Hip-hop’s misogynist streak has long made the art form hostile to women, particularly those with the skill, talent, and desire to make the music themselves. But there’s a rich history of strong women making their mark on the game, from Golden Age battle legend Roxanne Shanté and crossover stars like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Lil’ Kim to the genre-bending Missy Elliott and, of course, the goddess Lauryn Hill, whose Miseducation redefined what a hip-hop record was and could be. As they’ve carved out space in hip-hop for women, the diversity of perspectives have served only to make the music stronger and more relatable to more people.
These days, women who rap are shedding the novelty label, with contemporary pop stars like Nicki Minaj standing on the shoulders of their forebears to reach the top of the pop charts. But while all ears have been turned to Minaj since the moment we heard her heart-stopping bars on Kanye West’s “Monster” (if not earlier), there are plenty of other MCs spitting just as hard with nowhere near as much recognition. In honor of International Women’s Day, here’s a short list of some of the illest MCs in the game right now. And they all just happen to be women.