The Women Behind Hip-Hop

todayMarch 26, 2021 150

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Jesse Rodriguez
Music Journalist

The integral part that these women played in hip-hop is often overlooked, simply because the work they put in was behind the scenes and years before they got to be a part of hip-hop. Without these artists and their initial efforts, these iconic songs wouldn’t even exist. These songs contain elements of soul, jazz, and R&B, which hip-hop is fundamentally based on.

The Charmel’s – “As Long As I’ve Got You”

The Charmels are a soul vocal group composed of Eula Jean Rivers, Mary Hunt, and Mildred Pratchett. This group of singers had a long history in music forming two vocal groups (The Tonnettes, and The Dixiebelles) before they eventually evolved into The Charmels.

They recorded “As Long As I’ve Got You” in 1967. It was released as a 7 inch single with “Baby Come And Get It” as its B side. Both of these tracks were written by Issac Hayes and David Porter, innovators in the soul and R&B genres. 

Although having a long history in music, The Charmels didn’t have a hit single in their recording period with stax records which lasted from 1966-1968- that was until “As Long As I’ve Got You” fell into the hands of Robert Diggs, better known as RZA, in the year 1994 for the song we know was “C.R.E.A.M ”. It’s safe to say that “C.R.E.A.M” wouldn’t have been possible had The Charmels not gotten in the studio way back in 1967 and created an iconic track that we still recognize today. 

Minnie Riperton – “Inside my Love”

Written in 1975 by Minnie Riperton, “Inside my Love” is a beautiful R&B track that is quite possibly the quintessence of 70’s production. The song features a fender Rhodes electric piano played by Joe sample who Minnie brought on to help do the keys for her album Adventures in Paradise, and honestly, joe playing along with minnies singing can be an amazing album on its own and this is best proved when you go to the timestamp 3:05 on “Inside my Love” this is when the instrumental break starts and we hear Minnie hold a whistle register alongside Joe playing some jazzy chord changes in the background, it makes for a very very smooth piece of music.

Fast-forward 18 years later rapper and producer Q-tip heard this and probably had a eureka moment, threw the song on an MPC and created one of the most iconic hip-hop tracks of all time- “Lyrics to Go”.

Sadly Minnie passed in 1979 before she could hear her song being praised in a new light. 

Lalah Hathaway – “On Your Own”

Lalah Hathaway is a 5 time Grammy award-winning artist known for her contributions in R&B, soul, and jazz.

In 2008 she released an album titled Self Portrait, and on track 3 we find the song “On Your Own”. The song features heavily layered vocal harmonies which seem to be a staple in Lalahs music, in 2013 famous underground producer Knxwledege (of Nxworries fame) sampled Lalah’s song for his beat “So[rt].”

In the same year, legendary rapper Kendrick Lamar heard Knxwledges beat and used it for his song “Momma” which came out in quite possibly the greatest hip-hop album of all time To Pimp a Butterfly. I know that’s kind of straightforward – song gets sampled for a beat, beat gets used for a song, but when it came time to clear the sample, not only did Lalah give her blessing for it to be used in Kendrick’s song, she also went further and went in the studio with Kendrick and Knxwledge to lay down extra vocals for it. With Lalah now apart of the team, Kendrick was able to write a poetic masterpiece of a song, and without Lalah giving her blessing and going into the studio, we might have never got to even hear it. 

These samples barely scratch the surface of the contributions that woman have made towards the growth of hip-hop, but the hard work that went into their music years before it was sampled should not go unnoticed.

Image by Minnie Riperton

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