When the Recording Academy announced the 2021 Grammys nominations in November, social media buzzed about a Best Rap Album lineup that looked surprisingly atypical from the norm. Most notably, there were nods to Jay Electronica, a rapper who dropped his long-awaited debut album A Written Testimony in March, and D Smoke, a mellow-voiced West Coast lyricist who won the first season of Netflix’s Hustle + Flow reality TV competition. For some, these nominees signaled a shift in a new direction, one less driven by commercial numbers and more by organic support emerging from artists’ own fan bases. Despite this directional shift, the Grammy nominations still failed to acknowledge the most dynamic force in hip hop this year: women. These rappers managed to hold fans in anticipation during what soon became the monotonous routine of quarantine life during a global pandemic. Audiences watched virtual desert performances from Megan Thee Stallion and chatted up Rico Nasty during virtual meet-and-greets.
For the last decade, the world of women rappers, largely driven by fans fighting for their faves to be recognized, emerged as one where both commercial success and fanfare collided. In July 2019, Saweetie became the seventh woman rapper to make a stamp on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the most debuts made by women rappers in a decade. Still, these rappers and others remained relatively unseen in the Grammys’ rap categories. Five women rappers, all from the South, made distinct footprints in music this year, and while all of the artists listed differ stylistically and lyrically from one another, they all fall under the same resounding theme: Each has been buoyed by supporters who uplift their names and celebrate their talent in a male-dominated industry. These five rappers, sometimes bound by the limitations of traditional record contracts and industry politics, found true-to-self ways to release content to their dedicated followings. While award shows might continue to fall behind on handing women their rightfully earned roses in hip hop, fan bases teach us of the power of numbers in the face of invisibility. Below, we’re highlighting five women rappers who truly ran the world of music in 2020.
Asian Doll, Doll Szn Reloaded
After being released from Gucci Mane’s 1017 Eskimo Records label earlier this year, Asian Doll (also known as Asian Da Brat) wasted no time independently dropping her mixtape Doll Szn Reloaded. The dynamic rapper, born and raised in Dallas, is fluent in hustle and a reminder of the invisibilized impact the Dallas-Fort Worth region brought to hip hop as mentioned in writer Taylor Crumpton’s recently released book. As the self-proclaimed original “rap Doll,” Asian Doll is able to distinguish herself from the pack with her alternative Black girl aesthetic and assertive lyrics. Day-one supporters of Asian Doll were gifted “Lame Niggaz Pt. 2,” a song that transforms its 2017 predecessor into a breezy, summertime-ready tune asking to be blasted from car speakers. Asian lands back in her early-career practice of limiting features on the mixtape, therefore granting her space on the whole song to go off. The exception to this rule is her track with King Von, her O-Block legend ex-boyfriend whose life was tragically cut short in a violent altercation this November. The two rappers borrow from each other’s energy and Asian sprinkles in her signature adlibs, quickly turning the song into a fan favorite on the project. The artist shows no signs of slowing down either: Just this month, she dropped “Nunnadet Shit,” a promising flash of the havoc she plans to wreak in the music world next year.
Also known as bbymutha’s “acid tab to the world,” Muthaland is a trip from start to finish with hard basslines and lyrics that might surprise a casual listener—but that are very on brand for the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based rapper. Throughout the album “from the fiery depths of hell,” listeners are guided through skits by a witty talk show host and bbymutha herself as she drops gems to an emotional friend over a screwed Moesha diary beat. The rapper’s slick talking ability is bolstered by her ever-impressive beat selection as she floats on tracks like “Scam Likely” and “Bbymutha This, Bbymutha That.” She pays homage and makes a heroine of Gucci Mane’s Suzie from his 2009 song, “I Think I Love Her,” and drops a lyrical love letter to Black people that explicitly signals her target audience by naming it “Not for Caucasians.” All too familiar and fed up with industry exploitation, the artist vowed to leave the industry to instead focus on her bustling apothecary Mutha Magick. She’s now doing both and continues to release music through Bandcamp to a dedicated fanbase, exemplifying the liberation possible when artists are given the space to organically control the distribution of music without relying on streaming services.
CHIKA, INDUSTRY GAMES
On the Mobile, Alabama-born rapper’s debut album, CHIKA pledges to build her own path devoid of the usual traps that unfold on the road to rap stardom. CHIKA made her way to internet virality with a freestyle that confronts rapper Kanye West about his MAGA antics, landing her in the tricky spot where her raps were consumable as bite-sized snippets that could quickly be shared and reach the masses. On her album, CHIKA escapes the 1:20 second confines of the Twitter video format and claims her own space as an emcee and performer. The self-professed musical theater nerd switches up her flow to ride a beat so hard that her voice and the music eventually meld into one during the listening experience. While much of the album feels like an artistic blueprint and a decree to remain authentic in the game, the queer rapper also makes time for romance, spitting about the realities of long-distance love as an artist on “ON MY WAY.” Notably, CHIKA’s one of the few women emcees to earn a Grammy nomination this year for Best New Artist and proves with this project that she’s more than a fleeting social media moment; she’s here to stay.
Five women rappers, all from the South, made distinct footprints in music this year.
Megan Thee Stallion, Good News
When Houston talent Megan Thee Stallion announced the arrival of her debut album, she prefaced by messaging fans “through this rough ass year, we’ve all been having I felt like we could all use a lil bit of good news.” Amid a global pandemic, widespread riots against police violence, and Megan’s own tumultuous year, the rapper reminded fans on Good News that she’s determined to live her best life and have a good time, critics be damned. After dealing with an intense legal battle with her former record label 1501 Certified Entertainment, Megan suffered another devastating blow when she was shot in July. The rapper immediately outlined the incident on the first track “Shots Fired,” which samples the 1994 Biggie song “Who Shot Ya?” to address Tory Lanez’s repeated denial that he was responsible for Megan being harmed. With the song, she underscores the reality that sometimes one diss song packs a harder punch than an entire defamatory album. The project boasts an impressive lineup of features (including the “Savage (Remix)” with Beyoncé that earned her three Grammy nominations) but Megan holds her own on songs such as on “Go Crazy” where she supplies one-liners alongside punchline prodigies Big Sean and 2 Chainz. Although the project contains sonic departures from Megan’s southern pimpstress image that sometimes feel like a retreat from other tunes on the album, it’s gratifying to see her dabbling in new genres and growing her range as a musician.
Flo Milli, Ho, Why Is You Here?
The second single of Ho, Why Is You Here? titled “In The Party” made its rounds on TikTok with its iconic opening line “Dicks up when I step in the party.” The line was soon all over the internet, promptly making her a figure to watch. Flo Milli has the presence of a rap veteran on her debut album, intentionally choosing to forgo any features and giving herself the proper stage as a solo artist. The move itself was brilliant: She’s been able to craft a sound that is distinctively hers, no small feat for a debut. The album is a high energy self-proclamation, with Flo Milli impelling haters to confront her on “Beef FloMix’” and asserting her right to stunt on insecure girls on “Not Friendly.” The 20-year-old’s career is a lesson in manifesting: She confesses that at a young age, she covered her bedroom with photos that captured the success she’s currently reveling in today. It should be unsurprising, then, to hear the confidence in her lyrics even as they’re delivered via playful inflection. Flo Milli is a talent of her own making, and one who doesn’t doubt her own potential. Instead, she’s fully aware of her own talent. With videos like her single “Weak,” a tune sampling the 1992 SWV song of the same name, viewers get a peek into her enjoyable brazenness and see just how far Flo Mili will go if the world doesn’t get in her way.