Azealia Banks. Photo: Rankin
In the ‘90s, female rappers were as bold and boss as their male counterparts. The rapped about money and sex, as well as their struggle to make it in a male-dominated industry. They also cultivated an iconic look. Foxy Brown scored a Calvin Klein campaign. Lil’ Kim changed the world of red carpet dressing with one little purple sequin pasty. Lauryn Hill’s artful style and signature hair complemented her playful yet racially charged lyrics. And before them all, the first female rappers to win a Grammy were Salt-N-Pepa, who rhymed about relationships while sporting bright colors and chunky gold chains. The millennium brought a resurgence of pop music. While artists like Eve and Missy Elliott held strong, Brittany Spears and Christina Aguilera stole the spotlight singing about boys and girlfriends.
But female rappers are finally back in the spotlight, performing at fashion parties and starring in campaigns, gaining momentum in magazines like Vogue and V. Their sound and look has evolved—electronic music and cross-genre influences are prevalent—and their style’s eclectic. Like everything else, social media’s changed the game, letting artists speak unedited truths and promote their work in new ways. Here are five worth your attention.
Since bopping around in sporty tops and short shorts in Alexander Wang’s Fall ‘12 T campaign, Banks has garnered many fans and made a few enemies with her outspoken ways.
Sound: Blunt lyrics and soulful singing with an electro twist
Style: Long locks, bare midriff and legs, black and white, red lips
Favorite Outfit: In collaboration with fashion editor Nicole Formichetti, she works a slew of western wear in her “Liquorice” video.
Look and listen: She rhymed hard in bell sleeves and Levi’s cutoffs during her performance of “Heavy Metal and Reflective” at Coachella.
Colder than December, my diamonds on Anna Wintour, so that’s fly ice in my life, I don’t see no limits so I strive and I shine twice.
-Lyrics from “Ice Princess”
Photo: Luke Gilford
Her father is the CFO of Hustler magazine, which helped her land an internship with Rachel Zoe before she was a pop rapper. Formerly an exotic dancer and mannequin stylist for Hustler stores, this woman has no boundaries.
Sign: Cancer/Leo cusp
Sound: Pop with cross-genre sampling and freaky rhyming
Style: Metallic bikinis, razor nails, cornrows, tattoos, masks
Favorite Outfit: Futuristic creature wielding a sword and heaps of hot pink braids in Grimes’ 2012 “Genesis” video
Look and listen: Her theatrical “Opulence” video (directed by photographer Steven Klein) starts out violent before turning into a kinky-glam ride.
I’m on that soda, hey hey, I don’t know hot to act, if I take another shot down I may have a heart attack.
-Lyrics from “Feel Yourself (Alcohol)”
Malibu-born Doja Cat counts soulful music of the '90s like Erykah Badu, the Fugees, and Jamiroquai as influences.
Sound: Tripped out R&B with dreamy rhymes
Style: Round sunglasses, faux fur, pink hair, cat eyeliner, bindis
Look and listen: See her dressed up and paired down in her “So High” videos.
And you dudes don’t do your duty, can’t see my shake my head at you, too focused on the booty, you bastard bachelors. -Lyrics from “Beautiful”
Photo: Myriam Santos
Ellinor Olovsdotter’s Scandinavian edge rules in her video for “Down on Life” which Katy Perry tweeted was “one of the most bad ass music videos I’ve seen in a long time.”
Sound: Alt hip-hop with dancehall influence and tons of attitude
Style: Track pants, cropped tanks, beanies, bleached eyebrows, nose ring
Favorite Outfit: Her tough bomber with flippy mini, white tube socks, and combat boots in the above “Down on Life” video represent her off-kilter vibe.
Look and listen: Check her playing with Nordic pop singer MØ in the “One More” video.
It’s a source of life, take it from the word of the wise, when I down an’ out and I need some strength, music can keep me alive.
-Lyrics from “Music is Life”
Discovered by Timbaland, Tink is a childhood nickname she claimed during a freestyle with friends growing up in Chicago, IL.
Sound: Steady beats with melodic singing and a feminist flow
Style: Slick black leather, jerseys, hats, aviators, sneakers, nail art
Favorite Outfit: A black 'TINK’ baseball cap paired with a letterman jacket and silver spiked bra top and jeans in her Molly Love video
Look and listen: Her “Ratchet Commandments” video empowers while showing us a medley of outfits.
I’m in a playful ass mood, you gotta pay for this ride, I make a scene and when I leave, I make 'em stand like the bride.
-Lyrics “Around the Clock” (with Timbaland)