A Brief History Lesson in Hip Hop: The Rise of the ‘Femcees’

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As Hip Hop originated with street gangs in The Bronx, it is no surprise that women did not have a strong presence in early Hip Hop. As the culture has developed this has changed dramatically. Though there may not be as many influential female Hip Hop artists as there are Male, there are a few women who have managed to break through the gender barrier.

It wasn’t until the 90s that women really broke into the culture and began to have an impact on forming it in it’s modern guise. The era saw the rise in some of the most influential ‘femcees’, including Salt n’ Peppa, Missy Elliot, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah. Rather than conforming to the increasing trend in hyper-masculine themes, these women used Hip Hop to stand up for women’s rights.



It is a widely held belief that “sex sells”, this idea is particularly prominent in the music industry. This has motivated modern artists to change their approach when it comes to writing music. Unfortunately, derogatory lyrics about women, and an overtly sexual portrayal of women in music videos have become the norm. With it’s growing popularity, Hip Hop is at the heart of this controversy and a large number of young fans are growing up to believe that this is how women should be treated.

In order to break Hip Hop of this mindset, the women of Hip Hop are aiming to create change and awareness- allowing them to actively participate in this male dominated culture. Queen Latifah released “U.N.I.T.Y.” in 1994. The song posed a question directly to male emcees:

“Who you calling a bitch?”

“U.N.I.T.Y.” challenged issues such as sexual harassment against women and was one of the first noteworthy Hip Hop songs to do so. Since then the aforementioned ladies of Hip Hop have gone on to work with some of the culture’s male heavyweights, proving themselves to be worthy contributors to the music genre. Missy Elliott is a prime example, having worked with P. Diddy, The Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, Pharrell and Ghostface Killah standing up for women’s rights and equality of the sexes the entire time.

At the time when these ladies came to prominence, Hip Hop had only been around for 20 years, yet it already had ingrained in it a male dominant mindset. These ladies, tough as it was, began to change that and the ripples of their impact continue today. They truly are Hip Hop feminists paving the way for the likes of Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea and Eve.