The greatest ever female rap tracks – ranked!

With mesmerising Bronx rapper Cardi B’s debut album Invasion of Privacy dropping this week, we look back at the greatest moments from the female rap stars who preceded her

10. Foxy Brown – I’ll Be

This 1996 refixing of René & Angela’s 1985 electro-R&B hit I’ll Be Good remains Foxy Brown’s only UK Top 10 single from her Ill Na Na album, but what a single it is. Its nostalgic revival of soul music cemented a production trend, and helped to propel its guest rapper – a baby-faced Jay-Z – into the stratosphere.

9. Angie Martinez, Lil’ Kim, Left Eye, Da Brat & Missy Elliott – Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)

An upbeat frolic as Lil’ Kim recruits some of the leading ladies of the 90s scene. All would go on to make harder-edged diss tracks, but this slightly cheesy Kool and the Gang-sampling track made a point: we can do bars about guns, sex, weed and cash even better than the men. Missy Elliott’s indignation at having to do the chorus – “What I look like? Patti LaBelle or somebody?” – is hilarious.

8. Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance

Less a rap track and more a pop darling having an edgy mainstream moment, this punchy manifesto still stands up. The cry of “that guy’s a gigolo, maaaaan!”, a slur intended to shame an untrustworthy, bed-hopping man, is out of date in 2018 but still just as satisfying to exclaim.

Azealia Banks – the Harlem rapper behind the earth-shattering 212.
Azealia Banks – the Harlem rapper behind the earth-shattering 212. Photograph: Publicity image

7. Azealia Banks – 212

Love her or loathe her, this earth-shattering moment from the then relatively unknown Harlem rapper had the energy of a nuclear reactor. Here she reclaimed the “c” word to astonishingly catchy effect.

6. Nicki Minaj – Did It On ‘Em

When this was released in 2010, Minaj was fast becoming a Technicolor pop-rap Barbie, but this was a reminder that she was still ready with scatological takedowns of her inferiors.

Lauryn Hill: ‘respect is just a minimum’.
Lauryn Hill: ‘respect is just a minimum’. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

5. Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)

A call to action to remind us of our worth: “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem / baby girl, respect is just a minimum”. In four minutes, the queen of the ASMR-inducing rap tingle slickly tells us to decolonise our beauty regimes and ditch a man who didn’t treat us properly. You feel bigger than yourself when you sing along.

4. BWP – Two Minute Brother

Less commercially viable than Salt N Pepa (probably thanks to album tracks like Kotex, which discussed menstruation at length), early-90s duo Lyndah McCaskill and Tanisha Michele Morgan took shots at grand promises of male prowess, and discussed inequality and the agency of black women with an acid wit.

Cardi B, whose eagerly awaited debut album is released this week.
Cardi B, whose eagerly awaited debut album is released this week. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

3. Cardi B – Bodak Yellow

The exhilarating Bronx rapper releases her debut album this week, her Spanish-inflected rhymes delivered with almost as much mesmerising energy as when she speaks. After a career as a stripper and appearing on reality TV show Love and Hip-Hop, Cardi B swaggered into the wider public consciousness with a simple and delectable line that would knock Taylor Swift off the US No 1 spot: “Little bitch, you can’t fuck with me if you wanted to”. Art.

2. Lil’ Kim – Big Momma Thang

There’s an audible quaking from men in the vicinity when Lil’ Kim walks into a room, and it’s thanks to moments like this. Kim delivers a sex education lesson that demands a man make her orgasm a minimum of 24 times. The Queen B pre-Beyoncé, Lil Kim’s power is unrivalled.

1. Missy Elliott – The Rain

Missy is one of the greatest conceptual thinkers in rap. Who else but her would hear soul singer Ann Peebles’ bluesy 1973 track I Can’t Stand The Rain and think to morph it into this a loping minimalist masterpiece? Coming amid an era of engorged hip-hop video budgets and fisheye cams, Missy made these clichés fresh again by imagining a new millennium both visually – see her famous inflatable billowing trash bag – and sonically, with Timbaland on production. This is a master, or rather mistress, at work.


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