Hopefully you’ve already had the chance to vote for the first batch of femcees from the NE quadrant of the brackets, but if not, those polls will remain open until the end of the week. Check them out here. As a quick reminder, here is the link to a PDF of the complete brackets – we’ll be voting today on the femcees of the SE bracket.
And now for the next batch of polls. Like the last post, the following femcees are classic veterans in the game, having begun their career before the year 2000. They represent nine other U.S. states as well as one from London, England. Let’s get to know them a little bit.
(1) Lauryn Hill vs. (16) The Sequence
Lauryn Hill started out as a singer in the rap group Tranzlator Crew (which eventually morphed into the legendary Fugees with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel), but quickly decided that she wanted to rap as well. After meeting rave success with the Fugees’ two full length LPs, in 1998 Hill released her first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which is widely acclaimed as one of the best albums of the decade, and the first album from a female rapper to find a spot on the Billboard 200. The Sequence was one of the first all-female hip hop groups, and the first ever recorded female rappers. They began as cheerleading friends who translated their hype to the new and upcoming genre of rap in the late 70s and early 80s. Although they don’t have as much material as others, they serve as a reminder of women who paved the way for virtually everyone else in these brackets.
(9) Shawnna vs. (8) Monie Love
Before going solo and recording a couple of albums in the mid 2000s, Shawnna broke into the hip hop world with her duo Infamous Syndicate. She is known for her rapid fire style and explicit sexual content and imagery. Monie Love initially rose to fame in the late 80s as Queen Latifah’s protege, but quickly made a name for herself with the Native Tongues collective as one of the first popular British rappers. She has a light, bouncy flow that allows her to tell stories with humour and pointedness.
(5) Missy Elliott vs. (12) J.J. Fad
Missy Elliott is a legend for both her flow and her visuals, arguably having as much influence on the art of the music video as Michael Jackson himself. In the late 90s she rose to fame alongside her childhood friend/collaborator Timbaland, contributing to a new Southern hip hop sound that would shape the second half of the decade. JJ Fad, originally an all-female group of five, rose to fame with their hit “Supersonic” as the trio pictured above. Although they disbanded in the early 90s, they are often credited with paving the way not only for female hip hop groups, but also for the classic Compton group NWA.
(13) MC Trouble vs. (4) Queen Latifah
Who knows what MC Trouble could have done if she lived to see her 21st birthday and the release of her second album, which was in production when she died of a seizure in her sleep. Her rhymes are heavy and low and often combined with the upbeat R&B flavour of New Jack Swing. Queen Latifah is of course now internationally known as not only a rapper, but an actress and singer as well. Even if we strip away her years of success in television and film, Latifah is without question one of the most important pioneers of the genre, with many of her verses focusing on important topics such as equality, racism and domestic violence.
(3) Eve vs. (14) BO$$
Even before reaching legendary status as the First Lady of Ruff Ryders, EVE was working with other Philly-based hip hoppers like The Roots, and was even featured on a Prince track. Although she took a 10-year break from putting out LPs, she remained prolific, featuring on pop and R&B tracks every year. Many of us feel conflicted about the harsh and talented gangsta rapper BO$$, who was labeled a fraud only a couple years into her career. While focusing many of her verses around growing up in the projects of Detroit, it was discovered that she in fact grew up middle class, even attending a prep school. Due to the value of authenticity in hip hop, this was not going to fly. Still, it’s impossible to deny that her style and ability were good enough to fool the industry for a couple of years.
(11) Mia X vs. (6) Da Brat
Whether singing or rapping, Mia X’s vocals are smooth, and provide a contrasting sound to her No Limit collaborators, whether it be Master P or the Gangsta Twinz. She is Southern through and through, representing New Orleans. Chicagoan Da Brat began her career after winning a local rap contest and meeting her longtime production collaborator, Jermaine Dupri. Although her debut album, Funkdafied, was critically and commercially successful, Da Brat became especially known for her featured verses, allowing herself to take a softer, more pop-friendly tone than she does on her albums.
(7) Gangsta Boo vs. (10) Yo Yo
Gangsta Boo was known as the only female member of Memphis-based rap group, Three 6 Mafia. Even after leaving the group in 2001, she has held her own as a solo artist, more recently focusing on mixtapes and feature verses, but continuing to do her thing. Yo Yo busted on to the scene as Ice Cube’s protege on Amerikkka’s Most Wanted in 1990, and built a reputation for calling out sexism in hip hop. She continued to produce regular solid albums throughout the decade, making herself a staple feminist rapper.
(15) Nikki D vs. (2) Left Eye/Lisa Lopes
These might be the two most underrated femcees in the tournament. After signing with Def Jam in 1989, Nikki D never managed to break out of the one-hit-wonder trope that was her biggest single to date, “Daddy’s Little Girl” (which is embedded below). Her aggressive feminism was unfortunately more than her label knew what to do with. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes is a hip hop legend for her work in the 90s with TLC, and we were stripped of her potential deeper solo catalogue when she died in a car crash at the young age of 31. Her playful and clear articulation combined with her mastery of the beat makes her flow stand out next to any colleague – male or female.
You’ll have to wait until the weekend for the Freshmen polls to open, but in the meantime, vote and share the veterans of Femcee Madness!
Welcome to the beginning of the first round of Femcee Madness! The Vote-In polls are closed and the brackets have been updated accordingly – congratulations to Snow Tha Product and Little Simz for joining the west side of our brackets! If you haven’t yet printed your own copy and made your predictions, do it now and send your final four picks to @danice.carlson on twitter!
Now we’ll take a brief break from the newer artists and take a look at some of the veterans who helped shape the genre of rap music. Our focus here will be the NE quadrant of the brackets, with those who represent the boroughs of New York City. Let’s get started!
(1) Salt-N-Pepa vs. (16) Sister Souljah
I doubt Salt-N-Pepa need much of an introduction. It should be no surprise that they took a top seed spot as one of the first all-female hip hop groups (formed in Queens in 1985) to pioneer the genre. With DJ Spinderella dropping beats, Cheryl James (Salt) and Sandra Denton (Pepa) were such a solid team I could not think of splitting them up as separate entries here. Not only are they sick rappers, but they can start a party while talking about important issues like double standards and safe sex. Sister Souljah is a lot more recognizable now as an author and activist, but her career began with recording, first as a featured guest of Public Enemy, working separately with both Chuck D and DJ Terminator X, and then in 1992 with her only LP to date, 360 Degrees of Power.
(9) Bahamadia vs. (8) Ladybug Mecca
You may have noticed that Bahamadia is the only non-New-Yorker in this bracket, and you would be absolutely right about that. Somewhere in the hours I spent shuffling rappers from category to category, I made a mistake. Instead of completely refiguring the brackets we have, we’re gonna allow this independent Philly artist compete here, since in the end the categories are pretty arbitrary. At least she goes up against Ladybug Mecca, who is technically from Maryland but has come to represent Brooklyn as one third of hip hop group The Digable Planets. These two femcees have more in common: both got some hype in the 90s but couldn’t quite break out past their first releases. Both are recognized by hip hop heads but are ultimately viciously underrated.
For Ladybug’s verse, skip to about 1:40.
(5) Lady of Rage vs. (12) Angie Martinez
Lady of Rage made a name for herself through both her hairstyle and her delivery of hard rhymes. Before releasing her first solo LP, Necessary Roughness with Death Row Records in 1997, she appeared on some of the label’s most popular albums, such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and Snoop’s Doggystyle. She moved on to acting, but not before making her stamp on West Coast hip hop. Angie Martinez began her career as a rapper alongside other NYC giants like KRS-One and Lil Kim, and soared into the spotlight with her opening verse feature on the femcee-royalty collaboration track, “Not Tonight”. She went on to release two solo records at the beginning of the millenium before moving on to a career in film and radio.
(13) Ms. Melodie vs. (4) Foxy Brown
The late Ms. Melodie from Brooklyn was an aggressive powerhouse with a unique tone that always made her verses stand out from anyone she was working with. Along with her solo album, Diva, in 1989, she is well-known her work with Boogie Down Productions, including her contribution on the Stop the Violence’s “Self Destruction”. It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation about 90s hip hop without mentioning the legacy of Foxy Brown. Along with her attitude and catchy tracks, Foxy is known for her feuds with nearly every femcee in these brackets. Sometimes they seem petty, and unfortunately she often relies on homophobic slurs to throw shade, but every once in a while they inspire some great dis tracks, like “Get Off Me”. She is undeniably hip hop royalty and she knows it, expecting everyone to pay her due respect (whether she pays it back or not).
(3) MC Lyte vs. (14) Heather B
In the #3 spot you have evidence that these brackets did not take personal bias into consideration, because if I had my way, MC Lyte would be my number one NYC Femcee. She is a rap legend who not only pioneered the game (she was the first female rapper to release a solo LP), but continues to stretch herself and make hip hop in an entirely new landscape three decades later. Heather B. rose to fame as a member of Boogie Down Productions during the mid 90s, partially through her stint on an early reality tv show, The Real World: New York City. She is known for her lyrical prowess whether she is spitting aggressive or more laid back rhymes.
(11) Charli Baltimore vs. (6) Jean Grae
Charli Baltimore has been working since meeting The Notorious B.I.G. in 1995. Initially appearing in videos with the Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew, she was featured on tracks with Cam’ron and Fat Jo before recording her first LP, Cold As Ice in 1999. She kept to featured verses for most of the mid 2000’s, but made a light comeback with a mixtape in 2012 and 2013. Jean Grae is the underground queen of hip hop. Beginning her career under the name What? What?, Jean worked with other underground acts like Immortal Technique and Tek 9, changing her name before releasing her first of four LPs in 2002 to an already international fanbase. Since then she has been closely associated with Talib Kweli and producer 9th Wonder, and continues to release EPs on a regular basis, collaborating with several younger femcees you’ll recognize from the other side of these brackets.
(7) Roxanne Shante vs. (10) Queen Pen
Roxanne Shante was only 14 years old when she made rap history, as the first femcee to gain popularity outside her borough. After hearing her name used in a U.T.F.O song in 1984, “Roxanne, Roxanne,” Shante teamed up with Marley Marl to respond with “Roxanne’s Revenge” using the same instrumental track. She instantly became legendary, adding a female flavour to the heated Bronx-Queens rivalry and beginning the “Roxanne Wars” that continued into the late 80s. Although she is mainly known for these early dis tracks, Roxanne Shante continued to record into the mid 90s. Queen Pen is one of those femcees that you don’t realize you know. She got her start with the closing featured verse with her regular collaborators, Blackstreet, on their biggest mainstream hit, “No Diggity.” But that was far from the end of her career, as she continued to spit out several 90s party anthems, and was one of the first mainstream rappers to venture into the theme of same sex love on “Girlfriend”.
(15) Antoinette vs. (2) Lil Kim
Antoinette‘s career was limited to the late 80s when she released both her full length albums. She had a distinctly New Jack Swing inspired sound, working with Hurby Azor and later Spinderella (of Salt-N-Pepa fame). She took an especially competitive approach to her rhymes, regularly taking shots at MC Lyte with her sharp delivery of cold lyrics. I guess that makes it particularly appropriate that she goes up against Lil Kim, who is known for both her hyper-sexualized verses and ability to throw shade – usually at her long time rival, Foxy Brown. Representing Brooklyn alongside Biggie and the rest of the Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew, she has a well-deserved confidence, and is regularly dubbed the Queen of Hip Hop – before Beyonce, Lil Kim was the Queen Bee.
So many decisions, and it only gets harder from here on out. We’ll keep these open for a week, but check back soon for the rest of the Veteran polls, and may the best femcees advance to the second round!
In preparation for Femcee Madness, 8 young rappers are officially competing for your votes to complete the brackets! This is your chance to choose your favourite of 4 rappers for each vote-in spot that is marked as TBD… because it is “to be decided…” by YOU! For those who need an update about what Femcee Madness is all about, here is my intro, or if you would like a closer look at the brackets, a printable version can be found here. For those who are ready to check out the vote-in contenders, you are in exactly the right place! This is what we’re looking at right now…
Here is one more chance to get more acquainted with these hopeful femcee contenders before making the big decision about who you want to see advance. First up we have the 4 women hoping for the #11th seed in the Northwest Freshman quadrant. For a youtube playlist featuring a couple songs from each contender, here’s a link, but I’ve also linked each song I mention individually below.
Meet Rye Rye. In 2008, when she was still in high school in Baltimore, she toured and collaborated with M.I.A, who quickly became her mentor and label boss. Her last solo album, Go! Pop! Bang! was released in 2012, but she is still doing feature verses here and there. Her specialty is making club bangers, and some good examples to check out include, “Dance,” and “Bang.” I’m also a fan of the more down-tempo “Never Will Be Mine,” that features the mesmerizing Robyn, and just so happens to be embedded below.
Next up is Lola Monroe. Although she still has yet to release a full-length album, she has been steadily releasing solid mixtapes since 2009. She has also made plenty of guest appearances on albums by big names in hip hop, like Wiz Khalifa, Trina and Cassie. It probably doesn’t hurt that she is stunning, and made her debut in the industry as a model/actress, but her first love is music and her hard rhymes just might be her strongest feature. Check out her “Overtime” video from 2010, or “Louis, Gucci, Fendi,” with Los. However, my favourite thing she has on YouTube is a remix of “Run the World.”
Straight outta London, with loads of Caribbean influence (her parents are both from St. Kitts), Lady LeShurr has been making fans laugh as much as she’s made them dance. Her rhymes are chock-full of playful pop culture references, but she can bring the burns as strong as the jokes. LeShurr has released at least one EP or mixtape every year since 2009. Her “Queen’s Speech[es],” are really what put her on the map; the most popular is #4 but I prefer either “QS Ep.3” and “QS Ep.6.” Also the video for “Where Are You Now?” is extra fun and shady.
Finally we have the badass Mexican formerly known as Snow White, Snow Tha Product. If you’ve spent any time with The Hamilton Mixtape, you might recognize her from the best verse on “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done).” Before 2010, Snow primarily recorded in Spanish and gained a following among Hispanophones, but since moving to Texas and recording more in English, her versatility in not only language, but also in style, genre and content, has caught a lot of attention. Whether she’s rocking a party anthem like, “AyAyAy,” or getting some feelings off her chest in “Bet That I Will,” she brings it all. But if you only watch one thing, I’d suggest this:
And now for the moment of truth…
And just like that, we’re on to the next batch of even fresher (younger, more recent) femcees. These women are competing for the coveted #16 spot in the Southwest bracket among other young peers. If you prefer the youtube playlist option, I’ve made one on here.
Do not underestimate Nadia Rose. She may be young and small and adorable, but she’s more badass than you think, with exactly the attitude and sense of humour you might expect from a rapper from South London. In just 3 years, Rose has made a name for herself with fun, lightly choreographed visuals to aid her catchy hooks and tight verses. The slightly earlier “Station” is a YouTube favourite, as well as the more recent “Boom,” that was filmed on a regular night out with her friends. The track that made me a serious fan is “Skwod,” which is embedded below.
Kamaiyah’s mixtape, A Good Night in the Ghetto plays like one long 90s west-coast hip hop nostalgia trip. Her track for YG’s Drake-featured “Why You Always Hatin’?” gave her an audience outside of her hometown of Oakland, California. She makes a lot of great feel-good jams like “I’m On,” but can also get heavy with, “For My Dawg.” Her biggest jam to date, however, is this track that also shows off her sick style.
Nitty Scott MC sometimes refers to herself as Little Buddah, but don’t pigeonhole her. It’s true that she’s often designated as a socially and spiritually conscious rapper, but that doesn’t mean she can’t spit a diss. For the contrast see “Generation Now” and “Hieroglyphics.” I’m a big sucker for this one time where she raps over a Roxanne Shanté sample… oh look, here it is.
Last but not least (unless you don’t vote for her) we have another London representative, Little Simz. I don’t know if anyone has been working as hard as she has – releasing 3 EPs a year before dropping full length albums in 2015 and 2016. Her poetic rhymes are often inspiring without shying away from hard truths. Some good places to start are “The Hamptons” and “Gratitude,” or this beautiful live recording of “Wings.”
And that’s about enough from me. Do your research, make your choice, and share the madness!
You can vote once per day (if you’re a super-fan) until Feb. 15th, when the femcees with the most votes will advance to playing among the stars of the brackets! Good luck to your faves,
It may be a little early for March (Music) Madness, but I’ve decided that it’s time anyway. In case you are new to either March Madness or OnRecords, let me explain. Each year I create a music related brackets-style competition that relies on your votes! Past brackets have included all-time favourite albums, Beyoncé songs (pre-Lemonade!), soundtracks, and divas. For this year’s tournament, I am excited to introduce to you Femcee Madness, a (mostly) friendly competition between female rappers!
As both a feminist and a hip hop fan, this category is an important one for me. Rap music has always been a testosterone-heavy world, often viewed as a hyper-masculine genre, even though so many pioneers of the art have been women. For so many reasons (read: the patriarchy), it’s hard to get recognition as a woman in rap music. In order to be heard, many have had to work twice as hard as their male colleagues, often expected to sing as well as they rhyme. Plus, this is a particularly good time in history to be elevating and amplifying the voices of women of colour.
While these brackets are an exciting chance to watch some of our all-time favourite rappers go head-to-head, they are also an excuse to profile some exceptionally talented, underrated and under-appreciated women both from hip hop’s short history and the current game. In order to give some of the freshman a fighting chance against long-loved veterans, the brackets have been organized based on career eras. For the first several polls, veteran femcees will face off against one another while younger rappers will spar amongst themselves, leaving our final championship with a representative from both the old and new school.
Let me break down these brackets for those interested in the organization of the tournament. The left side of the brackets is made up of veterans, or those who began their rap career during the 80s or 90s, and the right side represents freshmen, or the femcees who gained their popularity since 2000. The freshmen are then broken up even further by chronology, allowing those who have only been on the scene since 2010 to go up against one another, while those who’ve had a little longer to find a following will face off amongst themselves.
Rap music is a relatively young genre, so instead of breaking up the veterans along a timeline, we’ve divided those who originated in New York City (the birthplace of hip hop), and those pioneers who came from anywhere else. No matter how we slice it, there are going to be some tough decisions right off the bat.
A seed represents a rating that each femcee is given that decides where she will be placed within her bracket. This was especially difficult to establish since I don’t believe that rap music should be evaluated solely (or even primarily) based on mainstream sales, however the contenders need to have at least some popularity and fanbase. Aside from a few points for billboard charting singles in the hip hop category, seeding was mostly based on critical rather than commercial success. I combed through hip hop blogs and publications who had given ratings or rankings to rappers, and every time a lady-rapper made a list, they got some points. (The higher they were rated, the more points they received).
There was no way I could feature every female rapper who has contributed to hip hop. In order to weed a few out, I selected only those who rap primarily in English, and those who’ve recorded an album of some kind – whether an EP, LP or Mixtape. Often the last few of a category were chosen by draw.
You may have noticed two TBD spots in the brackets. In our first polls, the first eight will battle it out for a vote-in chance to compete. Both spots are in the freshman class (to give us extra exposure to some more recent music). The femcee in each category who receive the most votes will go on to compete in the Femcee Madness tournament, and you can watch their progress there starting later this month!
Hip Hop Listening Points
Many folks who have voted on these brackets in the past will not be as familiar with the art of rap, and I realize that this might require a slightly new audience. However, if you are looking for an opportunity to broaden your understanding and experience of hip hop, this is a great place to start! So for those who will be approaching rap for the first time, here are some things to listen for (and if you’re a hip-hop head already, feel free to scroll down to preview the pre-bracket competition).
Lyricism. Rap is basically made up of lyrics, so this might sound redundant. There is a difference between rap and written or even spoken word poetry, but still, many of the things you learned to look for in poetry class are worth paying attention to in a decent rap verse. Watch for metaphors and similes, and for the way a femcee can weave multiple references and ideas into her narrative. Consider her vocabulary in general – it may not be particularly academic, but note the way a femcee will play with multiple meanings of the same word. The more rap you listen to, the more you will catch subtle nods and homages or even disses to other artists.
Arguably the most important literary device in rap is the rhyme scheme, especially when it shifts. This is called the rapper’s flow, and it is an integral (f)emcee skill. Flow describes the relationship between the rhyme and the beat. Listen for when the rhymes end a phrase or are strung along in the middle. Listen for when they sit directly on the beat, and when they seem to sit just in front or behind the beat. Listen for where they are passed from one idea to the next, linking phrases that sound otherwise distinct. A truly gifted rapper will remain in control as they switch up their flow and subvert our expectations. The video below uses all male rappers as examples, but it does a great job describing basics and complexities of great rhymes.
Content can be a value in rap music, although this will vary depending on the fans. For some, social or political consciousness communicated through poetic flow is the ultimate goal, while others are more interested in a really well-told story. In battle rap, content should include some ability to throw shade and demonstrate self-confidence and straight-up braggery. Women have often been treated like objects in hip hop, so when female rappers write about their own sexuality, it can be empowering. Like poetry, you can rap about absolutely anything, the main thing to pay attention to is a variety of unique content coming from the artist.
Whatever the content, a rapper’s technical abilities mean nothing without a strong delivery. Two femcees could easily deliver the exact same verse in completely different ways. Usually it will come down to a personality, tone, style or attitude, or unique, stand-out vocals. Memorable rappers, like memorable singers, have a certain je ne sais quoi that cannot always be easily described.
… then again, sometimes an artist speaks to you not because of the above factors, but because of nostalgia or shared experience, or because they make you want to dance… so just follow your heart and vote!
Download a copy of the brackets, print it out, and mark down your choices, and send your final four predictions to me (@danice.carlson on twitter)!
The Vote-In round will open on Monday, Feb. 6th, but in the meantime you have some time to research the 8 rappers hoping to join the tournament.
Four rappers are in the running for the #11 spot in the northwest quadrant that will eventually face off against Diamond, originally of Atlanta based group, Crime Mob. Will it be Baltimore’s Rye Rye, Mexican chopper Snow The Product, Caribbean-British comical Lady LeShurr, or Ethiopian born/D.C. raised model/rapper Lola Monroe? Here is a handy introductory youtube playlist to get you acquainted.
Representing the freshest of the newbies (in the southwest bracket), four women are gunning for that 16th seed to go up against the weakest #1 seed, Iggy Azaelia. Your choice is between a couple of young Londoners, Nadia Rose and Little Simz, Oakland’s west coast representing Kamaiyah, and the Orlando raised, Brooklyn based Nitty Scott. Check out this youtube playlist to hear a couple tracks from each femcee.
Share the madness with anyone you think would enjoy participating, and we’ll see you for the pre-bracket vote-ins on February 6th!