Home Blog How women finally got hip-hop respect: 'The female rapper is unlike … – USA TODAY

How women finally got hip-hop respect: 'The female rapper is unlike … – USA TODAY

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Rapper Roxanne Shanté has a theory about why women in hip-hop now wield not only massive popularity, but respect.
“(The music industry) is able to see that female rappers are worth money. They are excellent salespeople. They put on wonderful shows. The female rapper is unlike any other entertainer because of how she was created in the industry,” Shanté says. “She came from the struggle and the background.”
Shanté, 53, knows how long it took women in the genre to be appreciated not only by their male peers, but hip-hop audiences in general, an important distinction as the commemoration of the 50th year of hip-hop continues.
Shanté is a noted pioneer among women in hip-hop, widely credited for creating the first diss track when she unveiled “Roxanne’s Revenge” in 1984 at the age of 14.
The verbal smackdown was an answer to the UTFO record “Roxanne, Roxanne” and became her first hit. The videos for the song and its follow-up singles “Runaway” and “Queen of Rox” are also recognized as some of the earliest for a female MC.
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But even though she achieved success as a teen, Shanté, who currently hosts the daily three-hour “Have a Nice Day” show on LL Cool J’s Rock the Bells Radio channel on SiriusXM, the respect element took longer.
Shanté recalls participating in The Battle for World Supremacy in her native New York when she was 15. The winner received a wrestler’s belt engraved with the victor’s name and Shanté was determined to add a woman’s name to the testosterone-filled list.
Shanté was not only the youngest battler, but the only female among the round-robin group. One by one, she picked off her male opponents, never receiving a score lower than 9 or 10 from the panel of celebrity judges that included Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow and Kool Moe Dee.
“I went all the way to the last battle, a 15-year-old runaway girl from the group home struggling to take care of her sister. I was brown-skinned with bushy hair. Now everyone wants to look like that,” she says with a laugh. “I came ready and at the end I heard them say, ‘What (score) does it take for her to lose?’ It was a 4. And when the judge turned his card around, it was a 4 and I lost.”
The defeat not only crushed Shanté’s spirit, but eliminated her dream of going across the street from the event site in Manhattan to Beefsteak Charlie’s restaurant to sit by the window and buy herself a steak.
“That was all gone when he turned that 4 around,” she recalls.
Shanté eventually discovered it was Blow who sabotaged her win. Years later she bumped into “The Breaks” rapper and asked why he made a decision that ultimately quashed her love of hip-hop and “changed the path for the female rapper.”
Blow said, according to Shanté, that he knew she had won but, “hip-hop is new and we couldn’t let a 15-year-old girl be the best in the world. I was like, well, if Roxanne had to take the loss that day for hip-hop to win now, it was a fair tradeoff,” Shanté says. “Maybe not fair to me, but that one pebble in the lake changed the flow of the stream.”
A trickle would follow in her stead, including Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah.
But the current megastars of the genre – Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B among them – have not only Shanté to thank, but many of these other forbears who changed the game. 
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The undisputed godmother of the genre. The New York native born Lana Michele Moorer made history as the first solo female rapper to release a studio album, which she did in 1988 with “Lyte As a Rock.” It would take MC Lyte five years to achieve another milestone with her hit “Ruffneck,” which became the first gold single by a female solo rapper, a distinction that also marked her nomination for a 1994 Grammy (best rap single, which she lost to Dr. Dre).
Thanks to the candy-coated raunch of “Push It,” the duo of Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandra “Pepa” – along with Deidra DJ Spinderella Roper – became the first female rap act to achieve gold and platinum sales with their 1986 debut album, “Hot, Cool & Vicious.” Their escalating success included 1993’s “Very Necessary,” with its standouts “Shoop” and “Whatta Man” with En Vogue. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah made history as the first female rap acts to win Grammys.
She’s known as much now for her acting (“Chicago,” “Girls Trip,” “The Equalizer”) as her music career. But back in the late-‘80s, New Jersey-born Dana Owens broke from the Flavor Unit collective to make a potent stand as a Black female rapper. Tackling topics including domestic violence and relationship abuse, Queen Latifah dropped “All Hail the Queen,” her 1989 debut album at age 19. From the beginning, Queen Latifah showcased a supple voice capable of invoking jazz and soul as much as a rap zinger.
Along with producer partner Timbaland (and the recently deceased Magoo), Pharrell Williams and The Clipse, Elliott established the east coast of Virginia as fertile hip-hop ground in the 1990s. From her 1997 debut “Supa Dupa Fly” and singles “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and “Hit ‘Em wit da Hee,” to 2001’s “Miss E … So Addictive” and Top 10 hit “Get Ur Freak On,” Elliott oozed innovation. Her use of Bhangra rhythms in many songs and cleverly reversed singing (“Work It”) are but two examples of her brilliance.
Signed to Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def label before she turned 20, Da Brat (born Shawntae Harris-Dupart) quickly became known for her features on others’ hits, including remixes for Mariah Carey (“Honey,” “Heartbreaker”), Missy Elliott (“Sock It 2 Me”) and Destiny’s Child (“Jumpin’ Jumpin’,” “Survivor”). Da Brat released four solo albums, all of which climbed into the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and her list of guest appearances continued to expand. But the rapper’s career swerved when she was sentenced to three years in prison for aggravated assault in 2008. In recent years, Da Brat participated in four seasons of “Growing Up Hip-Hop Atlanta” and in July, she and partner Jesseca Dupart welcomed a son.
Roberta Flack’s hit “Killing Me Softly” would never be heard the same way after Hill and The Fugees reinserted it into pop culture relevance in 1996. But along with her success with groupmates Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean, Hill used her husky, soulful voice to achieve stratospheric solo success. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” a skillful blend of hip-hop and neo-soul, is rightfully considered a touchstone, often cited as an influence by fledgling rappers because of songs including “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “Ex-Factor.” The lone studio album on Hill’s resume also gobbled up five Grammy Awards in 1998, making her the first woman to win five or more awards in a single night. It’s also credited as the first hip-hop album to earn album of the year, according to the Recording Academy.

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