The Queens of Hip Hop
Jim Spellman/ Andrew Toth/ Johnny Nunez/ Theo Wargo/ Michael Loccisano/ BRYAN R. SMITH/ Getty Images
“Who you calling a bitch?”
This line. It’s one of my favourite hip-hop lines of all time. With it, Queen Latifah cemented herself in hip-hop history. She was not a bitch or a ho. She was just the Queen. Last night, VH1 resurrected their Hip-Hop Honours special from a six-year hiatus to pay tribute to the women who transcended a genre that largely relegated them to bitches and hoes and made it their own. Aside from Latifah, VH1’s All Hail the Queens special honoured Missy Elliott, Lil Kim and Salt-N-Pepa, hosted by Eve.
Ava DuVernay summed up the complicated relationship female fans have with hip-hop when she tweeted this after the release of Straight Outta Compton:
To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours.— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) August 16, 2015
Last night’s four honourees proved that the culture does belong to women as much as the men that dominate its history. In a beautiful speech that also touched on the current issues plaguing black America, Queen Latifah spoke about the influence she and her fellow Queens have had on the genre.
“All of these queens in this building, we built hip-hop… And there’s no way that I can allow us to be erased from the history or the future of hip-hop.”
What would hip-hop be without The Notorious B.I.G? His name is undoubtedly mentioned among the greatest rappers of all time. He’s on every list and rightly so but Biggie owed a lot of his success to Lil Kim. She’s been dominating headlines for her face and her changing skin tone but last night, we were reminded of her talent. Despite forgetting a few of her own lyrics, Lil Kim proved that she still can spit with the best of them. The Lil Kim tribute was a highlight of last night with Teyana Taylor and Lil Mama coming out of nowhere to throw down renditions of Crush on You and All About The Benjamins. The tribute was surprisingly amazing but I’m mostly jealous they got to rock those iconic Kim outfits. I think I found my next Halloween costume. Before you email me about it, let me just note that I am purposefully ignoring Rich Homie Quan forgetting the lyrics to Biggie’s verse in Get Money because how dare he and WHO? Exactly.
Let’s get back to focusing on the ladies. Can we talking about Missy Elliott? Pharrell and Busta Rhymes paid tribute to Missy while Fantasia, Monica and Tweet (remember Tweet!?) performed in her honour.
I was so happy to see her get this honour because Missy is underrated. When she popped up to save the Super Bowl during Katy Perry’s halftime hot mess, it was like everyone collectively went, “Oh yeah, Missy is dope!” Missy is finally getting the respect and legend status she deserves.
Notably missing from the broadcast was Nicki Minaj. She’s the reigning Queen of Hip Hop so I expected her to show up and at least give a nod to Lil Kim since Nicki has clearly been influenced by her. It’s also hard for me to wrap my head around a tribute to women in hip hop without a mention of Lil Kim’s rival and Hip-Hop Queen in her own right, Foxy Brown.
There may have been a few women missing from the night (Lauryn Hill, anyone?) but it was still a much-needed tribute to legendary ladies in hip-hop. After watching all the tribute videos, I went down a YouTube hole of nostalgia. So, here are my favourite music videos from each honouree. You are welcome.
Lil Kim – Crush on You
Missy Elliott – The Rain (Super Dupa Fly)
Salt N Pepa – Push It
Queen Latifah – U.N.I.T.Y