Home Music artist The women who shaped hip hop, from Salt-N-Pepa to Eve

The women who shaped hip hop, from Salt-N-Pepa to Eve


Hip hop, the music and art form born in the Bronx, is booming in the 40s.

And while great contemporary artists like Cardi B are getting a lot of attention, many of the women who helped build this art form are all too often overlooked.

“Women in hip hop, we’ve been here since day one,” says Martha Diaz, founder and president of the Hip Hop Education Center. “We started the commercialization of hip hop. … We’ve been part of the culture in every aspect you can think of.

Why don’t women in hip hop get their due? Kashema Hutchinson, associate director of the Hip Hop Education Center’s women-centric Fresh, Bold & So Def collection, says the reasons include misogyny and a cultural focus on men.

“Sometimes it’s the ego that doesn’t allow women to be represented, and sometimes it’s just like, ‘Well, that’s the plan. Let’s just have a token group of a woman or act to representation.” Hutchinson explains.[And that] actually hurts the culture.

Meet some of the formative women of hip hop

The three-woman hip hop group formed in New York City in 1985. They were among the first women to win a Grammy for rap performance.

Hutchinson says that many women in hip hop at the time, despite playing a vital role in promoting female empowerment, were more reserved.

“But Salt-N-Pepa, they brought more awareness of sexuality, of femininity,” says Hutchinson. “Also a lot of conscious awareness to make sure not only the level playing field but the issues around us including AIDS awareness… they made sure to bring that. But you can also be a woman and do everything boys do too, and that’s fine.

Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah, singer, actress, producer and fashion label owner, is also one of the first women to win Grammy Awards for her rap performances. Diaz calls him one of the first moguls in hip hop culture.

“Queen Latifah is the queen,” Diaz says. “She was the one who really called out to all men and women who have degraded women, in general, to really curb your language. ‘Respect the Queen.’”

Missy Elliot
Born just a year after Queen Latifah, singer, rapper and producer Missy Elliott defied the norm of how women in hip hop should look and sound, says Hutchinson.

“The thing about Missy, like [with] a lot of women in hip hop is that she’s versatile,” says Hutchinson. “So what’s happening is not only that she’s not the size of a cookie cutter… She’s definitely pushing the boundaries every chance she gets.”

Rapper, singer, actress and television producer Eve released her debut album in 1999 and became the third woman to reach number one on the Billboard 200. She has sold records, won a Grammy, opened a clothing line and co – hosted a daytime talk show.

Hutchinson says there are a lot of reasons Eve was successful.

“One, she’s really talented,” Hutchinson says. “Then you need to understand the camp she is from, the time she arrived. … She was running with the big boys. And so because she was running with the big boys and she can keep up with them and still have her own flavor, her own identity, that allowed her to be successful.

Devan Schwartz produced and edited this broadcast interview with Jill Ryan. Francesca Paris adapted it for the web.