1: IGGY AZALEA
A rapper or a pop star? Australian-born rhymer Azalea has wrestled with authenticity since moving to Miami as an impoverished 17-year-old.
With movie-star cheekbones, and a flair for catchy hooks, Azalea has been accused of ‘passing’ for African-American — she rhymes in an exaggerated West Coast accent — and of feeding aural candy to the masses.
Not that she cares. With smashes such as ‘Fancy’ and ‘Change Your Life’ to her credit, why would she?
2: MISSY ELLIOTT
It’s been some time since Missy Elliott troubled the charts. Still, as the fuss over her cameo at Katy Perry’s Superbowl spot attests, there is no voice in hip-hop more respected than Miss ‘Misdemeanor’s’.
A star who has succeeded on her own terms, her weapon is her astonishing voice, which she has put to stunning use on hits such as ‘Work It’ and ‘Get Ur Freak On’.
Can a female artist triumph without placing flaunted sexuality at the heart of her musical identity? Missy Elliot is an encouraging answer in the affirmative.
3: LAURYN HILL
She has plunged into career-killing eccentricity, so it is easily forgotten just how big a cultural force Hill was circa her 1998 album, The Miseducation Of, and its hit ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’.
And that was coming off The Fugees, the mid-1990s hip hop trio who demonstrated that urban music could be lyrically rich and musically complex and that it could sample Enya with a straight face.
4: NICKI MINAJ
As has Azalea, Minaj has long been bedevilled by question marks over her ‘authenticity’. This may seem hypocritical — Kanye West and Jay Z are no strangers to the charts (or, for that matter, to bubble gum choruses). And yet, nobody doubts their place at hip hop’s top table.
Commercially, Minaj leaves the majority of her male contemporaries choking on dust: circa her 2010 debut, Pink Friday, she was the first artist to simultaneously have seven singles in the Billboard Hot 100.
Yes, she isn’t above crowbarring an airplay-ready hook, or three, into her songs. Still, as anyone who has seen her in concert will agree, her rhyming technique is second to none.
5: AZEALIA BANKS
It’s surreal to recall that Banks was regarded as the hot new thing in alternative music. That was in early 2012, when a British music magazine hailed her the coolest person in pop. Shortly afterwards, it was announced she had signed to Universal and was working, with Adele producer, Paul Epworth, on her debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste.
But it proved hard to marshall her talents in the studio and the record was delayed endlessly, before finally being released digitally by Banks late last year (apparently without the knowledge of her label).
The record was…okay. And yet, by then, it had been overshadowed by Banks’s reputation as wager of serial Twitter feuds, her targets including, of all people, Irish celebrity Amanda Brunker.
6: ANGEL HAZE
Speaking of Banks and her dust-ups, an early target of her online ire was Brooklynite, Angel Haze, who returned the compliment by recording a ‘ diss’ track, ‘On The Edge’.
She released her debut album, Dirty Gold, in 2013 — a sleek, sparkling affair, with songwriting contributions from Sia, Rudimental and Greg Kurstin. Like Banks, her nemesis, Haze was soon more famous for her non-musical activities ,with particular attention to her fluid sexuality.
Last year, she confirmed she was dating Ireland Baldwin, daughter of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. She describes herself as pansexual and has declared a preference for the gender-neutral pronoun of them/they.
The Tamil-London rapper’s 2005 debut, Arular, was a polyglot of sounds, a thrilling mash-up of eastern and western influences that declared war on homogeneity.
She doubled-down on the formula on 2007’s Kala, which yielded the Clash-sampling hit, ‘Paper Planes’.
However, things fell apart in 2010, after a disastrous New York Times magazine profile depicted her as spoiled and headstrong (in one notorious segment, she discussed Third World poverty while snacking on expensive truffles).
This sapped much of her momentum — though, on Arular’s 10th anniversary, there has been a rush to declare it one of the most important LPs of the decade.
A protege of Timbaland, Justin Timberlake’s producer, the small-town Illinois native has travelled a long way in a short time.
She recently made her acting debut in the hit music-industry soap, Empire, while last year’s Winter’s Diary 2 mix-tape was declared eighth best hip-hop album of 2014 by Rolling Stone.
She also has an uncommon degree of underground cred for a mainstream rapper, having featured on the debut single of the Los Angeles collective, Future Brown — the outfit is signed to fashionable UK label, Warp records.
Already being hailed as the ‘new Lauryn Hill’, the North Carolina rhymer combines a rich singing style with fluid rapping.
She is certainly held in high esteem by her peers: latest LP, She Got Game, featured collaborations with such eminently droppable names as Chance The Rapper, Common, and Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon.
Who says a good rapper has to be (or, in Iggy Azalea’s case, has to sound), African-American? An enormous star in Asia, South Korea’s Miryo came to wider attention with a cameo on Psy’s ‘Gentleman’.
A writer, as well as a rhymer, she has compositional credits on more than 60 K-Pop smashes.
For western audiences, the jumping-in point is her debut EP, Miryo aka Johoney, a combination of Nicki Minajesque verbal word play and heatseeker melodies.