Strong women have long shaped the course of history. We’ve been the voices and the backbones of many a movement, yet, far too often have we gone unrecognized for fueling change. Hip-hop as a genre, and a business, which some may deem to be male-centered, has been no different. Despite creating amongst an industry that is geared towards amplifying the voices of men, strong women in hip-hop have always prevailed. From OGs like Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, to MC Lyte and Lil Kim, to Nicki Minaj, we have seen the landscape and placement of women in rap ebb and flow over the course of time. Now, women who are products of the 21st century are taking their own shot at the mic and shifting the current status of the industry in the process.

Lauryn Hill - Scott Gries/Getty Images

The amount of new and emerging female rappers is the highest it has ever been in the past decade. With the surge of so many new women in the playing field-- it's safe to say now is a wonderful time for hip-hop. Prior to today's climate, any conversation that surrounded women in hip-hop was dominated by the idea that there could only be one staple voice for women in hip-hop, one woman who "held the throne."

Now, it seems that out of this dark cloud, a new narrative has arisen. From Dreezy to Kash Doll and Megan The Stallion, the sheer number of new voices (and versatility) in the game make it almost impossible to put girls against one another. Rather, the female rapper of the 21st century does not abide by any male created business model or any singular persona that seeks to stroke the male ego and appease the male gaze. The biggest tool in the female rapper’s arsenal is her individuality and her ability to step outside of the box, musically.

Rico Nasty - Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Take artists such as Rico Nasty and Bali Baby for example. These two have been at the forefront of women who are creating their own unique, genre-mixing sounds. With Rico combining elements of punk rock and heavy metal with rap, and Bali intertwining grudge elements into her bars, the two have created previously-uncarved lanes for themselves and, in the process, they’ve helped in shine a spotlight on new SoundCloud artists who may be experimenting with sound in a similar way. The two have been able to rack up massive success both on and off the charts, based on pure individuality and a rejection of the status quo. Rico has forged her own path and lived by her own rules throughout her entire career. She is uniquely herself, in every aspect, down to her tone and sound: her raspy, gritty, hard-hitting vocals are a clear deviation from the norm. She flips the music industry’s social constructs on its head and blurs the lines between gender norms. Much to the chagrin of male counterparts who prefer to only see the feminine side of any female, Rico welcomes androgyny in both sound and imagery. Her raw authenticity and one-of-a-kind Sugar Trap sound, has lead her to a spot on Forbes 30 Under 30, top charting hits, an Atlantic Record Deal, plenty of magazine covers and millions of devoted fans. Her 2018 release of Nasty fully cemented her as an artist that can always deliver, while changing the conversation for women in rap at the same time. Chances are, she is probably on your favorite rapper favorite rapper’s moodboard, already receiving praise from hip-hop tastemakers like A$AP Rocky and Dame Dash.

Bali Baby at the HNHH office

Bali Baby has also helped in re-mixing what it means to be a "female rapper." The young creative’s sound has evolved since her early candy-coated mixture of pop and rap on tracks like “Iggidy.” In fact, her latest album, Baylor Swift, takes a much different approach. Bali proves her versatility even more as an artist shifting her focus into rock/rap territory, while also exploring a much darker sound alongside revealing personal issues. Her recent aesthetic borders on emo/grunge rap with songs like “Stanley Steemer,” intertwining with heavily distorted reverb and hard baselines.

Elsewhere, someone like Dreezy has shaped the field of representation for women in the genre. In 2012, we saw young legends such as Chief Keef arrive on the scene and swiftly change the culture of music. Drill music swept America. The cultural shift brought a new class of young pioneers Fredo Santana, Young Chop, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, leading up to G Herbo’s viral “Chiraq” release in 2016. For some time, young men spitting over slow-tempo drill beats was the clear face of Chicago music. Dreezy came and shook up Chicago’s status quo-- mixing R&B with her own unique rapping flow.

City Girls at the HNHH office

Aside from sound, the new generation of women in hip hop have become symbols of feminism and sexual liberation; perhaps no surprise here. A prime example: the renowned Miami duo City Girls. City Girls bring the ball back in their own court and flipped the script on male gratification. Instead, they tell the story from the point of view of a woman out for pure sexual gratification and self-indulgence-- a tune we haven’t heard much of since Trina. One thing remains clear about their music, the girls demand respect. Their boastful tracks are not only a reminder that women can be as sexually liberated if they so choose, without the stigma of shame, but also that, even so, they know their worth and keep men in check.

Today’s women in hip-hop are taking over the business playing field as well. With Kamaiyah gearing up to launch her own hair braiding company, Cuban Doll starting a charity for people with cancer, Saweetie starting her own lipstick line and Rico signing huge marketing deals-- it is almost impossible to be a modern voice for women in hip-hop without having your hand in multiple business investments. Although young, the girls are priming themselves to become future moguls, creating legacies that will transcend, both inside and outside the world of music.

With that future legacy always in mind, the current girls of our generation are blazing trails and creating new avenues for those that will come after them. Women no longer have to match the “sound” of their generation or have their voices limited to a 16 bar feature on their male counterparts track. These new paths are a testament to the fact that there is no direct formula for what it takes to be a female rapper in today’s industry.