When you ask for a list of the greatest rappers of all time, rarely will anyone mention a woman. That's not because there aren't women who deserve the title of Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.). Until recently, there’s been an absence of a sustained hip–hop feminist movement. You can argue back and forth whether or not Nicki Minaj’s gluteus waggling qualifies as empowerment, but at the end of the day, her self–objectification feeds the genre standard of women as fodder for music videos and punchlines, rather than the lyrical wordsmiths that have peppered the core of hip–hop history.
Before the last few years, there was one legendary female rapper that made a monumental impact on the genre and feminism: Lauryn Hill. In 1998 she released her only full–length solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She blends soulful R&B singing and energetic, thoughtful rapping over a mix of classical guitar, steady 90s hip–hop drum beats, flamboyant trumpet and piano. She shares extremely personal issues, singing about relationships and her experiences with love and family as a woman. Her writing reaches its most intimate with a song about her newborn child, Zion, whom she was encouraged to abort.
Unfortunately, she disappeared from music for a while after the album's debut. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was left as a one–off album that wasn’t followed up by other female hip–hop artists—until now.
With her 2016 debut release of Telefone, Noname, formerly Noname Gypsy, made a splash with her Lauryn Hill–influenced style and intricate lyrics. Originally part of Chance the Rapper’s crew, Noname’s first popular verses were features on Surf and Acid Rap. After these features, she spent several years working on her first album, even delaying its release date to ensure it was what she wanted to put out. Both musically and lyrically, Noname exudes Lauryn Hill’s influence on her work, even directly referencing the song “Everything is Everything” in “Sunny Duet.”
Because of the low levels of female inclusion, Noname introduces new subjects to hip–hop, such as abortion, which is admittedly another tribute to Hill. An extremely powerful work of narrative poetry, Noname navigates her conflicting feelings on issues like abortion and the difficulty women face through this experience. Culminating with the idea that she is not ready to be a mother, but she did love her baby and her abortion will not stop her from loving again, she sings:
“You my baby, you my baby
On a lonely road where happiness needs us
I'm gonna fall in love again”
Noname has pushed hip–hop to a new direction by discussing subjects that are largely inaccessible to hip–hop’s male artists.
Not all women in hip–hop are as pensive and understated as Ms. Lauryn Hill. New York rapper, Shayna McHayle, put all her cards on the table when she chose her stage name: Junglepussy. She makes it crystal–clear that she never once gave a damn about subtlety, self–censorship or the patriarchy. In her debut mixtape Satisfaction Guaranteed, her infectious confidence, biting one–liners and her open pride in her own sexuality make her the artist Nicki Minaj has been trying to be. Her sharpest cuts include:
“Bitches seem to think they wavey but I'm rocking the boat”
“I seen you eating Mickey D's knew you didn't love yourself”
“The pussy perform professional
Pretty, pampered, presentable, fuckboy credit unacceptable”
The daughter of two Caribbean immigrants, Junglepussy slides in and out of Patois, particularly in “Mi Nuh Care.”
Possibly one of the most subversive artists in the hip–hop game today, Junglepussy's aggressive femininity turns around the tropes of the genre. She wants her man to call her an Uber once in a while and to take her to the zoo to see real leopards instead of buying leopard–print underwear.
Though hip–hop’s far from a field where women perform at the same frequency as men, the recent trend towards a feminist movement from both male and female rappers bodes well for the future of the genre.
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