Playlist: We Run This, 50 Years of Women in Hip-Hop

A collage of women in hip hop, outlined in yellow, in front of a pile of mixtapes. Left to right: Lauryn Hill, Cardi B, Young M.A., Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, Big Freeda, Missy Elliott, Megan thee Stallion, Chika, Roxane Shante, Da Brat, and Lil Kim

Art by Autostraddle. Photography: Queen Latifah and Da Brat by Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images // Chika by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage // Young M.A. by Prince Williams/WireImage // Megan thee Stallion by Steve Jennings/WireImage // Cardi B and Big Freedia by Paras Griffin/Getty Images // Roxane Shante and MC Lyte by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archive // Missy Elliott by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc // Lauryn Hill by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images // Lil Kim by KMazur/WireImage // Nicki Minaj by Steve Granitz/WireImage

There’s a story we tell about the founding of hip-hop: how on August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc hosted a party in the recreation room of his 1520 Sedgwick Avenue apartment building in the Bronx. He’d take to the turntables and showcase this new style of DJing that Herc called the “Merry-Go-Round,” which stitched together the danceable breaks of funk hits. Herc’s friend, Coke La Rock, would grab the microphone and rhyme over the instrumentals. And just like that, a genre — a culture — was born.

That is the story we tell but, like so much of hip-hop history, it’s an incomplete one. Like so much of hip-hop history, it’s one that erases, the contribution of women.

Here’s the truth: hip-hop isn’t born on that night without Kool Herc’s sister, Cindy Campbell. She wanted to buy some back-to-school clothes and she decided to throw a party to make some money. She paid the $25 charge to reserve the room. She designed the party flyers, by hand, on index cards that she’d gotten from school. She recruited her brother to DJ (mostly because she didn’t want to pay anyone else to do it) and leveraged his name to get interest from the community. She set the price for admission — a quarter for the ladies, two for the fellas — and sold drinks and hot dogs that she’d purchased wholesale. She was, in essence, hip-hop’s first party promoter. Without Cindy Campbell, August 11th isn’t the birthday of music’s most influential genre.

The stories of the Cindy Campbells of hip-hop can’t stay hidden forever and, more and more, we’re seeing those stories being told. Writers like Joan Morgan, dream hampton, Danyel Smith, Kierna Mayo, Clover Hope, and Syreeta Gates are leading the way in chronicling the triumphs and tragedies of women in hip-hop. Last week, Carmen and I reviewed the new Netflix docuseries, Ladies First, which chronicles the role of women in hip-hop since its inception. But what’s a celebration of women’s contributions to 50 years of hip-hop without a playlist?

I dug through Spotify’s library and picked 50 female emcees to showcase the past, present, and future of the genre. Admittedly, Spotify’s classic hip-hop selection is wanting — no Mercedes Ladies, no Debbie D, no Lisa Lee, no old school Michie Mee — but hopefully this playlist prays proper homage to the genre’s godmothers while saluting those who are carrying the torch today.

1. Funky 4 + 1 – “That’s the Joint” (Sha-Rock)
2. The Masterdon Committee – “Funkbox Party” (Pebblee Poo)
3. The Sequence – “Funk You Up”
4. Roxanne Shante – “Have a Nice Day”
5. Sparky D – “Sparky’s Back”
6. J.J Fad – “Supersonic”
7. Sweet Tee – “I Got Da Feelin'”
8. Salt-N-Pepa – “Push It”
9. MC Lyte – “10% Dis”
10. Oaktown’s 3.5.7 – “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”
11. Queen Latifah – “Ladies First”
12. Monie Love – “Monie In The Middle”
13. Yo-Yo – “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo”
14. Sister Souljah – “The Hate That Hate Produced”
15. Digable Planets – “The Rebirth of Slick” (Ladybug Mecca)
16. The Lady of Rage – “Afro Puffs”
17. Da Brat – “Funkdafied”
18. Bahamadia – “Uknowhowwedu”
19. Heather B – “If Headz Only Knew”
20. Boss – “Deeper”
21. Lil’ Kim (ft. Missy, Da Brat, Left Eye and Angie Martinez) – “Not Tonight”
22. Missy Elliott – “Beep Me 911” (RIP Magoo)
23. Lauryn Hill – “Lost Ones”
24. Rah Digga (ft. Eve and Sonja Blade) – “Do the Ladies Run This”
25. Foxy Brown – “Hot Spot”
26. Eve – “What Y’all Want”
27. Charli Baltimore – “Stand Up”
28. Trina – “Pull Over”
29. Jean Grae – “Don’t Rush Me”
30. Crime Mob – “Knuck If You Buck” (Diamond and Princess)
31. Remy Ma – Conceited
32. Nicki Minaj – “Did It On ‘Em”
33. Mykki Blanco (ft. Princess Nokia) – “Wish You Would”
34. NoName – “Diddy Bop”
35. Young M.A. – “OOOUUU’
36. Leikeli47 – “Money”
37. Tierra Whack – “Mumbo Jumbo”
38. Janelle Monae – “Django Jane”
39. Big Freedia (ft. Lizzo) – Karaoke
40. Little Simz – “Venom”
41. Rapsody (ft. Queen Latifah) – “Hatshepsut”
42. Chika – “Songs About You”
43. Megan Thee Stallion (ft. Beyonce) – “Savage”
44. Cardi B. (ft. Megan Thee Stallion) – “W.A.P.”
45. Michie Mee (ft. Tonya P) – “Made It”
46. Saweetie (ft. Doja Cat) – “Best Friend”
47. Latto – “Big Energy”
48. Flo Milli – “Conceited”
49. GloRilla (ft. Cardi B) – “Tomorrow 2”
50. Doechii – “What It Is”

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 400 articles for us.

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