Flip It and Reverse It: Ladies in Hip-Hop

by Lo

There’s always a sliding scale for how hardcore of a fan you are. I would say that I am a casual-to-intermediate fan of hip-hop: sometimes I really get going and pursue new music and new artists for weeks on end, while other times, I fade out and only look at stuff that falls into my lap via recommendations from good friends. At no time can I actually talk to you about meter and rhythm and staying in the pocket–I’m not on that level.

But I am on a level where I’m sick of hearing the same recycled “oh, it’s so refreshing to see a woman in hip-hop” sighs from extended relatives and even friends as they tune into whatever single has climbed into the stratospheric Top 40. I’m not begrudging those singles their success (er, except in the case of one or two… oops), but I’m definitely side-eyeing my peers. There have been women in hip-hop for a really long time, and I’m not talking about just the well-known giants. All across the world, women young and old have dedicated their lives to the art and craft of hip-hop, and you don’t have to look far to find them now.

I’ll start small, with a short selection of five ladies who deserve more credit than they get. Click their names to go through to music videos for their most popular and/or most recent songs.

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1. Sharaya J

Missy Elliott’s very own protegé, Sharaya J (Sharaya Howell) is a Hawaiian-born American rapper and choreographer. She’d been making a steady name for herself as a dancer/choreographer–choreographing for heavy-hitters like Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Alicia Keys, and dancing in multiple Step Up productions–when Elliott scooped her up and signed her in 2010. Following in her mentors’ footsteps, Howell is releasing music slowly but at great quality. Her singles “BANJI” and “Smash Up The Place/Snatch Yo Wigs” were well-received and earned her a place on dozens of To Watch lists.

Read about Howell explaining the BANJI movement and more here.

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2. Ana Tijoux

Grammy-nominated French-Chilean rapper Anamaría “Ana” Tijoux actually came to my attention when she collaborated with another artist on this list, Shadia Mansour, this year for “Somos Sur,” a track about the importance of world-wide resistance. Hailing from Santiago, Tijoux is a mother as well as a rapper and proud feminist. She got her start as the MC of hip-hop group Makiza before moving to solo work in 2007. She has a brand-new critically-acclaimed album out called Vengo.

Read/watch an interview with Tijoux on feminism, motherhood, politics, and hip-hop here.

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3. Shadia Mansour

Referred to as “the first lady of Arabic hip-hop,” Shadia Mansour is a Palestinian-British singer/rapper whose music focuses primarily on Middle Eastern politics. She launched her hip-hop career in 2003, wielding critical analysis of cultural appropriation, opinions on the occupation of Gaza, and more at rapid-fire pace. Since then, she’s gained international recognition within the community as a ground breaker, a radical, a luminary. While her music has matured and gained complexity, she hasn’t faltered from her non-violent resistance stance.

Watch an excerpt of documentary Cultures of Resistance, featuring Mansour (and Iraqi rapper, Lowkey), here.

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4. Muthoni “The Drummer Queen”

Self-proclaimed singer “of the hero variety,” Muthoni Ndonga aka The Drummer Queen aka The Bauss Lady is the rapping triple-threat of the Kenyan dance floor. Coming to us from Nairobi, she’s revered for her flexibility in regards to style, something that’s probably aided by the fact that she’s both a legitimately accomplished percussionist and lyricist, slaying in both Swahili and English over clever beats. She’s also a business woman as founder and CEO of Blankets & Wine, a monthly music festival showcasing emerging genres of Urban-African music.

Read a Q&A with Ndonga here.

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5. RoxXxan

Out of Birmingham, England, Roxxxan is an openly gay, assertive grime MC with venomous flow. She released her last mixtape, Prepare 4 When I Land, in 2012 and a couple music videos, “Power” and “Guerilla” last year, but nothing more concrete has developed yet. Briefly signed to Polydor, she wound up voluntarily leaving the label due to artistic differences, though it’s obvious she’s been in the studio thanks to her Twitter account. When she’s not making music, you might find her BMX biking, boxing, or catching a sports game.

Watch RoxXxan talk about her mixtape and life here.

Lo is a tiny Chicagoan who writes about women in music when not asleep, and is available to talk @ badshoe.tumblr.com.

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