Heading into 2019, City Girls knew the year would be full of challenges they'd have to overcome. JT, one half of the Miami rap duo, was serving a prison sentence for credit card fraud and wouldn’t be released until October. That left Yung Miami, the other half, with some heavy lifting to do. The girls got their start in the music industry in 2017 when they signed to Quality Control Records with only two songs under their belt. Their explosive dis track “Fuck Dat N*gga” had been recorded mostly for fun, but it brought them unforeseen success and, eventually, a number one song with one of the biggest rappers in the world.
Drake’s “In My Feelings” shot to the top spot in July 2018, breaking a record for most weeks at number one by any artist in a year on the Billboard Hot 100 — it sat at the top for ten weeks. City Girls’ vocals were regarded as one of the catchiest aspects of the song; it was their official breakthrough into the mainstream, but it also marked the beginning of JT’s prison sentence. Regardless, the girls’ debut album, Girl Code, dropped that November, entering the Billboard 200 at number 63, while songs such as “Twerk” featuring Cardi B and the viral boss-bitch anthem “Act Up” awarded City Girls their first Top 40 hits.
The excitement over the album seamlessly flowed into 2019, giving Yung Miami newfound confidence that helped her to surge forward without JT. She penned songs, hit the studio, and even performed alongside Lil Baby at the 2019 BET Awards, always shouting out her best friend with a loud “Free JT!” Throughout 2019, the anticipation for JT’s release was evident as fans tweeted the hashtag #FreeJT nearly daily, and fellow rappers showed their support as well.
Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion included the line “Free JT/Real bitches fuck with me” in her song “Realer." JT was finally released by October 2019, and she bounced back onto the scene with no time to waste. To celebrate her discharge, “JT First Day Out” dropped, a song that responds to the haters who doubted her while she was behind bars. Then, in November, came the duo’s official comeback, “You Tried It,” a braggadocios song about spending a man’s money without any regrets — a typical City Girls bop.
While City Girls held it down for the 305 last year, several other female rappers also unapologetically rose into the spotlight. Twenty nineteen was the year female rap finally pulled all the way through, delivering the vastest field of femcees yet, which demanded recognition from male peers and critics alike. Megan Thee Stallion had her breakthrough year with her spot in the XXL 2019 Freshman Class and the release of her fiery mixtape, Fever. The compelling project included tracks produced by Juicy J as well as a feature from fellow XXL Freshman classmate DaBaby on “Cash Shit.” The song peaked at number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100, garnering Megan her first Top 40. The triumph was far from over, as she continued to set trends: She famously popularized and trademarked the term “Hot Girl Summer,” inspired by her Hot Girl Meg persona. “Hot Girl Summer” soon became a hit song of the same name, for which Nicki Minaj lent a verse and Ty Dolla $ign led the chorus. It became the official anthem of the summer, peaking at number 11 on the Hot 100.
XXL included two other female rappers in its Freshman Class — Tierra Whack and Rico Nasty — making it the first time three women had been represented simultaneously. Rico Nasty dropped her Kenny Beats-produced EP, Anger Management, in April, which landed on several best-of-2019 roundups. She also found herself on Forbes' annual "30 Under 30." Tierra Whack saw her 2017 music video for “Mumbo Jumbo” nominated for a Grammy and created a compilation of five singles for her self-proclaimed “#WhackHistoryMonth” in February.
Doja Cat, another rapper who enjoyed heightened recognition last year, released her best work yet with her second album, Hot Pink, which peaked at number 30 on the Billboard 200. Her song “Juicy” came out in March but didn’t receive much attention until the captivating, colorful video featuring a Tyga-assisted remix debuted in mid-August — it then shot to number 47 on the Hot 100.
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Kash Doll, Saweetie, Leikeli47, Lizzo, and numerous others have also made huge strides in their careers. Lizzo, one of the most visible stars of 2019, discovered mainstream fame when "Truth Hurts" blew up two years after its release. Its inclusion in Netflix’s rom-com Someone Great was instrumental in the song’s resurgence. Lizzo went on to drop her debut album, April's Cuz I Love You, which reached number four on the Billboard 200. Since then, she’s had a “Good as Hell” year. She boasts five Top 40 hits and has performed at the BET Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the American Music Awards, as well as on Saturday Night Live. She was also named entertainer of the year by both the Associated Press and Time. Twenty twenty is looking brighter than ever for the body-positive star — she’s been nominated for eight Grammys, more than any other act at this year's upcoming award show.
These artists received plenty of praise and enthusiasm for their talents and diligence, but with the acclaim also came criticism. In July, rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri sparked controversy when he made unfortunate comments about the new wave of female rappers. He claimed they “all [rap] about the same thing.” He further explained to People: “For me, it’s like strippers rapping, and as far as rap goes, I’m not getting who’s the best rapper.”
Other rappers quickly came to the scene’s defense and clapped back at Dupri. Both Cardi B and Doja Cat pointed out that women, just as men, are free to rap about whatever they want, including their sex lives, stripping, and money. They also noted there are plenty of female rappers — including Rapsody, Noname, and Kamaiyah — whose lyrics don’t mention any of those subjects.
Looking past the critics and the Grammy snubs, 2019 was still a monumental year for women in the rap game. Blazing onto the hip-hop scene with scorching flames trailing them, these ladies arrived poised and ready to display their nastiest flows, lyrical feats, and ability to, in Megan Thee Stallion’s words, "drive the boat." So far, 2020 is looking more than good as hell: Expect the continued ascent of female rap and many more hot girl summers ahead.