With her single “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B has achieved the improbable—she has parlayed a reality TV career into a bonafide hit single. On the latest Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Yellow” leaps from No. 28 to No. 14. Apart from her reality TV roots, this is notable because she is one of three women rappers who have placed in the Top 20 of the chart with solo singles (i.e., no other featured artists) since 2010. The other two are Nicki Minaj, who has placed several songs in the Top 20 on her own (namely “Super Bass” and “Anaconda,” along with more singing-heavy or flat-out entirely sung singles “Your Love,” “Starships,” and “Pound the Alarm”), and Young M.A, whose “OOOUUU” hit No. 19 last year.
So rare is it, in fact, for a female rapper to get the kind of mainstream attention that lands her in the Top 20, that only 17 have made it there in the past 17 and a half years (starting at 2000). The majority of those have either featured outside artists (Lil’ Kim’s 2003 hit “Magic Stick” featured 50 Cent, Eve’s 2001 hit “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” featured Gwen Stefani) or were featured artists on a song by a male rapper (or male-dominated rap collective). Rah Digga, for example, had a verse on the Flipmode Squad’s “I Know What You Want,” and Remy Ma was part of the Terror Squad, whose “Lean Back” went to No. 1 in 2004.
In contrast, I counted over 184 male rappers/rap acts who had Top 20 hits since the beginning of 2000. This means that less than 12 percent of the charted rappers are women (and keep in mind, I only counted individual acts, not individual hits, which superstars like Kanye West, Jay Z, 50 Cent, and Outkast have racked up, while women rappers tend to have just a few in their name).
For years, the dearth of visible women rappers has been scrutinized. The Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Solo Performance existed for just two years—2003 and 2004—before it was iced. Rick Ross rather boorishly described his refusal to sign female rappers earlier this year (“I never did it because I always thought, like, I would end up fucking a female rapper and fucking the business up”), prompting Pitchfork to survey hip hop record labels and turn up the fact that none have signed more than two female rappers and three have signed none at all.
There are plenty of women rappers out there—among them Dej Loaf, Angel Haze, Tink, the perpetually underrated Jean Grae, Kamaiyah, Dreezy, Dai Burger, Noname, Lizzo, Stefflon Don, Nitty Scott, Princess Nokia, Lady Leshurr, Junglepussy, even Azealia Banks (who probably would have charted very high with “212" if streaming were counted toward the Hot 100 when it was released). But what seems to be lacking is opportunity. Hip hop has long been viewed as a “man’s world,” with good reason, given the optics.
The full list of charted female rappers is:
- Lil’ Kim
- Missy Elliott
- Charli Baltimore
- Angie Martinez
- Rah Digga (as part of the Flipmode Squad)
- Remy Ma (as part of the Terror Squad)
- Da Brat
- Lil’ Mama
- Nicki Minaj
- Iggy Azalea
- Young M.A
- Cardi B
Below is a playlist of a selection of hits by female rappers over the past 17 and a half years. Note that only artists whose primary medium is rap have been included, which means I left out the likes of women who sometimes rap (or attempt an approximation of it) like Kesha, Fergie, Kelis, Nelly Furtado, and even Beyoncé (whose “7/11" went to No. 13 in 2014). It is telling, though, that this superstar dabbling in rap is often about as deep as representation gets in the mainstream. Also note that the songs featuring Charli Baltimore and Vita (Irv Gotti’s “Down 4 U”) and Angie Martinez (“If I Could Go”) are not on the playlist because they are not available on Spotify.