No, they don’t need your cosign.

Influential people in hip-hop are almost always categorized by their gender. But, skills are skills, and plenty of great women have proven they can go head-to-head with some of the most admirable men in the game. When taking a trip down the road of hip-hop, you can tell it’s obvious not many get by without a cosign, becoming the ‘first lady’ of a crew or a label. For me, this doesn’t take away from their talent but it definitely shows the way the misogyny in the hip hop game runs. Thankfully, we seem to be getting out of that run.

Millie Jackson changed the game forever in 1974 when she dropped Caught Up, a sweet sultry concept album about heartbreak, infidelity and the emotional difficulties that come with love. This opened the path for a new wave of influential rappers throughout the late 1980s: there was MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and the forever iconic duo, Salt-N-Pepa.  All these women proved women could hold their own and be just as hard as any man in the game.

Crawling into the 1990s, coming into the era of some of the greatest male rappers in history, women were not far behind. Left Eye, Da Brat and the great Lauryn Hill all made serious moves in the early 1990s, but the decade’s latter years brought in a new wave of sexy, cocky, desirable women, who changed the face of hip-hop. Some of the most prestigious men in the game were cosigning women by bringing them into their crews, putting them in their videos and helping them pave the way. Lil Kim was a prime example of a woman who received a cosign but very quickly pushed herself out of the shadow of a man. Although Biggie pushed for her, she didn’t need it, this was Kim’s world. Being incredibly sexy and unashamedly outlandish, Kim’s lyrics shocked everyone. We were introduced to Lil Kim through Junior M.A.F.I.A’s Conspiracy album in 1995,  her first album  was a defiant example of a woman reclaiming her own sexuality. Kim’s body, Kim’s rules, our enjoyment.

While Kim was serving as the first lady of Junior M.A.F.I.A., Foxy Brown was earning a serious name for herself on the streets. Named after Pam Grier’s badass character in the 1974 film Foxy Brown, the star became the subject of a major label bidding war which eventually got her signed to Def Jam. This industry not only pitted strong men against each other but also women, Foxy and Kim found themselves quickly put against each other. A cosign is by no means specific to a certain gender; Drake, Kanye and J Cole all had their early successes kick started by high-profile artists but this created a space that allowed women to be taken seriously. Rap crews began to recruit ‘first ladies’: Terror Squad had Remy Ma, G-Unit had Olivia and even Death Row had the Lady of Rage. Even Nicki Minaj, a queen of rap had a co-sign by none other than the great Lil Wayne, becoming the ‘first lady’ of  Young Money. 

Peaking into the new age of rap, things are starting to really change. It’s not a secret to anyone that the internet has changed the music industry, making it easier than ever for artists to blow up through social media, create a brand and acquire a fan base. Azealia Banks is one of the first women to do it, uploading  singles and mixtapes online before being signed. She  experienced label drama and fought them to finally release her full-length debut album Broke With Expensive Taste. Sure, there were countless beefs with others, but Banks’ skill is one unlike many others. Princess Nokia is a young woman who is experimenting with herself and her sounds, creating an incredible portfolio for herself. Her musical talents are all over the place in the sense of what genre she likes, but the industry took notice when she dived head first into hip-hop on 1992, which quickly brought her the attention she deserved. Following in the footsteps of legends like Left Eye and Salt-N-Pepa, Nokia brings themes of social justice into her lyrics and proudly practices what she preaches. Her presence in hip-hop is a breath of fresh air, her ability to pull from the musical talents of the crazy girl to a punk rock goddess inside her was what sets her apart from the masses.

Oh, you think all women in rap are just sitting thick and pretty , getting off with their social issues? No, with this new era of rappers we get the likes of CupcakKe, whose X-rated bars and flow have earned her a dedicated fan base of ‘slurpers’. Then comes the woman women want to be friends with and men wanna.. well you know, Cardi B, whose sharp wit and  ability to switch her flow at the drop of a hat make her one of the most incredible artists out right now. Like more and more young women in rap,  all she needed was one hit, not a cosign. Countless features have made her come-up a beautiful rags to riches story. Growing her fan base by being the funny ex-stripper on Instagram, she has simply become an underdog we all love to root for and her skills are unmatched. She may have had help from reality TV and now be engaged to Migos’ Offset, but she’s still self-made in a way which is undeniably inspiring. 

Never has there been a more inspiring time for women, dominating every single outlet. From the sexy music videos to the hard in your face bars, there is no denying that they are here and have claimed their place. Co sign or not, they are going to make it.

Ariana Ramanand

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