is one of the newer generation of women rappers that can thank social media and TikTok for their rise to fame. She started writing before she turned double digits and is one to watch as the next wave of female rappers flood the game.