First Things First: Hip-Hop Ladies Who Changed the Game | Soundmain
First Things First: Hip-Hop Ladies Who Changed the Game

PDF First Things First: Hip-Hop Ladies Who Changed the Game First Edition: January 2024

Book author
  1. Nadirah Simmons
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This enlightening book reframes the history of hip-hop—and this time, women are given credit for all their trailblazing achievements that have left an undeniable impact on music.

FIRST THINGS FIRST, hip-hop is not just the music, and women have played a big role in shaping the way it looks today. FIRST THINGS FIRST takes readers on a journey through some notable firsts by women in hip-hop history and their importance. Factual firsts like Queen Latifah becoming the first rapper to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Lauryn Hill making history as the first rapper to win the coveted Album of the Year Award at the GRAMMYs, April Walkerbeing the first woman to dominate in the hip-hop fashion game, and Da Brat being the first solo woman rapper to have an album go platinum, and metaphorical firsts like Missy Elliott being the first woman rapper to go to the future. (Trust me, she really did.)

There are chapters on music legends like Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige, tv and radio hosts like Big Lez and Angie Martinez, and so many more ladies I would name but I don’t want to spoil the book! There are games, charts and some fire images, too.

Altogether, FIRST THINGS FIRST is a celebration of the achievements of women in hip-hop who broke down barriers and broke the mold. So the next time someone doesn’t have their facts straight on the ladies in hip-hop, you can hit them with “first things first”…


If you knew how many times I rewrote this introduction you wouldn’t believe me. In fact, I rewrote it so many times I can’t even give you an exact number—somewhere around fifty feels pretty close, though. What I do know for certain is that this intro was the very first thing I wrote for this book and the very last thing I edited for this book. Each time I came back to this point I knew I had to make two things clear: 1) just how important women in hip-hop are to me, and 2) just how important women are to hip-hop. So I guess I’ll start with that first part.

In 2018 I created The Gumbo, a social club and media platform designed to celebrate and center the experiences of Black women in hip-hop. I struggled to come up with a name for the platform for months because hip-hop is not just about the music, it’s a culture defined by distinct elements and a myriad of professions, power players and personalities, of which rap is just one component. To me, the fashion designers who dress the rappers are just as important as the rappers themselves, as are the producers, sound engineers, videographers, directors, journalists, editors, actors, comedians, creative directors, graphic designers, staffers at the label, breakdancers, graffiti artists, and whoever else touches this beautiful thing we call hip-hop.

That’s how I came up with the name The Gumbo. Or better yet, that’s how the name came to me one night in a dream. “What’s a word that best describes a bunch of different things coming together to make something good?” Gumbo. Gumbo was the word. So, I went with that. My decision was affirmed in 2020 when Lil’ Kim did an interview with Genius and stated, “We always gotta put what each girl does [sic] in the pot, and we gotta make gumbo.” Exactly, Kim.

Long before the inception of The Gumbo, though, I was just a little girl accompanying my parents on their trips to now-extinct music stores like Sam Goody, whose shelves were filled to the brim with CDs by the latest artists to drop and musicians long-battling in the game. I remember purchasing one of my very first CDs, Afrodisiac by Brandy, and sitting in the living room for hours with the album playing on loop. I read the album booklet front to back, taking breaks in between pages to practice my dance moves in the mirror.

When I would put my CDs away on my little section of the CD tower that housed all of the discs in our home, I couldn’t help but look through the other ones. I was already listening to hip-hop because my parents were. I was born a fan. But there was something about going through the album booklets of Lil Kim’s Hard Core, Foxy Brown’s Ill Na Na, and Eve’sScorpion that sent my love to another level. Through the photos, liner notes, thank-yous, and sometimes advertisements for merch that serve as memorials for a very specific time in the past, I got to know the artists and understand their process as well as the importance of all the people who helped make it happen. There’s that gumbo again.

I also recall joining my dad on trips to different showrooms in New York City, where we would get an up-close and personal look at the latest releases from brands like Rocawear, Baby Phat, Sean John, Mecca, and FUBU, to name a few. He owned a clothing store that sold various hip-hop fashion brands—often referred to as “urban wear” or “streetwear”—and these trips helped him decide which items he wanted to add to his stock. And while I can’t remember their names or even their faces, I remember the women in these showrooms and how nice they were. How much they knew. And how much it seemed like they had to do. To put it simply, I thought they were so cool.

Fast-forward to my middle school years, when much of my time was spent seated at the computer chair in my parents’ office—or any office I could find, in fact—downloading music from Limewire, and then Frostwire until it burned out the hard drive. And don’t get me started on the amount of time I spent discovering new artists and mixtapes on platforms like DatPiff, DD172, 2DopeBoyz, and any other blog site I could access. Funnily enough, I wasn’t alone. My parents are music heads too, and my dad and I would exchange a lot of music with one another. Often it was a race with my dad—who was going to hear the new Curren$y tape first. (Spoiler alert: he almost always did, lol.) Now that I think about it, the computer didn’t break because of me. My parents were downloading mad music too!

The music that I downloaded made it onto this little bean-shaped MP3 player that I had. I don’t remember the name of that thing, but it was the first MP3 player I had before my parents upgraded me to an iPod shuffle a few years later. A SHUFFLE! Do you remember that?!

What made the MP3 experience so different from previous years, for me, is that music became just as much of a singular experience as it had been a communal one. Up until then, there was really no way for me to listen to music alone. I couldn’t drive yet, so there was no space for loud car rides by myself blasting music that I’ve grown to love. If I popped a CD into my player, everyone could hear it. I had a Walkman, but I rarely used it, for two reasons. The first is that I never wanted to take my CDs out of the house because I’d be constantly worried about breaking or losing them. The second reason was that CDs were just a lot for me to carry. So the bean-shaped thing was where it was at. I could put my headphones in and listen to music by myself while curating my own listening experience with no one watching me replace a CD on my Walkman or, potentially, making remarks about whether or not they liked the artist or their singles or their project. I even remember the first song I put on my iPod when I got it: “Pussycat” by Missy Elliott. Stop right now and go listen to it. I’ll wait.
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