"I-I-I like bad bitches who be ragin'," Rico Nasty half-raps, half-roars on "Rage," the penultimate track of her 2018 release, Nasty. The album's lead single brims with nu-metal influence and the screamo flow of Trap Lavigne—Rico Nasty’s punk alter ego—solidifying Nasty's place as one of the hardest rap records of the year.
Rico's unabashed confidence and inventive approach have earned her a young, diverse fan base, and, with her harsh, rambunctious style, she's secured her place as one of the year's strongest breakout artists. She was featured as one of Billboard's 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Artists to Watch in 2018, landed a Fader cover story and played multiple sold-out shows on her nationwide Nasty tour. On Dec. 14, she's slated to play the festival Rolling Loud Los Angeles alongside Cardi B, Lil Uzi Vert and other chart-topping artists.
And, in 2018, Rico wasn't alone in her rise.
Right now, a critical mass of up-and-coming artists is transforming what it means to be a female rapper. With lyrics and aesthetics that break from the vixen archetype of predecessors like Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj, artists such as Rico Nasty, BbyMutha, Junglepussy, Princess Nokia, Tierra Whack and Leikeli47 represent a new wave of progressive, rebellious women injecting the masculine genre with a much-needed variety of perspectives and creative approaches.
Many of the year's breakout artists veered away from how female rappers have historically approached sexuality. BbyMutha, for instance, released three tough-as-nails mixtapes that challenge the notion that a single mother of four can't be sexy. When rapping about her bisexuality, the rapper refrains from pandering to the male gaze; rather, she portrays sexual encounters with both men and women as life experiences that have shaped her identity. Similarly, Junglepussy's inner world as a narrator—not what she can do sexually for others—takes center stage on her album JP3, where sex is one aspect of a lifestyle that prioritizes JP's pleasure and health.
Some of 2018's strongest releases by female rappers, however, barely touched sexuality at all, focusing instead on cultivating colorful personas and rich, fictional worlds. Tierra Whack's critically acclaimed debut, Whack World, drew a captive audience with its playful, imaginative tone. Whack reconfigured the album format for the social media age with 15 bite-sized, one-minute songs that each feel like a world of their own, positing one brief and quirky scenario before stopping mid-breath to move onto the next.
Following the success of 2017's 1992, Princess Nokia's A Girl Cried Red indulged the artist's emo alter ego. And the mysterious Leikeli47, who typically wears a ski mask to hide her face, exudes a tough-girl femininity in her last release, Acrylic. With interludes that ground Acrylic—fittingly—in a nail shop, the album conveys the feeling of an intimate girl-talk session as Leikeli plots to get her money and respect up.
Importantly, the women rapping in 2018 succeeded without the cosigns of influential male peers. In previous decades, Lil Kim was part of Notorious B.I.G.'s Junior M.A.F.I.A.; Nicki Minaj rose alongside Drake under Lil Wayne’s Cash Money; Missy Elliott started on a songwriting team with Timbaland; and Eve was Ruff Ryders' first lady. But in 2018, Cardi B became the first female rapper with multiple No. 1 singles, dispelling the notion that, in order to make it, you need to be the one girl in an all-male crew. As Cardi dominated the charts throughout 2018, she opened the door for a plethora of women to rise up in the indie rap scene without male cosigns.
Still, certain stereotypes persist and continue to detract from the notable success of the female rap community. Cardi B's online and in-person beef with Nicki Minaj, for instance, only served to bolster the long-standing stereotype that there can only be one queen of rap. The ongoing beefs among rising rappers Kash Doll, Asian Doll and Cuban Doll—overlooking the appropriative nature of their names for the purpose of this article—have also marred the otherwise wonderful shift in rap's patriarchal paradigm with petty in-fighting.
Regardless, it's undeniable that 2018 has proven to be a groundbreaking year for female rappers—both emerging and established. By bringing brazen honesty and nuanced storytelling to the forefront of their work, these women have broken many of the stereotypes that plague the music industry. The fight is far from over, but these women have laid the groundwork—like the women before them—for new artists to come and continue this work.
And, if Rico has it her way, they'll be rebels who aren't afraid to let the world feel their rage.