When you look at the Billboard charts today, you're bound to see many female MCs dominating the landscape, including stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and Cardi B. Though the rap world is much less hostile towards the idea of female rappers leading the show, the industry still has a long way to go. Many people default to thinking of rap as a man's game, even when the reality suggests otherwise.
Despite how far these stars have pushed the genre forward, the opportunity likely wouldn't have existed without many MCs on this list. Stars like Yo-Yo boldly looked misogyny and white patriarchy in the face, demanding a fair shake in an industry that was hostile to Black artists, let alone Black female artists. Without a Lil' Kim, it's hard to imagine Nicki Minaj existing in her current capacity. City Girls are direct disciples of Mia X, the "Mama of Southern Gangsta Rap" and the first woman ever signed to No Limit Records. Hip-hop history is filled with examples of brave, talented women taking charge of opportunities they weren't given as frequently as their male counterparts. Though the genius of artists like Megan Thee Stallion is obviously apparent and would find a way to shine regardless, her ascent was much easier thanks to many of the MCs on this list who helped shape rap history.
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was a member of the globe-trotting R&B/pop group TLC, who rose to prominence in the early 1990s after starting in Atlanta, Georgia. Lopes was the rapper of the group, imbuing their catchy songs with witty bars and a kinetic versatility. Lopes tragically died in a car crash in 2002, though the group had disbanded a few years prior. They did eventually reunite to finish 3D, the album they began recording before Lopes' tragic passing.
The case of Lauryn Hill is a tantalizing "what if" story. Her career is highly successful and widely celebrated, but she's consistently shied away from sustained momentum. She's as elusive as they come. But, at her peak, Lauryn Hill was on top of the world. She's one of the greatest rappers ever and stood at the forefront of neo-soul. Few could outdo the brilliance of the Fugees, but Hill did, with her debut solo LP, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
MC Lyte is a godmother in the rap scene. She scored the first gold certification by a female solo rap artist for her hit, "Ruffneck," and is widely cited as an influence on stars like Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, and Lil Kim. Long before female MCs were prevalent, MC Lyte was coming for anyone willing to challenge her.
Da Brat was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She came to fame after signing to So So Def Records and releasing her debut album, Funkdafied, in 1994, which sold one million copies. She was the first solo female rapper to receive a platinum plaque, and second overall after Salt-N-Pepa. Da Brat has also received two Grammy Award nominations.
Nicki Minaj has grown from being one of the best rappers on the planet to one of the most captivating media personalities alive. Though she's best known for her dexterous flow, outrageous wigs, and ability to spit alongside the world's best MCs, she's also spent time acting and appearing as a judge on American Idol. Minaj will always be linked to hip-hop royalty, as she got her start on Lil Wayne's Young Money Entertainment and rose to the top of the charts alongside Drake.
Missy Elliott is the gold standard by which all other female MCs are measured. After a few collaborative projects and a foray into R&B, Missy released her debut solo album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly. That album only offered a glimpse of her potential. To date, she is the best-selling female rapper, and more recently became the first female rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Liv.e is one of the most exciting MCs out of Texas in quite some time, regardless of gender. The singer/rapper takes an obtuse approach to rap, surrounding her bars with melodic inflections, poetic repetition, and a mesmerizing stream-of-consciousness delivery. Her debut LP from earlier this year, Couldn't Wait to Tell You... is one of the year's best, a forceful assertion from one of rap's most creative new voices.
Kamaiyah is an absolutely revelatory new voice out of Oakland, California. She released her debut mixtape, A Good Night in the Ghetto, in 2016. The album was hailed by critics and audiences alike. Kamaiyah was named to XXL's 2017 Freshman Class, and in 2020, she launched her own label, GRND.WRK
Trina first came to notoriety after guesting on Trick Daddy's 1998 single "Nann." Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Trina has been in the spotlight both for her rapping and her appearances in the tabloids. She's dated Lil Wayne, Kenyon Martin, and French Montana, but the gossip is a mere distraction from Trina's effortless talent and unimpeachable skill on the mic.
Lil' Kim was first discovered by The Notorious B.I.G., who invited her to join his group, Junior M.A.F.I.A. The crew's debut album, Conspiracy, launched Lil' Kim's solo career, which would become one of the most successful in rap history. In the 1990s, Kim was practically inescapable. While her output has tapered off of late, her place in rap history is solidified.
Ladybug Mecca ― often referred to as Ladybug ― is best known for being a member of Digable Planets during the early 1990s. The group synthesized the link between jazz and rap, relying heavily on jazz for samples and aesthetics. After the group broke up in 1995, Ladybug began a solo career. However, she didn't release her first album until Trip the Light Fantastic in 2005.
Yung Miami and JT first got recognized as City Girls for their uncredited contribution to Drake's 2018 smash "In My Feelings." The group signed to Quality Control Music and have become national treasures for their thrilling take on rap. Their music is raunchy and unapologetic, and fans are obsessed. Their 2018 studio debut, Girl Code, offered hits like "Twerk" and "Act Up."
The legendary Eve first emerged as Eve of Destruction while signed to Dr. Dre's record label Aftermath Entertainment. Soon, though, she dropped the 'of Destruction' and began her reign among hip-hop's brightest stars. She scored early features on records from DJ Clue and The Roots, and built a career off the strength of three albums between 1999 and 2002, before hibernating until her reemergence in 2013 with Lip Lock.
Roxanne Shanté has been rapping forever. She started at the age of nine, changing her name from Lolita to Roxanne at fourteen. The rest, as they say, is history. She was a member of the Juice Crew and a frequent collaborator of Marley Marl. But Shanté's exposure to the industry wore on her. By the time she was 25, she was practically retired from the game. Though she hasn't released an album since 1992, her impact is indelible.
Lady of Rage was an integral member of Death Row Records, working on classic albums from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg like The Chronic and Doggystyle. Though she only released one album, the excellent Necessary Roughness from 1997, she's remained a central figure in pop culture, appearing in film and TV, as well as the occasional rap song (see: MC Eiht's "Heart Cold").
Amil's entire career changed after a chance encounter with Jay-Z. The Brooklyn-born MC was a member of an all-female group called Major Coins. The crew was introduced to Jay-Z, who was looking for a female MC for Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life. After her success on Jay-Z's "Can I Get A...", she signed to Hov's Roc-A-Fella Records, touring with the crew and collaborating with artists like Mariah Carey and AZ.
Rah Digga is best known as an integral member of the Flipmode Squad, which is led by Busta Rhymes. Though this is her calling card, Rah is one of the most technically proficient MCs in rap history. Her dexterous flow is unparalleled, and she learned to rap from lyrical titans like Rakim and KRS-One.
Mia X is a groundbreaking rapper. As the first female MC to get a recording contract from Master P's No Limit Records, she single-handedly ushered in the modern revolution of female rappers leading the charge in the industry. She's widely known as "The Mama of Southern Gangsta Rap," and she fit in nicely at the No Limit boys club thanks to her show-stealing guest features.
Monie Love is one of the most successful British-born MCs in rap history. Period. Her debut album, Down to Earth, was released in 1990 and featured the single "Monie in the Middle." The album was pioneering in its outspoken support of female liberation, offering a POV rarely heard in rap music.
Compton born Yo-Yo has done as much for female visibility in rap as anyone on this list. Her music insists on female empowerment and stands against sexism and misogyny in rap. It's a powerful stance, one that brought Yo-Yo many problems. But her resilience has been an inspiration for stars ever since. Yo-Yo is widely known for her affiliation with another Compton legend, Ice Cube.
Say what you will about Azealia Banks, but she can rap her ass off. She's no stranger to controversy, but when she locks in on the mic, few do it better. She began releasing music through Myspace in 2008 before signing with XL Recordings at age 18. Her first single, "212," remains her biggest hit, showing an effortless ability to pen witty and sharp lines.