Throughout their decades-long history, Rap and Hip Hop have seldom given female artists a fair shake. The music culture surrounding both genres has been accused of objectifying women and stifling female talent.
In the MENA region, where gender issues are intertwined with political, economic, social, cultural and religious affairs, female rappers face even greater odds, but these music artists have conquered them and paved the way for a new generation of women and rappers, redefining the sounds, themes and overall atheistic of the genre and imbuing it with their unique and multifaceted heritage.
An icon of Britain’s Palestinian community, Shadia Mansour is one of the pioneering women of Arab rap. Dubbed “the First Lady of Arab Hip Hop,” the British-Palestinian musician has been performing from an early age, singing classic Tarab covers at Palestinian rallies.
Mansour’s music would later evolve into its current form, combining her passion for Palestinian liberation, her political identity and heritage with hardcore rap reminiscent of the genre’s 80s and 90s sound, characterized by its political commentary to highlight injustices and its irreverence towards power structures.
Soultana is one of Morocco and the region’s first female rappers and is widely credited for paving the way for a generation of Arab and North African women in the genre. She rose to international prominence as part of Moroccan girl group Tigress Flow, before gaining recognition as a solo artist.
Soultana’s rap is characterized by its passionate lyrics and its angry and often aggressive delivery. The beloved Moroccan musician is an outspoken advocate of social change and a staunch feminist. Her biggest hit to date, Sawt Nssa, is a scathing critique of the treatment of women in Moroccan society, decrying street harassment and gender-based violence.
Mayam Mahmoud is one of the most vocal and unapologetic music artists in Egypt today. She made her debut performance on the talent competition show Arabs Got Talent, earning her nationwide recognition for her raw talent and original lyrics.
Mahmoud’s rap deals with issues of gender discrimination and antiquated public perceptions of womanhood. She is also an internationally recognized women’s rights activist.
One of the most exciting up-and-coming artists on the scene today, Egyptian rapper Felukah is a prolific performer who draws a great deal of inspiration from her cultural heritage. A published poet and creative writing major, Felukah’s rhymes are effortlessly fluent, accompanied by crisp, smooth Hip Hop beats reminiscent of Biggie Smalls’ Juicy.
Her lyrics are multi-faceted, intelligent and piercingly observant, dealing with generational issues, ranging from the Arab Spring, all the way to gender roles in Egyptian society.
Born in France to an Algerian mother, a Lebanese father and raised in Beirut, Malikah was primed for a career as a rapper from an early age due to the breadth of her life experience.
Fondly known as the “Queen of Arab Hip Hop,” Malikah’s music career spans almost 20 years, making her one of the earliest female rappers in the Arab-speaking world.
In addition to her commanding and fiery performances, Malikah is an equally outspoken public figure, rapping in support of Lebanon’s ongoing uprising. Her lyrics also deal with issues of race, especially anti-Arab discrimination in the west.
Asayel Slay galvanized Saudi Arabia’s Twittersphere earlier this year with her debut song, Bint Mecca (Mecca Girl), in which she celebrates Meccan women. The song drew criticism from conservatives, who accused the rapper of undermining the customs and traditions of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.
The controversy led to the singer’s arrest, but she was released shortly after. The song also garnered the Saudi rapper a great deal of support and solidarity from fans in the kingdom and beyond through the hashtag #بنت_مكة_تمثلني.
Up-and-coming Egyptian rapper Taffy is one of the country’s few music artists to embrace Hip Hop’s contemporary boisterous sounds and boastful themes. In an interview with Scene Noise, the singer cited Nicki Minaj as one of her biggest influences.
The young artist, who is currently studying music at the University of Westminster, raps about her daily life and experience. Her rhymes and lyrics deal with issues of modern love and contemporary materialism, accompanied by fresh sounds and catchy tunes.