Ladies First

I originally pitched writing a sort of “History of Women in Hip Hop” post but couldn’t find my way as I wasn’t sure which route to follow. Then it dawned on me, I should write about the women in hip hop that I love most and why. I have been a rabid hip hop fan since the mid ’80s, when I was in middle school and couldn’t stop boogeying on the dance floor.

There are many women who contributed to the growth of hip hop, but these are the women who influenced me and who will always inspire me.

L’Trimm – Cars That Go Boom

L’Trimm was my introduction to women rappers. The first time I heard L’Trimm, I was at a sleepover at someone’s house. We were in the basement, painting our toes and talking about school and boys and DeBarge. At some point, this song came on and it BLEW MY MIND. I was shocked to hear women spitting rhymes that were funny, cool and had a beat that made me want to do the Running Man. I freaked and my friends were quick to tell me they were L’Trimm and had the greatest hair ever.

That weekend, I ran to the record store about the cassette “Grab It!” I listened to it, constantly. It was a love affair based on sass and cool beats. I loved LL Cool J and Run DMC, but with L’Trimm, I heard myself, or at least what I aspired to be. They weren’t jockeying for position, as these were women who were assured of themselves. They were better than most men rappers, were whip-smart and didn’t give a shit. It was earth-shattering for me. I was an awkward middle schooler who wore her ballet tights to school because I had to go to class every day, at the last bell. They showed me a world filled with dancing, fun, and no reliance on boys for entertainment.

After I found L’Trimm, I scoured the bins for other women rappers. I immediately keyed into the Roxanne Wars and Roxanne Shante.

Roxanne Shante ““ Roxanne’s Revenge

Roxanne Shante ““ Live

Everyone at the record store pointed me towards Roxanne because “Roxanne’s Revenge” was a classic. It was the answer to U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” which lamented how some woman dissed them. Roxanne Shante answered with one of the most biting and profanity-laced raps recorded by a teenaged girl. It’s also hysterical.

It created an entire war, wherein women rappers replied to U.T.F.O. The Real Roxanne was another talented woman who answered, but Roxanne Shante was first and was, in my opinion, the best. She was the first woman I heard spit rhymes that actually sounded like a live battle. She had the mic, the beat behind her and she unleashed her reply at rapid fire. It was simple and brilliant.

Salt-n-Pepa ““ Tramp

In the next year, the entire world heard Salt-n-Pepa. I remember sitting at the hair salon with my ma and someone turned to MTV. “Push It” was on and I sat, staring. All of the women began dancing and cheering. I remember watching my ma bobbing her head while her hair was being blown out and knew something important was happening. Watching Cheryl and Sandy dance and own the stage was amazing AND, they had a woman DJ! Spinderella behind the deck was out of this world. Of course I ran out to the store to buy “Hot, Cold and Vicious.” My love affair with Salt-n-Pepa continues to this day, as “Blacks’ Magic” is one of my favorite albums of all time.

MC Lyte ““ Poor Georgie

MC Lyte never garnered the same amount of attention as Salt-n-Pepa, but she elevated the game of rapping with her flow and honest delivery. She was tough, but so smart and intolerant of anyone mistreating her. Her lyrics are so tight, her delivery so raw, it’s hard to find anyone now who can hold a candle to her.  Every one of her songs makes you think. I first heard MC Lyte interviewed on Yo! MTV Raps and knew I had found a soul mate. She was articulate, strong and cared little for surface nonsense. I was in awe. Listen to the lyrics of “Poor Georgie” and, while it’s a cautionary tale about male cockiness, it is meant to empower a woman and remind her to always stand up for herself. I share a birthday with her and it makes me so happy.

Queen Latifah ““ Ladies First

It’s hard to remember that the Queen Latifah of yore was the teenaged badass from New Jersey, when we have the current Queen of Hollywood movies like Bringing Down the House and Chicago.

I loved “Ladies First,” but it didn’t speak to me, mostly because I didn’t fully grasp all of the concepts of feminism. I was too young and not ready to deal with the consciousness that she brought to hip hop.

However, by the time “U.N.I.T.Y.” hit the airways, I was ready. I was a college student, an African American history and politics major and wanting to take on the universe.

Queen Latifah (and the Roots) ““ U.N.I.T.Y.

As she shouted, “Who you callin’ a bitch?” I practically cried. It’s like those five words summed up every ounce of anger and frustration that women had with hip hop, with the world, and she threw it back in everyone’s face.

Latifah has always been one of my favorites because she refused to be pigeon-holed. She rapped, she acted, she sang jazz and she never gave up. She commands a space and fills it with dignity and class, and she has always had such a great sense of humor about herself.

Hip hop has changed so much since these women started out, but if it weren’t for their struggles, we wouldn’t have the space for women rappers that we have now. Their contributions paved the way for L’il Kim, Foxy Brown, LadyBug, Nicki Minaj and even Ke$ha. Also, if it weren’t for them, I would’ve never cultivated my lifelong relationship with hip hop. I tip my hat to all of them and will probably spend the rest of the afternoon listening to “Very Necessary.”

10 replies on “Ladies First”

I’m a transplant from another “smart” ladies’ site. After seeing this post, I am happy to have made the jump. I haven’t thought of S-N-P’s Tramp in years! Hot, Cool, & Vicious was one of my first CDs (thanks, BMG Music Club!)and I broke it in on the boombox earnestly practicing b-ball every day one summer so I could get good enough to make a 6th grade traveling team. Ah. And Latifah’s U-N-I-T-Y also came out when I was in middle school. I felt a little bad-ass singing along with the chorus…

My sister went to Howard, and when she came home for Christmas she brought 2 tapes with her: E.U. and Salt n’ Pepa. Now I didn’t really dig the Go-Go music until I went to college about 10 years later, but that Salt n’ Pepa tape… SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIT! “Tramp” is the jam, but “The Showstopper” tops my list.

I had this 5-CD set that was a century of women in music from all differen genres, and they had “Ladies First” on it. The saxophone on it, plus Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s awesome rhyming on it, sent me into playing it out over and over again.

TLC, En Vogue, and Salt-n-Pepa were representations of smart, strong, sexually aware yet not objectified women in hip-hop and R&B, who seemed like grown, mature women instead of teenagers a la Destiny’s Child. They were total feminists within the game of pop music, and so awesome to see when they were popular.

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