The 10 Best Female Rappers
We know that making a list of the top 10 female rappers is going to be controversial—and we certainly can’t include everyone—but we feel the more attention drawn to the ladies of hip-hop, the better. So what went into our criteria? Basically, we looked for women who not only made game-changing contributions to hip-hop culture but also continue to influence the new generation of emcees—male or female. Here, in our option, are the greatest female rappers of all time:
Before she went all Hollywood on us, Eve was running the game with her Ruff Ryders comrades. Anthems like “Satisfaction,” “Gangsta Lovin'” and “Let Me Blow Your Mind” showcased her unique ability to appeal to a broad audience without losing her edge. Eve left to pursue acting, making her box-office debut in 2002’s “XX”. She also starred in “Barbershop” and “The Cookout”. But the self-named “pit bull in a skirt” couldn’t stay away from her first love for too long. In 2013, she staged a feisty comeback with the solid “Lip Lock,” and in 2021 announced she is working on a new album.
When producer Jermaine Dupri discovered Da Brat in 1992, there were only a handful of female rappers working in the music business. Still, the Chicago native proved unstoppable. Da Brat eschewed the sexually charged images of artists like Foxy Brown and Lil Kim, relying instead on her double-time flow and dashing delivery. The approach was good enough to make her debut, 1994’s “Funkdafied,” the first platinum-selling album by a female solo rapper.
Foxy Brown logged a slew of memorable guest spots early in her career. Before she ever released an album she was dropping jewels on LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya” and Jay-Z’s “Ain’t No N***a,” none of which would’ve sounded the same without Fox Boogie’s catchy couplets. Her impressive cameo run launched a bidding war in the mid-’90s, with Def Jam winning her signature. Brown’s proper introduction, 1996’s “Ill Na Na,” featured some of the biggest names in rap and sold over a million copies.
With several solid releases under her belt, South African-born, New York-bred rapper Jean Grae has been spinning heads since 1996. What makes Grae stand out from the pack is her combination of wit and substance. Whether poking fun at herself on “Going Crazy” or rhyming about loyalty and dedication on “My Crew,” Jean Grae does it all with supreme skill. In 2005, she hooked up with producer 9th Wonder for a full length collaboration dubbed “Jeanius,” one of the best collaborative hip-hop albums ever. Like Eve, she’s also tried her hand at acting, and has made several memorable appearances on both the big and small screens, including a supporting role in the film “Big Words,” and appearance on the hit comedy “Two Broke Girls.”
Lil’ Kim’s “The Naked Truth” was the first album by a female rapper to receive the prestigious 5 mics award from The Source, a magazine for hip-hop enthusiasts. In hindsight, the award was well deserved. Kim’s influence still looms large. Since her “Hard Core” debut in 1996, Kim has spawned a handful of emulators eager to replicate her libidinous lyrics and in-your-face attitude. She was also a member of Notorious B.I.G.’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters at Finding Intelligent Attitudes). When all is said and done, this Queen Bee will go down as one of the most influential rappers of all time.
Rah Digga first showcased her lyrical tenacity by dropping verses here and there as a member of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad. Digga eventually solidified her place with her first full-length, the electrifying “Dirty Harriet.” Rah’s ability to craft commercially viable tracks while still dropping hardcore gems makes her stick out from the rest. And as her audacious 2010 “Classic” LP proved, she still hadn’t lost a step. Today, she mainly makes appearances on other artists’ albums, and independently releases her own music in the form of singles on platforms like Soundcloud and iTunes.
Missy Elliott is not only one of the best in the business, she’s also one of the most versatile hip-hop artists of all time. A multi-faceted entertainer, Missy writes, raps, sings, crafts beats, and directs music videos that are some of the most innovative in the game. To top it off, no other woman has ever been able to match her commercial success—the Virginia native is the only female rapper with six platinum-certified albums. In June 2011, Elliott took a break from the music industry due to a hyperthyroidism disorder known as Graves’ disease. She still makes public appearances at music award shows, though, and has made a number of recent television appearances on both music specials and sitcoms.
Queen Latifah couldn’t have picked a more appropriate moniker. Thanks to her brilliant mesh of social commentary and lyrical wizardry, she had no problem attracting a cult-like following from the jump. Latifah was also one of the first rappers to demand respect and gender equality in hip-hop. Who can forget the Grammy-winning “U.N.I.T.Y.” (from “Black Reign”), in which she made it clear that calling her the B-word is a quick way to get “punched dead” in the face? Although her last album was 2009’s “Persona,” Latifah remains very much in the public eye thanks to a mega-successful acting career, with no less than 40 films to her credit. Her acting awards include an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actress as Matron “Mama” Morton in the 2002 film “Chicago,” and a 2008 Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Mini Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for her role in “Life Support.”
Lauryn Hill was already in contention for the crown long before winning five Grammys for her debut, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. As one-third of the Fugees, L’ Boogie quickly established herself as the most talented artist of the crew. By seamlessly blending jaw-dropping lyricism with social commentary, Hill helped make “The Score” the centerpiece of the Fugees’ catalog and, more significantly, an undeniable hip-hop classic. On her own “Miseducation…,” though, Lauryn delivered the best fusion of hip-hop and R&B that the industry has witnessed in a long time. Her brilliant writing flourished from song to song, whether grappling with spirituality (“Final Hour,” “Forgive Them, Father”) or stroking sexuality without exploiting it (“Nothing Even Matters”).
Ask a diehard hip-hop fan who the greatest rapper of all time is, and you’re likely to get about 10 different answers. Now, switch the question to “Who’s the best female rapper of all time?” and you’re likely to end up with the same answer 9 out of 10 times: MC Lyte. MC Lyte changed hip-hop’s portrait of a female rapper without changing her outfit. Not only was she the first solo female rapper to release a full album, 1988’s critically acclaimed “Lyte as a Rock,” she cloaked her style not in false bravado but in dignity, integrity, and, best of all, actual superiority. Seven albums followed, with the most recent, 2015’s “Legend,” aptly named. Lyte can still run circles around most of her peers—male or female. Her deft wordplay, swift delivery, and butter-smooth flow make her the undeniable queen of hip-hop.