Growing up in a conservative Christian household meant I often had to sneak around just to listen to music. But one day of adventuring stands out in particular—the day I first heard the intoxicating opening beat of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.” An obsession with the female rapper’s voice is something I have in common with Kathy Iandoli, critically acclaimed music journalist and author of God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop.
Iandoli’s book details the rise of familiar figures like Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B but also takes readers back to the origins of women in hip-hop. Asserting that women have always been an essential part of the rap scene, Iandoli recounts the contributions of every female rapper, charting the challenges that women encountered as hip-hop gained popularity.
After detailing over a decade of rap history, Iandoli finallys asks: “Really, though, what is it like to be a female rapper? To be told you’re not pretty enough or sexy enough, then too sexy to the point of slutty? If your lyrics are too hard, you’re trying to be a man. . . . If your looks are too light, then you’re pandering to the mainstream and out to kill the last pure drops of hip-hop left. Do you band together and love each other, or do you disband and wage a war?”
Though much of God Save the Queens covers the beefs between female hip-hop stars, Iandoli also connects these women through their shared struggle for success. Moreover, Iandoli’s own career as a music journalist and D.J., grappling for respect as a woman in the world of hip-hop, mirrors those of the rappers she profiles, making her writing informed as well as empathetic.
Given the recent rise of Lizzo, it’s clear that the influence of women in hip-hop is far from over. Yet the history of the women who opened the door for artists like Lizzo has remained largely unacknowledged. God Save the Queens fills an empty space in music history, bringing the influence of some of the world’s most talented rappers to the forefront, giving them the platform they’ve always deserved.