by Bernadette Bruu, WRUC Senior General Manager
(Originally published in the Union College Concordiensis on September 19, 2019).
This past spring, I wrote a feature on Megan Thee Stallion’s first studio album, Fever. Since then the Houston-based rapper has become one of the biggest names on the hip hop scene, having skyrocketed to broad fame after her single Big Ole Freak gained popularity among Millennials and Gen Z ready to embrace their inner wild side.
Many a music journalist has pointed out that Thee Stallion’s ascent both results from and encourages women’s growing desire to take control of their everyday lives. Sure, they can vote, but they can’t dance on a table without being called any number of pejoratives. Thee Stallion wants to change that, as she’s noted in interviews. It is high time women took control without concern for men’s feelings. That process, according to the Houston artist, starts with unapologetic lyrics and the molding of summer 2019 into “Hot Girl Summer,” a phenomenon so widespread that it had corporate Twitter accounts scrambling to incorporate the phrase into their marketing.
Women rappers tend to be controversial figures. In fighting tooth and nail against an industry that doesn’t see them as legitimate, they are perceived as too aggressive, too sexual, too vulgar to be taken seriously. This explains why rappers like City Girls, Azealia Banks often get close to fame, but are soon swiftly “eliminated” by critics.
However, all of this is beginning to change. Hot Girl Summer and its shameless celebration of women, especially Black women, living their best lives opened the floodgates for dozens of other women rappers to grow in recognition and revenue from streams.
In fact, Complex Magazine’s XXL Freshman List, a compilation of what it predicts will be the biggest up-and-coming rap acts, featured three women this year, the most ever to make a single list. Meg the Stallion was one of them; the others are numbers one and two on this list. I’ve also added three others you should be streaming this fall.
Without further ado, here are five ladies spitting verses on par with or better than those of your favorite male rappers:
1. Rico Nasty
One of the 2019 XXL Freshmen, Rico Nasty draws new fans to her with a sound and look all her own. Together with producer Kenny Beats (who has worked with), she merges trap, punk and bubblegum pop to create songs that float above genre conventions and take the listener with them. Her 2018 album Nasty is great for those just getting into her – you’ll find many tracks suited to pregames and cardio workouts alike.
As for recommendations, if you like more experimental stuff, check out her 2019 EP Anger Management. Truth be told, though, you can’t go wrong with any of her projects so far. They’re all high-powered hidden gems you’ll wish you had discovered earlier.
Beyond music, her style and persona are so unique as to be unforgettable. She pairs punk fashion with staples of hip hop aesthetics, adding brightly colored hair and makeup where necessary. While she may look unapproachable, her public manner is friendly and open, with all the buoyancy as you would expect from a twenty-two-year-old who happens to be one of the most captivating personas of the moment.
2. Tierra Whack
The yin to Rico Nasty’s yang, Ms. Whack has all the makings of the next Frank Ocean. She’ll rap and croon on the same track and make you wonder why you’re crying right now. She completes the trilogy of women rappers on this year’s XXL Freshman List, and the designation is well-deserved: everything she puts out is crafted with the precision of a watchmaker and the passion of a painter. Resultantly, her songs are all works of art. Check out her 2018 album Whack World for a sampling of her mini-tracks, and while you’re at it, listen to the singles “Only Child” and “Wasteland.” You’ll thank me later.
This artist is constantly trying her hand at new styles, ranging from glamorous bass-heavy tracks for voguing to dancehall-inspired songs for winding your hips, somehow succeeding magnificently at all of them. There’s a Leikeli47 song for every mood and occasion. She has an impressive discography that goes back a few years, and unlike some other artists, her older material is just as good as her newer stuff. This consistency pairs well with her anonymous identity – she wears a mask while performing and for all promotional photos – lending her a sort of omniscience in the alternative rap scene, taking after the first famous mask-wearing rapper MF DOOM.
As mentioned, most of Leikeli47’s content is high-quality, but my personal recommendations are her 2018 concept album “Acrylic” and her 2017 project “Wash & Set.”
4. Little Simz
This list would be incomplete without a mention of the female rapper disrupting the UK rap scene. Little Simz is tough as nails. Having found her unique voice, she uses her music to project an invincibility usually reserved for male rappers. Because grime and drill, the most popular types of UK rap, are dominated by a chorus of similar male voices, hearing those lyrical modes appropriated by a more feminine voice is blissfully refreshing. Her tracks are also catchy as hell. Listen to “Selfish,” “101 FM,” “Pink Youth,” and/or anything from her 2019 album GREY Area.
Writing, recording and performing music is hard enough, but BbyMutha does it all while taking care of two young children. Her decision to integrate motherhood into her identity as a rapper is radical in an age where women in all fields are expected to choose between childcare and career advancement, and furthermore, between being seen as a mother or a “powerhouse,” two ostensibly mutually exclusive identities.
BbyMutha’s music is a perfect example of how having a signature style can benefit the right person. While other rappers on this list, who are younger and/or childless, have the time and energy to play around endlessly with different techniques, BbyMutha knows her strengths and doesn’t need to take risks to prove she’s full of talent. Tracks like “Rules,” “Indian Hair,” and “Sailor Goon” are lyrically rich, discussing subjects with a specificity that separates her from other rappers who rely on taglines, ad-libs, and the slang of the moment to craft their verses. If you listen to none of my other recommendations in this article, do yourself a favor and stream “Sleeping With the Enemy” featuring Kindora. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Looking for more? Check out these lesser-known ladies: Yung Baby Tate, Kamaiyah, Flohio, Koffee, Bali Baby Kash Doll and Snow Tha Product. If you haven’t yet dipped your foot into the world of female rap, you have so much to look forward to.