Undoubtedly, hip hop has influenced the culture since its inception. From the youth to the way in which some of America’s most historic political moments have played out, there is no limit to hip hop’s reach and impact. But, as with many aspects of American society, women haven’t received proper recognition for the part they’ve played in the rap game’s ascendancy.
There’s something special about a queen putting her experience on wax. In addition to racism, there’s a whole host of isms Black women go through on a daily basis just for being women. From relationships and finding the confidence to stand your ground to just figuring out who you are as a person, growing pains for young women are also no easy feat to navigate. So, when icons like Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill share their experiences in their music, it’s more than rap — it’s therapy, mentorship and camaraderie.
For Women’s History Month, we are highlighting 11 female rap icons and the lessons their lyrics taught us over the years. These legends have preached about spirituality, bringing the community together, loyalty, love, heartache, and supporting Black men in a society that would tear them down. They’ve reclaimed their time through no-nonsense bars and have reasserted ownership of their bodies, despite society’s attempts to shame sex positive ladies. They’ve revolutionized the way women are viewed in creativity and business. Everyone should celebrate the progression we’ve achieved thus far thanks to these pioneers, and everyone can learn something from them.
Check out our list of rap icons below, plus the lessons they taught us over time.
1. Queen Latifah
Hip Hop veteran Queen Latifah is one of the best to ever do it. A true icon, she’s always preached love for Black men while simultaneously teaching Black women to stand up for themselves. On her renowned 1993 track “U.N.I.T.Y.,” she rapped about the respect women deserve.
“U.N.I.T.Y., love a black man from infinity to infinity,” she spit. “Instinct leads me to another flow/Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho/Tryna make a sister feel low, you know all of that gots to go/Now everybody knows there’s exceptions to this rule/Now don’t be gettin’ mad, when we playin’, it’s cool/But don’t you be calling me out my name/I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame.”
2. Lil’ Kim
We can’t talk rap icons and not mention Lil’ Kim, who has influenced several generations of rappers. While Kim has a rep for getting freaky on the mic, it was her bravado and ability to outshine her male peers that fans really fell in love with.
On “Last Day,” Kim teaches us that the only person who can get in the way of your endgame is you.
“Besides God, what the fuck should I fear?/The only one could stop me is that chick in the mirror/I built my career on blood sweat and tears/And I’m still here, gettin stronger each year/’Cause what don’t kill me, could only help build me/I guess all that dirt just made me more filthy,” she spit.
3. Remy Ma
Though many counted her out following her bid behind bars, Remy Ma has become one of the most recognized names in hop hop. To top that off, she’s kicking doors down for other women in rap with her historic all-female battle rap league, Chrome 23. After all this time, we’ll never forget what she taught us on her 2006 single “Conceited” — and that is, you have to be your own biggest fan.
“See this ain’t nothing that you use to, out of the ordinary and usual/You got to have the mind state like I’m so great, can’t nobody do it like you do/Miraculous, phenomenal and ain’t nobody in here stopping you/Show no love ’cause you what’s up/Look at ya self in the mirror like, ‘What the fuck?'” Remy rapped on the playful joint.
4. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill is arguably the GOAT of entwining life lessons into her lyrics. On her classic album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the icon spoke about hypocrisy in religion and relationships. Most famously, she taught women that “respect is just a minimum.”
“Baby girl, respect is just a minimum/Niggas fucked up and you still defending ’em/Now Lauryn is only human/Don’t think I haven’t been through the same predicament/Let it sit inside your head like a million women in Philly, Penn./It’s silly when girls sell their soul because it’s in,” she rhymed on “Doo Wop (That Thing),” a classic song ’til this day.
5. Nicki Minaj
Throughout her incomparable career in hip hop, Nicki Minaj has had several memorable moments of reflection on wax. The comical-yet-uncompromising lyricist dug deep on her third studio album The Pinkprint, and one one song — “Pills N Potion” — she rapped about not letting your yesterday affect your today.
Nicki rhymed, “Ayo, they could never make me hate you/Even though what you was doin’ wasn’t tasteful/Even though you out here lookin’ so ungrateful/I’ma keep it movin’ be classy and graceful.” A word.
Hip hop will never forget the moment Eve broached the subject of domestic violence on her track “Love Is Blind.” Ruff Ryders’ first lady taught us to recognize an insecure and cruel partner when we see one, with an added lesson of everything that glitters isn’t gold.
“I mean shit he bought you things and gave you diamond rings/But them things wasn’t worth none of the pain that he brings you/You stayed, what made you fall for him?/That nigga had the power to make you crawl for him,” Eve spit on the heartbreaking song.
Trina is another rap icon who took control of her own sexuality and in turn taught other young women to do the same. However, today, we’re highlighting her “Single Again” anthem, on which the Miami, Florida native reasserts her independence and reminds us all that breaking up is no big deal.
“Stop calling me apologizing, don’t even start it/Hope you find what you looking for, back on the market/Let’s agree to disagree, don’t explain shit to me/I got my own money, there’s nobody I need,” Trina spit in what makes for a simple — yet essential –lesson.
8. Left Eye
The late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes does not get the recognition she deserves as one of the best rappers to ever do it. Left Eye used her music to share her wildest fears and dreams. On TLC’s “Waterfalls,” her empathy is on full display as she rapped about her hopes for those in pain. She taught her fans vulnerability and compassion.
9. MC Lyte
MC Lyte was all about highlighting the sexism that women deal with in American society as well as in hip hop. Keen on sharing her opinions on the larger issues at play, Lyte also had a nonchalance about her that intensified her appeal on wax. On her 1988 track “Paper Thin,” she reminded fans that what’s meant to be is meant to be, so there’s no use crying over spilled milk.
“Truly when I get involved I give it my heart/I mean my mind, my soul, my body I mean every part/But if it doesn’t work out, yo it just doesn’t/It wasn’t meant to be you know, it just wasn’t,” she spits.
10. Foxy Brown
Another sex positive femcee, Foxy Brown’s icon status is cemented in concrete. By teasing her sexuality throughout her music, she taught women everywhere to ignore double standards about sex and to tell your partner exactly what you want from them.
“And his smile blind like the shine on his necklace/Mind tellin’ me no, body tellin’ me exit/Breasts said yes, give me more wet kisses, uhh/Twist my body like ‘The Excorist,’ hey,” she rapped on the classic track “Get Me Home” featuring Blackstreet.
11. Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott never let society’s hang-ups about European beauty standards get in her way or affect her self-esteem. The rapper, singer, songwriter and record producer is known for her endless talent and confidence. Through her lyrics, we’ve all learned to state exactly how we feel, have fun, set the standard and never settle for less.
On “All N My Grill,” she departs from rapping to show off her vocals. The message still rings true:
“Talk is talk, and talk is cheap/Tell it to her, don’t say it to me/’Cause I know I’m in control/See Trix are for kids, and boo I’m too old/Go ‘head, with your games/Don’t ever come back to me again…”