While hip hop has been male-dominated, female MCs have played integral roles pushing the genre forward with their mic skills. This definitive ranking celebrates the greatest female rappers based on their lyrical talent, musicality, longevity, cultural impact, record sales, and overall artistry.
The following women conquered rap’s sexist standards to thrive as emcees. Their bold flows, disruptive attitudes, and relatable stories of struggle and triumph made them icons for generations. These female rappers built formidable catalogs of classics through raw wordplay and charisma. Let’s dive into the best of the best.
The Top 10 Female Rappers Ever
1. Lauryn Hill
The former Fugees member is revered as the greatest female rapper ever for her revolutionary artistry. After the group’s 1996 masterpiece The Score, Lauryn Hill went solo with 1998’s landmark The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her rapping and singing fused hip hop, reggae, and soul influences into an intricate sonic tapestry accented by her exceptional lyricism.
Lead single “Doo Wop (That Thing)” displayed Hill’s technical prowess and poignant social commentary. “Everything Is Everything” and “Lost Ones” contained inspirational messages. Miseducation remains one of the most critically acclaimed rap albums ever, winning five Grammys including Album of the Year. Lauryn Hill set a new standard for female rappers. Her impact endures through today’s artists she inspires.
2. Missy Elliott
This trailblazing Portsmouth, VA talent pushed boundaries for female rappers as a hitmaker. After rising as an in-demand songwriter/producer, Missy Elliott broke out solo with 1997’s platinum Supa Dupa Fly. She pioneered an innovative style blending hip hop with funk, dance, and electronic music through albums like Da Real World and Miss E…So Addictive.
Missy Elliott captivated with futuristic visuals, off-kilter rhyme flows, and songs focused on female empowerment. Hits like “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” “Hot Boyz,” “Get Ur Freak On,” and “Work It” made her a charismatic superstar and pop culture icon. With six Grammy Awards and over 30 million records sold, Missy’s legacy as one of rap’s most creative forces endures.
3. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah’s career expansion into acting and activism often overshadows her hip hop pedigree. But this pioneer helped make female rappers mainstream. Hailing from Newark, NJ, Latifah utilized her commanding presence and positive lyricism to become one of rap’s first feminist voices on albums like All Hail the Queen and Black Reign.
Songs like “Ladies First” alongside fellow legend Monie Love flipped gender norms on their heads with assertive rhymes about female strength. Queen Latifah built a global platform spreading messages supporting women and the black community through hits like “U.N.I.T.Y.” that earned her a Grammy. Even amid other endeavors, her rap skills and ethics remain foundational.
4. Lil’ Kim
Lil’ Kim brought unapologetic sexuality and boss mentality to female rap. Making waves as part of Junior M.A.F.I.A., Kim flew solo with 1996’s Hard Core announcing her provocative arrival through raunchy lyrics and flashy persona. Songs like “No Time” and “Crush on You” boasted savage wordplay. Multi-platinum The Notorious K.I.M. established Kim as rap’s raunchiest female with her X-rated bars.
Never one to hold back, Lil’ Kim talked about sex, money, and power with raw and nasty attitude. While some criticized her racy content, Kim owned her expression and built a lane for explicit female rappers to follow. Her influence echoes through many of today’s rising female acts.
5. Nicki Minaj
The global superstardom Nicki Minaj achieved in the 2010s cemented her as rap’s contemporary queen. After mixtape buzz, Minaj went mainstream with 2010’s Pink Friday, showing versatility from radio hits like “Super Bass” to street anthems like “Did It On’em.” Albums Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded and The Pinkprint contained massive smashes that dominated pop and rap radio for years.
Nicki Minaj’s fast-paced rhymes, accents, and alter egos showcase her as a chameleon. Extending beyond rap, she judiciously guested on pop and EDM hits. In addition to elite artistic prowess, Nicki Minaj boasts commercial stats like over 100 million records sold that place her among the best-selling rappers ever. Her pop culture presence will influence rap for decades.
6. MC Lyte
Hailing from Brooklyn, MC Lyte blazed trails as one of the first female MCs with her 1988 debut Lyte as a Rock. With intricate rhyme patterns and a direct, confrontational flow, songs like “Paper Thin” and “Cha Cha Cha” proved Lyte could compete alongside male rappers of the era. Her follow-up Eyes on This contained empowering hits “Shut the Eff Up!” and “Cappucino,” solidifying her bold voice.
Throughout a diverse 30-year career, MC Lyte garnered acclaim as an underground pioneer able to tackle social issues. Her 2021 album Legacy celebrates her longevity. With Hollywood Walk of Fame honors and three Grammy nods, MC Lyte remains an icon generations continue to salute.
This trailblazing trio of Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandy “Pepa” Denton, and Deidra “DJ Spinderella” Roper formed in Queens in 1985 and skyrocketed rap into pop stardom. Dominating late 80s/early 90s radio, Salt-N-Pepa sold over 15 million albums with massive hits like “Push It,” “Shoop,” “Whatta Man,” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” that confronted sexuality and relationships with their trademark fire.
With synchronized routines and fashionable style, Salt-N-Pepa’s influential reign on the charts paved the way for future female rap and R&B stars. They projected confident feminism and fun on songs promoting safe sex and positivity. Along with MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa’s cadre of hits inspired women in hip hop for decades.
The “Pitbull in a Skirt” showcased supreme rhyme skills and swagger as a standout Ruff Ryders rapper. Eve burst onto radio in the late 90s/early 2000s amid New York’s rap resurgence with hits like “What Ya Want”, “Gotta Man”, and “Love Is Blind” flaunting her talent over Swizz Beatz and Dr. Dre beats. Her Grammy-winning debut Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady went multi-platinum.
Eve’s crisp delivery, fiery persona, and fashionable looks made her one of the era’s preeminent stars. Guest spots alongside fellow femme fatales Lil Kim and Foxy Brown cemented her legend. Throughout acting roles and hosting gigs, Eve represents the skilled female rapper capable of thriving in any arena.
9. Da Brat
Chicago’s Da Brat became one of hip hop’s most successful and respected female MCs of the 90s heyday. Signed by Jermaine Dupri to So So Def, Da Brat broke through in 1994 with debut Funkdafied and its hit title track. Her follow-up Annihilation went platinum, bolstered by the Mariah Carey collaboration “Gotta Thing For You.”
With clever wordplay, infectious spunk, and G-funk inspired beats, Da Brat’s output combined commercial appeal and critical praise. She faced legal woes later on, but all-time jams like “Funkdafied” and “Sittin’ on Top of the World” maintain heavy rotation. Da Brat’s longevity earns esteem among rap’s female trailblazers.
10. Cardi B
In the 2010s, Cardi B became rap’s biggest female superstar since Nicki Minaj, shattering industry expectations. After initially going viral through social media with her boisterous personality, the Bronx MC signed to Atlantic Records in 2017. Debut single “Bodak Yellow” topped charts for months, making Cardi an overnight phenomenon.
Her massively successful 2018 debut Invasion of Privacy spawned additional #1 hits like “I Like It” and “Money.” Cardi matched her over-the-top persona with technically advanced rapping, cementing her stardom. She became the first female solo rapper to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album. The unfiltered Cardi B shaped modern hip hop and pop with charisma and skill.
The Rest of the Top 25 Female Rappers
- Rah Digga
- Foxy Brown
- Remy Ma
- Lady of Rage
- Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (TLC)
- Roxanne Shante
- Jean Grae
- Latasha Alcindor (L.A. Star)
- Iggy Azalea
- Snow Tha Product
History of Female Rappers
Let’s explore the progression of female rappers within hip hop history:
In old school rap’s origins during the late 1970s, early female MCs like Sha-Rock emerged from NYC block parties. But women faced obstacles gaining acceptance at rap’s outset.
The 1980s brought bigger breakthroughs as acts like Roxanne Shante and Salt-N-Pepa found success. Still, misogyny pervaded hip hop, leading artists like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte to champion female empowerment.
During rap’s 1990s commercial peak, artists Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve, and Lauryn Hill rose to visibility with varying styles. But women still struggled for fair industry treatment.
In the 2000s, female rap remained a male-dominated field despite talents like Remy Ma and Jean Grae. Nicki Minaj’s 2010s pinkprint finally brought another leading lady to the forefront.
Today women persist against the odds with Cardi B as rap’s reigning queen and newcomers like Megan Thee Stallion, Tierra Whack, and Saweetie showing promise. Though progression is gradual, female rappers today stand on the shoulders of all those pioneering women who opened doors.
Common Themes in Female Rap
While diverse, some concepts frequently appear in female rap. These themes help provide insight into their perspectives and experiences:
- Asserting power – Many female rappers project strength and confidence to counter notions of male domination. Songs emphasize their skill and focus.
- Sensuality – Female MCs like Lil Kim and Trina celebrate their sexuality through provocative lyrics focused on beauty, fashion, desire, and sex appeal. However, this attracts criticism about pandering to male gaze.
- Struggles & success – Raps highlight adversities faced in childhoods, relationships, and the industry. But songs also proudly flaunt winning Grammys, ruling pop culture, and achieving new levels of prestige for female rappers.
- Competing with men – Many songs contain battling type bars aimed at besting male rappers lyrically or proving women can rap just as cleverly.
- Independence – Rhymes often emphasize the importance of female economic, social, and vocal independence and freedom to speak their minds.
- Realness – Artists like Cardi B, Foxy Brown, and Remy Ma emphasize not holding back about who they authentically are, from their temper and vulgarity to their flaws and strengths.
Critical Reception of Female Rappers
Critics laud MCs like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Queen Latifah for pushing creative boundaries. Chart-toppers like Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Salt-N-Pepa get credited for breaking down barriers. But some female rappers face backlash when leveraging sexuality, demeaned as puppets pandering to the male gaze versus empowering women.
However, the diversity of styles among female rappers allows them to be multidimensional. Provocative stars like Lil Kim and Trina contrast sharply with socially conscious wordsmiths like Rapsody and Jean Grae.
Ultimately female rappers must navigate industry sexism and pigeonholing. But the artistry of top talents prevails regardless of themes. Progress comes through gifted MCs expressing themselves on their own terms. The icons featured above exhibit rap skills rivaling any of their male peers.
State of Female Rap Today
While historically marginalized, female rap keeps evolving with new voices:
- Cardi B rules pop and rap charts by merging charisma with lyricism.
- Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls lead a wave of Southern female rappers.
- Doja Cat blends singsong delivery with flows and personality.
- Saweetie reached fame through social media before honing her mic skills.
- CupcakKe, Tierra Whack, and Noname supply diverse styles.
- Transparency about mental health comes from Princess Nokia, Rico Nasty, and more.
- Veteran female MCs like Lil Kim, Trina, Remy Ma, and Eve continue touring and recording.
Thanks to past pioneers, female rappers today enjoy more artistic freedom. The future looks bright for women to keep progressing hip hop.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are considered the greatest female rappers?
Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, MC Lyte, Eve, and Salt-N-Pepa are among the most acclaimed female rappers for their artistry, lyricism, commercial success, and cultural impact.
How have female rappers progressed over time?
Early female rappers in the 1980s faced many obstacles, but acts like Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah broke through. The 1990s brought increased prominence, and Nicki Minaj’s 2010s success opened doors for new artists like Cardi B to ascend.
Why do some criticize sexually explicit female rappers?
Some female rappers like Lil Kim and Cardi B celebrate their sexuality with provocative lyrics. But critics argue this panders to male fantasies rather than empowering women. However, most artists contain multitudes beyond just sensual content.
What female rapper has won the most Grammys?
Missy Elliott has won the most Grammys of any female rapper with four wins along with over 20 nominations. Lauryn Hill and Cardi B have also made history with Hill being the first female MC to win Best Rap Album and Cardi being the first solo female to win.
Who were the first major female rap stars?
MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Salt-N-Pepa were pioneers in the late 1980s proving women could thrive in rap’s male-dominated landscape. Their success paved the way for future female MCs.
How has Nicki Minaj influenced female rap?
Nicki Minaj’s meteoric rise in the 2010s inspired a new generation of female rappers to chase stardom. Her chameleon-like voice and animated personas expanded possibilities for uniqueness. Minaj achieved commercial success few female rappers had seen since the 90s.