Genesis 1:23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
It seems the Bible’s story of creation parallels that of the emergence of women in Hip-Hop. After DJ Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang, DJ Kool Herc, Lovebug Starski, and others worked to establish hip-hop and it’s culture it was not even ten years later that you could find women beginning to establish themselves in the genre. This article is dedicated to giving shine to those pioneering female emcees. Please note that there were more than a few female DJs, and breakdancing artists, as well as pioneering women who helped to grow hip-hop fashions throughout the years. We hope you will take time to research those parts of this rich history as well. Let me also take this time to introduce you to our newest BE Magazine contributor, Alavento “Dirty Jerz” Smith. He is a hip-hop historian and connoisseur. – Brian Houston, Editor-At-Large
Peoples in 1984, as hip-hop was gaining considerable attention Roxanne Shante hopped onto the scene. Born Lolita Shante Goodsen in Queens, New York, she was the blueprint for the females to come after her. She was only 14 years old doing her thang answering to UTFO hit “Roxanne Roxanne”. The result was “Roxanne’s Revenge” dissing UTFO. This showcases another part of hip-hop culture, based around dissing your peers. Battle-rapping also has to be considered kin to this. Roxanne dropped two albums, Bad Sisters and The Bitch is Back.
About a year later in 1985 a female act came on the the set originally calling themselves Super Nature — they would evolve to become Salt-N-Pepa. The members were Cheryl “Salt ” James and Sandra “Pepa” Denton. Their DJ, Spindarella — Deidra “Dee-Dee” Roper — was the first female DJ in the genre. Also hailing from Queens, New York, the ladies worked together at a department store. They found themselves doing a talent show together in which they performed the song “Showstopper”, which was an answer to Doug E. Fresh‘s single “The Show.” They were not aware at the time that this would be the beginning of their rap careers. They dropped 5 albums spanning over several years with many hit singles including “Push It”, “Let’s Talk About Sex”, “Shoop” and “Whatta Man.” They were the first female rap act (group or solo) to go gold, platinum and multi-platinum.
In 1986, The Real Roxanne — born Adelaida Martinez and haling from Brooklyn, New York — was imbrued in a war with Roxanne Shante called The Roxanne Wars. The Wars were a series of answer records inspired by UTFO’s hit song “Roxanne, Roxanne.” She was the officially sanctioned artist in response to all of the answer records. Those wars served to take elevate hip-hop’s prominence and bring female emcees into the forefront. Notable singles include “The Real Roxanne” with UTFO, “Romeo Part 1” with Howie Tee, “Bang Zoom (Let’s Go-Go)”/”Howie’s Teed Off” with Howie Tee, “Respect”, and “Roxanne’s on a Roll”.
This 80s flashback would not be complete without MC Lyte. Born Lana Michelle Moarer in Brooklyn, New York, Lyte is like a rock, hard as hell. She was one of the first female rappers to point take the subjects of sexism and misogyny that often runs rampant in hip-hop head on, helping to open the door for such future artists as Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott. She made male rappers want to battle her to she if she could hang. She made them go hard in the paint when Waka Flocka Flame was a newborn. Her lyrics, her voice and her actions were in harmony like no other. Starting to rap at 12, Lyte learned from her brothers Milk and Gizmo of the rap group Audio Two. Her father started the First Priority record label in 1987, and her brothers appeared on her first three albums. Her first single, “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” became an instant cult classic. The song — about a female who has to compete with crack cocaine for her man’s attentions — set a standard for adult, hard-core rap that has rarely been equaled since. She was only 16. Lyte’s full-length debut, Lyte As a Rock, dropped 1988, while a follow-up, Eyes on This, followed in ’89. The hit single from her sophomore effort, “Cha Cha Cha” peaked at number one on the rap charts and the anti-violence track “Cappucino” followed soon after. She went on to release six more albums from 1991-2001, most notably in 1993, Ain’t No Other. The album’s popular single, “Ruffneck,” earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Single and turned out to be the first gold single ever achieved by a female rap artist.
By 1988, the floodgates had opened, and Hip-hop would see more female rappers rise to prominence than ever. Ms. Melodie was the wife of pioneering rapper KRS-ONE. Born in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She married KRS in 1988 and was associated with his crew Boogie Down Productions until they divorced in 1992. Melodie’s first release was in ’88, “Hype According to Ms. Melodie” and was produced by KRS and Boogie Down. Soon after she would drop her one and only album, Diva. She along with the rest of the Boogie Down crew, would appear in the Keenan Ivory Wayans film, I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. She also made a video to the track, “Live on Stage” which did well on video stations.
Also in ’88, a group from West Coast Rialto, California came on the set calling themselves J.J. Fad which stood for Just Jammin’ Fresh and Def. Members included rappers MC JB (Juana Bums), Baby-D (Dania Birks) and Sassy C (Michelle Franklin). The group’s major hit was “Supersonic”, and earned the ladies the title of being the first female group to earn a Grammy nomination. After releasing the album Supersonic in 1988, they went on to release another album in 1992 entitled, Not Just a Fad.
Lady of Rage was also a female rapper to come forth in ’88. She is best known for her collaborations with Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre under Death Row Records. Born Robin Yvette Allen, she got her start in a group called Original Outlaw Brothers and later signed a production deal with L.A. Posse in 1991. She recorded with Chubb Rock under the name “Rockin Robin” for a single entitled, “Bring ‘Em Home Safe.” Ms. Rage then hooked up with Dr. Dre and the rest is history. She dropped a single in 1994, “Afro Puff” and that was the single that put her in the Hip-hop game full throttle. She soon left the music industry to focus on acting (a transition that many rappers would make). She made a lot of appearances in different movies and TV shows, most notably as Coretta Cox on The Steve Harvey Show. Ms. Rage is now in a female movement called FEM with other female MCs.
All Hail the Queen Latifah! Dana Elaine Owens can lay claim to the title Queen of Hip-Hop. Coming out of East Orange, New Jersey (you know the first sister from the home of your’s truly had to come hard!) trying to make it in a world of female acts from New York City. In ’88 La began beat boxing for a group called La
dies Fresh but by 1989 she dropped an album All Hail The Queen when she was 19, and the track “Ladies First” was a female anthem from state to state. She followed up in 1993 with Black Reign, which spawned the hits “U.N.I.T.Y” and “Just Another Day” Latifah is now one of the baddest chicks in the game from rapping/singing and acting to Covergirl cosmetics. She most recently hosted the 2010 BET Awards in Los Angeles, arguably the most memorable BET Awards show to date.
Last but certainly not least, Latifah also helped spawn the career of fellow emcee Monie Love. Born Simone Wilson or Simone Gooden, she started in the British Jus Bad crew. They released the single “Free Style/Proud” on the independent Tuff Groove record label in 1988. She rose to notoriety in the U.S. on Latifah’s “Ladies First,” in the Jungle Brothers‘ single “Doin’ Our Own Dang,” and in De La Soul‘s hit single “Buddy.” The acclaim led her to a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, making Monie one of the few British hip-hop efforts released by a major label. Love is also a member of the Native Tongues, the historic, positive-minded hip-hop collective that included Queen Latifah, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, and a number of other acts. Love’s debut, Down To Earth, spawned two Grammy-nominated hits, “Monie in the Middle” and “It’s a Shame (My Sister)”.