AMPLIFY DOT, 29 April 2013

Rap Queens

I’m always quick to say that divisions between male and female rappers don’t need to be made. We can co-exist as artists without needing to be put in different lanes. Rap royalty is defined by its queens as much a it is by its kings so I have whittled down my definitive list of rap’s top 5 leading ladies and the timeless albums that earned the position. Selecting a top 5 is tricky because vanguards like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Eve, Lil Kim and Neneh Cherry all deserve honourable mentions with Ms Dynamite’s contributions to the UK scene being just as important. So this top 5 is simply my personal selection and it is, of course, open to debate…but I’m almost never wrong about this stuff.

Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill defined an era and is, for me, one of the greatest albums of the 90s. Earning 5 Grammy’s and a place in rap history, this body of work has yet to be paralleled by another female rapper in either sales or cultural importance with a musical relevance that remains intact over a decade later. Lauryn Hill was a triple threat in the 90’s; a rapper, a singer and an actress – nailing the role of Rita in Sister Act 2 in one of the few movie sequels that throw shade on the original. She ran rings around her peers when it came to profound lyrical content and her distinct vocal tone and thought provoking nuance is the reason why The Score by The Fugees is a Hip-Hop staple. Lauryn Hill ‘Unplugged’ is also one of music’s most precious hidden gems.

Missy Elliot: Debut albums don’t get much better than ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ by Missy Elliott. With songs including ‘The Rain’, ‘Hit Em Wid Da Hee’ and ‘Beep Me 911′, the track listing reads like a greatest hits collection. Missy Elliott is, for me, one of the most innovative artists of all time with song concepts and music videos that knew no boundaries. As one of the first female rappers that could demand your attention without showing skin, Missy is of course an undeniable hip-hip heroine. Songs like ‘Get Your Freak On’ and ‘Pass that Dutch’ completely changed the climate of rap music and proved that Missy was, creatively, in a league of her own. Also, an underrated songwriter and producer, many people overlook Missy’s contribution to RnB anthems like ‘One In A Million’ by Aaliyah and ‘Steelo’ by 702, making Missy one of the most accomplished and exciting female musicians of our generation.

TLC: TLC’s music was an effortless hybrid of R’n’B and Rap, owed greatly to the late Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez. As the first female group to achieve diamond record sales, TLC are without a doubt, the blueprint that many bands have tried to emulate. While many vocal groups over the years have had “the edgy one that raps”, none have done this with the musical prowess of TLC. Left Eye’s verse on Waterfalls is a signature moment for female rap while many people remain unaware that it was also the femcee who wrote the entire song. Left Eye and TLC were trailblazers for women in music, uncompromising in both image and temperament, their contribution to Hip-Pop history is undeniable.

Salt N Pepa: Salt N Pepa are, to me, Hip-Hop’s Thelma and Louise. They were the first female rap rebels, emerging in the late 80s with half-shaven heads and varsity jackets alongside post-feminist ideals that held no punches. Their second album ‘A Salt with A Deadly Pepa’ although not their most commercially successful, was undoubtedly their most memorable, with hits like ‘Push It’ and ‘Shake Your Thang’ defining the tenacious and unapologetic group. The album was released the year I was born and went on to soundtrack my childhood.

Foxy Brown: Long before Azealia Banks vs Angel Haze, there was Foxy Brown vs Lil Kim, a battle which, in my eyes, Foxy Brown wins. Lyrically Foxy Brown was all-sex, but before we burn our bras in protest, look at the stats. Foxy’s album ‘Ill Na Na’ moved 1million units in the US long before the Lil Kims and Nicki Minajs of this world came along and jacked her angle. Lil Kim was co-signed by Biggie but Foxy Brown was co-signed by Jay Z, who, let’s face it, is the REAL greatest rapper of all time. Although less commercially successful than Kim, Foxy Brown achieved something that many female rappers struggle with – actual club bangers. Her tone was deep when everyone else was high pitched. She played with bashment music and set a new trend that rappers are still running with. Foxy Brown was a self-proclaimed ‘bad mamma jamma’ and I couldn’t agree more.

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