Highsnobiety

In 2020, it feels redundant to even say the words “female rapper” to mark out women as separate to their male contemporaries. The likes of MC Lyte, Roxanne Shanté, Salt-N-Pepa, and Queen Latifah have been killing it since the ’80s, but waves of talented women (from Kim and Foxy to Nicki and Cardi) have come since, proving time and time again that they can go just as hard – if not harder – than the guys.

Thanks to social media and online streaming partially democratizing the industry, there’s more choice than ever before when it comes to hard-hitting women: from Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie, City Girls, and Kash Doll to Young M.A, Lady Leshurr, Dai Burger, Ms. Banks, and Nadia Rose, the list of stars on the rise grows seemingly every day. The definitions of rap and hip-hop are changing constantly, too, as artists blend genres from around the world into new, sonically innovative hybrids.

These combined factors make it harder than ever to box artists in, which is precisely the point: genre means less than talent, but there’s still a whole bunch of new or underrated artists that you really should be adding to your playlists. So, under the loose banner of “hip-hop,” we’ve rounded up ten female rappers killing it right now, ready to keep you entertained in self-isolation.

HAWA

Hawa may be just 19 years-old, but already she’s racked up a series of hits and a standout performance slot at Telfar’s FW20 show. Born in Berlin and raised between Guinea, France, and America, the classically-trained artist is now based in New York, where she cut her teeth as a composer at the city’s revered Philharmonic Orchestra. But she soon got bored and branched out, linking up with producer Tony Seltzer for her stellar 2018 debut, “Might Be.”

Now signed to carefully-curated indie label b4 (an offshoot of 4AD), Hawa is steadily building a back catalog which transcends genre. Recently-released EP The One veers effortlessly between smooth melodies and calm, confident bars: from the infectious, sexed-up “Frick” to the bruisingly introspective “iPhone,” there’s more than enough versatility to guarantee Hawa’s place on any list of emerging stars.

LE JUIICE

“Je suis le trap mama.” These were the lyrics that accelerated the profile of French artist Le Juiice last year, although she was already a fixture on the cipher scene with regular freestyles on Planète Rap and an online hit in the form of “No Cap.” Born and raised in the southeastern Parisian banlieu of Boissy-Saint-Léger, she grew up surrounded by rappers and soon began spitting herself, turning the poetry she wrote as a child into bonafide rhymes.

Before long, she had polished her skills and stepped away from a career in the financial sector to release breakout single “Trap Mama,” also the name of her recently-released debut album. Rumbling bass and menacing snares link the album sonically, creating a series of beats for Juiice to flex over: from her fit to her weed, she raps with the kind of confidence that a self-made talent is forced to cultivate.

JEAN GRAE

Despite a decades-long career, industry acclaim, and a reputation as one of the best lyricists in the game, Jean Grae remains criminally underrated. Since her first release way back in 1996, Grae has dropped countless witty punchlines and rapped in-depth about everything from her teenage abortion to gun violence in America. She signed to Talib Kweli’s record label back in 2005, but ultimately left – not only was she disenchanted with the industry, she was ready to start a family.

But then, in 2018, she returned with husband Quelle Chris to drop the satirical yet fiercely intelligent Everything’s Fine, which saw Grae back on top form lyrically. Over a mixture of soul and funk beats, the MCs wrote skits and witty bars about what it truly means to be “fine” under late-stage capitalism in the midst of political chaos. It was a biting return to form which signalled more music soon to come – but in the meantime, her vast back catalog should tide you over.

ALYONA ALYONA

Alyona Savranenko has cycled through multiple careers over the years: from schoolteacher to make-up counter cashier, she lived various lives before finding fame as one of Ukraine’s breakout rap stars. Her tongue-in-cheek videos, which feature scenes of Savranenko jet-skiing across cartoon-plastered green-screens and rapping with her friends, have racked up millions of views, proving that great rap really can transcend language barriers.

Then, there’s the music itself: Savranenko’s flow is rapid-fire, rhythmic and charismatic, with countless pitch shifts and ad libs guaranteed to get lodged in your mind. Rumbling bass and eccentric touches characterize her beats, but generally they’re stripped back: Savranenko truly doesn’t need much help to shine.

MALUCA MALA

You might recognize Maluca Mala from her 2009 hit “El Tigeraso,” or maybe her guest appearance on Robyn’s 2015 single “Love Is Free,” but now she’s a free agent with an infectious single – “NYC Baby” – a brilliantly charismatic video, and an upcoming debut album, which has been almost a decade in the making.

Born in the Bronx to Dominican parents, Maluca Mala’s music has always been impossible to box in: she’s previously described it as “ghetto-techno, Latin dance, hip-hop, rave music,” and pulls from rap and electronica as often as she does bachata and merengue. It’s a heady mix underpinned by her ability to switch between rapid flows and earworm melodies, as well as a joyous energy that makes her music impossible not to dance to.

JEAN DEAUX

Despite being barely midway through her 20s, Jean Deaux has been praised in the past for her “mastery of all genres.” In the years leading up to her 2018 EP Krash, she shone on guest spots for Mykki Blanco, Kehlani, and Isaiah Rashad to name a few, but her own sonic blueprint came fully fleshed out on last year’s seven-track album, Empathy.

Deaux’s voice is like honey, switching between restrained raps and airy, saccharine vocals across the album. Standout “Anytime” sees the Chicago-born artist rhyme about sexual dominance through quick punchlines and clever metaphors, whereas tracks like “Break Time” and “Higher Me” (which she switches to “hire me”) are lyrical testaments to the hustle that’s already earned her industry acclaim. It’s precisely this fluidity and determination that make Deaux one of the most interesting artists making music right now.

LADY SHOCKER

Few grime artists can go toe-to-toe with Lady Shocker, a seasoned lyricist and battle rapper with almost two decades of experience. Over the years, she’s racked up a series of impressive tracks like “Slap An MC,” whose tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“I’ll have your girl eatin’ out a box like Chinese”) and quick-fire punchlines show her playful side, and the kind of biting wit that’s guaranteed to come out top in ciphers.

More recently, London-based Shocker has been experimenting with slower, more laid-back beats: ode to weed “Haze” is exemplary, as is the surprisingly romantic “Butterflies.” Between releases, she uses her platform to dispel stigma around the grime scene and muse on its evolution, all the while transitioning into a new chapter of her career. With new music still coming thick and fast, now’s the time to put Shocker on your radar for 2020.

CHINESE KITTY

Undeniably, one of the best rap tracks to emerge last year was an all-star, women-only remix of Hitmaka’s “Thot Box,” featuring Young M.A, Dreezy, Mulatto, DreamDoll, and Chinese Kitty. The sexed-up reclamation quickly racked up millions of streams and a slew of Insta-worthy punchlines, like Kitty’s iconic “pussy juice on his durag” and “have him singing to my pussy like Keith Sweat.”

The Love & Hip Hop: Miami regular had already flexed her charisma, swag, and sex appeal across a handful of releases, but last year’s mixtape Kitty Bandz saw her move into a lane of her own. Bass-heavy and surprisingly versatile, the cohesive set sees Kitty team up with Cuban Doll on the blistering “Opps” and show off her flow on “Nasty Finesse,” proving without doubt that she deserves your attention.

SHAYBO

Shaybo’s upcoming project might be called Queen of the South, but that’s not a Trina reference. First, she’s talking about South London as opposed to Miami – more specifically, she’s currently based in Woolwich, fast becoming the epicenter of the UK’s drill scene. It’s also a reference to Teresa Mendoza, who grew up underprivileged in Mexico but hustled her way through, becoming a prolific cartel leader.

References like these are stamped across drill music, which is so unashamedly political that the UK’s police chief called for it to be banned. But it’s a genre rooted in the realities of living in the UK’s failing political system, which both segregates and scapegoats racial minorities. “I can’t control my anger / so I smoke this ganja,” she raps on recent release “Anger,” all the while sprinkling football puns and Christian Dior into her lyrics. A series of online freestyles demonstrate her obvious talent, but Shaybo stands out for the obvious fact that she’s an artist with a clear point of view and a vital message.

TOKISCHA

The last few years in particular have seen Latin American styles like funk carioca and reggaeton undergo makeovers driven largely by queer, feminist artists: from the innovators of neoperreo to the sex-positive trailblazers of funk carioca, women across the entire diaspora are making their mark on genres with rich histories. Dominican rapper Tokischa defines her sound as #trapterretre, laying the blueprint on 2018 breakout hit “Pícala.”

In less than two years, she’s risen the ranks and cemented her place in a crucial conversation, rapping unapologetically about sex, weed, and self-empowerment. A handful of rapid-fire freestyles have earned her serious respect, whereas hits like “Amor Y Dinero” have proven her storytelling ability, outlining a sketchy but passionate relationship between two gangsters. She’s a fan of a collab, too – last year, she teamed up with Farina for the infectious “Perras Como Tú,” effortlessly dragging the perras (bitches) vying for her attention.

Words by Jake Hall