When we put together our list of the 50 greatest rappers of all time, we felt in hindsight that there was the female presence was severely lacking.
To be fair on our part, putting together such a list is tough no matter what angle you look at it, especially with the depth and breadth of talent through hip hop history. So to shout-out all of the dope female MCs who have stood toe-to-toe with their male counterparts (and at many times have out-rapped), we put together this list especially dedicated to them.
From the old school pioneers like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, to modern day rap queens like Rapsody and Nicki Minaj, here are the 15 best female rappers of all time.
15. The Lady Of Rage
Discography: Necessary Roughness (1997)
Coming up at the height of DeathRow’s records’ reign over West Coast rap, The Lady Of Rage held her own alongside some of hip-hop’s luminaries – just peep her slinging bars right next to Kurupt and RBX on “Lyrical Gangbang” or stealing the show on “For All My Niggaz & Bitches.” She came under the wing of Dr. Dre in the early 90’s who was impressed by her ability to lay down hard, rapid-fire freestyle rhymes and switch it up with soulful R&B melodies.
Although the LA MC has released only one solo album, she has inspired generations of female rappers. With her old-school freestyle attack and effortless Afro-queen funk she made her mark on dozens of collaborations with legends of rap like Dre, Snoop, Gang Starr, MC Lyte and Salt-n-Pepa. Underrated, yes, but absolutely one of the best female rappers of all time.
Discography: Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady (1999), Scorpion (2001), Eve-Olution (2002), Lip Lock (2013)
For nearly a quarter of a century, Eve has reigned as a chart-topping rapper and crossover superstar. The versatile rapper and singer has stayed relevant through every phase of hip-hop that has come along during her tenure. She has done so through sheer artistic curiosity and fearless creativity.
From her early days as the Ruff Ryders’ “First Lady” to her trading bars with Black Thought on the Grammy Award-winning “You Got Me” to her global smash hit, the Dre-produced “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”, Eve has kept her finger on the pulse of every phase of hip hophip-hop. Crossover collabs with artists like Gwen Stefani and DJ Paul Oakenfold have only further solidified her iconic status as one of the best female rappers to ever do it.
13. Jean Grae
Discography: Attack of the Attacking Things (2002), This Week (2004), Jeanius (with 9th Wonder) (2008), Everything’s Fine (with Quelle Chris) (2018)
Jean Grae has reigned as a leader of the East Coast underground scene since her 2002 debut Attack of Attacking Things. Both a skilled emcee and a groundbreaking producer, the classically trained musician brings a depth of musical and lyrical sophistication not often heard in popular music.
With a verbose lyrical flow and strong feminist message, Jean Grae has been a defining force in hip-hop and a female icon in the genre. She pairs her impressive freestyles with a distinctly NYC sound. Old-school boom-baps and breakbeats meet cool jazz vibes. More relevant now than ever, the rapper’s 2018 album Everything is Fine‘ was one of her most successful and proved that her lyrical talents haven’t skipped a beat for the past 20 years.
12. Rah Digga
Discography: Dirty Harriet (2000), Classic (2010)
Rah Digga is cut from the cloth of golden age hip hop. After rubbing shoulders with the likes of 90’s New York hip-hop elites like Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes, the New Jersey rapper dropped her debut album Dirty Harriet in 2000. Two decades of underground hats and notable features – for Fugees, Talib Kweli, Wyclef Jean, Trina, RZA – followed.
Classy, hard, confident and educated, Rah Digga’s music is defined by a literate lyrical style, raw beats and a razor sharp pen. Though her sound usually leans toward a classic East Coast hip-hop groove, throughout her career the rapper has also experimented with EDM and funk.
Discography: Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986), A Salt with a Deadly Pepa (1988), Blacks’ Magic (1990), Very Necessary (1993), Brand New (1997)
It’s kinda cheating having the two names in the one spot, but you can’t have Salt without Pepa, and vice versa. Few musical artists of any genre, male or female, have had the same cultural impact as the legendary New York hip-hop trio Salt-N-Pepa. Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and their teenage DJ Deidra Roper (Spinderella) first got the attention of NYC’s burgeoning hip-hop scene of the 1980’s.
The group was embraced early-on by their hometown’s influential hip-hop specialty shows and club DJs as they helped elevate the artform from the street corner to the stage. MTV crossover smash hits like “Push It”, “Shoop” and the En Vogue collab “Whatta Man” skyrocketed the group to superstar status. Not only are Salt-N-Pepa two of the best female rappers of all time, they’re also the most influential.
10. Da Brat
Discography: Funkdafied (1994), Anuthatantrum (1996), Unrestricted (2000), Limelite, Luv & Niteclubz (2003)
Ever since Chicago teen Shawntae Harris won a YO! MTV Raps freestyle competition, Da Brat has been at the forefront of change in hip-hop. With a sound that paired West Coast grooves with an East Coast attitude, she dropped her debut album Funkdafied in 1994. Off the strength of that album Da Brat became the first female solo rapper to hit platinum status.
Da Brat brought a rapid-fire lyrical flow and a harder style than that of her contemporaries. It paid off. A long career of blockbuster collabs followed. Later, after doing some time the rapper broke more barriers for hip hop females by coming out as a female and venturing into the film & television industry. Rap fans may not mention Da Brat as often as they do others, but don’t get it twisted, she is absolutely one of the best female rappers to ever do it.
9. Remy Ma
Discography: True Story (with Terror Squad) (2004), There’s Something About Remy: Based on a True Story (2006), Plata O Plomo (with Fat Joe) (2017)
Remy Ma came up in the early 2000s as a protege of Bronx legend Fat Joe. Her 2006 debut album introduced a street-smart NYC rapper with an impressive technique and a hard style. Unfortunately she kept it a little too real and in 2007 went to prison for 7 years.
Remy Ma’s post-incarceration career has defined her as an artist. Since her 2014 release from prison the rapper has taken on the role of OG ‘Godmother’ of hip-hop. She has also dropped a series of hit collaborations including the international 2017 blockbuster “All the Way Up” with Fat Joe, French Montana and InfaRed.
8. Foxy Brown
Discography: Ill Na Na (1996), The Album (with The Firm) (1997), Chyna Doll (1999), Broken Silence (2001)
When Foxy Brown came up in the early 1990s it was the peak of hip-hop’s golden age. It was also an exciting time in the Brooklyn native’s hometown music scene. Fellow New York superstars like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan were blowing up. That’s when a teenaged Foxy Brown began appearing as a featured artist on records by icons like Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and Toni Braxton, in addition to becoming a part of the legendary Firm crew.
Known both for a fearless freestyle and provocative lyrics, in 1996 the rapper launched a successful yet turbulent career which has included international hits, a prison stint and multiple record labels. But after it’s all said and done, you can’t talk best female MCs and not mention Foxy.
7. MC Lyte
Discography: Lyte as a Rock (1988), Eyes on This (1989), Act Like You Know (1991), Ain’t No Other (1993), Bad as I Wanna B (1996), Seven & Seven (1998), Da Undaground Heat, Vol. 1 (2003), Legend (2015)
MC Lyte hit the international stage when hip-hop was new and she was still in high school. The teenaged Brooklyn native came right from the music’s source. She could rhyme as well as any male emcee, and better than most.
The rapper is counted among the founders of socially conscious hip-hop, alongside the likes of Chuck D and KRS-One. Today MC Lyte continues to make an impact. In addition to a long and celebrated career as a hip-hop icon, MC Lyte has enjoyed a rich career as an actress, activist, entrepreneur and empowering black business leader.
Discography: The Idea of Beautiful (2012), Laila’s Wisdom (2017), Eve (2019)
In the decade since her professional solo recording debut, Rapsody has established herself as a leading voice in contemporary hip-hop. In the process, the North Carolina rapper has created a deep catalog of smart and socially conscious music, separating herself from all her peers – whether it be male or female.
An ultra-skilled rapper, Rapsody pairs complex rhythmic and rhyming techniques with a conscious aesthetic. Lyrically she explores themes of unity and female empowerment. In both word and style her music harkens back to the cerebral poetry of artists like Ms. Lauryn Hill and MC Lyte. Her recent albums Laila’s Wisdom and Eve were both commercial and critical successes, and two of the best rap albums of the 2010s. If you’re talking best female rappers in the game today, Rapsody is top three no doubt about it.
5. Queen Latifah
Discography: All Hail the Queen (1989), Nature of a Sista’ (1991), Black Reign (1993), Order in the Court (1998), The Dana Owens Album (2004), Trav’lin’ Light (2007), Persona (2009)
Queen Latifah’s list of accomplishments includes platinum albums, blockbuster movies, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination and countless more awards. She was also the first rapper to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. But before all of that she was the beat-boxing, singing and rapping Dana Owens from East Orange, New Jersey.
Discovered by hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, Queen Latifah was an international star by the time she was 19 years old. The young rapper found early success with a razor sharp wit, lightning fast rhymes and innate melodic pop sensibilities. Throughout the career that has followed, Latifah has continued to wow the world with her acting, jazz singing, activism and philanthropy. If this was a list of the most influential female rappers ever, Latifah would be at the very top.
4. Lil’ Kim
Discography: Conspiracy (with Junior M.A.F.I.A.) (1995), Hard Core (1996), The Notorious K.I.M. (2000), La Bella Mafia (2003), The Naked Truth (2005), 9 (2019)
Abandoned by her family and essentially homeless, aspiring teenage rapper Kimberly Jones was introduced to fellow up-and-coming Brooklyn spitter, Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. The meeting spawned a personal and professional partnership which would lead to multiple platinum records for both and important chapters in the narrative of each artist’s life. Lil Kim’s mix of X-rated rhymes and sophisticated technique was a precursor to the music of modern day superstars like Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion. Kim made a comeback in 2019 with the hit album 9, her first full length release in 14 years, but she had already long cemented her legacy as one of the best female rappers ever in the game.
3. Lauryn Hill
Discography: Blunted on Reality (1994), The Score (1996), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
Honestly, if Lauryn Hill had dropped just one or two more albums over the course of her career, she probably would have taken the top spot. Which is a testament to her immense talent that she’s one of the greatest rappers of all time, off of one solo album. The New Jersey rapper-singer-producer was already a multi-platinum superstar when she left the Fugees to launch a solo career. However, it wasn’t until the release of her debut Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill that the genre-blending artist truly made history.
With that album she blurred the lines between hip-hop, jazz and R&B, and went onto to become the first hip hop artist to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The singer’s output has been sporadic and her life has been chaotic ever since. However, with each rare performance she further solidifies her iconic status of one of the greatest female rappers to touch a mic – just peep her guest verse on Nas’ “Nobody” off King’s Disease II.
2. Nicki Minaj
Discography: Pink Friday (2010), Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012), The Pinkprint (2014), Queen (2018)
Nicki Minaj has been a lighting rod artist ever since she hit the scene with a series of mixtapes in the late-2000s. By the end of the decade she was one of the biggest rap names on the planet with credentials that included a string of hit singles, a multi-platinum album, and, of course, one of the greatest guest verses of all time. A insanely talented rapper who came up off the strength of mixtape bars, Nicki Minaj has developed a keen sense of pop sensibilities and commercial appeal over the years. Hate her or love her, you can’t deny that she’s one of the best female rappers of all time.
1. Missy Elliott
Discography: Supa Dupa Fly (1997), Da Real World (1999), Miss E… So Addictive (2001), Under Construction (2002), This Is Not a Test! (2003), The Cookbook (2005)
Don’t call it a comeback, she’s been here for years. Missy Elliott has sold 30,000,000 records in a career that has spanned nearly 30 years. A timeless talent, every one of her releases is a media event paired with an equally groundbreaking video.
Genre labels have never been sufficient in describing the multi-talented rapper’s music. When a Missy Elliott exclusive drops, pop hooks ride hip-hop beats and the rapper drops her unique rhythmic poetry and soulful vocals. She has won every award available, including multiple Grammys. Still going strong, Missy has had two hit collabs in 2022, and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is the best female rapper ever.