(By: Boombox Staff for TheBoomBox.com)
A “female rapper” is a rapper.
Some of the fiercest lyricists, most consistent hitmakers and most visionary album artists in hip-hop have been women. Since the Sugarhill Days of The Sequence, to the brash b-girlism of Roxanne Shante, to the Golden Age greatness of MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa, the jiggy flyness of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, the early 00s heyday of Eve and Crime Mob and the 2010s dominance of Nicki Minaj. Women aren’t a footnote to hip-hop’s history, they are hip-hop’s history.
So to highlight all of the great rap songs from women over the years, we ranked the most classic cuts over the last 38 years of great hip-hop records. There’s some pop hits, some gangsta s—, songs about gettin’ them dollas and songs about demanding respect. But the variety is reflective of the diverse experiences of Black women in this genre and in this industry. Some of these you know and some may be new to you–but make no mistake, every last one of these tracks is very necessary if you want to get a broad look at how much dopeness we’ve gotten from women in hip-hop over the years.
So here they are, the 50 Greatest Songs By Female Rappers.
50 “The Party Don’t Stop” feat. Master P and Foxy Brown
Produced by Beats By the Pound, this popular club hit featured some cross-regional collaboration at a time when that was still a rarity. With a winning guest appearance from Brooklyn’s Foxy Brown, Mia X got her first taste of crossover visibility and a certified club anthem.
49 Smooth – “You Been Played”
Chris Stokes’ lil sis never seemed to catch fire as an artist, despite name and image changes. But her most visible period was in 1993/94, when she contributed this sexy female mack anthem to the Menace II Society soundtrack and delivered the sex appeal in the accompanying video.
48 Eve – “Gotta Man”
When the “illest pitbull in a skirt” caught fire in the late 90s, she was one of the most consistent chart presences in hip-hop. E-V-E struck gold with this catchy, playground-evoking hit produced by Swizz Beatz.
Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady (1998)
47 Dej Loaf – “Try Me”
She came straight outta Detroit with a unique mix of toughness and sex appeal, and it was encapsulated on her inescapable 2015 hit. Dej sounded like your little homegirl–but also like she might rob you. And it worked.
$ell Sole. (2012)
46 Boss – “Deeper”
In 1993, hip-hop was in the midst of a gangsta takeover, and Boss was a Detroit native who relocated to L.A. and reinvented herself as a sort of female Eazy E. But Boss could out-rhyme Eazy on his best day, and her best song was this gangsta-fied banger.
Born Gangstaz (1993)
45 Conscious Daughters – “Gamers”
That laid-back bassline and smooth synths–this is a pure West Coast classic. The Conscious Daughters were one of the most underrated acts in 90s hip-hop, combining Bay Area street talk with social commentary that could only come from East Oakland. Warning about “the woman that macks,” this single became TCD’s unofficial anthem and one of the best tracks of the 90s.
44 Foxy Brown – “I’ll Be”
The Brown Fox always had to spar for visibility with fellow BK superstar Lil Kim, but Foxy was no mere also-ran. One of her best tracks was this infectious hit that turned Rene & Angela’s 80s hit into a jiggy-era anthem–complete with a guest spot from Jay-Z.
Ill Na Na (1996)
43 Salt-N-Pepa – “Whatta Man”
Salt, Pepa and Spin were at the height of their commercial appeal in 1994 when they dropped one of the biggest rap hits of the era. Coupled with fellow 90s mainstays En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa once again showed nobody did playful sexiness better than Cheryl, Sandy and DeeDee. The song shot all the way to No. 3, helping to push Very Necessary to seven times platinum status.
Very Necessary (1993)
42 Da Brat – “Give It 2 You”
Da Brat’s first album had no shortage of catchy singles, but one of the best was this infectious track from 1995. Complete with a star-studded video, it became one of the Chicago native’s most definitive songs. And who didn’t love that video? Back when cameos were still rare, she managed to get everybody from MC Lyte to the Notorious B.I.G. in on the fun.
41 Bahamadia – “Uknowhowedo”
An affiliate of Gang Starr and a mainstay of the Philly rap scene, the smooth-voiced spitter made waves with this laid-back, jazzy single. Showcasing her gift for slick rhymes without ever sounding like she’s trying too hard, Dia made it clear she was here to make a major mark.
40 Jean Grae – “Love Thirst”
Jean Grae has always been great at showcasing every facet of her personality in her music, and she got sultry and sensual on this standout from 2008. Rhyming in her most bedroom-friendly coo, Jean sounded as seductive as a Sade record. Proof positive that, emotionally, she’s one of the most fully-formed rappers in the game–no caricatures over here.
39 Nikki D – “Daddy’s Little Girl”
In the early 90s, hip-hop had a lot of cautionary tales aimed at young women. But Nikki D decided to flip the script, rapping about a young woman’s sexuality–and the consequences of not understanding that sexuality–without preachiness or judgment. A standout track that shows a different approach to a familiar story.
Daddy’s Little Girl (1991)
38 Nicki Minaj – “Your Love”
For all of her brashest, in your face, over-the-top-ness, Nicki Minaj ain’t afraid to show you her softest side. One of Nicki’s fluffier hits, this was also one of the rapper’s most indelible songs. Highlighting her more sentimental side, Nicki gets all warm ‘n fuzzy over the lush production. Couldn’t go five minutes without hearing this on the radio in 2010.
Pink Friday (2010)
37 Mia X – “You Don’t Wanna Go To War”
One of the epic recordings in No Limit’s catalog, this gem from the house that Master P built features the No Limit general and the label’s first lady getting it done over some war-evoking production from Beats By the Pound.
36 Suga T – “Recognize”
Suga T was always more than E-40’s sister, and she delivers on this classic single. Wearing her Bay Area affectations as a badge of honor, Suga kicks rhymes over the kind of slow-rolling bass groove that made Sik Wid It one of the most definitive labels of the 90s West Coast scene.
Paper Chasin’: 4Eva Hustlin’ (1996)
35 Lady B – “To the Beat Y’all”
A DJ at WHAT radio station, the 18-year old Wendy Clark recorded this dancefloor jam in one take back in 1979. Over a conga drums and a slick bass groove, the Philadelphia deejay-turned-emcee, Lady B raps about ducking the FBI and rockin’ you on your stereo while name-checking John Travolta and Tony Dorsett. The song is a landmark moment for hip-hop, women on the mic and rap records outside of New York City.
The Great Rap Hits, Vol. 1 & 2 (1980)
34 Conscious Daughters – “Somethin’ To Ride To (Fonky Expedition)”
The Conscious Daughters breakout hit is definitive classic Bay Area rap. Special One and CMG got a boost from Oakland’s own Paris, who helped land them a deal and produced this single. With it’s groove and One and CMG rapping about blazing and blasting, it’s one of the duo’s most indelible moments on record and a great example of what these ladies did so well.
Ear To the Street (1993)
33 Rapsody – “ABC”
Rapsody is a lyrical beast and one of her coolest showcases is this standalone single that breaks down her inner turmoil and perseverance via the alphabet. What could be a rote gimmicky approach turns into an exhilarating showcase of her skills. Shouting out everything from her hometown of Raleigh, NC to “Lauryn, Latifah and Lyte,” she delivers one of several brilliant lyrical performances.
Beauty and the Beast (2014)
32 Rah Digga – “Imperial”
Rah Digga is one of the illest to ever clutch a mic, and she showed it on this catchy hit single from Swizz Beatz that flipped “Pass the Dutchie” into a braggadocious anthem. The fiercest rhymer in Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad shows and proves that she’s not only a lyrical force, but she knows her way around a memorable hook.
Dirty Harriet (2000)
31 Queen Latifah – “Latifah’s Had It Up To Here”
Dana Owens has always had no problem taking out the haters. For this classic single from her second album, Latifah announced that she wasn’t going to be slighted by anyone who thought she was anything but da queen. Over a melodic, piano-driven beat from Kay Gee, Dana Owens let everyone know the Queen L-A-T-I-F-A-H was in command.
Nature of a Sista (1991)
30 The Sequence – “Funk You Up”
In the early days of rap records, The Sequence was the uber-rare all-female rap crew. Featuring a young Angie Stone, the trio gave us this dancefloor classic. The track is the club-friendly fun that signified the slicker side of pre-1984 hip-hop, and, of course, the song was thrust back into the spotlight after the ladies filed suit against pop star Bruno Mars and producer Mick Ronson for lifting elements of their tune for the 2013 hit “Uptown Funk.”
The Great Rap Hits, Vol. 1 & 2 (1980)
29 Remy Ma – “Conceited”
Long before she was Nicki Minaj’s nemesis or a breakout star on Love and Hip-Hop, Remy Ma was the First Lady of the Terror Squad. And she delivered a smash with this catchy-as-hell single from 2006.
There’s Something About Remy: Based On A True Story (2006)
28 MC Lyte – “Keep On Keepin’ On”
In 1996, Lyte teamed with Jermaine Dupri and Xscape for what would be one of her biggest crossover hits. Over a slick sample of Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl,” the L-Y-T-E gets raw and raunchy about how she likes her man to put it down. “I ain’t afraid of the sweat.” Let ’em know, Lyte.
Bad As I Wanna Be (1996)
27 Eve – “What Yall Want” w/Ruff Ryders
The first hit single for Philly rap star Eve wasn’t on her debut album. It was this smash from the Ruff Ryders’ compilation Ryde Or Die, Vol. 1 and it was inescapable on rap radio back in 1999. Over a melodic Swizz Beatz production (and with an assist from Nokio of Dru Hill) it set the table for Eve’s soon-to-launch solo career, announcing her as the next big thing from RR and a star in her own right.
Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 (1999)
26 Queen Latifah – “Just Another Day…”
In 1994, Latifah was enjoying the success of her first gold-selling album when she released this jazzy, laid-back single. An ode to just hanging around the neighborhood, Latifah raps about seeing the ugliness and the beauty in her world, over one of the most gorgeous productions from S.I.D. Reynolds (later of The Superiors.) One of the greatest songs she ever recorded.
Black Reign (1993)
25 Nicki Minaj – “Beez In the Trap”
The complaint about Nicki Minaj is often that she doesn’t rap enough, but when Queen Barbz decides to give you some rap ish, she gives it to ya. And this 2 Chainz-assisted banger is one of her best. A strip club-friendly anthem that pairs Nicki’s quirks and booty bounce better than anything she’s done. Just try to not bop along to it. We dare you.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)
24 Gangsta Boo – “Where Dem Dollas At?”
Gangsta Boo emerged out of Three Six Mafia in the late 1990s with a Memphis-bred toughness and a lyrical voracity that still gets underrated by casual fans and critics. Her breakout moment was this, her first single, a capitalist anthem that would make Jay Z proud that perfectly embodied the gotta-get-mine ethos of the 1990s.
Enquiring Minds (1998)
23 Foxy Brown – “Oh Yeah”
Foxy Brown’s second album was disappointing in many circles, mostly due to it being a glossy re-tread of her classic debut. Fox rebounded with Broken Silence and this bombastic single featuring Spragga Benz and some of the Brooklyn rhymer’s sickest bars ever. The single may have underperformed compared to her earlier hits, but it restored much of Foxy’s artistic cred and reminded everyone that she’s never been a slouch on the mic.
Broken Silence (2001)
22 Salt-N-Pepa – “Expression”
Produced by Cheryl “Salt” James herself, this anthem for empowerment was released at the tail end of 1989 and would become Salt-N-Pepa’s first big hit of the 1990s. It became their 2nd Top 40 hit on the Billboard charts, and reaffirmed them as the frontrunners for best female rap group in hip-hop. And it set the stage for their most acclaimed album: Blacks’ Magic.
Blacks’ Magic (1990)
21 Crime Mob – “Stilettos”
In the days when crunk was slowly giving way to trap, most of the genre’s most aggressive hits were for the fellas to “throw some bows” in the club. Then Crime Mob happened. Princess and Diamond delivered this female-friendly club anthem dedicated to fancy shoewear–and knocking a b—- out if necessary–while still looking good. The hook became an anthem and a crunk classic.
Crime Mob (2004)
20 Eve – “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”
Eve was at the peak of her run when she dropped this monster hit on the masses. Dr. Dre and Scott Storch laced the Ruff Ryders’ First Lady with one of their sickest productions, and Eve took the track all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Eve’s at her most swaggerific on the verses, with post-No Doubt Gwen Stefani cooing the uber-catchy hook.
19 Lauren Hill – “Everything Is Everything”
L-Boogie’s solo emergence was like a ray of light through the jiggi-fied darkness of late 90s hip-hop, and the former Fugee delivered one of her most uplifting anthems with this stellar single. And it also features a then-unknown John Legend on piano. With it’s eye-catching video, Lauryn became the first lady of hip-hop for a generation looking for a sister that spoke to their experiences.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
18 Trina – “Da Baddest Bitch”
Trina was never shy. Trina was never going to back down. The mouthy vixen from Miami had already stolen the show on Trick Daddy’s foul-mouthed classic “Nann N—-,” and she announced herself as a solo star with her unofficial theme song. It’s the kind of track that only a star could pull off and Trina has charisma for days. Of all the post-Lil Kim raunchy rap queens, no one held their own better than Trina.
Da Baddest B—h (2000)
17 Jean Grae – “U, Me and Everyone We Know”
One of her most personal tracks, this somber look at love from Jean Grae is still one of the more grown-up looks at relationships in rap. The smooth production from M-Phazes gives Jean plenty of room to do her thing, as she reflects wistfully on love gone wrong. Showcasing her gift for introspection and trademark wit, it’s one of Jean’s most Jean tracks. A classic.
16 MC Lyte – “Cha Cha Cha”
Lyte had broken through with her 1988 debut album, and “Lyte As A Rock” had done well, but she hadn’t quite dropped that definitive single. That all changed when she let loose with this King of Chill-produced hit that flipped Kraftwerk’s “The Man-Machine” (famously sampled in the Fearless Four’s 1981 classic “Rockin It”), and announced herself as a standard-bearer in the game as the 80s came to a close.
Eyes On This (1989)
15 Lil Kim – “Queen Bitch”
Throughout 1995 and 1996, Lil Kim had big radio hits with Junior M.A.F.I.A. and from her solo debut. But it was this track that became her unofficial theme song. With Kim in full mafioso sex kitten mode, it became a template for a generation of female emcees to follow into the 2000s, as everyone from Trina to Remy borrowed a lil somethin’ from the Queen B—-.
14 Missy Elliott – “(The Rain) Supa Dupa Fly”
“I feel the wind. Five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.” Nothing sounded like Missy and Timbaland when they touched down in the mid-to-late 90s. And this is one of the catchiest songs of all time. Missy Elliott’s very first solo single sounded like she’d been beamed from the future. A funky reimagining of Ann Peebles 1973 classic, it would become of the multi-talented star’s definitive singles.
Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
13 Yo-yo – “Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo”
Yo-Yo first gained notice as Ice Cube’s verbal sparring partner on his track “It’s A Man’s World,” but she stepped up in a major way on this classic single. Over a sample of “Devotion” by Earth, Wind and Fire, Yo-Yo announced herself as a 90s woman from the West Coast who wasn’t taking a backseat to any man–Ice Cube or anyone else. He even guested in the video.
Make Way For the Motherlode (1991)
12 Roxanne Shante – “Roxanne’s Revenge”
She was brash from the very beginning. Roxanne Shante kick-started the “Roxanne Wars” and emerged out of the Queensbridge Projects to become a hip-hop upstart. The 15-year old with the bratty voice came on as assertive and confident as any older rapper and any man who would dare challenge her. She ripped UTFO in classic fashion, becoming an underground sensation in the process and blazing a trail for everyone from MC Lyte to Foxy Brown.
Roxanne Shante’s Greatest Hits (1995)
11 Da Brat – “Funkdafied”
Da Brat had made her debut on Kris Kross’ 2nd album back in 1993, but when she dropped her debut single on So So Def Records the following year, it was obvious that a new rap queen had touched down. Brat’s Chi-town swagger was in full effect on this 90s hit, which flips the the Isley Bros oft-sampled “Between the Sheets” and shot all the way to the Top Ten on Billboard in the summer of 1994.
10 Missy Elliott – “Get Ur Freak On”
Missy always sounded like the future, and nowhere was her sound more next millennium than on this beloved banger from the early 00s. With Timbaland at his most experimental and Missy delivering with the catchy-as-all-hell hook, the bhangra-driven song hit the Top Ten and remains one of Missy’s most enduring hits–famously performed at Super Bowl XLIX halftime show in 2015. It re-entered the charts the following week.
Miss E…So Addictive (2001)
09 Lil Kim – “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)”
“Not Tonight” was already a standout track on Lil Kim’s 1996 debut album–but maybe not single-worthy. But Kim reimagined the track, interpolating Kool & the Gang’s “Ladies Night” as an all-female rap posse cut. Recruiting Missy, Left Eye, Angie Martinez and Da Brat, she dropped the remixed version as a single from the Nothing To Lose soundtrack and it became one of the biggest rap hits of 1997 and a classic anthem.
08 Queen Latifah – “U.N.I.T.Y.”
Queen Latifah had been one of the most recognized women in hip-hop for over three years when she released the second single from her third album near the end of 1993. The track countered misogyny in hip-hop and in culture, at a time when gangsta rap was more visible than ever, and it featured distinctive horn-driven production from Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature. The song would become Latifah’s biggest hit, hitting the Top 30 on Billboard and winning the 1995 Grammy for Best Rap Performance.
Black Reign (1993)
07 Lauren Hill – “Lost Ones”
In summer 1998, everyone was waiting to see what Lauryn Hill was about to do. Her former Fugees bandmates Wyclef and Pras had found solo success via the former’s acclaimed album The Carnival and the latter’s Clef-produced hit “Ghetto Superstar.” L-Boogie wasn’t as chummy with her former crew, so she struck out on her own path. Her first post-Fugees salvo was this lyrical burst–a pointed reference to her “emancipation” and an announcement that nobody controlled Lauryn’s destiny but Lauryn.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
06 MC Lyte – “Poor Georgie”
She’d always been one of hip-hop’s best storytellers, and she delivered a classic with this track produced by DJ Doc. Lyte had bigger hits, but no song epitomizes the brash rhymer’s gift for storytelling better than this 1991 classic. Telling the story of a troubled former boyfriend’s downfall, Lyte addresses promiscuity and addiction, all over a perfect sample of Toto’s “Georgy Porgy.”
Act Like You Know (1991)
05 Lil Kim – “Crush On You” (remix)
The remix single perfectly encapsulates Lil Kim’s playfully sexy and boss lady persona. Over a slick sample of Fusion’s “Rain Dance,” Kim sets her demands and raises the bar. Biggie famously provided the hook but stayed out of the video because he didn’t want anything to take the spotlight from the Queen Bee.
04 Lauren Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Lauryn shot to solo superstardom on the success of this monster hit. It was her first official single and though it gets derided by contemporary critics for its finger-wagging lyrics, it’s still a great slice of soul-infused hip-hop. The single debuted at No. 1 on Billboard, and announced Lauryn as one of the definitive artists of the era.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
03 Queen Latifah – “Ladies First” w/Monie Love
A year after N.W.A. exploded onto the scene, aiming for infamy with songs like “A Bitch Iz A Bitch” a 19-year old from New Jersey dropped a monster single with her “European partner” that made it clear that misogyny wouldn’t go unchecked. An anthem that salutes black womanhood, its Latifah’s definitive single.
All Hail the Queen (1989)
02 Missy Elliott – “Work It”
Nobody does fun, catchy singles better than Missy Elliott; and all of her powers came together perfectly on this megahit from 2002. Produced by Timbaland (of course), Missy brought together the fun of early hip-hop records, the energy of the club and that trademark, innovative production to create one of the most era-defining songs of the 2000s. Her biggest single, it’s still one of the most guaranteed party-starters in hip-hop history.
Under Construction (2002)
01 Salt-N-Pepa – “Push It”
It’s one of the catchiest songs ever made. The synth line that everybody knows. That groove. The rhymes that all sound like a hook. It’s the song that made Salt-N-Pepa superstars and it has filled dancefloors at college parties, family reunions and been a strip club fixture for 30 years. That’s not easy, but Herbie “Luv Bug” Azor delivered with a body-moving track that’s pretty close to undeniable. And the charisma of Salt and Pep are all over the track, urging the listener to get on the floor. It’s one of hip-hop’s most enduring moments and a standout track from a group that had more than a few monster hits over a decade-plus in the spotlight.
Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986)