Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
'Invasion of Privacy' Turns 5: How Cardi B's Bold Debut Album Redefined Millennial Hip-Hop
Cardi B led with heart and hunger on 'Invasion of Privacy,' which quickly ascended her from a local Bronx rapper to an unconventional pop star — and history-making GRAMMY winner.
By the time Cardi B released her debut album on April 6, 2018, there was no denying that she was rap's biggest and boldest new star.
The rapper's fearlessness placed her at the head of her rap class — and on top of the charts — with 2017's history-making hit, "Bodak Yellow." But after she released her first album, Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B didn't just solidify herself as a superstar — she issued one of the most unforgettable rap albums of her generation.
Not only was Invasion of Privacy an audacious middle finger to those who denied Cardi's talent, but its versatility reflected a new era in millennial rap. Cardi's magnetic personality — a combination of tongue-wagging sexuality, unfiltered opinions and sheer silliness — shined across all 13 tracks. With that, Invasion of Privacy declared Cardi as the ringleader of rap's next class — one who wasn't afraid to make her own rules.
Cardi's rap aspirations were first introduced in 2015, when she joined the cast of VH1's Love & Hip Hop: New York; her audacious hometown pride and an undeniably hilarious personality captured the attention of millions. Though she branded herself as a "regular-degular-shmegular girl from the Bronx," it was clear she had her sights set on superstardom.
Initially, many people held her stripper background against her, with diehard rap fans (and even her Love & Hip Hop: New York castmates) insinuating that she was solely meant for the pole and not the studio. Yet, Cardi used her humble beginnings to her advantage, colorfully sharing booty-shaking tales on Instagram and foreshadowing the confidence she conveys on Invasion of Privacy. Her retable humor turned her into a viral social media maven and the growing attention — whether you loved or hated her — was the fuel she needed to ignite her music career.
Cardi B spun her stripping roots into gold (well, Platinum, in Invasion of Privacy's case — but more on that later). She dropped her first mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 in 2016, which featured the colloquialism and commanding delivery that has become her signature. Upon dropping Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2 a year later, Cardi made it known that she was aware of her haters' disdain — and the fact that she was on her way to mainstream success. "They ain't like me before, now they bookin' me/ The glow got b—es so shook at me," she spits on "Lick," a Vol. 2 track with future husband Offset.
It didn't take long for the industry to notice the mixtapes' viral dominance: Atlantic Records signed Cardi B just one month following the release of Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2. Her major-label debut single, "Bodak Yellow," arrived that June, almost instantly catapulting Cardi from beloved reality show personality to rap's breakthrough star. And she confidently walked those "bloody shoes" into history: Cardi B became the second female rapper to ever top the Billboard Hot 100 with a solo song.
As the anticipation for her debut album surged following the success of "Bodak Yellow" (as well as other hits alongside the likes of Migos and Bruno Mars), Cardi's rise earned her the title of "hood Cinderella" — and Invasion of Privacy perfectly captures her rags-to-riches story. The album encapsulates the same humility that initially made her a viral star, detailing the hard work she put in to finally secure a record deal. As she put it on a track called "Best Life," "This some real-life fairy tale Binderella s—."
While songs like "Bodak Yellow" and album opener "Get Up 10" show that Cardi hadn't lost sight of the explosive assertiveness she brought with her independent releases, Invasion of Privacy as a whole was a shift from her more hardcore mixtapes. But that only paid off: Some of the album's most impactful tracks are also her most vulnerable moments, whether it's her raw crooning in "Be Careful," revealing self-doubt in the Kehlani- assisted "Ring," or detailing her trust issues in "Thru Your Phone."
For every heartfelt moment on the album, there are still plenty to remind you of the rapper's Bronx-born swagger. She and SZA take turns slicing through enemies on "I Do" and Cardi flips Project Pat's misogynistic 2001 "Chickenhead" single on the feminist anthem "Bickenhead." Her ferocity came through in her performances, too: During her Coachella debut in 2018, she performed her entire set pregnant, even twerking during album cut "She Bad."
Just three days before Cardi gave birth in 2018, she scored her second No. 1 from Invasion of Privacy with "I Like It," a modern-day version of boogaloo with club-banging trap beats — an undeniably danceable homage to her hometown and her Dominican-Trinidadian heritage. Featuring reggaeton stars J Balvin and Bad Bunny, "I Like It" added another layer to Invasion of Privacy's impact, as it helped amplify Latin music's global breakthrough while also solidifying Cardi as a versatile mainstream star.
That's exactly the magic of Invasion of Privacy: Cardi B broke barriers by simply saying "what you see is what you get." Her tenacity resonated with fans and critics alike, leading Cardi to another history-making feat in 2019, this time on the GRAMMY stage: Invasion of Privacy won Best Rap Album, marking the first win by a solo female rapper. (Even four years after its release, Invasion of Privacy was still making history, becoming the first album by a female artist to have all of its tracks certified Platinum — or higher — by the RIAA in March 2022.)
Invasion of Privacy's legacy isn't just felt in the accolades, either. Cardi's unabashed authenticity helped open the doors for a new generation of women rappers, from Latto and Ice Spice to Saweetie and Megan Thee Stallion — the latter of whom Cardi recruited for 2020's "WAP," now one of the biggest hits of her career.
Five years after Invasion of Privacy's release, Cardi B still has fans eagerly awaiting its follow-up. And although she has released a number of one-off singles and collabs with several artists (including Lizzo and Rosalía), the anticipation for another album shows just how impactful Invasion of Privacy was for both Cardi and mainstream rap.
Whether she was letting her Bronx-born tone and Caribbean heritage shine, or unapologetically championing explicit women in rap, Cardi knew the secret formula to stardom was to remain her authentic self — even if some couldn't see it.
"My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?" she boasts on album closer "I Do." Thanks to Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B's hood Cinderella story is only just beginning.
Photo: Jora Frantzis
Listen: Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B Release New Song, "Bongos"
The single is the first collaboration between the GRAMMY-winning rappers since 2020's "WAP."
GRAMMY-winning artists Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are back with a new single, "Bongos." The song highlights the duo's flow and connection, as they trade verses over a bouncy, repetitive and infectious beat fit for the club.
Released at the brink of autumn, the accompanying video for "Bongos" features vibrant visuals, majestic choreography and a Latin-inspired rhythm that makes listeners yearn for summer. The tropical-themed video was directed by Tanu Muino, who is known for her work on Harry Styles' "As it Was" and Normani’s "Wild Side."
The single’s cover art was teased a week prior on social media, showcasing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion holding lollipops with bright matching swimsuits and pastel-colored curls.
"Bongos" marks the second collaboration since the duo's groundbreaking "WAP" single, which was performed at the 2021 GRAMMY awards and made history for its debut as the first female rap collaboration to top Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Fans who were expecting a "WAP sequel" won't be disappointed. During an interview with DJ Whoo Kid, Cardi B speaks on the song themes and the difference between WAP, saying "We are talking a little, you know, about some p—y, but not like ‘WAP’ type of stuff,” she said.
Cardi B has consistently been on the charts since her 2018 debut LP, Invasion of Privacy which won Best Rap Album at the 2019 GRAMMYs. Recent collaborations including "Point Me 2" with FendiDa Rappa, "Put it On the Floor" with Latto and "Jealousy" with Offset have reached topped charts and there’s speculation for a new album soon.
It’s uncertain if "Bongos" will appear on Cardi B’s sophomore album. She recently told Vogue Mexico x LatinAmerica, "I’m not going to release any more collaborations, I’m going to put out my next solo single.”
This is Megan’s first feature since her sophomore album, Traumazine, which was released in 2022. Megan announced a break from music in early 2023 to focus on her mental health amid the public trial against Tory Lanez.
Megan Thee Stallion has continued to flourish in the media, hosting "Saturday Night Live" and venturing into acting roles including Disney+ series "She-Hulk; Attorney at Law."
Photos: Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Brian Ach/Getty Images for Something in the Water; Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Bob Berg/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island
The culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for NYC. Take a trip through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island to learn how hip-hop developed sonically by the borough.
New York is indisputably the birthplace of hip-hop, but which of the city's five boroughs has dominated the genre continues to be a spirited debate among its scholars and natives.
The "Boogie Down" Bronx is the origin point of hip-hop history. It’s here Clive Campbell a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc threw a rec room party in 1973 that put hip-hop as we know it in motion. The city's northernmost borough is the home of groundbreaking artists from OGs Grandmaster Flash and Slick Rick, to contemporary stars including Cardi B.
Manhattan also plays a role in hip-hop’s evolution as a playground where rappers intermingled with punks, rockers and the thriving art scene throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Elements of each of these developing artforms culminating in the music of the Beastie Boys. And because he is so often referred to as a West Coast rapper, it’s easy to forget Tupac Shakur was born in Manhattan.
Staten Island is, of course, home to the one and only Wu-Tang Clan and its diverse cosmology. Even the suburbs can boast major contributions — Long Island is the home of Public Enemy and Erik B & Rakim; head north of the Bronx to Westchester County, and you'll enter the home of the late rapper DMX.
What’s clear when we look at each borough, is that the culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for New York. Without the contributions,style and unique cultures of neighborhoods within Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten, the artform would not have developed into the juggernaut it is today. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist below — or visit Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — to take an auditory tour of the best of the boroughs.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, hop on the train and travel from borough to borough for its unique history and sounds.
As you examine the breadth of NYC hip-hop, you’ll find artists with a deep and complex relationship with the city. Biz Markie, for example, was born in one area of the city, raised in another, and claimed membership to a crew for a whole other borough. His story, and that of others who deserve many flowers, demonstrate that while hip-hop can be dissected by region and subway line, it’s the Big Apple's density, multiculturalism, an urban innovation that has made it arguably one of America's greatest art forms.
Mass immigration from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the 1950s made the Bronx the first majority Black and Latino borough in NYC by the mid-'70s. It’s not a coincidence that the Bronx was also woefully unserved by the city government, resulting in bleak economic conditions.
"Kids with little or no resources created something out of nothing," the Funky Four Plus One’s MC Sha Rock told ABC News said of hip-hop's origins. "No matter what was going on around us in New York City at the time, we looked forward to the park jams."
These jams featured breakdancing, DJs mixing, and MCing — all key elements of hip-hop that emerged from house parties and underground venues into a city-wide consciousness. "Hip-hop wasn't called hip-hop in the ‘70s, was called 'going to the jams,'" Sha Rock continued.
A few years before the park jams took off, DJ Kool Herc’s August 1973 rec room party put hip-hop as we know it on the map. Herc took classic records and popular hits, broke down the beats, and invited MCs to chime in over them invoking the Jamaican style of delivery, talking or chanting, usually in a monotone melody, over a rhythm known as "toasting" in reggae.
In 1975, the Bronx Boys Rocking Crew (or TBB) fostered another element of hip-hop when they organized late night tagging sessions. These young graffiti artists brought the color and life of their borough to the rest of the city, as painted subway trains provided moving canvases and controversy.
By the time the park jams were happening, some graffiti crews had expanded into competitive dance. With moves drawn from martial arts, gymnastics, and modern dance, "breaking, popping, and locking" would see b-boys and b-girls become as important as music to hip-hop as an art form. Breaking as an art has continued to flourish and will soon be an Olympic sport.
The borough would go on to boast Kool Keith, KRS One, Big Pun, Fat Joe, and Cardi B, among many others, as acts who have innovated the Bronx’s place in hip-hop culture. The borough is now home to the Universal Hip-Hop Museum and will host events at Sedgwick and a 50 Years of Hip-Hop concert at Yankee Stadium.
In 1990, Brooklyn was New York’s Blackest neighborhood, with 73.1 percent of its Black residents native born. The previous decade had seen Brooklyn rappers rise to prominence in hip-hop, by the end of the 1990s the world’s ear was tuned into Brooklyn.
Known for his use of three turntables, Cutmaster DC's early tracks "Brooklyn's in the House" and "Brooklyn Rocks the Best" were the first to mention Brooklyn as a force in hip-hop music. These early '80s tracks also featured DC's pioneering technique of cutting breaks over Roland TR-909 beats, a marked moment for hip-hop's technical advancement.
Combining speed, style and humor, few would influence hip-hop's syncopation and cadence like Big Daddy Kane. In their 2012 list of The Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time Rolling Stone called Kane "a master wordsmith of rap's late-golden age and a huge influence on a generation of MCs." Within a few years Brooklyn flow would be redefined by the slow deliberative annunciation of the Notorious B.I.G., whose delivery would become one of the most interpolated in rap history.
The styles of both would be emulated and refined by a young Brooklyn rapper named Shawn Carter. The artist later known as Jay-Z attended George Westinghouse High School in downtown Brooklyn, where his classmates included Busta Rhymes, Biggie and DMX — all of whom would play a critical part in the evolution of rap’s delivery styles.
The borough wasn’t only a boys club. MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, and new rappers like Young MA continue to put Brooklyn on the musical map.
The largest Borough by area, Queens boasts the Guiness World Record for most languages spoken and gained the nickname "The World’s Borough" for its diverse population. Whereas Bronx hip-hop was derived from Black American and Caribbean cultures, Queen’s hip-hop samples the world. While the 1970s saw the Bronx give birth to hip-hop, the 1980s saw the eastern borough of Queens mature the art form.
Queen’s hip-hop history has roots in two specific areas: the Queenborough Projects and Hollis. The Queensboro Projects, a.k.a. "The Bridge," were one of the few unsegregated projects in New York. It was also home to Marley Marl, who accidentally discovered sampling while working on a Captain Rock record as a studio intern in the early ‘80s.
"I was actually trying to get a riff off of a record. I made a mistake and got the snare in there before the sound came," he recounted to NPR. "The snare sounded better than the snare that I had from the drum machine when I was popping it…I was like, "Hold up!" This will enable me to take any kick and a snare from any record that people love and make my own beat." Marls’ use of the 808 pulse to trigger different samplers was revolutionary, and he would become a pioneer for his ability to blend sampled and 808 drum sounds.
Marl’s contribution would extend beyond the technical. As a member of the Juice Crew, he brought the voice of 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté to the world. She created a new lane for women in rap as well as the blueprint for the diss track on the seminal "Roxanne's Revenge."
About a half hour east on the F Train in Hollis, Queens, brothers Joseph and Russel Simmons (a DJ and promoter respectively) founded Run-D.M.C. with friends Darryl Mc Daniels and Jason Mizell. Run-D.M.C.'s sound featured a synchronized, aggressive delivery over simple but memorable rock hooks and beats. Later, the group established Def Jam Records, the label that would prove rap could sell millions of records to Top 40 audiences and bring rap to the mainstream as the first rappers to be featured on MTV.
As valuable as the musical contributions of Run-D.M.C are, they are equally vital to the development of fashion as an element of hip-hop. Street style, as it would come to be known, is born in Queens: Kangol hats, unlaced Addias, Carzal frames, and thick gold chains are now as synonymous with hip-hop as beats and samples. Today, fashion is so central to hip-hop, and vice versa, that New York's FIT Museum recently held an expansive exhibit on hip-hop style.”
Complex proclaimed Nas’ Illmatic "set off a seismic shift in rap geopolitics" and added that the 1994 record "galvanized Queensbridge hip-hop and by extension East Coast rap as a whole." His introspective and poetic approach to writing is credited for bringing the best out of his contemporaries and inspiring next generation rappers like Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar, challenging them to meet his lyrical bar.
Though "The Fly Borough" is the most densely populated, the majority of its hip-hop history is concentrated in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem.
Home of the legendary Apollo Theater, the neighborhood was well rooted in Black music when World War II vet Bobby Robinson opened Bobby’s Records in 1946 — one of Harlems’ few Black owned businesses at the time. The record store would evolve as would Robinson’s involvement in music. He would become a producer and label head whose 1970 imprint Enjoy Records released music by hip-hop's earliest innovators, including Grandmaster Flash, the Treacherous Three, and Doug E. Fresh. The label would also feature Master Don, whose signature use of a "Funk Box" percussion synthesizer and its crispy digital hi hat is still heard in trap music today.
Harlem was also home to Dapper Dan, the first designer to "borrow" designer goods and modify them with hip-hop flair. His boutique operated from 1982-1992 and was essential to the merging of luxury brands and hip-hop culture. Although brands like Gucci first sued for copyright infringement, they eventually saw the value of hip-hop's branding power on high end fashion sales. In 2018, Dapper Dan and Gucci collaborated on a capsule collection.
Also during this ‘80s culture boom, three high schoolers from Manhattan applied the ethos of punk rock to the emerging street sounds of hip-hop.
The Beastie Boys began by pirating rap, self-admittingly "Rhyming and Stealing" for their 1986 Def Jam debut License to Ill, and went on to forge a new lane for the medium. They broke all the rules of sampling and production with their seminal Paul’s Boutique, which Rolling Stone noted is often dubbed "The Sargent Pepper of hip-hop" and lauded for its layer sampling technique. In their ranking of Paul’s Boutique Consequence of Sound wrote, "Paul’s Boutique sat at a finish line waiting for the rest of the world to catch up."
While the outer Boroughs would enjoy most of the attention musically throughout the '90s and 2000s, the 2010s would see Harlem again centered in hip-hop with the arrival of young rappers like Azealia Banks and the ASAP Mob collective.
RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard and later Cappadonna would find success as both a group and as solo artists. infiltrating the "big six" 1990s major record labels by design. You can also hear the influence of RZA on modern acts like El Michels Affair, which draws inspiration from Wu-Tang's melodic take on instrumentation and released two albums of instrumental soul covers of Wu-Tang Clan songs.
Their impact would go far beyond music however. Hip-hop biographer Will Ashon recounted Wu’s influence on fashion, noting that the group were part of a trend of simplification.
"Their whole modus operandi was to present themselves as real and unmanufactured, so their clothing choices had to reflect this. The rawness and directness of the music was supposed to be echoed in the rawness and directness of their clothing. They were a big part of the early 1990s move towards baggy and oversized clothes. Huge combat trousers or sweatpants, Timberland boots, hoodies, puffas, do-rags, gold fronts and so on. A ‘street soldier’ look."
As you’d expect, Wu’s presence looms large over future Staten Island artists, including G4 Boys and Killarmy. New artists like Cleotrapa, a spicy, no-holds-barred femme rapper, also counts Wu-Tang as an influence and is helping define Staten’s next chapter.
The history of the intersection of New York City and hip-hop culture is as big and diverse as the city itself. We could only touch on a handful of artists and creators in this piece, but the topic has been explored at length in books like Cant Stop Wont Stop by Jeff Chang and The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop. Documentaries on hip-hop can be found on almost all streaming platforms Netflix’s notable Hip-Hop Evolution and Ladies First: The Story of Women in Hip-Hop.
Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2010s: Ye, Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar & More
The 2010s saw an expanded media landscape that broadened the sound and impact of hip-hop at large. In continued celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, read on for 10 crucial songs and albums that defined the decade.
Few genres have evolved as remarkably as hip-hop over the past five decades, and the eerily recent, yet, distant 2010s saw the genre at its most progressive. Legendary acts and fresh-faced stars pushed rap’s cultural and musical bounds, opening a pathway for a new class of artists to emerge, and for overlooked regions to gain their deserved recognition.
With the expansion of hip-hop’s mediasphere, artists that would’ve been confined by their locale crossed the invisible barriers of rap music to establish themselves as mainstream success. Canada-born stars PartyNextDoor, The Weeknd and Drake took over rap the same way the Brits took over rock music in the 1960s, and it was made possible by the boundless nature (and unprecedented sonic access) of today’s rap fan.
The emergence of SoundCloud elevated lesser-known talents including Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, the late Juice Wrld to superstardom at a rapid pace. The era also marked a sonic turn in the industry, which saw artists merge their styles with those of other regions. That’s why artists like Asap Rocky adopted elements of Houston’s chopped-and-screwed sound in his early discography, despite his Harlem origins.
Legacy acts like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj continued their reign as rap heavyweights, with record sales and award wins showcasing their influence. The period also saw the emergence of hip-hop’s three horsemen – Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar – who carved their legacies with chart-topping hits and groundbreaking albums throughout the 2010s. Their contributions, as well as those from Future, Big Sean, Travis Scott, and Chance the Rapper, set the stage for the decade.
Read on for 10 of the most consequential releases of the 2010s.
Ye - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Just a year removed from interrupting Taylor Swift on stage during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West, now known as Ye, produced arguably the best rap album of the decade, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
It was a career turn that’s more familiar to rap fans in recent years, but the Chicago rapper snapped back with a glossy, epic-level album that was a culmination of his best work to that point — or maybe ever. From "Dark Fantasy" to "So Appalled" and "Gorgeous," West was at the peak of his lyrical powers, with the rapper-producer exchanging sharp-tongued lyrics with wordsmiths like Pusha T, CyHi The Prynce and Raekwon.
The album also set the stage for one of the best collaborations of the year, with West, Rihanna and Kid Cudi merging their creative powers to create the wondrously rhythmic, GRAMMY-winning hit, "All of The Lights. And Nicki Minaj fans still reference the star’s verse on "Monster," which saw the Jamaica Queens native rise above rap titans Jay-Z and Rick Ross on the smash-mouth track.
Wiz Khalifa -"Black and Yellow" (2010)
After making his name in the mixtape circuit with classic projects Kush & Orange Juice and Flight School, Wiz Khalifa’s mainstream breakthrough came in the form of 2010’s "Black and Yellow." The hit song bolstered the Pittsburgh rapper’s profile in time for his debut studio album, Rolling Papers, and put his hometown and Taylor Gang crew on the hip-hop map.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers making it to the Super Bowl in 2011, the Stargate-produced hit became the team’s unofficial anthem and spawned other remixes in the same vein. "Black & Yellow (G-Mix)" featuring Snoop Dogg, Juicy J, and T-Pain, Brooklyn rapper Fabolous honored the New York Yankees with "White and Navy" and Lil Wayne paid homage to the Green Bay Packers with "Green and Yellow."
The success of "Black and Yellow" opened the doors for Khalifa and his stable of Taylor Gang talent to flourish, namely artists like Ty Dolla $ign, Chevy Woods, and Three 6 Mafia legend Juicy J. The song also placed a brighter spotlight on Rostrum Records and recent signee Mac Miller, who was months removed from releasing his acclaimed K.I.D.S. mixtape and would later become a star before his unexpected death in 2018.
Chief Keef - "I Don’t Like" (2012)
The city of Chicago was set ablaze with the release of Chief Keef’s "I Don’t Like." The Young Chop-produced track popularized the city’s drill sound, which established a new influx of talent bred from the Windy City and a subgenre later adapted by UK and New York rappers like Fivio Foreign and the late Pop Smoke.
The impact of the street hit led to its inclusion on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation project, Cruel Summer, featuring artists Pusha T, Kanye West, Big Sean, and Jadakiss. "I Don’t Like" was later placed on Keef’s debut release, Finally Rich, helping further catapult the Chicago artist to mainstream notoriety. The song is still credited as the launching pad for the drill movement, with Keef viewed as the forefather of the subgenre as a whole.
Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)
After the release of Lamar’s independent album Section.80, his second turn took more of a mainstream approach while chronicling his teenage years in the gang and crime-ridden streets of Compton. He enlisted artists like Drake for the flowy, Janet Jackson-sampling hit, "Poetic Justice," and drew in legends like Dr. Dre for "Compton" and Jay-Z for "Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe - Remix."
The multi-platinum project was produced by Dj Dahi, Sounwave, Hit-Boy, Scoop DeVille, Just Blaze, and others, who delivered atmospheric and tight-bass beats for Lamar’s narrative-driven concept album to flourish. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City earned Lamar four GRAMMY nominations at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards, including Album Of The Year. And while he didn’t take a gramophone home during that night, his major label made him the face of West Coast rap for years to come.
Future and Drake - What a Time to be Alive (2015)
After cranking out moderate hits like "Tony Montana" and "Never Satisfied," Drake and Future linked up for an Avengers-level collaboration, which culminated into 2015’s What a Time to be Alive.
The project came together after Drake met with Future in Atlanta for six days. Their first recording was "Digital Dash," and from there, the two artists merged their respective sounds together for a hyper-trap mixtape filled with hits like "Jumpman" and "Big Rings." On the production side, What a Time to be Alive was largely handled by executive producer Metro Boomin, who produced or co-produced eight of the project’s 11 songs, alongside fellow beatmakers Noah "40" Shebib, Allen Ritter, Southside, Boi-1da, and others.
The 2015 release also foreshadowed Future and Drake’s later collaborations. Future enlisted artists like fellow Atlanta rapper Young Thug for Super Slimey and Lil Uzi Vert for Pluto x Baby Pluto, and Drake linked up with 21 Savage for 2022’s Her Loss.
Rae Sremmurd - "Black Beatles" (2016)
After scoring hits like "No Flex Zone" and "No Type," brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi literally had the world in suspension with the 2016 hit "Black Beatles" featuring Gucci Mane. The "SremmLife 2" single sparked the viral mannequin challenge, which saw social media users stand frozen in time as a camera filmed their surroundings with their song playing in the background.
Internet trends aside, the song was a massive hit that landed the group and Gucci Mane their first No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. The Mike Will-produced track also pushed additional sales of the duo’s second album, which went from selling 30,000 equivalent units in the first week to eclipsing one million sales by November 2017.
Jay-Z - 4:44 (2017)
With a resume as stacked as Jay-Z’s, his claim as the greatest MC of all time was viable long before the release of 4:44. But the late-career release did more than just add to his illustrious discography; it was one of the most complete and transparent bodies of work Hova has ever produced.
On tracks like "Kill Jay-Z," the Brooklyn rapper stripped his ego-fueled moniker to give listeners a snapshot of his upbringing and past failures as Shawn Carter the man. He takes a step back to reflect on his mother’s sexuality on "Smile," and the challenges he faced in his marriage to Beyoncé on the title track.
While many viewed 4:44 as a response to Bey's Lemonade album, the project also touched on the importance of shared success on "Legacy" and the push for generational wealth on "The Story of O.J." 4:44 garnered three nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year.
Migos - "Bad and Boujee" (2016)
During the 2017 Golden Globe Awards, rapper and Emmy-winning actor Donald Glover had a confession: Migos’ "Bad and Boujee" was the "best song ever." By then, the 2016 single was already a popular viral hit, with memes surrounding the lyrics "rain drop, drop top" bubbling up online. But Glover’s shoutout helped the G Koop and Metro Boomin-produced hit to reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, a first for the Georgia-born rap group and featured artist Lil Uzi Vert.
"Bad and Boujee" established the Migos as the hottest rap group of the era, and spearheaded each member’s solo projects and business ventures. The multi-platinum single was even nominated for Best Rap Performance at the 2018 GRAMMY Award.
Drake - "God’s Plan" (2018)
With countless across the 2010s, it’s hard to choose which Drake record made the biggest splash during the era, but 2018’s "God’s Plan" has a case when it comes to global reach. Produced by Cardo, Young Exclusive, Boi-1da, and long-time collaborator Noah "40" Shebib, the GRAMMY-winning single topped the charts in 14 countries while posting record-setting streaming numbers.
Though the pop-trap hit was met with mixed reviews upon its release, "God’s Plan" shattered Apple Music and Spotify first-day streaming numbers with 14 million and 4.3 million, the most of any song that year on both platforms. By the first week, the song climbed to 82.4 million total streams.
"God’s Plan" was the lead single for Drake’s EP Scary Hours and fifth studio album Scorpion, and notched the Toronto artist Best Rap Song at the 2019 GRAMMYs. The song’s music video, which showed the rapper giving out a million dollars to people in Florida, also made waves online, amassing countless social media memes and over 1.5 billion views on YouTube as of July 2023.
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy (2018)
The story of Cardi B, who rose from reality TV star to GRAMMY-winning artist, proved there could be more than one Queen ruling over the rap game. And her groundbreaking debut, Invasion of Privacy, inspired a new legion of women artists with dreams of occupying their own respective thrones.
With street anthems like "Bodak Yellow," "Bartier Cardi," and the reggaeton-inspired "I Like It" featuring J Balvin and Bad Bunny, Cardi showcased her knack for catchy hooks, sharp lyrics, and the colorful personality found beneath the brash, aggressive flow. Producers DJ Mustard, Allen Ritter, Benny Blanco, Boi-1da, and others elevated the project to album of the year consideration.
Along with winning Rap Album Of The Year at the 2019 GRAMMYs, Invasion of Privacy took the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 upon its release, making Cardi only the fifth female rapper to reach the top of the charts at the time. Even in the years after its release, the album continues to make history for the "WAP" artist, who became the first woman to have all of her album’s songs reach platinum status when Invasion of Privacy reached the milestone in 2022, according to Billboard.
Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
Ladies First: 10 Essential Albums By Female Rappers
As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, GRAMMY.com honors the women who blazed the boundless — and euphonious — trails we still travel on.
By the 1970s, the dichotomies of opulence and post-industrial destitution were stark. Gunshots, abandoned buildings and fires marred many New York City streets. However, in the midst of the city’s tumult, the extended instrumental section of a song played at a back-to-school party forever changed the landscape of music.
That now-infamous party is where hip-hop was fathered by trailblazing DJ Kool Herc, at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. However, the event itself was the idea of his sister, Cindy Campbell. If it weren’t for her party, we would have never experienced MCing over a song's breaks, which evolved into the cultural phenomenon we now know as rap.
Female MCs have been integral to hip-hop’s musical melange from its inception, beginning with pioneer (and Mother of the Mic) MC Sha-Rock. Over the decades, audiences have been Funkdafied listening to Supersonic sounds, while still Down to Earth. We’ve been blessed with Da Baddest Bitch and even been "Conceited." We’ve sung along to My Melody, experienced Necessary Roughness and if you don’t know, You Better Ask Somebody.
And while all female rappers deserve their flowers for breaking barriers, there are a few women who deserve grandiose gardens dedicated to their accomplishments. After all, if it were not for them walking first, other women would not have been able to (be) fly.
This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, we can’t forget to celebrate the female MC’s who blazed the boundless — and euphonious — trails we still travel on.
This list below spans the genre’s humble beginnings, from hip-hop’s "Golden Era," which bore witness to the majority of these historic album drops, to the present day. With the exception of one album, nine of the albums listed are debuts.
Salt-n-Pepa - Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986)
Salt-n-Pepa’s debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious was one of the first rap albums by an all-female group. With its confident and carefree lyrics and seductively sanguine beats, the album features many hit songs such as "My Mic Sound Nice" and "Tramp." However, there is one song on the album that ruled the dancefloor and became one of their breakout hits: "Push It."
Donning gold rope chains, bamboo earrings, custom leather jackets and red boots, Salt-n-Pepa’s commanding stage presence–and fashionable style–was on full display in the video for “Push It.” The subtly suggestive song provided sex appeal alongside an arresting, uptempo beat. Although the original version of "Push It" was on the album, its remix, with its iconic instrumental intro, was added to the album in 1987. The song, which was nominated for the Best Rap Performance GRAMMY, was certified platinum in 1988 and has gone on to become one of the group’s top hits.
The album resonates today because universal appeal and ubiquitous sound still captures a wide audience. It has since elevated the presence of women in the game and still empowers listeners with topics that are still very relevant, such as feminism. Its debut marked a shift from predominantly male-driven narratives found in hip hop at the time, and opened the doors for female-centered storytelling. As such, their impact in the industry has not gone unnoticed. In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Salt-n-Pepa performed at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Hot, Cool & Vicious served as a blueprint for future female MCs as it encouraged women to express themselves without apology. Its commercial success garnered mainstream appeal that fortified the album as an important memento of hip-hop’s beginnings. Ultimately, Salt-n-Pepa are pioneers who paved the way for future female rappers, such as those subsequent on this list.
MC Lyte - Lyte as a Rock (1988)
Lyte as a Rock is the first full solo album released by a female rapper, and debuted when MC Lyte was only 17. Lyte’s cadence is robust throughout the album, which demonstrated her ability to MC on songs such as "10% Dis" and the title track "Lyte as a Rock." The album also showed listeners that the rapper would not shy away from important issues that encapsulated the ‘80s. The album's lead single, "I Cram to Understand U (Sam)," detailed drug addiction by personifying cocaine.
Lyte as a Rock’s standout song, "Paper Thin," was written by MC Lyte in her early teens and details infidelity in a relationship. The video features the artist taking the subway after getting a bad feeling her partner was cheating on her. She leaves her perplexed friends (and her "bad Jetta") to board the train, finding her lover in the arms of other women. The distinct, punchy beat on the song’s introduction is layered with samples from music icons Al Green ("I’m Glad You’re Mine") and Prince ("17 Days").
A few years after her album’s debut, in 1994, MC Lyte went on to break history as she became the first female rapper to be nominated for the Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY Award.
Lyte as a Rock is a breakthrough album that paved the way for solo female MCs to shatter stereotypes and show audiences they are as competent as their counterparts. It resonates with the experiences of young women across time periods and encourages unapologetic assertiveness–especially when it comes to addressing cardinal issues.
Queen Latifah - Black Reign (1993)
Long before she became an award-winning actress, Queen Latifah made waves in the music industry. Black Reign, which was certified gold in 1994, is Queen Latifah’s third and most successful album. The album cover features a brooding, blurred image of Latifah yelling–and its track list proves she had a few things to say. Popular songs on the album include "Just Another Day" and the chartbusting hit "U.N.I.T.Y."
The song "U.N.I.T.Y." is elegantly assertive and serves as a call to arms for women against insolence from men. Its dreamy, melodious intro features a saxophone sample from Houston-based jazz group the Crusaders. Due to the song’s powerful message, it often was played on the airwaves uncensored. The video, which begins with a brief tribute to the artist’s late brother, visits different scenarios where women are disrespected — and highlights how they combat the disrespect.
The success of U.N.I.T.Y. earned Queen Latifah a GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance. In 2023, she performed at the GRAMMYs in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.
Black Reign showcases the importance of female empowerment, as well as Queen Latifah’s versatility as an artist. The messages throughout the album have continued relevance to present-day matters, such as gender equality and social justice. Overall, Black Reign showed audiences that female rappers can use their platforms to demand change.
Lil’ Kim - Hardcore (1996)
Lil’ Kim’s debut album Hardcore has lived up to its namesake due to its carnal content and staunch lyricism. The album features hits such as "No Time" featuring Sean "Diddy" Combs, and "Big Momma Thang" featuring rappers Lil’ Cease and Jay-Z. Although the provocative album was bold for the time period, it sparked crucial conversations that are still very germane. Hardcore impugned gender norms and highlighted struggles female MCs faced in the industry–and beyond.
Musically and stylistically, Hardcore has inspired a generation of female rappers. From flow to fashion, Kim’s influence in the industry is immeasurable. Since her debut, almost everything about the Queen Bee has been emulated–from her love of high-end fashion to her provocative and controversial promo poster for Hardcore.
The album cover shows Lil’ Kim surrounded by bouquets of roses, confidently and suggestively posing on a bear-skinned rug. The album’s sexually explicit lyrics pushed boundaries and made listeners take notice of Kim's bravado — and her bars. In 2001, Hardcore was certified 2x platinum.
The song "No Time" is the only one on the album to achieve gold status. However, one of the more memorable cuts on the album is "Crush On You" with Lil’ Cease. The looped, synthesized piano featured on the song’s beat was sampled from Jeff Lorber’s jazz song "Rain Dance." While the album version of the song features the late Notorious B.I.G. on the chorus, Kim’s appearance on the track brings synergy.
The video for the hit single gives a nod to the movie The Wiz, and features colorful scenes where everyone’s outfits match the different dancefloors. Lil’ Kim is no exception, as her outfits (and wigs) also correspond to the colors, making the video utterly unforgettable.
Hardcore was a commercial success that challenged industry expectations of female MCs. Largely, the album proved to be pivotal, and Kim’s aptitude helped establish herself as a force in the industry, even beyond hip-hop. For example, later on in her career, Lil’ Kim earned a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Lady Marmalade."
The iconic album celebrated sexuality in a unique way the music world had not seen previously, and ultimately paved the way for women to be unapologetic about their self expression. As such, the impact Hardcore had in 1996 can still be felt–and seen–today.
Foxy Brown - Ill Na Na (1996)
Exactly one week after Lil’ Kim dropped her platinum selling debut, then 17-year-old Brooklynite Foxy Brown dropped her seminal album Ill Na Na. The sultry album had a slew of hits, including "I’ll Be" featuring Jay-Z and club anthem "Get Me Home" featuring R&B group Blackstreet. Additionally, the title track featured Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man. The album also featured production from R&B great Teddy Riley and Trackmasters.
Foxy Brown's pairing of smooth R&B elements and hip-hop heavyweights proved to be successful; roughly three months after its debut, the album went platinum. It became one of the fastest albums by a female rapper to reach such a status at that time. The album was re-released in 1997, with the addition of the hit song "Big Bad Mamma" with R&B group Dru Hill. The song landed on the soundtrack to the movie How to Be a Player. The album’s breakout song "I’ll Be" heavily samples R&B duo Rene and Angela Winbush’s ‘80s tune "I’ll Be Good." It is the only song on the album to achieve gold status.
Ill Na Na’s style of sexually explicit lyrics and luscious lyricism followed in the footsteps of her predecessors. The rapper also embraced her sexuality, which further solidified the new level of female empowerment for women in hip-hop that was being incubated in the ‘90s. However, Foxy’s form is clearly her own, and her candor and confidence provide a melodious texture to the album’s tracks.
Ill Na Na is among the important vestiges of 1990s hip-hop, as its elements have a continued impact on modern audiences and rappers alike. The album’s release and success during a time when women were beginning to rise in rap helped sequester any notions of female MCs being fleeting ideas in the industry.
Missy Elliot - Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Missy Elliot’s debut album, Supa Dupa Fly, redrew rap boundaries with its campy lyrics over salient beats. It also showed audiences that female MCs can be found beyond the borders of the Tri-state area. The album, which was recorded in a mere two weeks, features hits such as "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and "Beep Me 911" featuring R&B group 702 and rapper Magoo. Supa Dupa Fly also contained the chart-topping song "Sock it 2 Me," with fellow female rapper Da Brat. The video for the track features Lil’ Kim, and shows the three rappers fighting robotic monsters in space.
Songs on the album were a blend of R&B, funk and rap, paired with anomalous beats that are still easy to dance to. Artists such as Ginuwine and the late Aaliyah were among those featured alongside Elliot. Although the album is now revered as groundbreaking in many ways, Elliot was not aware how much of an impact it would have as time went on.
The innovative album embraced creativity and celebrated eccentricity. For example, one of the most memorable visuals from the album is the oversized inflatable, iconic black suit Missy wore in the video "The Rain." The suit and song lyrics brought a more playful feel to the genre and showed the versatility of female rappers to viewers and listeners alike. The song, which was produced by her close friend Timbaland, samples Ann Peeble’s "I Can’t Stand the Rain."
Supa Dupa Fly empowered women to be confident and independent, and also challenged tradition. The album pushed the perimeter of hip-hop, especially for female MCs. For one, the album embraced Afrofuturism, visually and lyrically. Songs like "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and “Sock it To Me” provided audiences with a sci-fi element that inspired future MCs to adopt similar looks and sounds.
Supa Dupa Fly was certified platinum in September 1997, a mere two months after its July 1997 debut. Since its release, Missy has gone on to win four GRAMMY Awards. In early 2023, Missy, alongside other trailblazing female rappers, performed at the GRAMMYs in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. This November, she will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
The accolades for the blockbuster debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Fugees frontwoman Lauryn Hill, are endless. The album, which had minimal features by other artists, was certified gold by the RIAA only a mere two weeks after it debuted, and in 2021, the album was certified Diamond. It is the first album by a female rapper to achieve the prestigious honor.
Hill manages to balance her bars with sensuous R&B crooning, showcasing her range and versatility, while her smooth lyrics remain weighty and cognizant. Many of the tracks on the album became singles: "Ex Factor," "Doo Wop (That Thing)," "Lost Ones," and "Everything is Everything." The video for "Doo Wop (That Thing)" featured side-by-side scenes of New York City in 1967 and 1998, with everyone styled for both time periods. The song’s lyrics call for men and women to watch out for those who are only about "that thing," which Hill details in dedicated verses.
Songs on the album covered universal themes, such as loss and love. For example, the song “To Zion” is a heartfelt letter penned to Hill’s son, which details the struggles she faced becoming pregnant at the height of her career. Additionally, in between each track are small interludes that can only be found if one listens to songs in continuity. The captivating sounds Hill’s storytelling captured make that easy for listeners to do, which helped the album reach a wide-ranging audience. Thus, the album garnered critical acclaim and pushed its accolades epically into the stratosphere.
In 1998, Miseducation became the highest selling debut album of any female rapper–and any female artist of other genres. Hill again made history by becoming the first solo female rapper to win a GRAMMY; the album was nominated for 10 golden gramophones and Hill took home five. Hill also became the first woman (and rapper) to have the most GRAMMY Award nominations in one night. The awards she won included Album of the Year, which was the first time a rapper had ever won the award. Twenty-five years later, her debut album is still among the best selling albums of all time.
The success and sound of Hill’s album still resonates today, ultimately showing audiences the power of the female MC and the importance of female-driven narratives.
Eve - Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady (1999)
Eve wrote all the songs on her debut, Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady. The Philly native’s pen proved to be solid, as the freshman album produced a slew of hits, such as "Gotta Man” and "Love is Blind" featuring Faith Evans. Debut single “What Y’all Want” feat. Nokio from Dru Hill was produced by Ruff Ryders’ Swizz Beatz, who also produced most of the songs on the album.
At the time of Eve’s album’s release, Ruff Ryders was an already established, popular rap collective from Yonkers, whose roster included notable rappers such as the late DMX and The Lox. Just like her trademark paw print tattoos, Eve stood out, as she was the only female on the label. The unique position earned her the title of First Lady.
Let There Be Eve showcased Eve’s lyrical prowess and versatility. Songs like “Philly, Philly” featuring fellow Philly rapper Beanie Sigel showed audiences that Eve could hold her own on the mic. On the bold "Ain’t Got No Dough," the rapper teamed up with Missy Elliot to deliver a catchy and conspicuous track. The album eventually went 2x platinum.
The album covered important themes, such as domestic violence. For example, the video for "Love is Blind" features a woman who is in an abusive relationship. Eve plays the role of the friend who advises the woman to leave before it is too late–although the friend sadly dies at the hands of the boyfriend. The cautionary tale Eve illustrates–both visually and lyrically–is touching and powerful, and still resonates today.
Let There Be Eve provides a strong female perspective that feels personal at times. The album was a cardinal shift from male-dominated narratives and reminded female listeners the importance of speaking on salient issues. It served as a capstone of rap albums released by female MCs in the ‘90s, and was a signpost as hip-hop entered the new millennium.
Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday (2010)
The chartbusting debut album Pink Friday by Queens native Nicki Minaj produced a multitude of hits: "Super Bass," "Your Love," and "Check It Out" with will.i.am, just to name a few. The album also featured appearances by Eminem, Drake and Natasha Bedingfield.
Pink Friday showcases the full gamut of Minaj’s lyricism — a balance of sweet (and spicy) for all to savor — while highlighting her versatility and pushing the parameters of the genre. Songs on the album are a blend of rap, pop, and R&B; a few tracks showcased her singing abilities. Additionally, the genre blending allowed the album to appeal to a more wide-ranging audience. Most of the tracks became radio favorites, and by 2016, Pink Friday was certified 3x platinum; it was the second highest selling debut album by a female rap artist. Since her musical debut, Nicki Minaj has been nominated for 10 GRAMMY Awards.
The Pink Friday album cover features Minaj styled as a doll with exaggerated features. In many ways, the design is a nod to Barbie — from the way the work "pink" is stylized, to Minaj’s overemphasized legs stretching the length of the album cover. In a way, the cover is symbolic of Nicki’s bold, confident persona.
The hit song "Moment 4 Life," features Minaj’s labelmate Drake, and details cherishing a moment of triumph. The timbre of its introduction is soft and bright, and begins with a modernized twinkle. The warm sound also ties into the music video’s fairytale concept, which shows Minaj as a fairy godmother–and royal figure.
Pink Friday provides listeners with diverse and unique tracks and tackles various relatable issues. Its success and innovation are influential and the album–as well as Nicki herself– have inspired a slew of rappers. Pink Friday ultimately embraces where female MCs have been–and shows audiences the endless possibilities of where they can go.
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy (2018)
All of the songs (yes, every single one) on Cardi B’s blockbuster debut album Invasion of Privacy have become certified platinum — the only album in history to receive such acclaim. Featuring hits such as "I Like It" and "Bodak Yellow," Invasion boasts tracks that are raunchy, confident and strong, a nod to her pioneering predecessors.
The sultry, yet assertive, video for the Bronx native’s song "Bodak Yellow," which boasts 1 billion views, primarily features Cardi in a desert in Dubai. Throughout the video, she sports various looks — and even sits next to a cheetah. Cardi’s lyrical authority shines through, as the song confidently explores the glamor of luxury fashion, sexual prowess and of course, "making money moves." The single became the first song by a female rapper to be certified diamond, demonstrating just how far women in hip-hop have come.
Cardi again made history when Invasion of Privacy was nominated for two GRAMMYs: Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album. She went on to win the award for Best Rap Album, making her the first solo female artist to do so.
Invasion of Privacy is pivotal, as it incorporates influences from many aforementioned essential albums. Its success showcases the overall importance of women in hip-hop and helps to open doors for future female MCs to tell their stories–and blaze new, boundless trails for us to travel on.