Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
Ladies First: 10 Essential Albums By Female Rappers
As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, GRAMMY.com honors the women who blazed the boundless — and euphonious — trails we still travel on.
By the 1970s, the dichotomies of opulence and post-industrial destitution were stark. Gunshots, abandoned buildings and fires marred many New York City streets. However, in the midst of the city’s tumult, the extended instrumental section of a song played at a back-to-school party forever changed the landscape of music.
That now-infamous party is where hip-hop was fathered by trailblazing DJ Kool Herc, at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. However, the event itself was the idea of his sister, Cindy Campbell. If it weren’t for her party, we would have never experienced MCing over a song's breaks, which evolved into the cultural phenomenon we now know as rap.
Female MCs have been integral to hip-hop’s musical melange from its inception, beginning with pioneer (and Mother of the Mic) MC Sha-Rock. Over the decades, audiences have been Funkdafied listening to Supersonic sounds, while still Down to Earth. We’ve been blessed with Da Baddest Bitch and even been "Conceited." We’ve sung along to My Melody, experienced Necessary Roughness and if you don’t know, You Better Ask Somebody.
And while all female rappers deserve their flowers for breaking barriers, there are a few women who deserve grandiose gardens dedicated to their accomplishments. After all, if it were not for them walking first, other women would not have been able to (be) fly.
This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, we can’t forget to celebrate the female MC’s who blazed the boundless — and euphonious — trails we still travel on.
This list below spans the genre’s humble beginnings, from hip-hop’s "Golden Era," which bore witness to the majority of these historic album drops, to the present day. With the exception of one album, nine of the albums listed are debuts.
Salt-n-Pepa - Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986)
Salt-n-Pepa’s debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious was one of the first rap albums by an all-female group. With its confident and carefree lyrics and seductively sanguine beats, the album features many hit songs such as "My Mic Sound Nice" and "Tramp." However, there is one song on the album that ruled the dancefloor and became one of their breakout hits: "Push It."
Donning gold rope chains, bamboo earrings, custom leather jackets and red boots, Salt-n-Pepa’s commanding stage presence–and fashionable style–was on full display in the video for “Push It.” The subtly suggestive song provided sex appeal alongside an arresting, uptempo beat. Although the original version of "Push It" was on the album, its remix, with its iconic instrumental intro, was added to the album in 1987. The song, which was nominated for the Best Rap Performance GRAMMY, was certified platinum in 1988 and has gone on to become one of the group’s top hits.
The album resonates today because universal appeal and ubiquitous sound still captures a wide audience. It has since elevated the presence of women in the game and still empowers listeners with topics that are still very relevant, such as feminism. Its debut marked a shift from predominantly male-driven narratives found in hip hop at the time, and opened the doors for female-centered storytelling. As such, their impact in the industry has not gone unnoticed. In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Salt-n-Pepa performed at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Hot, Cool & Vicious served as a blueprint for future female MCs as it encouraged women to express themselves without apology. Its commercial success garnered mainstream appeal that fortified the album as an important memento of hip-hop’s beginnings. Ultimately, Salt-n-Pepa are pioneers who paved the way for future female rappers, such as those subsequent on this list.
MC Lyte - Lyte as a Rock (1988)
Lyte as a Rock is the first full solo album released by a female rapper, and debuted when MC Lyte was only 17. Lyte’s cadence is robust throughout the album, which demonstrated her ability to MC on songs such as "10% Dis" and the title track "Lyte as a Rock." The album also showed listeners that the rapper would not shy away from important issues that encapsulated the ‘80s. The album's lead single, "I Cram to Understand U (Sam)," detailed drug addiction by personifying cocaine.
Lyte as a Rock’s standout song, "Paper Thin," was written by MC Lyte in her early teens and details infidelity in a relationship. The video features the artist taking the subway after getting a bad feeling her partner was cheating on her. She leaves her perplexed friends (and her "bad Jetta") to board the train, finding her lover in the arms of other women. The distinct, punchy beat on the song’s introduction is layered with samples from music icons Al Green ("I’m Glad You’re Mine") and Prince ("17 Days").
A few years after her album’s debut, in 1994, MC Lyte went on to break history as she became the first female rapper to be nominated for the Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY Award.
Lyte as a Rock is a breakthrough album that paved the way for solo female MCs to shatter stereotypes and show audiences they are as competent as their counterparts. It resonates with the experiences of young women across time periods and encourages unapologetic assertiveness–especially when it comes to addressing cardinal issues.
Queen Latifah - Black Reign (1993)
Long before she became an award-winning actress, Queen Latifah made waves in the music industry. Black Reign, which was certified gold in 1994, is Queen Latifah’s third and most successful album. The album cover features a brooding, blurred image of Latifah yelling–and its track list proves she had a few things to say. Popular songs on the album include "Just Another Day" and the chartbusting hit "U.N.I.T.Y."
The song "U.N.I.T.Y." is elegantly assertive and serves as a call to arms for women against insolence from men. Its dreamy, melodious intro features a saxophone sample from Houston-based jazz group the Crusaders. Due to the song’s powerful message, it often was played on the airwaves uncensored. The video, which begins with a brief tribute to the artist’s late brother, visits different scenarios where women are disrespected — and highlights how they combat the disrespect.
The success of U.N.I.T.Y. earned Queen Latifah a GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance. In 2023, she performed at the GRAMMYs in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.
Black Reign showcases the importance of female empowerment, as well as Queen Latifah’s versatility as an artist. The messages throughout the album have continued relevance to present-day matters, such as gender equality and social justice. Overall, Black Reign showed audiences that female rappers can use their platforms to demand change.
Lil’ Kim - Hardcore (1996)
Lil’ Kim’s debut album Hardcore has lived up to its namesake due to its carnal content and staunch lyricism. The album features hits such as "No Time" featuring Sean "Diddy" Combs, and "Big Momma Thang" featuring rappers Lil’ Cease and Jay-Z. Although the provocative album was bold for the time period, it sparked crucial conversations that are still very germane. Hardcore impugned gender norms and highlighted struggles female MCs faced in the industry–and beyond.
Musically and stylistically, Hardcore has inspired a generation of female rappers. From flow to fashion, Kim’s influence in the industry is immeasurable. Since her debut, almost everything about the Queen Bee has been emulated–from her love of high-end fashion to her provocative and controversial promo poster for Hardcore.
The album cover shows Lil’ Kim surrounded by bouquets of roses, confidently and suggestively posing on a bear-skinned rug. The album’s sexually explicit lyrics pushed boundaries and made listeners take notice of Kim's bravado — and her bars. In 2001, Hardcore was certified 2x platinum.
The song "No Time" is the only one on the album to achieve gold status. However, one of the more memorable cuts on the album is "Crush On You" with Lil’ Cease. The looped, synthesized piano featured on the song’s beat was sampled from Jeff Lorber’s jazz song "Rain Dance." While the album version of the song features the late Notorious B.I.G. on the chorus, Kim’s appearance on the track brings synergy.
The video for the hit single gives a nod to the movie The Wiz, and features colorful scenes where everyone’s outfits match the different dancefloors. Lil’ Kim is no exception, as her outfits (and wigs) also correspond to the colors, making the video utterly unforgettable.
Hardcore was a commercial success that challenged industry expectations of female MCs. Largely, the album proved to be pivotal, and Kim’s aptitude helped establish herself as a force in the industry, even beyond hip-hop. For example, later on in her career, Lil’ Kim earned a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Lady Marmalade."
The iconic album celebrated sexuality in a unique way the music world had not seen previously, and ultimately paved the way for women to be unapologetic about their self expression. As such, the impact Hardcore had in 1996 can still be felt–and seen–today.
Foxy Brown - Ill Na Na (1996)
Exactly one week after Lil’ Kim dropped her platinum selling debut, then 17-year-old Brooklynite Foxy Brown dropped her seminal album Ill Na Na. The sultry album had a slew of hits, including "I’ll Be" featuring Jay-Z and club anthem "Get Me Home" featuring R&B group Blackstreet. Additionally, the title track featured Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man. The album also featured production from R&B great Teddy Riley and Trackmasters.
Foxy Brown's pairing of smooth R&B elements and hip-hop heavyweights proved to be successful; roughly three months after its debut, the album went platinum. It became one of the fastest albums by a female rapper to reach such a status at that time. The album was re-released in 1997, with the addition of the hit song "Big Bad Mamma" with R&B group Dru Hill. The song landed on the soundtrack to the movie How to Be a Player. The album’s breakout song "I’ll Be" heavily samples R&B duo Rene and Angela Winbush’s ‘80s tune "I’ll Be Good." It is the only song on the album to achieve gold status.
Ill Na Na’s style of sexually explicit lyrics and luscious lyricism followed in the footsteps of her predecessors. The rapper also embraced her sexuality, which further solidified the new level of female empowerment for women in hip-hop that was being incubated in the ‘90s. However, Foxy’s form is clearly her own, and her candor and confidence provide a melodious texture to the album’s tracks.
Ill Na Na is among the important vestiges of 1990s hip-hop, as its elements have a continued impact on modern audiences and rappers alike. The album’s release and success during a time when women were beginning to rise in rap helped sequester any notions of female MCs being fleeting ideas in the industry.
Missy Elliot - Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Missy Elliot’s debut album, Supa Dupa Fly, redrew rap boundaries with its campy lyrics over salient beats. It also showed audiences that female MCs can be found beyond the borders of the Tri-state area. The album, which was recorded in a mere two weeks, features hits such as "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and "Beep Me 911" featuring R&B group 702 and rapper Magoo. Supa Dupa Fly also contained the chart-topping song "Sock it 2 Me," with fellow female rapper Da Brat. The video for the track features Lil’ Kim, and shows the three rappers fighting robotic monsters in space.
Songs on the album were a blend of R&B, funk and rap, paired with anomalous beats that are still easy to dance to. Artists such as Ginuwine and the late Aaliyah were among those featured alongside Elliot. Although the album is now revered as groundbreaking in many ways, Elliot was not aware how much of an impact it would have as time went on.
The innovative album embraced creativity and celebrated eccentricity. For example, one of the most memorable visuals from the album is the oversized inflatable, iconic black suit Missy wore in the video "The Rain." The suit and song lyrics brought a more playful feel to the genre and showed the versatility of female rappers to viewers and listeners alike. The song, which was produced by her close friend Timbaland, samples Ann Peeble’s "I Can’t Stand the Rain."
Supa Dupa Fly empowered women to be confident and independent, and also challenged tradition. The album pushed the perimeter of hip-hop, especially for female MCs. For one, the album embraced Afrofuturism, visually and lyrically. Songs like "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and “Sock it To Me” provided audiences with a sci-fi element that inspired future MCs to adopt similar looks and sounds.
Supa Dupa Fly was certified platinum in September 1997, a mere two months after its July 1997 debut. Since its release, Missy has gone on to win four GRAMMY Awards. In early 2023, Missy, alongside other trailblazing female rappers, performed at the GRAMMYs in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. This November, she will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
The accolades for the blockbuster debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Fugees frontwoman Lauryn Hill, are endless. The album, which had minimal features by other artists, was certified gold by the RIAA only a mere two weeks after it debuted, and in 2021, the album was certified Diamond. It is the first album by a female rapper to achieve the prestigious honor.
Hill manages to balance her bars with sensuous R&B crooning, showcasing her range and versatility, while her smooth lyrics remain weighty and cognizant. Many of the tracks on the album became singles: "Ex Factor," "Doo Wop (That Thing)," "Lost Ones," and "Everything is Everything." The video for "Doo Wop (That Thing)" featured side-by-side scenes of New York City in 1967 and 1998, with everyone styled for both time periods. The song’s lyrics call for men and women to watch out for those who are only about "that thing," which Hill details in dedicated verses.
Songs on the album covered universal themes, such as loss and love. For example, the song “To Zion” is a heartfelt letter penned to Hill’s son, which details the struggles she faced becoming pregnant at the height of her career. Additionally, in between each track are small interludes that can only be found if one listens to songs in continuity. The captivating sounds Hill’s storytelling captured make that easy for listeners to do, which helped the album reach a wide-ranging audience. Thus, the album garnered critical acclaim and pushed its accolades epically into the stratosphere.
In 1998, Miseducation became the highest selling debut album of any female rapper–and any female artist of other genres. Hill again made history by becoming the first solo female rapper to win a GRAMMY; the album was nominated for 10 golden gramophones and Hill took home five. Hill also became the first woman (and rapper) to have the most GRAMMY Award nominations in one night. The awards she won included Album of the Year, which was the first time a rapper had ever won the award. Twenty-five years later, her debut album is still among the best selling albums of all time.
The success and sound of Hill’s album still resonates today, ultimately showing audiences the power of the female MC and the importance of female-driven narratives.
Eve - Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady (1999)
Eve wrote all the songs on her debut, Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady. The Philly native’s pen proved to be solid, as the freshman album produced a slew of hits, such as "Gotta Man” and "Love is Blind" featuring Faith Evans. Debut single “What Y’all Want” feat. Nokio from Dru Hill was produced by Ruff Ryders’ Swizz Beatz, who also produced most of the songs on the album.
At the time of Eve’s album’s release, Ruff Ryders was an already established, popular rap collective from Yonkers, whose roster included notable rappers such as the late DMX and The Lox. Just like her trademark paw print tattoos, Eve stood out, as she was the only female on the label. The unique position earned her the title of First Lady.
Let There Be Eve showcased Eve’s lyrical prowess and versatility. Songs like “Philly, Philly” featuring fellow Philly rapper Beanie Sigel showed audiences that Eve could hold her own on the mic. On the bold "Ain’t Got No Dough," the rapper teamed up with Missy Elliot to deliver a catchy and conspicuous track. The album eventually went 2x platinum.
The album covered important themes, such as domestic violence. For example, the video for "Love is Blind" features a woman who is in an abusive relationship. Eve plays the role of the friend who advises the woman to leave before it is too late–although the friend sadly dies at the hands of the boyfriend. The cautionary tale Eve illustrates–both visually and lyrically–is touching and powerful, and still resonates today.
Let There Be Eve provides a strong female perspective that feels personal at times. The album was a cardinal shift from male-dominated narratives and reminded female listeners the importance of speaking on salient issues. It served as a capstone of rap albums released by female MCs in the ‘90s, and was a signpost as hip-hop entered the new millennium.
Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday (2010)
The chartbusting debut album Pink Friday by Queens native Nicki Minaj produced a multitude of hits: "Super Bass," "Your Love," and "Check It Out" with will.i.am, just to name a few. The album also featured appearances by Eminem, Drake and Natasha Bedingfield.
Pink Friday showcases the full gamut of Minaj’s lyricism — a balance of sweet (and spicy) for all to savor — while highlighting her versatility and pushing the parameters of the genre. Songs on the album are a blend of rap, pop, and R&B; a few tracks showcased her singing abilities. Additionally, the genre blending allowed the album to appeal to a more wide-ranging audience. Most of the tracks became radio favorites, and by 2016, Pink Friday was certified 3x platinum; it was the second highest selling debut album by a female rap artist. Since her musical debut, Nicki Minaj has been nominated for 10 GRAMMY Awards.
The Pink Friday album cover features Minaj styled as a doll with exaggerated features. In many ways, the design is a nod to Barbie — from the way the work "pink" is stylized, to Minaj’s overemphasized legs stretching the length of the album cover. In a way, the cover is symbolic of Nicki’s bold, confident persona.
The hit song "Moment 4 Life," features Minaj’s labelmate Drake, and details cherishing a moment of triumph. The timbre of its introduction is soft and bright, and begins with a modernized twinkle. The warm sound also ties into the music video’s fairytale concept, which shows Minaj as a fairy godmother–and royal figure.
Pink Friday provides listeners with diverse and unique tracks and tackles various relatable issues. Its success and innovation are influential and the album–as well as Nicki herself– have inspired a slew of rappers. Pink Friday ultimately embraces where female MCs have been–and shows audiences the endless possibilities of where they can go.
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy (2018)
All of the songs (yes, every single one) on Cardi B’s blockbuster debut album Invasion of Privacy have become certified platinum — the only album in history to receive such acclaim. Featuring hits such as "I Like It" and "Bodak Yellow," Invasion boasts tracks that are raunchy, confident and strong, a nod to her pioneering predecessors.
The sultry, yet assertive, video for the Bronx native’s song "Bodak Yellow," which boasts 1 billion views, primarily features Cardi in a desert in Dubai. Throughout the video, she sports various looks — and even sits next to a cheetah. Cardi’s lyrical authority shines through, as the song confidently explores the glamor of luxury fashion, sexual prowess and of course, "making money moves." The single became the first song by a female rapper to be certified diamond, demonstrating just how far women in hip-hop have come.
Cardi again made history when Invasion of Privacy was nominated for two GRAMMYs: Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album. She went on to win the award for Best Rap Album, making her the first solo female artist to do so.
Invasion of Privacy is pivotal, as it incorporates influences from many aforementioned essential albums. Its success showcases the overall importance of women in hip-hop and helps to open doors for future female MCs to tell their stories–and blaze new, boundless trails for us to travel on.
Photo: Clemens Bilan/picture alliance via Getty Images
5 Artists Influenced By Enya: Brandy, Nicki Minaj, Grimes & More
Thirty-five years after Enya's second studio effort, 'Watermark,' ushered in the contemporary New Age scene, take a look at five artists who have professed their love of the four-time GRAMMY winner.
Enya never used to be considered the epitome of cool. Perhaps that was due to her image as a reclusive castle dweller. Maybe it's because she's never played a single live show in her four-decade career. Or it could be that her music has often been snootily dismissed as the aural equivalent of a bath bomb.
But over time, the four-time GRAMMY winner born Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin has received a deserved critical reevaluation. The modern-day consensus is that her ethereal blend of Celtic folk, classical and pioneering use of lush, multi-layered synths — developed in conjunction with long-term creative team Nicky and Roma Ryan — spearheaded a new age for, well, New Age.
She's now talked about in the same circles as Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser and Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard, singers that, unlike Enya, were immediately celebrated for pushing their remarkable voices to new otherworldly places. And she's been sampled, namechecked or championed by artists as eclectic as industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, death metallers Blood Incantation and the many-monikered rapper, Diddy.
In fact, think of any Enya song, and it's no doubt been borrowed by an unlikely suspect. "Boadicea" formed the basis of Fugees' career-best "Ready or Not," and rather sneakily without the hip-hop trio asking first. "Wild Child" was given the hardcore techno treatment by Eurodance duo CJ Crew. And yes, that is her most recognizable hit you can hear in the chorus of hip-hop provocateurs Die Antwoord's "Orinoco Ninja Flow (Wedding DJ's Remix)."
Sample or not, some musicians have been more vocal about their love of Ireland's second-biggest music export (only U2 have sold more records worldwide) than others. As her breakthrough album, Watermark, celebrates its 35th anniversary on Sept 19, here's a look at five.
Brandy certainly doesn't see Enya as a guilty pleasure. The R&B star leapt to the defense of her unlikely musical hero during a 2020 interview with The Guardian when the journalist questioned the Irish icon's musical credibility. "Enya's a joke to you?" she asked incredulously. "That's not even possible. I'm a little bit offended."
The man who'd incurred her wrath should have known that Brandy takes Enya very seriously. You can hear the Irish' songstress' influence throughout her enduring career, from the gorgeous multi-layered harmonies of "Full Moon" to the hypnotic chant that weaves its way through the futuristic Timbaland production of "Afrodisiac."
"She has the voice of an angel," Brandy gushed in the introduction for an Apple playlist personally curated to reflect her life, with Enya's post-9/11 anthem "Only Time" appearing alongside Coldplay's "Yellow," three Whitney Houston cuts, and the best of her own material. "I first discovered Enya when I was 15. I love how she layered and stacked her voice."
Weyes Blood, aka baroque pop singer/songwriter Natalie Mering, was also forced to stick up for Enya when she was asked by The Irish Times whether her love of the New Age veteran was shrouded in irony. Her reply couldn't have made her sincerity any clearer.
"She is a completely uninhibited feminine force," said Mering. "A matriarchal force in music. She had so much success because of that distinctive sound. But because music people are obsessed with rock 'n' roll and drums, she doesn't get the attention she deserves. If you look at her record sales, she is, in my opinion, up there with the Beatles."
A year later, Mering waxed lyrical about the former Clannad singer in a Pitchfork piece about Enya's growing cultural cachet. She revealed that the Watermark and Shepherd Moons albums her parents played constantly back in the 1990s were a huge influence on her own LPs, 2016's Front Row Seat to Earth and 2019's Titanic Rising, particularly on the former's ballad "Generation Why." Mering then made a claim even bolder than her Fab Four comparison: "Enya's a drone artist, she's like the most mainstream noise artist there ever was."
You wouldn't necessarily expect an album featuring a belated riposte to Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" to also be partly influenced by the enigmatic darling of the New Age scene. But apparently, Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint does nod to Enya on at least a couple of occasions.
Discussing her 2014 LP with V magazine, Minaj said, "One of my biggest [musical influences] is Enya. There are two records early in the album where the airiness and the whimsicalness remind me of Enya, and I sort of crafted it thinking about her and the way her music makes me feel."
And the rapper also tried to convert her son (still only known by his nickname, Papa Bear) to Enya's studio wizardry while he was still in the womb. The rapper explained on Twitter, "While pregnant I could only play him soothing music like Enya/classical, etc. He'd be more relaxed."
Grimes' fondness for the Celtic goddess appears to have developed over time. When asked about her "Enya on steroids" label early on in her career, the Canadian seemed relatively non-committal. "I probably have the 'Best Of Enya' somewhere," she told NME. "I guess it makes a change from all the Cocteau Twins comparisons."
But over the following decade, Grimes showed more appreciation for Enya's talents. In 2013, she told Rolling Stone that her then-upcoming Art Angels album was heavily influenced by the Irishwoman's ethereal sound, particularly closer "Butterfly" in which she layered "so much Enya synth s—."
Five years later, Grimes included the haunting "Boadicea" on Playing Bloodborne, one of five mood-specific playlists she curated for Spotify. And during her 2022 DJ set at the Electric Daisy Carnival, Grimes no doubt confounded all the ravers expecting wall-to-wall EDM when she dropped in the geography lesson that is "Orinoco Flow."
"I also love Enya or Cocteau Twins, where I can't understand a word they're saying and they're pulling a thread that does not exist in the real world but is still so satisfying." Perfume Genius' 2020 interview with The New Yorker proves that the world music icon's influence extends the female sphere.
The singer/songwriter born Michael Alden Hadreas has repeatedly professed his admiration for Enya in recent years. "My wig has belonged to Enya since 1988," he tweeted in 2019. "Was Enya the first to ever pop off," he posted without any context a year later. And then in 2023, the art pop troubadour named "Caribbean Blue" as one of his 40 all-time favorite songs while joining in with the latest Twitter trend.
Hadreas' love of Enya has undoubtedly filtered down to his own sound, too. Hear the "Orinoco Flow"-esque intro of "Just Like Love," for example, or the celestial "Gay Angels." Speaking to Pitchfork in 2022, he explained that the Irishwoman's general aura is the key to her appeal — and what has helped classify her as a different kind of cool.
"There's something about Enya being so mainstream that is really soothing to me," he said. "Everybody knows who Enya is, but there's also this feeling that it's something spiritual and strange."
The star's unique vibe also gave Hadreas a sense of belonging — something Enya likely did for many of his peers as well. "It felt like a deeper thing, this secret, like I know that I am connected to something, and I know the way I am is OK."
Photo: Jora Frantzis
Listen: Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B Release New Song, "Bongos"
The single is the first collaboration between the GRAMMY-winning rappers since 2020's "WAP."
GRAMMY-winning artists Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are back with a new single, "Bongos." The song highlights the duo's flow and connection, as they trade verses over a bouncy, repetitive and infectious beat fit for the club.
Released at the brink of autumn, the accompanying video for "Bongos" features vibrant visuals, majestic choreography and a Latin-inspired rhythm that makes listeners yearn for summer. The tropical-themed video was directed by Tanu Muino, who is known for her work on Harry Styles' "As it Was" and Normani’s "Wild Side."
The single’s cover art was teased a week prior on social media, showcasing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion holding lollipops with bright matching swimsuits and pastel-colored curls.
"Bongos" marks the second collaboration since the duo's groundbreaking "WAP" single, which was performed at the 2021 GRAMMY awards and made history for its debut as the first female rap collaboration to top Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Fans who were expecting a "WAP sequel" won't be disappointed. During an interview with DJ Whoo Kid, Cardi B speaks on the song themes and the difference between WAP, saying "We are talking a little, you know, about some p—y, but not like ‘WAP’ type of stuff,” she said.
Cardi B has consistently been on the charts since her 2018 debut LP, Invasion of Privacy which won Best Rap Album at the 2019 GRAMMYs. Recent collaborations including "Point Me 2" with FendiDa Rappa, "Put it On the Floor" with Latto and "Jealousy" with Offset have reached topped charts and there’s speculation for a new album soon.
It’s uncertain if "Bongos" will appear on Cardi B’s sophomore album. She recently told Vogue Mexico x LatinAmerica, "I’m not going to release any more collaborations, I’m going to put out my next solo single.”
This is Megan’s first feature since her sophomore album, Traumazine, which was released in 2022. Megan announced a break from music in early 2023 to focus on her mental health amid the public trial against Tory Lanez.
Megan Thee Stallion has continued to flourish in the media, hosting "Saturday Night Live" and venturing into acting roles including Disney+ series "She-Hulk; Attorney at Law."
Photo: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images
'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill': 25 Facts About The Iconic Album, From Its Cover To Its Controversy
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the solo album by the Fugees star, GRAMMY.com digs into how Lauryn Hill's monumental LP was made and the impact on popular music that followed.
Fugees singer and rapper Lauryn Hill has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill all summer, with special performances at high-profile festivals across the country, including Roots Picnic in Philadelphia and ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans. Soon, she'll embark on a 17-date world tour, co-headlining with Fugees on the dates that take place in the United States.
Released on Aug. 25, 1998, Miseducation was Hill's debut solo album and only one to date. Decades later, it remains a touchstone and high watermark for hip-hop and R&B, helping to redefine both genres. Hill and her opus are still influencing artists today, from Lizzo to Drake.
Keep the party going with 25 facts about the album and its impact, from what the cover art was originally supposed to look like, to the current Mayor who appeared as the narrator, and the book to read for all the Miseducation tea.
Miseducation Is The First Hip-Hop Record To Win Album Of The Year
In 1999, Hill became the first woman to earn five GRAMMYs in one night. Her wins included Best New Artist, Best R&B Album and Album Of The Year. (To date, she has won eight GRAMMYs and received 19 GRAMMY nominations in total.)
"This is crazy, 'cuz this is hip-hop music!" Hill exclaimed when Whitney Houston presented her with the golden gramophone for Album Of The Year, which no other hip-hop album had done before. Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which won in 2004, is the only other hip-hop album to win the prestigious category.
The Album Was Recorded In Bob Marley's Home
Bob Marley's legendary Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica — which also happened to be his home — is the most prominent of the three places where Miseducation was recorded.
"We recorded in New York, Miami, and at Hope Road in Jamaica," the album's sound engineer Gordon "Commissioner Gordon" Williams recalled to Okayplayer in 2021. "To be in Bob Marley's house created a landscape for magic. Stephen Marley was the one who invited us to come in. I had to organize the equipment that had to be brought to Jamaica, and we had to make sure it could work as a museum when we weren't recording."
Hill Kept Everything Raw On Purpose
Hill and Commissioner Gordon worked to create a sound that's deliberately raw. As she told Rolling Stone in 2008, "I don't like to use compressors and take away my textures, because I was raised on music that was recorded before technology advanced to the place where it could be smooth.
"I wanna hear that thickness of sound," she continued. "You can't get that from a computer, because a computer's too perfect. But that human element, that's what makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I love that."
Hill's Personality And Experiences Are In The Songs
On the album, Hill shares her struggles as a young Black mother who has been through turbulent relationships on songs such as "Ex Factor" and "Forgive Them Father," an honesty that's still relatable and appreciated 25 years later.
"I think the piece as a whole communicates my personality, it is the culmination of my experiences, the sum total of what I had gone through at a certain point in my life," Hill said in a 2013 interview with The Guardian. "To me it's like driving in a storm, it's hard to see where you're going. You're just praying to get out of it. But once you get out of it, you can look back and say; 'Oh man, thank god!' Give thanks, 'cos that's what I came out of. That's what the album feels like to me."
Her Label Didn't Love Some Of The Early Versions
Miseducation went through a few iterations before it was ultimately finalized for release, and her label (Ruffhouse/Columbia Records) reportedly was unimpressed with the first work that they heard.
"Lauryn and her mom took [early versions of] her album to Sony Records and they said, 'This is coffee table music. What is this s—? Coffee table music," Rohan Marley, the father of Hill's children, told Rolling Stone in 2008. "She took her s— and walked outta there."
The Album Made Chart History In The United States
Miseducation landed in the top spot on the Billboard 200 in the first week of release. The Score, Hill's 1996 album with Fugees, was also a No. 1 hit, but it didn't debut in that position. Her feat set a record for the first unaccompanied female solo rapper to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre albums chart. (To this day, she remains one of only five female rappers to achieve the feat; the other four are Foxy Brown, Eve, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B.)
It Was An International Hit, Too
Like The Score, Hill's solo album was a major success internationally. Miseducation appeared in the top 20 on pop and R&B charts all over the world, including No. 1 in Canada and Ireland, as well as on the UK R&B Albums chart.
"Doo Wop (That Thing)" Is A Two-Time Billboard Record Breaker
As a woman solo artist, Hill set long-held records for singles with "Doo Wop (That Thing)," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Rap Songs chart. Miseducation also set a record for being the first album by a woman to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
The Album Also Set A Sales Record
Guinness Book of World Records notes that the album's first-week sales of 422,624 copies set a record for female artists at the time. Though that's still an astonishing opening week figure, Hill's record was later broken by Adele when she sold 3.38 million copies of her album 25.
A Book Inspired The Title…
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Hill cited Carter G. Woodson's 1933 book The Mis-Education of The Negro as an inspiration.
"The title of the album was meant to discuss those life lessons, those things that you don't get in any textbook, things that we go through that force us to mature," she said. "Hopefully we learn. Some people get stuck. They say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and these are some really powerful lessons that changed the course and direction of my life."
…And A Book Now Examines Its Impact
In 2018, author Joan Morgan, the program director of NYU's Center for Black Visual Culture, released She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on Atria Books. Morgan beautifully combines interviews with Black authors and activists such as dream hampton, Tarana Burke and Michaela Angela Davis with her own experience, and how they all found resonating messages within the album.
"I loved Miseducation, at least as much as the nineteen million or so folks who've bought it since 1998," she wrote. "I'd even go as far as to say I probably loved it more than every mofo in those governing bodies that bestowed it with seventeen cumulative Billboard, American Music, Grammy, and MTV awards. Why? Because I was one of the score of hip-hop-loving and/or pregnant women who swore the album was soundtracking her life."
The Narrator Is Now The Mayor Of A Major City
The teacher heard talking with students on Miseducation's interludes, is voiced by Ras Baraka, now the longtime Mayor of Newark, NJ. At the time of Hill's album, Baraka, who is the son of the famous poet and activist Amiri Baraka, was well known in the community.
"I was running for councilman in Newark and was also an eighth grade teacher," Baraka revealed to Rolling Stone in 2008. "I was just about to take two of my students home and Lauryn called and asked if I could come up to her house in South Orange. There were chairs set up in the living room and a bunch of kids were there. She told me she wanted to discuss the concept of love. There was a blackboard and I wrote the letters 'LOVE' and we just went into the whole discussion."
The Album Cover Was Almost Shot At Hill's High School
Photographer Eric Johnson and Hill went to her alma mater, Columbia High School in South Orange, New Jersey, to shoot pictures of her for the album cover.
"I always wanted to shoot photos that people would really connect with," Johnson told Okayplayer in 2021. "I wanted to create something that was chic, but that regular people could identify with as well."
But instead of using one of those raw photos, Hill ultimately decided on the carved desk cover art that fans know, which is based on an image that Johnson took of her face.
Miseducation Was Released In Four Different Physical Formats
Released in a pre-streaming era, Miseducation dropped on cassette, CD, minidisc and record. There is even a rare limited edition album made with orange-colored vinyl. (It's now available on all major streaming platforms.)
There Are Two Hidden Tracks
The vinyl version of the album and select international editions include two songs that aren't listed on the cover: "Tell Him" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," a cover of Frankie Valli's Sixties standard. (Though today, the songs aren't hidden — they're widely available on streaming services.)
"Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" Was In A Movie
Hill's rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" was first in a Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts movie called Conspiracy Theory that came out in 1997 — which is the reason the song ended up on the album.
"It was originally recorded for [the soundtrack for the movie] Conspiracy Theory and ended up on the radio, became popular, and that's how it ended became a bonus track," Commissioner Gordon explained to Rolling Stone.
Carlos Santana Guest Stars On "To Zion"
When Santana played guitar on Hill's song about her son Zion, he fulfilled one of her childhood dreams. He weaves his instrument delicately and masterfully around a marching drum beat and the vocals of Hill and her background singers.
"I used to write music, you know, write songs over [Santana's] guitar playing when I was a little kid," Hill told MTV News in 1999. "I had all his records and I would play 'Samba Pa Ti' on [the] 'Abraxas' album and just write rhymes and songs on top of it. So I knew Carlos way before he knew me."
Her Duet With Mary J. Blige Samples Wu-Tang Clan
Hill and Mary J. Blige's duet "I Used to Love Him" samples a hook from "Ice Cream," a song released in 1995 by rapper Raekwon featuring his fellow Wu-Tang Clan members Cappadonna and Method Man. The track's title also calls back to another '90s rap star, as it's a play on Common's 1994 song "I Used to Love H.E.R.," an acronym for Hip-Hop in its Essence is Real.
A College-Aged John Legend Played On "Everything Is Everything"
John Legend was attending the University of Pennsylvania when he got the opportunity to meet Hill through a mutual friend. After he played piano and sang a Stevie Wonder song for her, she invited him to contribute to Miseducation.
"Lauryn said, 'Why don't you play on this record we're working on right now? And it was 'Everything is Everything," he said in a 2013 interview with Yahoo!
The song became a Top 40 hit, and Legend scored some bragging rights at school. "I went back to college and I was the man after that," he joked.
A Subtle Salute To House Music Hides In The Lyrics
Though Miseducation is a hip-hop work that doesn't sonically veer into house music, Hill winks at a foundational classic from the dance music genre on the album. When she says, "Jack ya, jack ya, jack ya body" in "Every Ghetto, Every City," she is referencing the 1986 club anthem "Jack Your Body" by Chicago DJ/producer Steve 'Silk' Hurley.
New Ark's Lawsuit Over The Album Raised Questions
In late 1998, the music collective New Ark (guitarist Johari Newton, pianist Tejumold Newton, drum programmer Vada Nobles and songwriter Rasheem "Kilo" Pugh) sued ill, alleging that their work on Miseducation was not properly credited. The lawsuit was reportedly settled for $5 million in 2001, but accusations outside the legal arena have persisted for years.
In 2018, Hill posted a written response to pianist Robert Glasper's claims that she uses work from others without giving credit. In it, she acknowledged that it took the work of others to bring her vision to life, but asserts that she is the nucleus, and that she hired musicians to execute her specific ideas.
"The album inspired many people, from all walks of life, because of its radical (intense) will to live and to express Love," she countered in the response, which was posted to Medium. "I appreciate everyone who was a part of it, in any and every capability. It wouldn't have existed the way that it did without the involvement, skill, hard work, and talents of the artists/musicians and technicians who were a part of it, but it still required my vision, my passion, my faith, my will, my soul, my heart, and my story."
"Ex-Factor" Made Its Way Into Two 2018 Rap Hits
Hill's "Ex-Factor" was sampled in two different pop hits that were both released in April 2018. Drake's "Nice For What" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while Cardi B's "Be Careful" peaked at No. 11; both achieved higher chart success than the original, which stalled at number 21.
Lizzo took Inspiration From "Doo Wop (That Thing)" In 2022
Teaming up with Mark Ronson, Lizzo interpolated (aka replayed) melodies from Hill's hit "Doo Wop (That Thing)" on "Break Up Twice." The song appears on Lizzo's second album, Special. She's also performed covers of the original track on tour.
The Album Set Another Record 23 Years After Its Release
In 2021, Guinness Book of World Records noted that Hill became the first female rapper to reach RIAA Diamond certification for selling 10 million copies of Miseducation. Not only has no other female rapper achieved the feat since, but Hill is in rare company: the only other rappers to reach Diamond status for an album are Eminem, OutKast, Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Beastie Boys and MC Hammer.
Hill Announced A World Tour To Celebrate The 25th Anniversary
On Aug. 22, the star announced a 17-date world tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of her monumental solo album. Fugees will co-headline the U.S. stops, which begin in Minneapolis on Sept. 8.
"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is and was a love song to my parents, my family, my people, my musical and cultural forebears, my teachers, my loves, my Creator," Hill said in a press release. "I wrote love songs and protest songs— (still love songs) about the subjects and interests that inspired and moved me. I was confident that what inspired me would resonate with an audience that had been led to believe that songs of that kind could only live in the past.
"I loved music, I loved people, I truly felt grateful to God for my life, and genuinely blessed to have a platform where I could share wisdom and perspective through music," she added. "I felt a charge to challenge the idea that certain kinds of expression and/or certain kinds of people didn't belong in certain places. I loved showing what could work or happen provided there was imagination, creativity and LOVE leading the way."
Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
9 Teen Girls Who Built Hip-Hop: Roxanne Shante, J.J. Fadd, Angie Martinez & More
Since the birth of hip-hop in 1973, teenage girls have made space for themselves in a world dominated by adult men. Read on for the stories of nine girls who have made an indelible impact on the culture.
More often heralded for their fandom than their artistic contributions, teenage girls have been a driving force in hip-hop since its inception. After all, it was a teen girl, Cindy Campbell, who came up with the idea to host the back-to-school fundraiser that jumpstarted hip-hop in 1973.
Though their names may not be the first to be mentioned in mainstream conversation, young women in hip-hop paved the way for teen artists such as Brandy and Monica, Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child that would shape culture in the late '90s and early aughts. The stories of these groundbreaking young women aren't always fairy tales — some are cautionary and some tragic — but all soar as examples of making space for themselves, sometimes as "the only" in a world dominated by adult men.
The current bloom of new female rappers have learned and taken inspiration from these innovators. Rappers like Latto, who launched via the reality show "The Rap Game" at 16, and even had the foresight to turn down the contract offered to her as a reality show winner and seek a more equitable deal for herself.
As hip-hop celebrates its 50th birthday, take a moment to celebrate these often under unsung, underaged, innovators.
Heralded as "the mother of the mic" Sharon Green a.k.a. MC Sha-Rock spent her childhood exploring slam poetry. She was well-seasoned in the art of rhyming by the time she auditioned for the Funky Four Plus One at age 17.
Born of Latin break and Afro-Caribbean rhythms the dance moves that accompanied these melded beats soon became an essential element of hip-hop. The first female member of the Bronx born Rock Steady Crew, early B-girl Daisy Castro a.k.a. Baby Love was only 14 when she took to breaking, finding her petite teen frame perfect for the complicated moves.
During her three years in the Rock Steady Crew,she saw breakdancing break into the mainstream via films like Flashdance and Beat Street.
Fourteen-year-old Lolita Roxanne Shanté was neighbors with hip-hop luminary DJ Marley Marl, who asked her to lay down a response track while the teen was on her way to do laundry. On the fly she set the blueprint for all diss tracks to follow, laying down a verse on top of "Roxanne, Roxanne" by UTFO.
That freestyle, "Roxanne’s Revenge," brought her fame, but the scene refused to recognize her as a singular talent. In 1985 at 15, she competed head-to-head in an otherwise all-male field in a the infamous "The Battle for World Supremacy." Despite battling and defeating 12 men for the title, Roxanne was told by the judge that the burgeoning art form would not be viewed as legitimate if a 15-year-old girl won and the contest was thrown against her.
"Roxanne’s Revenge" had made its mark, however, and she inspired a generation of young female MCs.
Though she would go on to direct on the big and small screen, Lisa Leone’s career as a hip-hop photographer dates back to her teens, where she majored in photography at the High School of Art and Design. "[People] would ask me to take pictures for them (for) publicity photos," She told Dazed in 2016. "So it was kind of a natural way, being there and photographing what you loved and in front of your face every day, you know just your friends. At the time, I would never have imagined that it (would) become what it was because we were kids."
With their hit single "Supersonic," J.J. Fad's success helped build Eazy E’s Ruthless Records label and fund NWA’s debut record.
Though the group started as a quintet, its incarnation as a trio with Juana Burns (MC J.B.), Dana Birks (Baby-D), and then middle-schooler Michelle Franklin (Sassy C.) they would find their musical footing.
More than a novelty J.J. Fad were serious on the mic, going on long freestyle runs, as evidenced by the live clip below (which is very worth watching till the end).
High Schoolers Bunny D and Lady Tigra provided a more wholesome entry point to the notoriously raunchy Miami bass scene with their 1988 smash "Cars That Go Boom Despite releasing two more records for Altalic, they were never able to replicate the single’s success. The song would go on to be included in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Hip Hop Songs of All Time.
The duo released three albums for Atlantic Records before disbanding in the early '90s. Lady Tigra would stick with music going on to write jingles, perform on "Yo Gabba Gabba," and become a fixture on both the New York and Miami club scenes.
When a classmate asked a 16-year-old Deidre Muriel Roper if she was interested in joining a female rap duo in Queens, she had already been working the turntables for two years.Inspired by her fathers extensive record collection, Dee Dee as she was then known, had become a noted DJ in Brooklyn and as DJ Spinderella, she joined forces with Salt-n-Pepa to create one of the best selling hip-hop acts of the 1990s.
While female fronted rap acts began to proliferate the mainstream, Spinderella remains one of the most prominent femme DJs in the game. She also produced several Salt-n-Pepa tracks and is, of course, is an MC in her own right.
Now considered one of hip-hop's most prominent radio hosts and interviewers, Angie Martinez got her start as a teen answering call-in lines for New York station Hot 97.
Under the mentorship of Funk Master Flex, Martinez rose to radio prominence earning the moniker "The Voice of New York." She has also dabbled in acting and flirted with MCing, joining the all-star cast of Lil Kim’s "Not Tonight" Remix.
Misa Hylton was a 17-year-old intern at Uptown Records when she, went toe-to-toe with label President Andre Herrell. She insisted that group who would go on to be known as "The Bad Boys of R&B" or Jodeci should break with R&B convention, ditch the suited-up attire of their predecessors, and adopt street wear as their signature look.
She would change the course of hip-hop fashion, again, collaborating with Lil' Kim on her "Crush on You" video and iconic purple playsuit (and pastie) VMA’s look. Still impacting Hip Hop style, Hylton is responsible for looks like Beyonce and Jay-Z’s infamous, his and hers, pastel suits in the video for "Apes—."