In 2016, many of the year’s absolute best rap songs, verses and flows were created by women. Happening at all corners of the hip-hop map, from the genre'’s home in New York to right here in Los Angeles, through the vibrant scenes of Chicago and Minneapolis and such international rap hotbeds as Toronto and London, every night in 2016 was ladies' night.
Please join us in pledging to never use the terms “fem-cee,” “female rapper” or “Feminem” again, as we look back at how women made some of 2016’s top hip-hop.
Remy Ma, Fat Joe and French Montana, “All the Way Up”
Young M.A., “OOOUUU”
No conversation about the year’s biggest singles would be complete without “All the Way Up” and “OOOUUU.” Veteran Remy Ma and star rookie Young M.A. created two of the year's biggest hits — both inescapable, both having tremendous longevity, and both creating a tidal wave of remixes and remakes. Remy Ma’s return to prominence with “All the Way Up” after her six-year prison stint is one of the genre’s all-time greatest comeback stories. Young M.A.’s “OOOUUU” makes history as well, being a nonexploitive, first-person lesbian narrative that absolutely knocks.
The Viral Smashes:
Nicki Minaj, “Black Barbies”
Hip-hop’s biggest viral sensation this year was Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” inspiring everyone, including actual Beatle Paul McCartney, to take part in the Mannequin Challenge that the song soundtracked. Nicki Minaj’s “Black Barbies,” a ground-up remake of “Black Beatles,” was one of the year’s most potent reimaginings. It’s Minaj as creative as she was when we first fell in love with her on “Monster,” but with the nuance of someone who has re-emerged with her skills sharper than ever.
Kodie Shane, “Drip on My Walk”
Lil Yachty’s star protégé Kodie Shane’s “Drip on My Walk” was one of 2016’s instant quotables. An ear-worm if there ever was one, it has the vibe to blend perfectly into any playlist and makes me right now just want to repeatedly type “I got that drip on my walk” while yelling it at everyone near me.
Cam & China, “Extravagant”
Introducing the world to their post-jerkin' sound, Inglewood twins Cam & China’s “Extravagant” was a veritable clinic of flows. Over an infectious James Koo beat, Cam and China exchange verses with several different masterfully structured schemes, showing absolutely everything that could possibly be done within the production parameters. Cam & China’s self-titled EP proved them to be the most potent pair of siblings the genre has seen in years.
Kamaiyah, “How Does It Feel”
Oakland’s Kamaiyah represents the forefront of where the Bay Area sound is going. Her melodies, flows and emotive lyrics encapsulate all that’s great about hip-hop traditions while maintaining a cutting-edge style. Her A Good Night in the Ghetto album is essential listening.
Lizzo, “Good as Hell”
Sophia Eris, “Money Music”
Minneapolis’ Lizzo, one of the biggest breakout stars of 2016, seemed to be everywhere this year. From her hit “Good as Hell” to her charismatic turn co-hosting MTV’s VMA preshow to the unenviable task of performing on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee the night after the election, her impact was undeniable. She capped off the year with a must-see national tour, backed by DJ Sophia Eris, who put out a stellar release herself this year with Elevator.
[audio-1]Maria Isa, “Get It on Sight”
Also standing out from Minneapolis through the mixtape circuit were Maria Isa and Doomtree member Dessa. Maria Isa’s own Dragon Lady mixtape was one of the year’s strongest, and Dessa’s appearance on the official Hamilton Mixtape, remaking the popular Broadway show’s “Congratulations,” was one of the year’s most welcome surprise cameos.
No Panty, “Singin My Song”
Sammus, “Time Crisis”
The diversity in the East Coast scene is more vibrant than ever. As one third of indie-rap supergroup No Panty with Joell Ortiz and Bodega Bamz, Nitty Scott had what I feel was the best verse this year on “Singin’ My Song,” part of their concept album Westside Highway Story, which used samples of classic New York Nuyurican standards for one of the year’s most strongly realized visions. Just north of them upstate, we have Sammus, one of the few MCs to cross over from the nerdcore audience into the greater indie rap scene, thanks to tracks such as the over-30 anthem “Time Crisis.”
Noname, “Ditty Bop”
It was a landmark year for the Chicago scene as well. Noname (formerly No Name Gypsy) was selected to open for Lauryn Hill, and she finally released her long-awaited debut album, Telefone, which wound up being completely worth the wait. Sa-Roc also released her Metamorpheus EP on Rhymesayers, the label’s first release from a female artist in a decade.
Little Simz, “Picture Perfect”
Kate Tempest, “Don’t Fall In”
Eternia, “Keep U”
Outside of the United States, there were plenty of bangers as well. This month saw the release of London rapper Little Simz’s Stillness in Wonderland, with tracks like “Picture Perfect” that boast some of the greatest start-stop staccato flows ever heard with a British accent. It’s the second great rap album of 2016 from across the pond, coming a few months after Kate Tempest’s Let Them Eat Chaos. Closer to the States was Toronto veteran Eternia, whose Apathy-produced “Keep U” expressed one of the year’s strongest sentiments.