Last week, VH1 announced the revival of their Hip-Hop Honors, set to air Monday, July 11. Instead of awarding the usual heavy-hitters, VH1 has decided to make the event girls-only. The show will “pay homage to the female pioneers, trailblazers and trend-setters who [led] a movement and infiltrated the ranks of the male-dominated genre to make their voices heard.”
This got us thinking about our favorite hip-hop feminists—women who subverted a genre known for hyper-sexualizing the female body, and rose to the top in a sea of men who usually got there by shouting their masculinity. From Queen Latifah to Lil’ Kim, Salt-n-Pepa and TLC, hip-hop wouldn’t be the same without these bad, bad bitches.
Here are our top 10 favorite feminist hip-hop songs of all time, proving hip-hop can be a breeding ground for feminist activism:
1. “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A She Thing” by Salt-n-Pepa
Salt-N-Pepa could easily monopolize this list, from “Let’s Talk About Sex,” to “Spinderella’s Not A Fella (But A Girl DJ),” but their 1995 single, “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A She Thing,” arguably defines feminism. The track opens with the girls saying, “It ain’t a man’s world,” and ends with the verse, “Don’t be fooled by my S-E-X/It ain’t that simple, I’m more complex/We’ve come a long way, and, baby, that’s a fact/Let’s keep moving forward, girls, never look back/Fight for your rights, stand up and be heard/You’re just as good as any man, believe that, word.”
2. “Unpretty” by TLC
TLC had a ton of feminist hits. “Unpretty” tackles oppressive beauty standards and the pressure women face to be beautiful. Released in 1999, this song is a representation of the female experience. All women are expected to look, dress and act certain ways, but women of color have their own unrealistic standards they’re encouraged to live up to that hip-hop often reinforced, particularly in music videos. With “Unpretty,” TLC not only throws up a giant middle finger to these confining ideals, they also assert that being a woman isn’t all makeup and purses.
3. “Mommy” by Missy Elliott
“The definition of mommy is not a chick with kids. Mommy means the boss, the money-maker, the man-taker, the provider, the low car rider.” Missy Elliott is a hip-hop feminist icon for a number of reasons. Her style alone—those iconic track suits and bucket hats—was revolutionary in a culture where women were often seen wearing next to nothing in rap videos. “Mommy,” lifted off her 2005 album The Cookbook, is a shoutout to all women, with children and without, who take care of business.
4. “Suck My Dick” by Lil’ Kim
Hip-hop is notorious for its misogyny and objectification of women. Lil’ Kim demolishes the idea of a modest woman waiting to be dominated and becomes the dominatrix, reclaiming her own body and sexuality. In “Suck My Dick,” off her second studio album The Notorious K.I.M., she not only shows she can hang with the best, but she talks about men as if they’re pieces of meat, subverting the usual dynamic. She also talks about female oral sex, which before Kim, and pretty much since, was unheard of.
5. “No Scrubs” by TLC
Another TLC track, “No Scrubs,” was a ’90s feminist anthem. Not only does this track mock men, it’s all about not needing one at all. “I don’t want no scrub/A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me.” These girls don’t want to have to settle, and they don’t have to. This song is a model for female empowerment and deflates any misconceptions that a woman needs a man to survive.
6. “U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah
The world today knows Queen Latifah as an actress and talk show host, but before all of that, she was the ultimate hip-hop feminist. A lesbian who is now open about her sexuality, Latifah wrote “U.N.I.T.Y.” in 1993, which is about the way men degrade women using names like “bitch” and “slut.” “U.N.I.T.Y.” is a reminder for women to not tolerate any abuse.
7. “Bad Girls” by M.I.A.
This track, lifted off M.I.A.’s 2013 album Matangi, is for all the bad bitches out there who hate being told to “act like a girl.” M.I.A. proves that acting like a girl can mean a million different things, including being bad. “Bad Girls” challenges stereotypes, and represents fighting back to the many social restrictions placed on women. “Lift fast, die young, bad girls do it well.”
8. “I Am Woman” by MC Lyte
MC Lyte is another one of hip-hop’s OG feminist emcees. Her song “I Am Woman,” from her 1988 debut album, Lyte As A Rock, is all about the power of womanhood and female pride. She raps, “I am woman, hear me roar.” Enough said.
9. “Da Baddest Bytch” by Trina
We couldn’t leave Trina and “Da Baddest Bytch” off this list. This incredibly important song, from 2002, flips the hip-hop model on its head. Instead of a male artist rapping about big booties and how bad he is, Trina talks about her distaste for little dicks and being the baddest bytch.
10. “PMS” by Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige’s “PMS” is the singer’s tribute to all the ladies on their period. She talks about feeling depressed, her lower back achin’ and feeling like shit. Let’s face it, getting your period sucks and any woman who writes a song about it gets a feminist stamp in my book.
Honorable Mention: “Get Money” by Junior Mafia feat. Lil’ Kim and Notorious B.I.G.
We didn’t include this song on the list because it’s technically not a Lil’ Kim song, but Lil’ Kim’s verse in the track is without a doubt one of the best, and most feminist, moments in all of hip-hop. She talks about female sexuality, including oral sex and female orgasm, while also showing she’s better than the boys.