Artwork: Joshua Tinsley
Words: Mina Suder
Ever since Monie Love joined fellow Native Tongues sistren Queen Latifah on Ladies First – where the two waxed lyrical about being women in a world a run by men (and not just in hip hop) – camaraderie within female rap became a thing that continues to thrive today.
But when it comes to matters of mic female rappers rarely make Top Five or even Top Ten lists – despite the raft of notable lady lyricists out there. It can also be a lonely place for a female MC when burdened with ‘first lady’ status and often pitted against other lady rappers to make for a salacious beef. Male rap collectives are easy to recall but even dedicated hip hop heads have to search a little harder to find joints with an all-female lineup. But hey, now we’ve dug a lil deeper so you don’t have to.
The selection of all female rap collaborations below spans several eras, sub-genres and styles – a celebration of the rich history and legacy of women in hip hop.
1. Brandy ft MC Lyte, Queen Latifah & Yoyo
I Wanna Be Down (The Human Rhythm Hip Hop Remix) (1994)
The relationship between hip hop and R&B became more intimate during the 1990s, with an increasing number of rap songs incorporating hooks by R&B artists, adding a softer edge to rap’s often grimier sounds and appealing to a crossover audience. In that respect, this remix is fresh because it flips this formula, transforming a popular R&B song into a hip hop one. Here, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Yoyo pay tribute to their love interests lyrically. While Brandy coyly questioned the subtleties of a potential love connection in the original, the remix is noticeably more direct in its approach, with MC Lyte being more frank about her desires:
“Can I have some of that you got, to put me on/Word around town is you’re nine men strong/I wanna be put on in the worst way, since the first day I think it was a Thursday” – Yoyo and Queen Latifah follow suit by telling us what type of men they’re into.
The video (an early work from superstar director Hype Williams) uses minimalism and colour variation to achieve a simple stylisation fitting of the general swagger of the song. Brandy’s younger brother, Ray J, also makes an appearance in the video.
2. Lil’ Kim, Da Brat, Missy Elliot, Angie Martinez, and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes
Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix) (1996)
Female rap collaborations
When Lil’ Kim’s debut album, Hardcore, dropped in 1996, it became an instant classic. A pioneering piece of work that claimed back female sexuality within hip hop and beyond, it blazed a trail for a whole host of female rappers that followed subsequently. On the overtly explicit original version of Not Tonight, Kim recounts her sexual exploits, providing us with a vivid picture of her sexual dissatisfaction and demand to be pleased.
Featured on the soundtrack to Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins’ film Nothing to Lose, the remix is less concerned with the opposite sex and more focused on having a good time with female friends. It was reinterpreted by an English producer, Rashad Smith, who sampled Kool and the Gang’s Ladies Night. Radio personality Angie Martinez, TLC’s Left Eye and Da Brat plus Missy Elliot each bring their own flow and style into the track.
The song was a huge commercial success, peaking at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also nominated for a Grammy. The fun packed music video depicts a huge party and features female R&B artists SWV, Blaque, Total, Changing Faces, Mary J Blige, Left Eye’s bandmate T-Boz and Changing Faces.
3. Nikki D, Paula Perry, Rah Digga, Heather B, Precious P & Bahamadia
Six Pack (1998)
Being the rarest track on the list and definitely deserving of ‘hidden gem’ status, Six Pack was intended for release on a Paula Perry album which never materialised. Affiliated with Masta Ace, and a member of his group Masta Ace Incorporated, Perry featured on the crew’s SlaughtaHouse and Sittin’ On Chrome albums. For this track Perry enlisted the help of a whole host of female rappers on the verge of commercial success during this period: Nikki D, signed to Def Jam; Heather B, affiliated with Boogie Down Productions; Precious Paris, who later signed to G-Unit; The Outsidaz and Flipmode Squad’s Rah Digga and finally Bahamadia. Six Pack shows off just what female rappers are capable of lyrically, with each artist bringing their own take on the braggadocio element so pervasive in the culture.
4. Gangsta Boo & La Chat ft Mia X
The queens of Memphis rap, Gangsta Boo and La Chat, released Witch in 2014, an entire album featuring both rappers. With beats from Memphis producers Drumma Boy and DJ Squeeky amongst others, the album perfectly balances the undeniably Southern sounding production with Gangsta Boo and La Chat’s coarse delivery of their own brand of gangsta rap.
For the album pre-release the duo enlisted the help of fellow Southern female rapper Mia X (the first female MC signed to No Limit Records) on Bitchy, a track that quintessentially captures the Southern trap sound. On the track, the trio offer some serious sass over beats produced by Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul, lyrically strutting their independence: “We independent women standing on our own two / You can’t sell us dreams, show us whatcha gonna do“- whilst cutting men down to size and asserting their gangsta cred: “I’m so hood, I’m making yourself get you, I got that wood / Yeah I’m so hood, that pistol in my lap I wish a motherfucka would“. The looping title hook is characteristic of Southern trap anthems.
5 . Akua Naru ft Sa-Roc & Dynasty
Boom Bap Back (2015)
From the Akua Naru album, The Miner’s Canary, Boom Bap Back showcases the lyrical prowess of the current generation of female rappers. Featuring Rhymesayers’ Sa-Roc and DJ Premier-endorsed Dynasty, the trio ruminates over the state of hip hop, with Dynasty proclaiming herself ‘the destroyer of ratchet‘ and calling out those that sold out for record deals, while Akua Naru instructs us to “embrace hip hop’s second coming”.
Sa-Roc brings her own style of cosmic rhyming, with lines like, “a diamond out of the roughest part of the hemisphere/fashioned from the flashes of light from the darkest of years/I’m from where the peaceful depart and the apocalypse live/and you wonder where I get all that drama the oesophagus give”. In her verse, Dynasty reminds us that “hip hop is heading wherever we at” – if we have female rappers like these three, then hip hop is good.