Fem(Cee) Fatale.

There has been a lot of Refugees playing on my iPod lately and I couldn’t help notice why Lauryn was able to go on to such a great solo career. She possessed this uncanny ability to steal the show on every track with her meticulous but effortless wordplay. Then I heard “Cowboys” and got to thinking about Rah Digga and other female emcees/lyricist.

It’s well known that rap is a male dominated forum where women are more than likely made sex objects than respected peers. So I decided to do a Top 5 of my favorite Femcees. The 5 nicest women to ever pick up a microphone.

Ghostwriter Clause: Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim will not appear on this list due to alledged, and also affirmed, ghostwriting rumors. The women I’ve included in this list have been given sole credit for their rhymes; no smoke and mirrors. Not to say that Fox and Kim aren’t great artists in their own right. I enjoy their music and have a great respect for what they’ve accomplished in their careers.

Nicki Minaj Clause: Unfortunately the Harajuku Barbie will not appear on this list because she’s far too green. Now I’m not saying that she isn’t nice, I’m just saying that she needs time to establish herself as a permanent fixture. For we all, 7 years from now, there may very well be no Nicki Minaj.

“Misdemeanor” Clause: Missy Elliot will be reduced to an honorable mention because I see her as more of an all around entertainer and less of an emcee. But if you’re really sore about it, switch out any of the following for Missy.

First Up: Lauryn Hill

The one and only enigmatic Ms. Hill. The South Orange native has starved us over some time but if you truly examine her existing body of work she has given us more than enough to last throughout the coming years.

Most don’t see Hill as a lyricist but those who know her as “L-Boogie” are well aware that she’s more than capable of spitting a couple of bars. In her Fugee days she was a sharp tongued MC. She dropped wise Nas-like gems and displayed Notorious B.I.G. like storytelling abilities. She also had the voice of a pained angel.

Here is an extra dope verse from the song Family Business:

My circle it can’t be broken
Open, cut-throatin’, provokin’
Record promotin, tokens chokin’ on they words like smoke and ‘Cause we soft spoken, doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten
Your booty smells rotten and one day you will be gotten
See joker’s is scatter-brained, their focus is unrestrained
My army is trained, you never find us beefin’ in vain. (Ever)
‘Cause I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
You claim fame, while modest niggas remain.
I can judge a character like Ito judge a verdict
And if you bringin’ threats I give you sex if I ain’t heard it.
See poppin’ shit‘s about your attitude and how you word it
I’ve seen the biggest niggas on the block get murdered
And they deserverd it
Or so the beast said when they served it
That shit is nervous
So what’s my purpose?
Family, we must preserve it.
Your number’s retired
I hope you like the hell fires
You’ll be screamin’ Murder she Wrote like Chaka Demus and Pliars.

ii. MC Lyte

Brooklyn’s own MC Lyte. A pioneer in her time, along with Salt n’ PepaRoxanne Shanté and others, Lyte was the  slick talking fly girl who was always on point. Her lyrics were crisp and her wordplay was far above par.

Classics like Cha Cha Cha, Paper Thin & Ruff Neck made sure that Lyte would never lose her place as a Hip-Hop great. She even managed to strike a chord with the Y generation with her 1996 hit “Cold Rock a Party”.

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Since then she has faded somewhat on the music scene but is making her presence felt in other mediums. She’s done well as an actress and is a sought after narrative voice.

“In February 2006, her diary, as well as a turntable, records, and other assorted ephemera from the early days of hip hop, were donated to the Smithsonian Institution. This collection, entitled ‘Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life’ is a program to assemble objects of historical relevance to the hip hop genre from its inception.”

iii. Queen Latifah

This wouldn’t truly be a Top 5 Femcees list without acknowledging the Queen. The New Jersey native gave B-girls a reason to join the pro-black movement that romanced Hip-Hop in the late 80’s & early 90’s. One of the two female members of the Native_Tongues, she was conscious but streetwise. Her lyrics, much like her name, commanded respect. Beside being a fierce lyricist she’s also a surprisingly good singer. She recorded a jazz/soul album, The Dana Owens Album, in 2005.

Some may not know this but Latifah originally started out as a beat boxer. Eventually Fab Five Freddy, the current host of Yo! MTV Raps at the time, got ahold of her demo tape and Latifah’s rap career was officially on track. Freddy helped Latifah sign with Tommy Boy Records, which released her first album All Hail the Queen in 1989, when she was nineteen.

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Much like Lyte, Latifah’s attention has been focused elsewhere for the latter part of her career. She starred in countless movies and has received multiple awards; Latifah is one of three Hip-Hop artists to receive an Academy Award nomination in an acting category (Best Supporting Actress, Chicago, 2002). She even has her own line of Cover Girl make-up called  CoverGirl Queen Collection. Latifah recently made a return to hip-hop.

iv. Rah Digga

Flipmode’s first lady, Rah Digga. Seems like Jersey is a hotbed for female MCs. Digga was introduced to Busta Rhymes by Q-Tip after Tip saw her at the Lyricist Lounge. She then appeared on a number of Busta’s albums and released her own debut Dirty Harriet in 2000.

Beside her ripping shit on The Imperial, I remember her the most for role on the Fugee’s “Cowboys”. Rhyming alongside fellow femcee Lauryn Hill, I at first couldn’t differentiate the two but after being introduce to Rah Digga some time later I was able to separate their styles.

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[Lauryn]
We make moves in stage coaches
Ra Digga likes the roaches
If anyone approaches
We be like noches, buenos
And I compose a poem for the many gun-slingers
R & b singers, perpetrating guns with two fingers.

[Rah Digga]
My style is perhaps one of the foulest
I inhale large clouds of smoke through my chalice.
(buckin’ at stars) and write rhymes for hours
The ghetto missy, drinkin’ whiskey sours.

[Lauryn]
Bust this scenario, can’t no other niggers in the barrio
(from newark to ontario), bust us when we in stereo.
Cause me and rashida rock the battles
It’s apparent, your no talent, cause your blazin’ in your saddle.

[Rah Digga]
Watch these rap bitches get all up in your pockets
Then bounce with accountants that give me good stock tips
Cause props is up, Digga’s through the roof
Burnin’ niggers like I’m 90 proof.

[Lauryn]
And for all you head beaters
The lead eaters, the cheaters soon to be retreaters
While mamacitas carry real heaters.

[Rah Digga]
I rock the dooby and
L rocks the nubian twists 96
Muthafuckas gettin’ dissed

For me, the mere sound of Rah’s voice arouses any Hip-Hop head’s senses. And the very strength of her delivery is rivaled only by Foxy Brown’s.

v. Jean Grae

Last but not least, Jean Grae; Major Woody; What? What?; Da Easter Bunny. To be honest I didn’t know much about Jean Grae , in fact I kind of avoided her music. I’ve been disappointed by female emcees in the past and I wasn’t about to go looking for a let down.

Plus, Grae was a bit too underground for my taste. I say this because underground rappers usually sacrifice style for content but when I asked my friends to present me with their list of favorite female emcees Jean Grae’s name kept popping up. I figured she must be worth the listen.

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Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Grae is daughter of celebrated South African jazz musicians. she studied Vocal Performance at the LaGuardia School of Music & Art before majoring in Music Business at New York University.

Talib Kweli cited her as one of the last true emcees. Grae’s lyrical content immediately impressed me and her start-stop morse code like flow took some getting used to but in time I realized her Jeanius.

Bonus (i): Monie Love

Fellow Native Tongues member Monie Love. I couldn’t conclude this list without Monie. She represents an era of free formed innocence in Hip-Hop. She was playfully conscious and her style was crisp and refreshing. Classic b-girl style; quicksilver delivery. Monie Love was an essential ingredient to rap’s Golden Age.

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A protégé of Queen Latifah, the Brit-Hop artist rose to fame in the late 80’s & early 90’s. With classics like Monie in the Middle, Ladies First and “It’s a Shame (My Sister)”, Monie left her mark in the halls of rap. Born in the Battersea area of London, Love became one of the first Brit-Hop artists to be signed and distributed worldwide by a major record label.

Unfortunately Monie and Hip-Hop somewhat parted ways after 2000. She’s now a Philadelphia radio personality with her own show on  XM Satellite Radio called “Ladies First Radio with Monie Love”.

Bonus (ii): Remi Martin

Now what kind of Bronxite would I be if I didn’t find a way to squeeze in Remy Ma? A perfect opportunity to give credit to the new school and show some hometown love.

The Castle Hill native was discovered after the 1992 death of her father caused her to transform her therapeutic poetry into scathing raps. Her reputation in the Bronx grew and  Big Punisher soon caught word of the buzz and became her mentor. I remember first hearing Remy, known as Remi Martin at the time, on “Ms. Martin” off of Pun’s Yeeeeah Baby. I thought to myself:

“Shorty is bananas.”

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“I got the thoroughest thugs and, baby Reminisces
That don’t give a fuck, with a aim that never misses
Hugs and kisses never, just slugs and stiches
Thugs and bitches forever, check the mugshot pictures
Fuck the weather, I still got my tan Timbs on
Just copped the pink mink, and winter been gone
I been on this thug shit y’all can’t seem to fuck wit
My shit is hot dogs, to top it off, still spittin mustard
No fair, cuz I don’t care I go to war with a musket
Just give me some oreos, a jar of Dro and 2 dutches
‘Cause Pun be the nicest motherfucker on the market
Now he got the nicest bitch, what, Remi Martin”

I remember being in my freshman year of highschool coming home on the BX4 bus, still faithful to my WalkMan, rewinding the tape over and over. She then went on to rip hit songs like the Ante Up (Remix) and Lean Back. At a time when the female rap scene seemed a bit dolled-up and watered down, it was wonderful to hear a female spitting bars that were just as gritty as her male counterparts.

As a the result of a 2007 shooting incident Remy was sentenced to 8 years in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York located in Westchester County and is expecting to be released in early 2013.

Bonus (iii): Eve

Philadelphia native Eve. Once a stripper at the Bronx’s famed Golden Lady, she was encouraged to quit dancing and persue a professional rap career by former Bad Boy young lion Ma$e. Adopting the moniker Eve of Destruction, she was already honing her skills and aspiring to conquer the rap charts when Ma$e gave her words of encouragement.

Soon she inked a deal with Dr. Dre‘s Aftermath records but after sitting on the shelf for sometime she decided to take matters into her own hands and grouped with DMX and the Ruff Ryders.

Eve was quickly a standout and released her debut album, Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady, in 1999. It is the second album in history by a female rapper to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200.

I remember the song Love is Blind, just when I thought Eve was nothing but pit bulls and tiger paws she releases a song that empathized with the plight of battered women, it showed depth.

“Hey, yo I don’t even know you and I hate you
See all I know is that my girlfriend used to date you
How would you feel if she held you down and raped you?
Tried and tried, but she never could escape you
She was in love and I’d ask her how? I mean why?
What kind of love from a nigga would black your eye?
What kind of love from a nigga every night make you cry?
What kind of love from a nigga make you wish he would die?
I mean shit he bought you things and gave you diamond rings
But them things wasn’t worth none of the pain that he brings
And you stayed, what made you fall for him?
That nigga had the power to make you crawl for him
I thought you was a doctor be on call for him
Smacked you down cause he said you was too tall for him, huh?”

Honorable Mention:

  1. Yo-Yo
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