8 Legendary 90s Female Hip-Hop Artists
Girl power throttled to new heights in the 1990s. In this era, female hip-hop artists, from Missy Elliott to Queen Latifah, proved to the world they could become the best sellers in any record store and steal the mic with as much swagger and conviction as their male counterparts.
Once upon a time, you may have blasted TLC while waiting for your Hard Candy polish to dry. Or maybe you scored your first kiss while Lauryn Hill liquified the airwaves. Or perhaps you’ve just begun exploring one of the most memorable decades in hip-hop history.
Whether you’re a veteran millenial or are just dipping your toes in the scene, this homage will remind or introduce you to 8 female hip-hop artists who shook up the genre and made their indelible mark on music with attitude and mind-blowing talent.
#1 Lil’ Kim
Lil’ Kim is often referred to as the “Queen Bee” of rap. The Brooklyn native got her start freestyling on the streets of NYC, before The Notorious B.I.G. swooped in and brought her on board Junior M.A.F.I.A. The group was so exceptional their first album Conspiracy skyrocketed to the top of the charts and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Lil’ Kim showed that while she could play well with others, she was a bonafide sensation in her own right. Since its 1996 release, Kim’s debut solo album has sold 6 million copies across the globe, shining with stop-in-your-tracks singles like:
- “Crush on You”
- “No Time”
- “Not Tonight”
- “Big Momma Thang”
In the following years, Lil’ Kim became a fashion icon and performed and recorded with some of the most seminal stars in hip-hop, including Puff Daddy, Jigga, and 50 Cent. Today, she continues to draw double-takes with her provocative sartorial choices—but it’s the larger-than-life voice, lyrics, and skill that have made this petite, fearless female artist unforgettable.
#2 Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott
Rolling Stone once called Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott a “one-woman entertainment complex.”1 A boulevard has been named in her honor in her home state of Virginia.2 And her addictive hit “Get Ur Freak On” was selected as one of the 10 best songs of all time by Rolling Stone, sliding into a top slot right between The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac.3
The bold hip-hop and rap luminary blends attitude, an angelic voice, and beats with boldness—and Missy Elliot's track record proves this is a gold-winning combination.
Throughout her career, the Queen of Rap has:
- Been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Won 4 Grammy Awards since her debut solo album (Supa Dupa Fly) was released in ’97
- Collaborated with the likes of Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey
No matter how many accolades and incredible sales she’s amassed, the hip-hop genius who gave us “Sock it 2 Me” continues to work it with her infectious music and tireless spirit.
#3 Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah has been ruling the hip-hop royal court since her debut album All Hail the Queen made a splash at the tail end of the ’80s. Not only was she the first female hip-hop artist to be certified gold, but she was also the world’s first female rapper to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show.4
Throughout her tenure as an MC, Latifah has blessed our ears with a bevy of hip-shaking hits, including:
- “Mr. Big Stuff”
- “Fly Girl”
- “Dance First”
Even as she’s matured as a rap artist, Latifah’s eminent career has expanded into the multi-hyphenate territory—she’s also a producer, advocate, and actress. The performer now counts an Emmy and an Academy Award nomination among her various accolades in rap.
#4 Lauryn Hill
With her spine-tingling voice and captivating presence, Lauryn Hill is a part poet and part prophet—and as supremely talented a singer as a mere mortal could be.
Before striking out solo with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (an album frequently hailed as one of the best ever made), she was the yin to Wyclef Jean’s yang in the Fugees. “Killing Me Softly” characterized the 90s and redefined the limits of hip hop as a genre.
Hill’s piercing, soulful voice, and superb, inspired lyrics render her one of the finest technical vocalists in any genre. If you need a refresher on her heavenly talents, spin her most influential album and feel your heartbeat sync up to hits like:
- “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”
- “Tell Him”
Now just try to insist she doesn’t have the voice to make mountains fall.
Those who lived through the ’90s probably wouldn’t have survived without “Waterfalls,” TLC’s moody but uplifting signature song from their most famous album, Crazysexycool. It’s since cycled through second and third lives as a karaoke go-to and high school graduation anthem—but tying the East Coast trio to “Waterfalls” alone would do a disservice to one of the most illustrious girl groups in history.
TLC were the seductive songstresses who also brought us:
- “No Scrubs”
Along the way, they ignited confidence in even the shyest among us with a pitch-perfect blend of crazy, sexy, and cool. Today, they’re one of the most commercially successful female hip-hop artists to have ever graced the stage—and have sold 65 million copies of their records in their careers.5
#6 Foxy Brown
Christened Inga DeCarlo Funga Marchand when she flew into the world in 1978, Foxy Brown is one of the biggest disruptors in the hip-hop canon.
Over the past three decades, the fiery artist has built a CV as momentous as Nicki Minaj’s. Here are just a few of the ways you might recognize her:
- Brown counts Jay-Z as a confidante and mentor
- She was discovered by no one else than LL Cool J
- She got her start with The Firm alongside Nas and AZ
- Brown went certified platinum with her debut solo album, Ill Na Na—when she was just 16 years old
True, Foxy Brown is famous for her legal run-ins and highly publicized spats with other hip-hop artists. But we’ll side with Rolling Stone on this one—her music is “as badass as the boys while putting a femme touch on it.”6
#7 Salt n Pepa
Salt n Pepa “shooped” onto the hip-hop scene in the 1980s and immediately caught our attention with their beguiling, playful mix of courage and flirtatiousness.
By the time the ’90s rolled around, the talented New York-based trio—Salt (Cheryl James), Pepa (Sandra Denton), and DJ Spinderella (Deidra Roper)—were already enormously famous. Their debut album, Hot, Cool & Vicious, gave them instant clout, achieving gold and platinum certifications with 1 million copies sold.
Throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond, this gifted group gave us some of the most electrifying songs to dance and sing along to, including:
- “Whatta Man”
- “None of Your Business”
- “R U Ready”
- “Gitty Up”
As influential and memorable as many of Salt n Pepa’s songs are, “Let’s Talk About Sex” was one of the most daring and eye-opening—iconic not just in their time but in ours, too. Even if their oeuvre was evaluated based on this track alone, it’s safe to say Salt n Pepa paved the way for a culture of expressive, bold, no-holds-barred female rap lyricism.
#8 Erykah Badu
From soul to R&B, several genres influenced the inimitable sounds of hip-hop godhead Erykah Badu. The Texas native first mesmerized listeners when she took the stage as the opening act for D’Angelo. Since then, she’s carved out a name for herself as one of the most commanding forces in music and hip-hop culture.
Often called the “Queen of Neo Soul,” Badu has been compared to Billie Holiday but possesses a preternatural talent entirely her own. To remind you of her power, just think of songs like:
- “On & On”
- “Next Lifetime”
- “The Healer”
Dreamy and alluring, Badu’s music is as timeless now as her debut album Baduizm was in 1997, making it clear that some voices will never go out of style.
Best Female 90s Female Hip Hop Artists: Honorable Mentions
From Doja Cat to Cardi B, the hottest female hip-hop stars of the 21st century may not be where they are today without the ceilings the ladies above shattered. In our book, the following runners-up continue to hold much more than sway:
Don’t see your favorite 90s female hip-hop artist on this list? We wouldn’t be surprised—the genre overflows with awe-inducing talent, which is why we keep adding more gems to our growing list of vinyl album offerings.
Take a Trip Down Memory Lane with Victrola
What was once a hip-hop boys’ club got turned on its head in the ’90s, the moment these fierce, gifted female artists stole the mic for an extended mic-drop moment. The stories they belted out about love, violence, intimacy, betrayal, and redemption continue to resonate—perhaps no more profoundly than when heard on vinyl.
There’s no better way to honor these trailblazers than by adding their masterpieces to your record library. Whether you want to bounce to “Cold Rock a Party” or make your co-listener blush with any of Lil’ Kim’s tracks from Hardcore, Victrola lets you pump up the jam in full, living color.
- Rolling Stone. Q & A: Missy Elliott. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/qa-missy-elliott-187430/
- MSN. Missy Elliott gets a boulevard in her home state named after her. https://www.msn.com/en-us/music/news/missy-elliott-gets-a-boulevard-in-her-home-state-named-after-her/ar-AA139H5J
- WTVR. Missy Elliott hit named one of the greatest songs ever. https://www.wtvr.com/news/local-news/missy-elliott-rolling-stone-greatest-songs
- Entertainment Weekly. Checking in with Oscar nominee Queen Latifah. https://ew.com/article/2003/03/04/checking-oscar-nominee-queen-latifah/
- LA Times. TLC plans first album in 10 years. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-xpm-2012-nov-05-la-et-ms-tlc-plans-first-album-in-10-years-20121105-story.html
- Encyclopedia.com. Foxy brown. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/foxy-brown