By Jasmine Grant
The ’90s were such a defining decade in hip hop, but not often enough do we take a moment to salute the roster of ladies who kicked in the door down for women in hip-hop, lyrically and visually. Before Instagram and TMZ made our access to artists, personal, instantaneous and fleeting, there were the days where music videos were our only window into their visual expression. Music videos in the ’90s were unlike those of any other decade. They were worth looking forward to, had bigger budgets, and made the music we loved come to life. Coming off the heels of a genre that historically loved to objectify and oversexualize women, these few female emcees pushed the envelope in their videos, creating new standards and transforming those 4 minute video clips something magical.
Lauryn Hill, “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”
Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop” was a defining video of the 90’s that still remains in a lane of its own. Lauryn’s cautionary tale provided a timeless message to both men and women about maintaining self-respect and pride in an age where it’s increasingly easy to fall victim to trends and peer pressure. The visuals to accompany the soulful track were equally impressive. Filmed in Washington Heights section of NYC, the split “doo-wop” and hip-hop versions of Lauryn showed off special effects that seemed before its time.
Missy Elliott, “She A B-tch”
Missy Elliott’s videos are never just videos. The visuals and sonics of Missy’s work always synch up to give us a mind blowing experience that stands the test of time. The video for “She’s A Bitch” was a little bit superhero, a little bit futuristic, with a dash of goth – a recipe that only super-director Hype Williams could pull off (for the bargain price of $2 million, that is). For a song this controversial, The Misdemeanor knew she needed to come hard with the visuals. And she did just that. Like a true boss b*tch, Missy emerged from underwater standing on a huge “M” shaped stage. The LED set and costumes were so elaborate, experts from Germany needed to be flown in to design it all.
Missy Elliot, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
The best word to describe this ultra-trippy video: iconic. No rap artist, male or female, has pushed themselves to the creative boundaries that Missy has when it comes to music videos and “The Rain” perfectly embodies that. Everything from her black inflatable suit, to the helmet goggle combo, to the fish lens POV, is the perfect marriage of “WTF” and “she just killed this.” Music videos in the 90’s had their rigid formulas in from the outfits to the choreos to the plot. Missy came along and shattered everything we thought we wanted to see in a video and completely opened the floodgates for Black female creative expression in hip-hop.
Lil Kim feat. Lil Cease, “Crush on You”
The current trend of colored wigs popularized by celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Blac Chyna is pretty much always linked back to Lil’ Kim’s legendary video for ‘Crush On You.’ The eye-popping visuals gave us Kim four ways, and a signature colored wig for every scene. But as mentioned, there’s nothing new under the sun. The inspiration for Kim’s multi-colored looks was actually inspired by various vivid scenes in The Wiz, such as the Emerald City.
Da Brat, “Give It 2 You”
It was the house party we wish we all could have been invited to. Da Brat’s video for the 1994 single “Give It To You” was packed with signature elements of the 90’s: popping champagne, baggy threads, and all-star cameo’s from some of hip-hop’s greats like Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, TLC and Goodie Mob. It was was about creating the vibe and celebrating the good life. And it’s like that, ya’ll.
MC Lyte, “Ruffneck”
You can’t have a conversation about influential women in hip-hop without including MC Lyte. And who could hate on her honesty when it came to the men of her preference? The subject of sex was jarring coming from a female hip hop artist at the time, but the unforgettable element of this video was the delicious eye candy she served us. Lyte gave us various flavors of sexiness and style that were just quintessential 90’s hip hop, and in true MC Lyte fashion, so effortless.
Salt-N-Pepa feat. En Vouge “Whatta Man”
Contrary to popular belief, men can be video vixens too. And man were we thankful for the burly baes Salt-N-Peppa delivered in their video for “Whatta Man.” The rap trio joined forces with R&B group En Vogue for a video packed with bubble baths, bear skin rugs and chair dances (oh my!). It’s also worth noting that the video swept at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards, taking home awards for Best Dance Video, Best R&B Video, and Best Choreography.
Angie Martinez, Lil Kim, Left Eye, Da Brat & Missy Elliott, “Ladies Night”
“Ladies’ Night” got a whole new meaning when this collective of badass female femcees threw a massive beach bash on the set of their video “Not Tonight.” Long before the days of female rappers taking shots at one another, Angie Martinez, Da Brat, Lil’ Kim and Left Eye (RIP) epitomize the meaning of female empowerment and weren’t afraid to big each other up while make hot men their servants. We’ll drink to that! What makes this video even more awesome are sightings of BFFs Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, SWV, Xscape, and others…because who doesn’t love a good cameo?
Queen Pen, “Party Ain’t a Party”
Queen P brought the ultimate party to life in the video for this timeless party rocker. The “Party Ain’t A Party” video was everything you’d imagine it to be at first listen – Queen P rocking a super hyped crowd with the assistance of the Lost Boyz. Freaky Tah
Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y.”
The poignant message of the song was matched with an equally powerful visual. Queen Latifah played out the sexism, abuse and disrespect women face on a daily basis. The imagery in the video are still as impactful today as they were 20 years ago.
Here’s to the women not afraid to make the first move! “Shoop” was another dope video from the Salt-N-Pepa that outlived its era. This rap trio pioneered the movement of women making men the video props for a change. The striped outfits, the kneepads, the booty shorts – it was all too sexy for words!
Foxy Brown, “I’ll Be Good”
Don’t think we forgot about the Ill Na Na! Back when she and Jay-Z were thick as thieves, “I’ll Be Good” skyrocketed up the charts and became the biggest selling hit for both artists at the time. With a hit of course comes a dope ass video and we love what Foxy did with the visuals here. Foxy may have only been in her late teens here, but she owned her presence on set. Oh, and who could forget about that dance battle?
Not only did these videos change the visual appeal of hip hop for years to come, they had a profound influence on the people spinning the records, in particular these ladies representing women behind the turntables. Check out this video below to see how a new generation of female DJs were inspired by the women of the ’90s. Also, make sure to tune into VH1 Hip Hop Honors: All Hail the Queens July 11 at 9 p.m. on VH1!