Wednesday Wisdom: The Female Pioneers of Hip Hop
By: Sacha Walton, SWI Management Group
It was 1984, and I remember listening to the radio to what we now know as old-school hip hop flooding the airwaves. The days of Beat Street, New York City Breakers, Pumas with the fat shoe laces, DJ battles, UTFO, and The Rapping Duke, while everyone was doing the Wop and singing La-Di-Da-Di. “6 minutes Dougie Fresh You’re On!” Listening to DJ Red Alert Hot 97 mixtapes, with female duo Frick and Frack.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of hip hop, I can’t help but give a shout-out to the queens of hip hop who blazed the trail for many female rappers for Women’s History Month.
It’s no secret that hip hop has been a male-dominated industry since its inception, but that doesn’t mean that female pioneers haven’t been creating amazing music for years. From Salt-N-Pepa, Roxanne Shante, and MC Lyte, to Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Yo-Yo, and beyond, these inspiring women have changed the landscape of hip hop, and have broken barriers for generations of artists to come.
One of the first female pioneers in the industry was MC Lyte, who debuted her album, Lyte as a Rock, in 1988. It featured hits such as “Cha Cha Cha” and “Paper Thin.” Not only did MC Lyte revolutionize hip hop with her raw and powerful rhymes, but she also took her talent to the big screen, becoming one of the first female rappers to have an acting career. MC Lyte’s presence is felt deeply within hip hop culture, as she has also achieved significant milestones with her advocacy efforts to get the support of corporate entities, and launch campaigns aimed at educating women and girls.
Roxanne Shante, a trailblazing MC from the South Bronx, had an impressive career that began when she was just 14 years old. As the first woman to receive her own record deal from the then-budding label, Cold Chillin’ Records, Shante made waves with her ferocious flow, and instantly resonated with audiences all over. Shante remains one of the most celebrated women in the rap game, as her debut album is considered a landmark classic in the hip hop canon.
Salt-N-Pepa is an American hip-hop group that was integral to the success of women in hip hop in the 1980s with their hit, “Tramp.” In the 90s, they rose to prominence after the release of their classic single, “Push It,” and followed it up with even bigger hits like “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Shoop.” By making inroads for female artists, Salt-N-Pepa established a strong foothold for future generations of women to be recognized as serious hip hop acts.
Queen Latifah has been an essential figure in hip hop for decades. She is often credited for introducing feminist themes into her rhymes, inspiring countless other female rappers to do the same. Her iconic hit “U.N.I.T.Y” won a Grammy Award in 1995, and cemented her status as a hip hop pioneer.
Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has stood the test of time, and her storytelling through rapping and singing resonates with listeners today — just as much as it did 20 years ago.
Last, but certainly not least, we can’t forget Missy Elliott. Widely regarded as the “Queen of Hip Hop,” Elliott has become one of the most recognizable names in the hip hop world, and is credited with creating some of the most iconic beats of the era. Missy Elliot’s musical career has spanned decades, and she is admired for her catalog of songs, range of talent, and her intricate, genre-blending production techniques that stand apart from anything heard before.
For years, female MCs, rappers, producers, and DJs have not only revolutionized the genre but inspired and empowered many listeners with their incredible music. My inspiration and love for hip hop came from these leading women. For this reason, I am passionate about helping music artists develop an entrepreneurial mindset, to have an effective career in the music industry.
Women in hip hop are setting new standards, continuing to raise the bar, and furthering the genre. With these pioneer artists as role models, female hip hop artists have access to a bigger platform and increased visibility in the music industry, paving the way for a new era of empowerment and celebration. Not only did they revolutionize the culture, but they opened a pathway of expressed emotions and for women of all backgrounds to be heard.