Femcee Madness Begins: NYC Vets
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!