By Nick Sligh
Hip-hop, as with everything, has benefited significantly from meaningful contributions by women. Unfortunately, as with so many important contributions by women across society, they are often overlooked. Since shortly after the inception of rap music, women have been making an impact throughout the genre and have always been important forces in growing the genre into one of the most popular in the world.
In recent years, women have come to the forefront of mainstream rap success at unprecedented rates. The early and mid 2010s were commercially dominated by Nicki Minaj, with multiple billboard chart-topping albums and records set for being the highest-charting woman in rap since 2002. In 2018, “Invasion of Privacy” by Cardi B made her the first woman to ever win the best rap album award at Grammys for a solo album. Megan Thee Stallion has kicked off the new decade with records for women in rap by becoming the first female hip-hop artist since the legendary Lauryn Hill to win the Grammy award for “Best New Artist.” Cardi B and Megan’s collaboration single “WAP” set the all-time record for the most streams ever in a single week for a song. Multiple records have been set by women in rap over the last decade and have led us to arguably the greatest collection of women’s talent that we have seen in the genre.
This past year has seen even more women in rap continue to establish themselves as great artists to watch throughout the current decade. The year 2020 saw fantastic albums and projects from women in rap that helped to build a very promising foundation for the decade ahead. CHIKA’s debut project “Industry Games” was remarkable, and her skill has distinguished her as a must-listen artist with massive potential. The “First Lady of Griselda” Armani Caesar has continued to prominently represent the underground of women’s rap and grimy east coast hip-hop with “THE LIZ,” one of the best albums of the entire year. “Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2” by Zimbabwean-Australian Tkay Maidza helped represent the international scene in women’s rap last year, providing one of the most versatile and entertaining releases. These artists and their recent releases, along with the many other current artists representing in the genre, have left the current state of women’s hip-hop in phenomenal hands, and it should remain that way for a long time.
Despite the commercial acclaim and attention that the most popular few women artists are beginning to receive, there are still so many women making incredible contributions to hip-hop that are not receiving the recognition that they deserve.
The purpose of this series is to highlight and celebrate some of the most quality contributions to hip-hop/rap in the past decade, especially those that do not get the mainstream recognition and attention that they deserve. My collection of favorite albums is far from exhaustive, and I really encourage fans to explore the discographies of all of these artists (and the many more great women artists outside of this list). The albums are listed in chronological order below.
Check out this Spotify playlist to see some of my favorite songs from the albums in this series.
Rapsody: “The Idea of Beautiful” (2012)
Following a string of quality mixtapes and EPs to start her career, “The Idea of Beautiful” planted the seeds for what would blossom into an incredible career for Rapsody. One of the better albums of the last decade and certainly one of the best debuts, Rapsody’s first studio album was a beautiful compilation of soulful rap. Some of Rapsody’s best work is on here, headlined by “Good Good Love” (featuring BJ The Chicago Kid), which turned out to be one of the better songs of the entire decade. The production, handled primarily by one of my personal favorite producers in 9th Wonder, is fantastic and a perfect example of how smooth and soulful production can be incorporated into rap. It’s hard to find many rap albums that are more uplifting, clever and heartfelt than Rapsody’s first.
Favorite Songs: “Good Good Love,” “The Drums,” “NonFiction,” “How Does It Feel,” “Come Home”
Angel Haze: “Reservation” (2012)
“Reservation” is about as refined and impressive a mixtape as you can find from an underground 20-year-old rapper. Versatility and technical prowess are constantly on display, showcasing Angel Haze’s ability to deliver in a variety of styles and across a variety of subject matter. “This Is Me” opens the album with a lyrical, soulful and introspective reflection on a troubled childhood and vulnerable messages of inspiration. Later in the project, “Werkin Gurls” sees Angel Haze flip to a lyrical, punchline-heavy and hard-hitting style that highlights a technical rapping ability few rappers can match. “Reservation” showcases a rare ability, especially for somebody so young, to perform at such high levels with drastically different sounds within the same project.
Favorite Songs: “This Is Me,” “Werkin Gurls,” “Chi (Need to Know)”
Nicki Minaj: “The Pinkprint” (2014)
Nicki Minaj needs no introduction. If you listened to any music from 2010 to 2020, you probably know exactly who she is, and you know how big of an impact she had on rap and music in general. Nicki took the torch from Lil Wayne as one of the key initial signings on Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment and helped to usher in a new decade of commercial success and prominence for the label and for women in rap in general. “The Pinkprint” remains the strongest release in her discography, transitioning effortlessly from trap-influenced bangers to pop-rap to soulful rhythm-and-blues-infused heartbreak songs. Definitely the most commercially successful album that is on this list, Nicki’s third studio album rightfully deserves its acclaim, praise and popularity.
Favorite Songs: “Favorite,” “Bed Of Lies,” “Pills N Potions,” “Only,” “Truffle Butter”
Ivy Sole: “Eden” (2016)
Less than a year after graduating from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Ivy Sole’s debut project arrived as a youthful, exuberant and lyrical effort. “Eden” is a showcase of Ivy Sole’s writing, delivery and flows, heavily inspired by her experiences and perspectives as a young woman who has just graduated from college and is moving into a new world. “You Don’t Know My Name” is the highlight of the debut album. A love-rap song that samples Alicia Keys’ song of the same title, one of the best R&B songs of all time, really can’t go wrong. Ivy Sole’s soulful delivery and clever writing is on full display as she glides through the storybook narrative of a college love interest. A great debut rap album is an interesting way to follow up a graduation from Wharton and is certainly a move of which I am a big fan.
Favorite Songs: “You Don’t Know My Name,” “Master Plan”
Contact Nick Sligh at nsligh ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.