Since hip-hop began in The Big Apple, it’s only logical that women from the five boroughs, who witnessed its nativity and were around for its formative years, claimed many firsts. MC Sha Rock (aka Sharon Green), for example, of the group Funky 4 + 1, is universally acknowledged as the first female rapper on wax appearing on “Rapping and Rocking the House” and “That’s the Joint,” both of which were released on Sugar Hill Records between 1979-80. Meanwhile a 14-year-old Roxanne Shante (aka Lolita Shante Gooden) from the Queensbridge Houses busted the gates wide open for female MCs when she released the Marley Marl-produced “Roxanne’s Revenge” (Pop Art, 1984) sparking the infamous ‘Roxanne Wars’ with UTFO and Real Roxanne (aka Adelaida Martinez). But many forget about the huge impact of L.A.’s J.J. Fad, who scored a top ten Billboard hit on the Hot Dance/Club charts with 1988’s “Supersonic” (Ruthless/Atco), a certified gold single that was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1989.
This bevy of female MCs was comprised of a revolving cast featuring Juana Burns (MC J.B.), Juanita Lee (Crazy J), Fatima Shaheed (O.G. Rocker), Anna Cash (Lady Anna), Dania Burks (Baby D), and Michelle Franklin’ Ferrens (Sassy C), whose first-name initials spelled out the name of the group. The original line-up recorded “Supersonic” in 1987 as a B-side for “Anotha Ho” on Dream Team Records, but it was not until the song was rerecorded in April 1988 and released on its own that they started seeing some results. Produced by Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince (aka Kim Renard Nazel), a founding member of N.W.A., the track capitalized on the electro craze that dominated the west coast following the success of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” (1982). The lyrics were playful and braggadocious, also providing some of the first examples of double-time rhyming toward its conclusion. “Supersonic,” which also includes scratching by DJ Train, stayed on the dance charts for eight straight weeks, and none other than Dr. Dre credits its sales as helping to fund the promotion of N.W.A.’s landmark Straight Outta Compton album.
Though J.J. Fad may be considered a one-hit wonder today, they were pioneers in hip-hop’s mainstream acceptance as well as breaking glass ceilings for other females to follow. “Supersonic” also proved to have lasting cultural resonance, mentioned in tracks by The Beastie Boys (“Too Many Rappers”), Killa Mike (“Go!”) and Eminem (“Rap God”). It has also been sampled by will.i.am for the track “Fergalicious” as well as M.F. DOOM, who sampled part of the chorus for “Hoecakes” (off the Mm…Food LP). It just goes to show that in the macho landscape of rap, women have always held their own.