Our list of the most influential women in local rap history includes many impressive names: Like Yo Girls, the first ever all-female South African rap crew who performed in the ’80s, to the new crop of rappers, like Fifi Cooper, Kanyi, Gigi Lamayne and more. These rappers are ensuring women’s presence in hip-hop is felt and influencing more to pick up the mic.
Kanyi is one of the most prominent South African lyricists. Her guest verses alone put her in a league of her own. Her solo stuff is not just about dope bars – though she has plenty of those – but conceptual tracks with subject matter that straddles social commentary and abstract spirituality. She has a critically acclaimed album, Iintombi Zifikile. Kanyi is one of the key names in spaza – a hip-hop subgenre that originates in the black townships of Cape Town. Kanyi has performed in festivals in Sweden, Zambia, Zimbabwe and is currently working on a project due for release before the end of the year. We interviewed her earlier this year about the first single to the project here.
Gigi Lamayne is one of the most visible women who rap. Apart from being able to rap spheres around your favourite, she has made major moves within a short space of time by collaborating with heavyweights like Khuli Chana, Tumi Molekane and AKA. Gigi, who is signed to Dreamteam, alongside Khuli Chana, iFani and Magesh just to mention a few, won Best Female in 2012 and 2013 at the South African Hip Hop Awards. Gigi is relentless on the mic and not one to censor herself. She is one of the few artists who spoke up during Fees Must Fall, having been a Wits student at the time. She released a burning song “Fees Will Fall”. American website Afropop Worldwide, called her “a voice of change”. Gigi has two solid mixtapes under her belt and is gearing up to release her debut album.
Fifi is known as The First Lady of Motswako, joining an already star-studded roster featuring HHP, Khuli Chana and Cassper Nyovest. She is signed to Ambitious Ent, the same label as Emtee. The rhyme spitter can also sing well, and appears on Emtee’s album, Avery. She is one of the fastest rising hip-hop stars, with three SAMAs under her belt in just about three years in the industry – she took Best Newcomer, Best Produced Album and Best Female Album. Last year, she was handpicked by AKA to appear on the remix to his “The Baddest” hit, alongside Moozlie, Rouge, Nadia Nakai and Gigi Lamayne.
Burni Aman, EJ Von Lyrik and Shameema Williams released their first single, “Social Ills” – still hailed a classic – in 2002. For a long time they were the only all-female hip-hop crew in South Africa. They released their debut album in 2006 titled Spillage – another near-flawless body of work. The trio managed to make socially conscious music that was neither preachy nor bland, by rapping over beats that were influenced by soul and funk. “Mindz Ablaze” is still a guaranteed party starter. Even though they haven’t performed together in years, two members are still active artists. EJ Von Lyrik, who released her debut album Method In The Madness in 2007, has been touring Europe, and got a compliment from the revered American hip-hop group Public Enemy’s Chuck D as “one of the top MCs on the planet”. She also performed with Prophets of the City at last year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Burni Aman, who’s now based in Switzerland, released an album in 2014 called Sweet Science.
Yo Girls was the first all-female rap group in South Africa. With eight members, the Cape Town crew was established in the mid-’80s, and ran through the early ’90s. Yo Girls never got to record any music, but they did pave the way for more women in the genre, through performing at The Base – a popular Cape Town club where rappers, like Prophets Of The City, used to perform in, the ‘80s. According to former group member Malikah Daniels the rest of the members are no longer involved in hip-hop. Malikah remains the only one as she is the booking agent for DJ Ready D, to whom she’s also married.
In 2005, Ms Supa was the first woman to be on South Africa’s only print hip-hop publication, Hype. She appeared on HHP’s 2009 album Dumela and has worked with Skye Wanda, Qba, PDotO, Blaklez among others. In 2007, her single “10111” was a long-serving number one on T’bo Touch’s Metro FM hip-hop show Rhyme and Reason. Ms Supa’s deep voice, clear delivery and expressive lyrics make her a charismatic rapper, and the fact that she’s also a dope singer, makes a well-rounded artist. Her music is versatile, it mixes both old and new school elements. Peep her brilliant HerStory In The Making EP as you wait for her long-promised album.
For a very long time, Miss Nthabi was one of the few names that popped up when one thought of women in South African rap music. In the mid-2000s, she was making multiple appearances on Hype Magazine’s then-popular mixtape series, Hype Sessions. On “Breathe”, a track she did with the rapper Reason, she displayed lyrical skill and technical adeptness many rappers could only dream of. In 2006, she released From The Streets To The Lab, an EP that’s considered a South African hip-hop classic. Miss Nthabi has collaborated with Battlekat, Lebo Mashile, MXO and Maleh, among others. The rapper still remains as lyrical as she was in the mid-2000s. Her debut album, 2011’s Welcome To Me, is a smooth listen boasting production from respected South African producers, DJ Kenzhero, Helio, Battlekat, Ootz to name a few.
Protista has been on the grind. Her music is strictly boom bap, and she spits well-thought out sixteens with a heavy 90s influence. Protista may not be playlisted on Metro FM, but that doesn’t take away from her contribution to South African hip-hop. Her music is tailored for a niche market which she serves well, with dope performances at hip-hop-specific events like Back To The City, End Of The Weak and The SoCo Show. She is one of the few women who battle rap in South Africa, and she’s good at it. Check her out obliterating Durban rapper Lex LaFoy in this 2012 battle organised by South Africa’s most respected battle league, Scrambles For Money, below.
Yugen Blakrok has performed at Oppikoppi and other festivals in countries like Czech Republic, Germany, France and Sweden. The rapper is signed to Iapetus Records – the same label as Tha Hymphatic Thabs and Fifi (not Cooper). Her lyrics are dense and tailored for the attentive listener, and they sit well over the producer Kanif’s ominous production. Yugen is one of those few hip-hop artists who have managed to be successful without compromising their music. Her debut album Return Of The Astro-Goth is a challenging listen that takes multiple listens to grasp. Yugen is one of the few women who do what many deem dungeon rap – abstract lyrical content, and songs that aren’t dependent on melodic hooks and candy production.
Qba has a steady flow, a swaggering drawl, and raps with ease. She has a versatile lyrical content. She can tell you how unfuckwithable she is, and tell you what it’s like growing up in the gutter, for instance on the song, “Iron Village”. Qba, who is also a model, is fashionable but lets her bars do the talking. She paid her dues with mixtapes like The Gutter Butter Vol. 1 and 2, both hosted by DJ Zakes. The rapper used to perform in sessions like the Splash Jam in Jozi, and has performed at Back To The City, among other events. She might not be on your radio or TV, but in the mid-2000s, alongside the likes of Nthabi and Godessa, she was one of the few rappers who were ensuring women’s involvement in South African hip-hop wasn’t just on music videos and behind the scenes.