The Rhymes That Changed Us

11 Women on Their Hip-Hop Click Moment 

By Rebecca Carroll

Hip-hop as a genre is complicated. But at its core, it’s about bearing witness to the world and telling a story directly from that personal vantage point. Whether they be stories of revolutionary rage, tender triumph, sheer joy, or all of the above, the hip-hop canon is undeniably rich. This year marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop as an art form, and to celebrate, we asked our favorite creatives to share a lyric from one song that impacted them in some profound way.    

It could all be so simple
But you’d rather make it hard
Loving you is like a battle
And we both end up with scars

“Ex-Factor,” Lauryn Hill  

I write to music. I look for songs that open me up to the emotions I’m writing. These lyrics are so deep and gutturally poetic. I put this song on repeat to write the “fourth quarter” of Love and Basketball. I have literally heard it over a thousand times. And it rocks me still. —Gina Prince-Bythewood, filmmaker

And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?

“Keep Ya Head Up,” Tupac

I spent some time with Pac before this song was written. I was in a black feminist rock group called Subject to Change. He would come to my band rehearsals, and afterwards we would share deep and heavy conversations about the depiction of Black women in Hip Hop. We also talked about the incredible women of The Black Panther Party. My heart expanded when he wrote these powerful lyrics. He was such a beautiful man inside and out. —Cree Summer, actress, singer/songwriter 

You ain’t a bitch or a hoe

“U.N.I.T.Y.,” Queen Latifah 

I’ve been a hip-hop fan since I was a little girl, but I’ve always resented how misogynistic the music can be. I didn’t have the greatest understanding of why that was when I was small, but I knew that our men were using it to call us mean names and I didn’t like that. When I was about nine, Queen Latifah released “U.N.I.T.Y.,” a powerful clapback towards sexism in both hip-hop music and the Black community. I was entranced. Latifah was so strong, so beautiful, and she was standing up for us. It’s one of my favorite songs to this day. —Jamilah Lemieux, cultural critic

Hypocrites always wanna play innocent
Always wanna take it to the full-out extent
Always wanna make it seem like good intent
Never wanna face it when it’s time for punishment
I know you don’t wanna hear my opinion
There come many paths and you must choose one
And if you don’t change then the rain soon come
See you might win some, but you just lost one

“Lost Ones,” Lauryn Hill

She is perfect here, and ruthless. —Danyel Smith, author 

I push my seed in her bush for life
It’s gonna work because I’m pushing it right
If Mary drops my baby girl tonight
I would name her “Rock n’ Roll” 

“The Seed,” The Roots ft. Cody Chestnut 

When my husband Chris (a former DJ, and a pretty serious hip-hop head) and I were first dating, he made a number of playlists for me. Often I’d listen to them on my own, at the gym or whatever, but one time he made a playlist for me that we listened to for the first time together in the car on our way out of town for a weekend getaway. When “The Seed” by The Roots with Cody Chestnut—which I’d never heard before—came on, I was immediately feeling it. But when I heard this hook, I absolutely fell in love with it (and, to be honest, with Chris). I turned to him and said, “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.” Reader, it is of no small significance that on our first date, before we were even brought menus, I’d told him I wanted to have a baby within the next year or two, and then said, directly, “So what are you looking for in a relationship?” He responded, unrattled, “Why don’t we have dinner first.” He planted the seed in my bush for life 10 months later. We named him Kofi. —Rebecca Carroll, writer and Meteor editor-at-large

Word up, mommy. I love you — Ghostface

I sit and think about
All the times we did without
I always said I wouldn’t cry
When I saw tears in your eyes
I understand that daddy’s not here now
But some way or somehow, I will always be around — Mary J. Blige

“All That I Got is You,” Ghostface Killah ft. Mary J. Blige

Ghostface is in my top 10, but this song is easily in my top five. When I hear the raw honesty, vulnerability, love, and pain in his voice, I cry thinking about my three sons. Though Pretty Toney’s circumstances and lived experiences are different from my sons’, I listen and imagine how they are processing their dad’s death, his irrevocable absence, in the quiet hours of the night when they’re in their beds.

Do they cry? Are they angry? Will they heal? What will they remember? Am I enough? 

It is excruciating for me to live this life without my husband, my best friend, my greatest love. It pains me to think about my sons navigating this life without their father, the man who loves them most in this world—the person who would have laid down his life for them without thought.

But I hope every day that my sons know I’m doing my best and that I love them with every cell in my body and every beat of my heart. I hope they know I will always, always be around—in this life and the next. And that I will fight beside them to make it through.

Thank you, Ghostface and Mary J., for this prayer. —Kirsten West Savali, VP Content at iOne Digital & cultural critic

Stuntin’ on these bitches out of motherfuckin’ spite
Ain’t no runnin’ up on me, went from nothin’ to glory
I ain’t tellin’ y’all to do it, I’m just tellin’ my story
I don’t hang with these bitches ’cause these bitches be corny
And I got enough bras, y’all ain’t gotta support me

The pressure on your shoulders feel like boulders
When you gotta make sure that everybody straight
Bitches stab you in your back while they smilin’ in your face
Talking crazy on your name, trying not to catch a case
I waited my whole life just to shit on ***
Climbed to the top floor, so I can spit on ***

“Get Up 10,” Cardi B

My mom, who has been a preacher in The Bronx my whole life, would regularly tell kids in the congregation, “Great things have come out of The Bronx, so don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you want to do.” She gave me a similar sermon the first time I left home for college, but it was also the first time she went into detail as to all the ways I was about to discover how I was different from the students at my new predominantly white school. When I first heard this song, I felt such a swell of pride—not only because Cardi and I were from the same borough, but because it really captured how I felt about the journey to my own personal “top floor.” Plus it felt good to be honest that I also do certain things purely out of spite for people who told me I’d never get anywhere. —Shannon Melero, writer and Meteor newsletter editor 

Yo, my men and my women,
Don’t forget about the dean, Sirat al-Mustaqim

Talking out your neck sayin’ you’re a Christian
A Muslim sleeping with the gin

“Doo Wop (That Thing),” Lauryn Hill

I remember the first time I heard this song. I was raised Muslim and there weren’t any references to my religion in pop culture at the time. I felt so seen to know that an artist, especially Lauryn Hill, knew about Islam. And I was mesmerized by the way she wove it into a song about relationships and self-worth. I listened to the song over and over, and loved hearing it on the radio thinking (and hoping) how many people were noticing those same lyrics. I don’t recall the exact moment or song that made me a music head, but putting these words down—this may have been the moment I realized the power of words. —Ayesha Johnson, Meteor director of operations 

Pull up in the monster, automobile gangsta
With a bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka

Nicki Minaj’s riff on “Monster

This lyric always hypes me up if I’m feeling nervous about performing as a DJ or in my work as an activist/advocate. As someone who is from that particular place and does a multiplicity of things that fundamentally, to me, are about care, building power, and creating joy in a world that often doesn’t care for BIPOC and queer folks, I like the power of the lyric. It feels like she wrote that specifically for me. —Thanu Yakupitiyage (DJ Ushka), DJ & activist 

I put my lifetime in between the paper’s lines

“Quiet Storm,” Mobb Deep 

Prodigy’s vivid, cinematic lyricism struck a deep chord in me as a young poet coming of age in the ‘90s and as fate would have it, I later wound up authoring his memoir My Infamous Life with him. This line from “Quiet Storm” encapsulates so much about the power of storytelling—and reminds me of how, at its best, hip-hop transcends boundaries, unites us as a culture and force to be reckoned with, and has made so many poets’ dreams literally come true. —Laura Checkoway, filmmaker 

We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us
No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us
Birthdays was the worst days
Now we sip champagne when we thirsty

“Juicy,” The Notorious B.I.G.

In 1996, I went to college a beleaguered student who had gotten into college by the skin of my teeth. I wasn’t a great student, but I had also felt deeply misunderstood and overlooked in my predominantly white suburban school. My life and Biggie’s life were not the same, at all. But his rags-to-riches anthem spoke to me at 18, a young woman of color with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. His music had such an impact on me that I wrote my senior thesis on how to be a feminist and rap music fan. (tl;dr: my findings were inconclusive) A problematic fave, no doubt, but his music resonates with me to this day. —Samhita Mukhopadhyay, writer and Meteor editorial director