Nicki Minaj, Lauryn Hill, Lil Kim—the Top 10 Verses by Female Rappers
Sorting through the best verses ever written by women rappers ain't easy. Decades of rhyming have produced countless verses worthy of contention as the “best”—but we’ve managed to whittle it down to our top 10. This list isn’t necessarily indicative of the best female rappers to grace the game—Bay Area rhymers, Conscious Daughters, Rawkus' Jane Doe, Native Tongues affiliate Monie Love, Newsense of Chicago's Psychodrama, young gun Rapsody, No Limit's Mia X, Bahamadia and Remy Ma are just a few worthy talents who don’t appear on the list. This collection of “best” verses take into consideration overall impact on the individual’s career, influence on subsequent rappers and of course, pure writing skill.
“It’s funny how money change a situation/Miscommunication lead to complication/My emancipation don’t fit your equation.”
After an ugly break from the Fugees right at the height of their career, anticipation was at a fever pitch for the standout talent of the group, Lauryn Hill. And she delivered one of the dopest hip-hop verses of all-time on the opening track, “Lost Ones.” Part self-declaration, part diss, but all vintage Lauryn, the song offers the best of what she offered as an artist and emcee— depth, layered perspective and creativity. This is one of those “life situation” verses that can be applied at various stages of personal growth, and as a result, has remained relevant, almost 20 years later.
“Wanna bumble with the bee, huh?/Throw a hex on a whole family/Dressed in all black like ‘The Omen’/Have ya friends sangin’ ‘this is for my homies.’”
“It's All About the Benjamins” is probably one of the best songs hip-hop ever produced and Lil' Kim’s murderous, everybody-can-quote-this verse is an obvious highlight. A standout on song full of lyrical heavyweights including Jadakiss and of course, Biggie, Kim’s oft-recited rhyme was full of fire and passion, and enough one-liners to last a decade. Nobody wanted to bumble with the Queen Bee after she dropped this heat rock. Signifying the height of Kim’s run, this remains one of the most recitable verses in hip-hop history.
“Now I'm hittin' MC's like Hoo-yu-ken!/Ain't no doubt about it I'm the undisputed.”
One of the best lyricists in the Death Row camp, which was stocked full of talent, Rage got a chance to show and prove with her 1994 hit, “Afro Puffs.” Though she never had the proper chance to reveal to the world exactly how talented she was lyrically, (mostly due to constant label drama that resulted in waning interest by the time her full-length Necessary Roughness finally dropped in 1997), Rage managed to reign supreme on this track. That Street Fighter reference is easily one of the most memorable opening lines of any hip-hop verse, and one of the hardest.
“You may take this egotistical or just or worry free/But what you say I take none of it seriously/And even if I did I wouldn't tell you so/I'd let you pretend to read me/And then you'd know.”
MC Lyte is one of the best who’s ever done it. And as a teenage battle rap phenomenon, she made her reputation taking out rivals. So it would be easy and even expected to list any of her verses from one of the best battle rap songs ever, “10% Diss." But the first verse on her classic track, “Paper Thin,” embodies the best characteristics of Lyte as a top-tier spitter. It's the verse that showcases best all that made her L-Y-T-E as a rock: sophisticated and lethal, smart and relatable.
“A lotta MCs today really know how to please/But I gave birth to most of them MCs/So when it comes around to the month of May send me your royalty check for Mother’s Day.”
Who knew a teenager would be the force behind one of the most infamous rap battles in hip-hop history—The Bridge Wars? But Roxanne Shanté consistently dropped bars, and this 1987 Marly Marl produced track is among her best disses, where she takes aim at KRS-One and Scott La Rock. One of the marks for a Shanté rhyme was her talent for dropping hot one-liners and of course, her vocal presence. With her wit and take-no-prisoners attitude, she was the blueprint for followers as varied as MC Lyte and Foxy Brown. She wasn’t trying to sound like a dude but she could deliver heat with the best of them, as exemplified on this verse.
“You got the gall, bastard to brawl with the broadest brashest/The ball’s in your court, pass it/But warning, fall faster than asses with age slack on the back of a Kardashian.”
Look, it was damn near impossible to pick one Jean Grae verse for this list. Her catalogue is as deep as her talent, and picking one 16 was a little like deep sea diving for jewels-- the possibilities are virtually endless. Ambidextrous on the mic, Jean basically does whatever feels good, whether she’s singing, talking s--t, cracking jokes, being introspective…and it’s all dope. This particular verse on “Assassins” from Pharoahe Monch’s 2011 release, W.A.R., made the list because it’s a great mix of everything that makes her better than 90 percent of rappers out here-- distinct presence, flow, humor and perspective. Here, she’s never outshined by the beat, Pharoahe Monch or Royce the 5’9— two of the best pure lyricists alive. Jean Grae is easily one of the illest to have ever done it, period.
“But I'm wise, civilized/Growing higher/Judgment's from the queen/Punish is the fire/I’m here to make these fools out of liars/You must learn, step and respect the sire/Face the fire.”
Queen Latifah is an Oscar nominee, Hollywood heavyweight, Grammy-winning jazz artist, but lest we forget, hip-hop had her first. Having dabbled in singing, dancehall and house on her debut album, Latifah’s command of the mic was still something to contend with; and in 1991, she further cemented her rep as a rhymer and the need for her presence in the game for anyone who doubted her emcee cred. A master at the sneak diss, “Latifah’s Had It Up to Here” from Nature of a Sista showcased her penchant for flow and fury, all while incorporating a dignified reserve that made everyone within listening range all hail the Queen.
“OK, first things first I’ll eat your brains/Then imma start rocking gold teeth and fangs/Cause that’s what a motherf-cking monster do/Hairdresser from Milan, that’s the monster do.”
Make no mistake, Adele’s love of this Nicki Minaj’s rhyme is not why this verse makes the cut. This verse not only converted casual listeners not familiar with Nicki’s lyrical skill; but, on a song that included Kanye West, Rick Ross and Jay Z, it was clearly the best. Amply demonstrating what she does best—creatively flipping styles, witty one-liners and undeniable presence, this verse was a standout on the entire album, which is saying a lot because My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy might be Kanye’s best work to date.
“N---az think I’m too pretty to spit rhymes this gritty/F--k y’all thought? Be dancin’ around in suits like I’m Diddy?”
Foxy Brown dropped a banger in 2001’s “Oh Yeah,” paying homage to her Trinidadian roots, and in the process showcased why she was still considered one of hip-hop’s elite. Her vocals are full-bodied, highlighting her laid-back flow, which is always accented with enough jabs and kicks to get the job done, as witnessed on this verse.
“Wetter than a reservoir, lurking in the bushes/Striking blows like Chesimard, code name Hasana/Warmer than a bomber, hotter than the region of Ghana/Get loot like that Trump bitch, Ivana.”
Rah Digga never really got the shine deserved for her lyrical skills, despite holding it down with one of the most lyrical crews of the early aughts, The Outsiders. Off-beat but eerily focused in her intent and delivery, Digga’s 2000 album, Dirty Harriet showcased her potential and produced this verse from one of the project’s best efforts, the braggadocious “Tight.”