Airport tantrum-throwing and on-air shade-chucking seems to be a right of passage for today’s ladies of hip-hop. We might shake our heads in feigned disgust, but deep down, we love watching these lyrical titans throw lightning bolts at one another—USUALLY IN THE FORM OF AN ALL-CAPS TWEET. And surely our ancient Greek antecedents exacted some similar schadenfreude from tales of spiteful goddesses, impudent mortals, and spear-hurling Amazon queens. Here are 10 of the most colorful female rappers and their Olympian precursors.
Lil Kim is Hera.
The Brooklyn-born rapper is both the self- and industry-proclaimed Queen of Hip-Hop. And like her queenly Greco-Roman counterpart, Kimberly Denise Jones doesn’t suffer any competition. Known for being a jealous and vengeful goddess (or a hero for feminism, depending on who you ask), Hera was infamous for turning the various mistresses of Zeus, or any woman with the audacity to proclaim superior beauty to the mother goddess, into any number of birds and beasts. Kim just releases lackluster diss tracks, but the mood is the same. Just as Hera was hating on Gerana, Semele, Leto, and Alcmene, Kim is constantly taking shots at her hip-hop contemporaries (Foxy Brown) and successors (Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks). Appropriately, the cow is sacred to Hera. It must be sacred to Kim as well, considering this MC has beef with everybody.
Foxy Brown is Enyo.
Like the Greek goddess of battle (whose name literally means “warlike”), the Trinidadian-American rapper from Park Slope is no stranger to confrontation. She’s been accused of four instances of assault between 2004 and 2007, violating a restraining order, and punching a Jamaican policewoman in the stomach at Kingston’s airport. It goes without saying: nobody give this lady a spear.
Iggy Azalea is Helen of Troy.
Like Helen, Iggy is a beautiful young woman from a foreign land. And like Helen, she’s the root of many a problem. Born Amethyst Amelia Kelly in Sydney, the Antipodean rapper came to the U.S. penniless in 2006. Six years later she was on the cover of XXL’s “Freshman Class” issue, much to the chagrin of antecedents like Eve and peers Azealia Banks and Brianna Perry. Banks took particular umbrage with a controversial line in Azalea’s “D.R.U.G.S.” track in which the rapper refers to herself as a “runaway slave master.” As H.D. wrote, “All Greece reviles/ the wan face when she smiles,/ hating it deeper still when it grows wan and white,/ remembering past enchantments/ and past ills.” In other words: if they’re not hating you, they’re not paying attention.
Left Eye is Penthesilea.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the rapping component of the tripartite R&B girl group TLC, was tragically killed in a 2002 vehicular crash in Honduras. Like the Amazon queen Penthesilea, who died on the field of battle during the Trojan War, Lopes was mourned far and wide, remembered for her fast-talking, relentless flow. Penthesilea was so universally mourned that even Achilles, whom the Amazon had vowed to kill, found himself bereft at the sight of her corpse.
Eve is Athena.
Like the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, strategy, and peace-making, the Philadelphian MC tries her best to keep her head above the never-ending cat fight of women in hip-hop. “I don’t do beefs,” the rapper told Bravo’s Andy Cohen on a February 2013 showing of Watch What Happens Live. “I never have, I never will. I wish us girls would stick together, we all need each other.”
Azealia Banks is Eris.
Eris was the Greek goddess of strife (known as “Discordia” in Latin). Legend has it she derived great pleasure from sewing seeds of conflict among the ancient Greek people. Like Eris, up-and-coming Harlemite rapper Azealia Banks is always game to ruffle a feather or twelve. A resident Twitter agitator, Banks is never shy about her feelings. Whether she’s carelessly throwing around epithets, taking down fellow rappers, or labeling British R&B artist Rita Ora “Rihanna’s understudy,” it seems like Eris, Banks exacts a certain perverse pleasure from rattling the cage. Eris, who is often associated with witchcraft, would probably like Banks’ just-released video for “Yung Rapunxel,” replete with third eyes and screech owls.
Salt-n-Pepa are the Moirai.
This early ‘90s rap trio finds its classical counterpart in the three Fates, or Moirai. Like the prophetic three, Salt, Pepa, and DJ Spinderella were ahead of their time. Not only were they among the first female rappers “in the game,” they were rapping about female sexuality with an honesty unmatched by any artist prior. “Shoop” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” come to mind—the latter being taken a step further with its rerecording as “Let’s Talk About AIDS.”
Lauryn Hill is Andromache.
Like Andromache, Lauryn Hill feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. She’s the great admonisher of hip-hop, whereas Andromache was the “Dutch aunt” of Troy. In her 1998 smash-hit single “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill raps “Talkin’ out your neck sayin’ you’re a Christian, a Muslim sleepin’ with the gin, now that was the sin that did Jezebel in. Who you gonna tell when the repercussions spin?” The righteous rappeuse capped off a tour of scolding in 2003 with a Christmas appearance at the Vatican. There, she ranted to a full crowd about the Devil, corruption in the Church, “sexual perversions,” and “exploitation and abuse.” Andromache, wife of Hector, had a finger just as readily pointable: breathlessly condemning her Trojan captors for alleged acts of incest and polygamy.
Missy Elliott is Artemis.
Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, has been adopted as a symbol of sorts for western feminism, citing her refusal to marry, and in some instances to even associate with men. The goddess was fabled to live in a woodland commune of women and female nymphs, and put an arrow through the heart of any hapless peeping toms. While Elliott isn’t quite as extreme in her views, she parallels the huntress in her mentorship of young female artists, from Aaliyah to Ciara, producing their albums alongside her own.
MC Lyte is Pandora.
Pandora was the first woman, and MC Lyte the first solo female hip-hop artist to drop an album. 1988’s critically acclaimed Lyte as a Rock opened a proverbial Pandora’s box — this one containing the high-pressure world of female rap, with its many highs, lows, beefs and reconciliations. No, the advent of women in hip-hop isn’t all strife and discord, but it certainly is lively. Ultimately, this is a box we’re thankful Lyte opened.
Credit:Flickr Creative Commons user Robert Bejil Photography. Wikipedia Commons.