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The 13 Female Rappers Who Dominated '90s Hip-Hop Fashion
From Da Brat to Queen Latifah, these are the female rappers that shaped ‘90s hip-hop fashion through authenticity, exploration, and defying the boundaries within the genre.
During the ‘90s, female rappers continued to build upon existing trends that trickled in from ‘80s hip-hop fashion due in part to legendary acts like Salt-N-Pepa and Roxanne Shanté, who laid the foundation for the female rap aesthetic. Da Brat, Left Eye, and Queen Latifah drew upon masculine elements that were prevalent in the male-dominated genre, with looks consisting of ultra baggy denim, athleticwear, and boots, all while adding their own unique flair.
On the other hand, rappers like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Gangsta Boo dared to push the boundaries of how women should dress, opting for sexy form-fitting silhouettes and exposed undergarments that mirrored their sex-forward lyrics.
While some artists exclusively fell on either end of the spectrum, there’s no denying how they influenced women’s ‘90s hip-hop fashion, which left a notable mark on ‘90s fashion in general. In honor of those artists and their contributions, here are the 13 female rappers from the ‘90s whose fashion impact is eternally ingrained in hip-hop.
In 1997, Amil, then a member of the all-female group Major Coins, met JAY-Z, who was looking for a woman to contribute vocals to his third album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. After an impressive freestyle, she was selected for the part and eventually became JAY’s protégée following the group's break up. She featured on various songs including “Can I Get A” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who,” often sporting elevated minimalistic looks in the music videos for these songs. Leather bras and pants, cropped furs, one-shoulder tops, thick blinged-out chokers — Amil had a distinct style that paired well with her equally distinct voice, helping her stand out during her peak in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
Da Brat’s emergence with her 1994 debut album Funkdafied hallmarked her as the first female rapper to go platinum, and solidified her as a ‘90s fashion icon. Her fluid style encompassed the silhouettes that helped define the ‘90s hip-hop era: oversized tees, baggy-fit denim, flannels, and leather coats mixed with crop tops and fitted tanks. While other female rappers' looks often included masculine elements, Da Brat’s aesthetic appeared rooted in authenticity and effortlessness rather than an exploration of the trends. In addition to her androgynous style, Da Brat’s hair and use of accessories also became a highlight, the artist often wearing jumbo twists with an assortment of colorful rubber bands, yarn, and beads presenting as wearable hair art.
Foxy Brown always knew she was the illest, and she rightfully claimed her place on fashion mood boards by marrying sexy street style and high fashion. In 1996, she released her debut album Ill Na Na, where she wore a spaghetti-strapped black dress, pencil-thin eyebrows, dark lipstick, and a gold pendant chain against an electric blue backdrop, a look that would stick throughout her career (most notably in the music video for her and JAY-Z’s hit song “I’ll Be,” where she was styled by legendary stylist June Ambrose). While many female rappers adopted the streetwear style, Foxy’s style closely aligned with her sex-riddled and luxurious bars. She was laced in Gucci mini dresses, two-toned furs, sheer tops that exposed her printed bras, low-rise skirts, and gaudy designer belts, which made her the perfect muse for designers like John Galiano and Calvin Klein.
The late Gangsta Boo undeniably helped lay the foundation for Southern women in hip-hop, joining the legendary Three 6 Mafia in 1995 after being featured on the title track for the group’s debut album, Mystic Stylez. Through the group, as well as her solo work, Boo became known for her razor sharp and lusty wordplay. That, paired with her Southern hood opulence, cemented her impact. On the cover of her debut album Enquiring Minds, the Queen of Memphis donned a royal-esque red leather coat trimmed with black fur over black undergarments. The music video for her hit single “Where Dem Dollas” also showcased her standout sense of fashion, with the rapper wearing latex dresses, bold colored furs, flowy sheer tops, high slits, leather halter sets, an iced out choker, and her signature auburn-hued hair. There’s no denying Gangsta Boo’s significance as an artist, but it’s also about time that she gets acknowledged for her style, too.
Lady of Rage
In 1994, Lady of Rage came in kickin’ up dust with a perfectly centered crisp part, and two coily puffs perched on each side of her head in the video for her Above The Rim hit song “Afro Puffs.” At a time when bone straight hair, braids, pixie cuts, and spritzed updos were popular, her opt for the style made a statement and signified the track as an anthem for Black women and their natural tresses. Frequently cloaked in black ensembles — leather trench coats, biker vests, mesh tops — and metallic chokers and chunky bracelets, her look was a hip-hop hybrid of the Black Panthers and the ‘70s disco era, all while aligning with the eerie aesthetic of her Death Row labelmates. Upon her transition into acting, her famed afro puffs would reprise their role alongside her rough and tough persona in movies like Ride and Next Friday, as well as a recurring role on The Steve Harvey Show.
At the apex of her career with the Fugees, Lauryn Hill released her critically acclaimed (and only) solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Now removed from her male group members, she was positioned as the next revolutionary artist fusing hip-hop and neo soul in a way that felt like spiritually guided hymns. In her days with the Fugees, she adopted elements of the mainstream hip-hop aesthetic, but her Miseducation era birthed her eclectic style rooted in femininity, as depicted on her famous Honey magazine cover. Her penchant for maxi skirts, knitted hats, and free-flowing layers was paired with denim, bold prints, and patterns. As she became more reclusive and adverse to fame, she began to refine her style, opting for headwraps and more modest garments.
The late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was truly ahead of her time, leaving an undeniable mark on fashion and pop culture. As a member of legendary R&B group TLC, she frequently wore coordinating outfits with fellow members T-Boz and Chilli. But her individualism shined through as she captivated audiences with her uniquely animated flow and eccentric style. Left Eye’s looks incorporated unconventional and playful elements: a black stripe under her left eye, exposed boxers, condom-framed glasses, and larger-than-life hats. At the time of her untimely passing in 2002, Left Eye had already helped lay the foundation for the Y2K aesthetic to come, with mesh layering tops, graphic baby tees, asymmetrical tube tops, and shimmering pants. Her style also heavily leaned into Afrofuturism, with leather jumpsuits, vinyl spacesuits, knotted ponytails, and braids connected to circular hair hoops.
Lil Kim is arguably one of the most influential female rappers when it comes to fashion and pop culture. Storming hip-hop in 1994 as a member of Junior Mafia, Lil Kim came through with cutthroat, in-your-face bars, and certified herself as a force to be reckoned with. In 1996, she released her debut album Hardcore, putting her sexual innuendos and love of designer labels and jewels at the forefront of her lethal lyrics. In music videos for her hit tracks “No Time” and “Crush On You,” she famously wore a barrage of luxurious and monochromatic looks. Lil Kim’s fashion legacy would be solidified by her daring style consisting of luxury logo-stamped wigs, layered gold Chanel belts, floor-length furs, and seashell nipple covers. Throughout the ‘90s (and the rest of her career), she seamlessly fused hip-hop and high fashion, bridging the gap between the streets and luxury, and ultimately becoming the muse of designers like Donatella Versace and Marc Jacobs.
In 1995, Mia X signed with Master P’s No Limit Records, making her the first female rapper to be signed to the label. Her debut album Good Girl Gone Bad and sophomore album Unlady Like, were a fusion of her no-holds-barred lyrics and New Orleans bounce music. Mia X’s style paralleled her music, exuding Southern sadity and pageant-esque glam. As a No Limit Soldier, Mia coordinated her camouflage looks with a feminine twist consisting of floor length furs, sequined camo, and sheer sets with matching bras. When she wasn’t laced in camo she donned leather suits, monochromatic sets, lace tops, and oversized jerseys, her style only adding to her impact as a groundbreaking Southern female rapper.
A pioneer of hip-hop with easily one of the most notable styles of the ‘90s, MC Lyte impeccably blended trends from both ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop fashion eras. Her fluid and bold style was the perfect juxtaposition to songs like “Poor George'' and “Ruffneck,” where she detailed her romantic attractions and desires. Leaning into more masculine considered silhouettes, her style featured tracksuits, varsity jackets, oversized tees, baseball hats, gold door knocker earrings, and bright red lipstick. Her hair was also a notable part of her style, too. Always perfectly in place, her hair saw a transition from the golden, voluminous curled mullet that defined her look in the ‘80s, to a dark, sleek bumped bob that paired well with her vibrant and cool aesthetic during the ‘90s.
Monie Love is deeply revered for her impact as a British female rapper. After moving from London to the states in 1989, she subsequently released her debut album Down To Earth in 1990. With tracks like “Monie in the Middle” and “It’s A Shame (My Sister),” it was apparent that Monie had effortlessly assimilated into hip-hop with her smooth flow and vibrant style. Comparable to the style of her Native Tongues male counterparts, Monie Love delved into streetwear rocking colorful windbreakers, hats cocked to the side, denim pairings, and chunky, abstract earrings, in addition to her short, finger-combed haircut.
Queen Latifah reigned as queen, setting herself apart from her peers not just with her powerful delivery, but her afrocentric-inspired style. On her sophomore album Nature of a Sista and follow-up album Black Reign, Latifah packaged Afrocentrism and feminism into dynamic ladies’ anthems like “U.N.I.T.Y” and “Fly Girl.” Akin to her lyrical content, she found power in fashion, being clothed in a wealth of African garb and textiles including crowns, dashikis, weaved hats, and pendants. Latifah’s style centered Black empowerment and women’s liberation while defying the sexualization of Black women. She furthered her fashion imprint on the big and small screen too throughout the ‘90s, portraying everyone from Flavor magazine editor and publisher Khadijah James to the socially-conscious Zora in House Party 2.
Yo-Yo came out the gate with a buttery flow and an effortlessly cool style to match. Dubbed the “brand new intelligent Black lady” by her mentor Ice Cube on her 1991 single “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” she attacked an uptempo beat with a clear stance on respect and boundaries. In the video, she donned sheer blouses, quilted jackets, an American flag set, and peace sign earrings. Like many female rappers in the ‘90s, her look incorporated floral vests, striped pants, color block shirts, and athletic windbreakers. However, her most recognizable style attribute was her blonde micro braids, often styled in a high side ponytail with a tightly curled bang, or peeking from under a boldly colored Kangol hat.
Mikeisha Daché Vaughn is a culture writer based in Columbus, Ohio. Her work is mostly culture-based, but the ways in which her writing intersects with music and fashion is her Achilles heel. She has also written for Complex, Essence, and Teen Vogue, among others.
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