If you ask hip-hop fans who the greatest male emcee of all time is, you're more than likely to get about 20 to 25 different responses. Now, switch the question to "Who's the best female rapper of all time?" and, alas, you're more than likely to end up with the same answer 9 out of 10 times: MC Lyte.
With gems like "I Cram to Understand U (Sam)" and "10% Dis" from her 1988 debut, Lyte As a Rock, MC Lyte changed hip-hop's perception of femcees without changing her outfit. Instead, she cloaked herself in dignity and integrity. And did I mention that she could run circles around many of her male counterparts with her take-your-hats-off wordplay? Lyte's originality, smooth flow, substance-packed content, and impeccable delivery, make her the unquestionable queen of rap music.
Long before she nabbed 5 Grammys for her debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ms. Hill was already in contention for the throne. As one-third of 90s super group, Fugees, L'Boogie quickly established herself as the focal point of the crew. By seamlessly blending jaw-dropping lyricism with social commentary, she helped make The Score the magnum opus of Fugees' catalog and, more importantly, a certified hip-hop classic.
On Miseducation, Lauryn unleashed the best fusion of hip-hop and R&B of the last decade. Her stellar songwriting flourished from song to song, whether grappling with spirituality ("Final Hour," "Forgive Them, Father") or stroking sexuality without exploiting it ("Nothing Even Matters"). Like Lyte and Latifah before her, Lauryn shines without drawing unnecessary attention to her sexual ambiance.
Queen Latifah couldn't have picked a more appropriate stage moniker. Thanks to a brilliant mesh of social commentary and political consciousness, this queen had no problem attracting a cult-like following from the jump off. Latifah was one of the first to demand self-respect and gender equality in hip-hop. Who can forget the Grammy-winning "U.N.I.T.Y." (from Black Reign), where she made it clear that addressing her as a b***h is a quick way to get yourself "punched dead" in the face?
Not only is Missy one of the best, she's also one of the most versatile hip-hop artists, period. A multi-faceted entertainer, Missy writes, raps, sings, and produces all her songs. Her music videos are consistently innovative and intriguing. To crown it all, no other female rapper has ever been able to match Missy's level of success.
Discovered by Jermaine Dupri in '92, Da Brat (like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah) exploded into the hip-hop scene at a time when female rappers were almost unheard of. Against all odds, her debut, Funkdafied, became the first platinum-selling album by a female rapper. Unlike Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, Da Bra-ta-ta skewered sexuality early on in her career. Instead, she relied on her dashing delivery and double time flow.
Lil' Kim's The Naked Truth was the first album by a female rapper to be awarded 5 mics in The Source magazine. Whether or not the accolades were well-deserved is another story. However, Kim's impact on hip-hop is unquestionable. Since her Hard Core debut in 1996, Kim has spawned a slew of emulators, who are eager to replicate her libidinous lyrics and in-your-face persona.
Before she went all Hollywood on us, Eve was often heralded for her superb songwriting. Hits like "Satisfaction," "Gangsta Lovin'" (with Alicia Keys) and "Let Me Blow Your Mind" (with Gwen Stefani) showcased her unique ability to appeal to a broad audience without losing her edge.
Granted, Foxy gets plenty of backlash for her raunchy lyrics, but, let's not forget that she also contributed to some of hip-hop's most notable hits. LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya" and Jay-Z's "Ain't No N***a" would've never sounded the same without Fox Boogie's catchy couplets. Brown has also managed to garner a measurable amount of success on her own three discs: Ill Na Na, Chyna Doll, and Broken Silence.
Rah Digga first showcased her lyrical tenacity by dropping verses here and there as a member of the Busta Rhymes-led Flipmode Squad. Digga eventually solidified her place with the electrifying Dirty Harriet LP. Rah's ability to craft commercially viable tracks while still dropping hardcore gems makes her stick out from the rest.
With three solid releases--Attack of the Attacking Things, The Bootlegg of The Bootlegg EP, and This Week--under her belt, South African-born, New York-bred rapper Jean Grae has been spinning heads for the past 10 years or so. What makes Grae stand out from the pack is her combination of humor and seriousness. Whether poking fun at herself on "Going Crazy" or rhyming about loyalty and dedication on "My Crew," J.G. does it all with a touch of excellence.
In 2005, Jean hooked up with producer 9th Wonder for a full length collaboration dubbed Jeanius. A widespread internet leak forced her to shelf one of the best collaborative hip-hop albums you'll never hear. Previously down with Babygrande Records (Canibus, Hi-Tek), Jean Grae is now signed to Talib Kweli's Blacksmith imprint.