Hip-hop and its influences are everywhere! It started in the South Bronx 50 years ago and was born from the social and economic disparities of a forgotten part of New York City struggling with poverty, drugs, and crime. Before it was called hip-hop, it was called "the culture," which included four elements: DJing, emceeing, B-boying or B-girling, and graffiti.
Throughout history, people of color have created innovative and transforming expressions of art within challenging environments. Hip-hop was created by men, who used it as a tool to dream bigger than their reality. It was supported by women with a vision that propelled the culture forward.
The Early Vision
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One of the groundbreaking groups in the early days of hip-hop was Funky Four plus One More, featuring M.C. Sha Rock, the first female of hip-hop culture.
"I'm the first female of hip-hop culture! I started as a B-girl, carrying records to the parties, and my presence elevated there," Sha-Rock shared with xoNecole. "I was fortunate to be a member of the first hip-hop group ever to appear on national television. My group appeared on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Deborah Harry of Blondie in 1981." Today, Sha-Rock is making waves on the radio show Rock the Bells and touring all across the U.S. to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop. Eric Adams, mayor of New York City, recently declared June 3 as M.C. Sha Rock Day.
Sylvia Robinson's foresight and belief in hip-hop's potential laid the foundation for the genre's success today. Despite major record companies' lack of interest, Robinson released hip-hop on vinyl independently on her Sugar Hill Records label.
Other women from that era included vocalist Angie Stone and the hip-hop trio The Sequence. "I speak for the group when I say we want to thank everyone who has acknowledged us this late in the game," she said. "My group was the first female hip-hop group signed to Sugar Hill Records. In our song 'Funk You Up,' we mixed the element of vocals with hip-hop, which is still prominent today."
"My group was the first female hip-hop group signed to Sugar Hill Records. In our song 'Funk You Up,' we mixed the element of vocals with hip-hop, which is still prominent today."
Stone would go on to become an integral part of the early neo-soul movement in music and has continued to have a successful career for more than four decades. Her latest album, Love Language, is available now on streaming services.
Passing The Torch
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The trailblazing achievements of female Hip-Hop artists in the early days paved the way for future generations. The 2023 Netflix documentary Ladies First: A Story of Women In Hip-Hopnarrates the stories of game changers like Salt-N-Pepa, whose record sales exceeded 15 million, making them one of the most successful female hip-hop groups ever. Roxanne Shanté was known as one of the first battle rappers, fearlessly taking on some of the most skilled lyricists in the game. There was MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah, and J.J. Fad, the first female hip-hop group nominated for a Grammy.
In the '90s, there was a rise of female rappers such as Lil' Kim and Trina, who unapologetically embraced their sexuality, leading the way for the creation of a sub-genre of hip-hop called "pussy rap."
Trailblazing women like Missy Elliott introduced us to eccentric personas, setting the stage for artists like Nicki Minaj to push the boundaries further.
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In the '90s, there was a rise of independent hip-hop labels like Def Jam and Bad Boy, both started by men. However, many women behind the scenes helped keep the hip-hop culture alive. Unfortunately, these women often do not receive their flowers for their contributions. Michelle Joyce, former director of marketing, and Lajoyce Brookshire, former head of publicity at Bad Boy Records, were surprised by the lack of women mentioned in the documentaryCan't Stop, Won't Stop.
As a result, they collaborated on a book calledWomen Behind The Mic: Curators of Pop Culture, which features 22 stories of women record company executives who helped shape the careers of some of hip-hop's most influential artists.
"The industry was male-dominated, and we had to fight to get our voices heard. However, we formed a strong bond with other women," the authors shared with xoNecole. "We created a lasting sisterhood we still cherish to this day."
Jennifer Perry, a former features writer at The Source, added, "Women helped to influence hip-hop's style, culture, and trajectory. Still, because we're in a male-centered world, women were regulated to roles of reduced acknowledgment, participation, and financial compensation."
"Women helped to influence hip-hop's style, culture, and trajectory. Still, because we're in a male-centered world, women were regulated to roles of reduced acknowledgment, participation, and financial compensation."
During the '90s, April Walker, creator of the urban clothing brand Walker Wear, emerged in urban hip-hop fashion. Her designs were loved by old-school artists like Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and Wu-Tang Clan and are still sported by Joey Bada$$ today. In a recent interview, Walker shared her experiences as a woman in the fashion industry, stating that it is a microcosm of a male-dominated society. Despite this, she believed in herself and her talents and stood up for herself when necessary.
Her commitment to her craft ultimately paid off as the world stood up to assist her in achieving her dreams. Stacy Gray, a renowned hair stylist in the celebrity world, shared that she owed a significant portion of her successful career to the hip-hop industry. She began her journey working with some of the most prominent hip-hop artists and has been thriving in the field for over 25 years.
According to Gray, hip-hop allowed her to embrace her creativity and showcase her skills to the world; she will always be grateful.
Women in hip-hop have played an integral role in shaping the culture and have paved the way for a quintessential part of its narrative through triumphs and struggles. We are all a part of hip-hop, and it is up to us to continue to push the envelope forward.
Tami Cooper, former manager of Mobb Deep, has shared some inspiring words for the next generation of women in hip hop: "Build your networks, embrace your uniqueness, and stay informed and confident."
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