It’s pretty well-established that the glasses worn by whoever selects XXL’s “Freshman Class” list have long been clouded with misogynistic fog. Since the list’s inception in 2007, it has featured 113 rappers — only six of whom have been women. This categorical error is not merely a coincidence, but a part of a systematic and widespread overlooking of some of the most talented rappers creating right now. There’s a reason Nicki Minaj and Cardi B were almost immediately pitted against each other upon Cardi’s arrival onto the scene: In the past, cultural discourse only allowed for one “female rapper” to take up space in the industry.
Yet, this is changing. Frankly, if XXL were paying attention to the prominent MCs creating right now, they wouldn’t just add in a few more women — the whole list could boast women. From the blunt and angry stylings of Rico Nasty to the multi-talented pop diva/rapper Lizzo, female artists are not just topping charts; they’re also challenging and expanding the limits of the genre. And although the number of artists on this list could be doubled tenfold, here are the 10 most crucial female rappers you need to know right now.
Megan Thee Stallion
Being a rapper is in Megan’s blood. When her mother, professionally known as the Holly-Wood, recorded in the studio, Megan was soaking it in, observing and plotting for when she, too, could become a rapper. In the past year, the Houston native has hit her stride: her single “Big Ole Freak” is charting on Billboard Hot 100, and Solange posted a video twerking to it. Oh, and Rihanna followed her on Instagram. But this year has also proved to be equally trying; just a few weeks ago, Megan’s mother and inspiration passed away suddenly from a brain tumor. Megan has constantly allowed for her fan base (AKA The Hotties) to see into this oscillating emotional spectrum via social media, keeping fans clued into what state she’s in and responding frequently to both negative and positive comments. Perhaps this unwavering sense of identity is often what draws people to her; the 24-year-old is seemingly completely confident in who she is. And while people often note the sexually explicit nature of her lyrics, isn’t that often what we expect of her male counterparts?
Amid the never-ending Kanye-produced records of last June, one voice stood out among the rest. It was 070 Shake, whose verse on “Ghost Town” was more captivating than the rest of the album combined. She was deemed “the breakout star” of the record, probably because her voice is impossible to forget. It’s grating and raspy in all the right places, a concentrated ball of emotion that exudes the genuineness that parts of ye so desperately lacked. A native of New Jersey and part of the musical collective 070, she most closely fits the label of emo rapper, except that she side-steps all the corny affiliations that come with that association. And despite the fact that her incredible break-up anthem “Honey” was released in 2016, it’s pertinence and ability to captivate a listener is still as strong as the day it came out.
You know her. You love her: it’s Lizzo. Another of the Houston-raised women reaching the forefront of music, she’s hard to overlook. In the past two weeks alone, she’s started mayhem on Twitter, won Tracee Ellis Ross’ musical admiration, graced the soundtrack of Netflix’s latest romantic comedy, and asserted her musical dominance all while leaving listeners unable to pin down her genre. On her recently released and highly anticipated third album, Cuz I Love You, she shape-shifts, a blues musician on one track and a full-fledged rapper on the next. She’s equal parts unpredictable and calculated, a somewhat terrifying and all-encompassing mixture that leaves listeners in the palm of her hand.
Despite the ambiguity of her moniker, the Chicago artist’s talent is hard to forget. Born Fatimah Nyeema Warner, Noname is consistently blinding on projects she participates in because of her unmistakably recognizable sound. It recalls Billie Holiday in her purposeful ability to identify exactly where the beat is supposed to be — and then rap off of it. Her lyrics and flow most closely resemble poetry, which makes sense considering that creative means was what sparked her rapping career. Whether it was her sultry verse on “Lost”, a track off Chance the Rapper’s breakthrough mixtape, Acid Rap, or her guest appearance on Mick Jenkins’ song “Angles”, Noname defines the songs she takes part of. Her individuality transcends her music itself; the artist is also completely independent. Because of this, she relies on mostly word of mouth and social media to propel her tracks, and she has done so without fail thus far.
So you’ve heard the Billy Ray Cyrus remix of “Old Town Road”, but have you heard the CupcakKe one? Retitled to “Old Town Hoe”, the song pretty much encapsulates who she is as an artist. Those scathing (but kind of funny) lyrics like “Turn his mic off like Nicki at Coachella” are what she’s known for and have made her a beloved staple of the rap community. And while she may be recognized for her provocative music, this year has proven to be a trying time for the Chicago native. That’s why earlier this year, when CupcakKe expressed suicidal statements via Twitter and Instagram, love and support poured out from across the internet. In addition to her charming personality and lessons about embracing oneself, CupcakKe also has an unrelenting flow that is backed tirelessly by her fans. Don’t believe it? Try to find a negative comment on her YouTube videos. You’ll be scrolling for a while.
Want to feel bad about yourself? Rico Nasty, one of the hottest rappers right now, is only 21 years old. Maybe it’s because, similar to Megan Thee Stallion, she’s the daughter of a rapper, so it was ingrained in her from the start. So blame your parents because Rico told Pitchfork that her father, formerly known as the artist Beware, played her “Superthug” when she was just three years old. Rico herself first caught notable attention with her two 2016 mixtapes, The Rico Story and Sugar Trap, both of which bare resemblance to punk, filled to the brim with emotion and often anger. She works closely with the producer Kenny Beats, who she also engages in very entertaining twitter banter with. Most recently, this partnership resulted in the fittingly titled Anger Management, a record so great that it resulted in angry text messages from Azealia Banks.
Doja Cat is not exactly normal. She skyrocketed to prominence when her video for “Mooo!” went viral, and the video is, um, intriguing. It features a variety of scenes with Doja in front of a green screen. In some, she’s jogging in place in a two-piece cow-print set; in others she’s sticking french fries up her nose … you know what? You just have to watch it. It’s indescribable. She is, without a doubt, unlike anyone else in the industry. It’s just her bizarre videos that have garnered attention; she is genuinely a really talented rapper. Look to “Tia Tamera” for proof, an overtly fun track with an ominous beat that features fellow list member, Rico Nasty.
Finally, a representative for the small-boobs community. Princess Nokia, born Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, is best known for her hypnotizing and mildly abrasive song “Tomboy”, the chorus of which yells, “My little titties and my phat belly” over and over again. It probably won’t be surprising to learn that, in addition to being a rapper, she’s a firm proprietor of intersectional feminism. And the New York City native isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. At a show in February 2017 in Cambridge, Nokia recalls a man in the audience yelling obscenities at her. According to reports, she jumped off stage, slapped him, and said, “That’s what you do when a White boy disrespects you.” Her musical stylings inject her Puerto Rican roots and tough nature to create an at times supernatural sound.
Her track “For Everybody” may have reached over 10 million views before she was even signed, but Kash Doll’s rise to popularity wasn’t effortless. After tirelessly working as both a model and musician, she grinded her way to a feature on Big Sean and Metro Boomin’s ”So Good” that would eventually help catapult her further. The Detroit-born rapper credits her home city with teaching her toughness and tenacity, which shines through strongly in her tracks. Now signed to Republic Records, Kash Doll has reached new milestones: she’s released the incredibly catchy “Ice Me Out” and is opening for Meek Mill on the 2019 Motivation Tour. Judging from her past year, it’s only up from here.
Infused with the jazz and blues roots that laid the foundation for hip-hop’s creation, Leikeli47’s music encompasses the genre from the ground up. She’s the master of both fun, goofy hits to play at a party (“Girl Blunt”) and calming, soulful tracks that take an introspective look at her upbringing (“Droppin”). Throughout all of these though, Leikeli47 is steadfast and smooth. And when she stops singing and speaks, even just for the tidbits between songs in a set, she always seems perfectly in control while still in some sort of whimsical state. She claims to be ageless in addition to being faceless — the Brooklyn artist is perpetually found wearing a mask of sorts that covers up her face save for her eyes and mouth. It’s not some ploy for publicity, though; Leikeli says it just “distracts from everything that everybody would normally go to.” Damn, she’s wise.