15 Feminist Rap Lyrics That Will Empower, Educate + Inspire You

From old school tracks by Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, to 21st century jams by Nicki Minaj and J. Cole, these songs have a strong message—and killer beats.

-By Jasmine Grant

Despite hip-hop traditionally being the least progressive genre when it comes to women’s empowerment, today we’re celebrating the rappers who have chosen to big up their queens on wax—plus the rhyme-spitting queens themselves! After all, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. Both male and female rappers have devoted a few lines to the importance women play in the culture and in their personal lives, and we’d be remiss if we let to let Women’s History Month pass without calling them out. But honestly, do we really even need an excuse to salute the ladies? From old school verses from Queen Latifah and the Beastie Boys to 21st century lines by J. Cole and Nicki Minaj, read on for 15 songs with an empowering message—and killer beats.

  • “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill (1998)

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    “Babygirl, respect is just a minimum/Niggas f-cked up and you still defending them/Now Lauryn is only human /Don’t think I haven’t been through the same predicament / Let it sit inside your head like a million women in Philly, Penn. / It’s silly when girls sell their soul because it’s in”

    This might be one of the most underrated anti-f-ckboy lyric in hip-hop history. In this verse, Lauryn teaches young girls that the respect you hold for yourself dictates how others will treat you. How does she know? Because she’s fallen victim to trappings of f-ckboys herself. Keep your head high ladies, and demand the respect you deserve!

  • “None Of Your Business” by Salt-N-Pepa (1994)

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    “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight / It’s none of your business / And she wanna be a freak and sell it on the weekend / It’s none of your business / Now you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to / It’s none of your business / So don’t try to change my mind, I’ll tell you one more time / It’s none of your business”

    Slut shaming was wack in the ’90s and nothing has really changed about that. In case Salt-N-Pepa didn’t make it clear enough in this war cry for equality, women are in complete control of their own bodies, and it’s not up to anyone else to judge what is and isn’t appropriate. A woman’s activity in the bedroom is her business alone.

  • “Sure Shot” by Beastie Boys (1994)

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    “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end”

    MCA of the group Beastie Boys (R.I.P) is widely remembered for this lyric, which called for end to misogyny in hip hop. This line could not have been more direct in its message, recognizing that women are more than accessories to the flossy rap lifestyle of the times. Major outlets like New Yorker, NPR and LA Weekly all including this line in their obituaries for the late rapper.

  • “U.N.I.T.Y” by Queen Latifah (1993)

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    “Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a hoe / Trying to make a sister feel low / You know all of that gots to go”

    Few female rappers have done more to inspire women’s empowerment than Queen Latifah, and this lyric pretty much speaks for itself. “Who you callin’ a bitch!” Latifah proudly shouts during the chorus of this song, letting it be known that women actually hold value and are not just objects of sexual desire.

  • “Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac (1993)

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    “I wonder why we take from our women / Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? / I think it’s time to kill for our women / Time to heal our women, be real to our women”

    Tupac asked the perplexing question feminists everywhere are still trying to figure out: Why is it so easy to trash, belittle and diss women when they are the givers of life?

  • “Crooked Smile” by J.Cole (2013)

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    “Take it from a man that loves what you got / And baby girl you’re a star, don’t let ’em tell you you’re not / Now is it real? Eyebrows, fingernails, hair / Is it real? if it’s not, girl you don’t care / ’Cause what’s real is something that the eyes can’t see”

    In an industry full of voluptuous Instagram models, J. Cole is one of the few rappers today encouraging women to love themselves, flaws and all. What’s different about the way that J. Cole empowers women on this track is his acknowledgement that insecurity is gender neutral. In the song, he talks about criticism he’s received for his own uneven smile. Realizing how strong a message it could send, he ultimately decided not to make the cosmetic change.

  • “#Who You R” by DAM (2015)

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    “We abuse her in Egypt then oppress her in Lyd / Women trafficking in the U.S. then rape her in India / Then expect her to be on time to raise the kids / Are we talkin about Super Woman, or a human being?”

    There is a constant pressure for women to be sexy, caretakers, providers, and still have enough left for ourselves. DAM addresses the topic through a worldwide lens, peppering in the human trafficking that allows countries to profit from at the hands (and bodies) of women. It’s a serious topic not widely discuss in music, so kudos to DAM for taking a stand.

  • “Independent” by Webbie (2008)

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    “She’ll buy her own I don’t think she’ll never look / In a man face standin’ waitin’ for him to take care of her / She’ll rather go to work and pay the bills on schedule / I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t do you know what that mean, man?”

    “Independent” might be this Louisiana rapper’s biggest hit, and thankfully it’s one that shouts out all the fiercely independent ladies that don’t need to rely on a man for…well, really anything. Rappers frequently discuss the type of chick whose sole purpose in life is attaining a “come up”, but refreshingly, this track uplifts women who take pride for having their own.

  • “Got Your Back” by T.I. ft. Keri Hilson (2010)

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    “Just wanna let you that we appreciate it / Everything you do for us on a day to day / And I know we don’t show you all the time but we lucky that you ours / No bouquet of flowers / Could ever show how much we know we need you / We do, all that’s in our power just to please you.”

    T.I. spent some time in prison while his wife Tiny held down the fort. This song pays homage to the sacrifices that come with being a wife to an incarcerated partner, but also reminds the men out there how vital it is to occasionally show appreciation to the women in their life.

  • “Brown Skin Lady” by Black Star (1998)

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    “Without makeup you’re beautiful / Whatcha you need to paint the next face for / We’re not dealin with the European standard of beauty tonight / Turn off the TV and put the magazine away / In the mirror tell me what you see /See the evidence of divine presence”

    This song is more than just a tribute to brown skinned beauty, which is often underrepresented in media and fashion. Talib and Mos Def urge black women to look in the mirror and recognize their indigenous black beauty, which doesn’t require the enhancement of makeup, plastic surgery or photoshop. What a foreign concept these days!

  • “Keep Shining” by Shad (2011)

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    “There’s no girls rapping so we’re only hearing half the truth / What we have to lose? Too much / Half our youth aren’t represented, the better halves of dudes / So we don’t hear about your brain, just your brains”

    It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst or sociologist to pick up on the fact that hip hop is predominantly a male narrative. Here, Shad says that even as an ally of women’s rights, there’s only so much he can speak on from a male point of view. Hip-hop as a genre needs to be more inclusive of female artists and give them a platform to tell their own stories.

  • “Das Me” by Brooke Candy (2013)

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    “You say that I’m a slut / It ain’t your business who I’m f-cking with / A dude could f-ck three bitches and they’d say that he’s the man / But I get it in with twins, she’s a whore / That’s what they saying / It’s time to take the back “Slut” is now a compliment / A sexy-ass female who running shit and confident”

    The double standard Brooke speaks of isn’t just a rap thing, it’s a cultural thing. Brooke makes the point that men have the freedom and autonomy to have an active sex life without judgement, while women are limited and labeled for being confident in their sexuality. The real shame in all this is that women, too, participate in the culture of slut shaming. Well, Brooke isn’t having it. We need more women like her.

  • “Lookin Ass” by Young Money ft. Nicki Minaj (2015)

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    “Stop lookin’ at my ass ass n-ggas / Look at y’all lyin’ ass n-ggas / Talkin’ ’bout “It’s paid off” but it’s financed, lyin’ ass n-gga / Bunch of non-mogul ass n-ggas / Frontin’ like they got a plan, Boost Mobile ass n-gga / N-gga, n-gga, look at y’all”

    We’re gonna go ahead and name this the anti-f-ckboy anthem of the century. Nicki specifically talks about men who flaunt around, aiming to attract women with perceived symbols of success like a fancy car or diamond encrusted jewelry knowing damn well they can’t actually afford them. What’s worse is these men assume that’s all women truly care about. Silly rabbits…