When hip-hop was in its infancy in the mid-’70s, very few took the art form seriously. As its popularity and influence grew in the ’80s, it was hard for MCs to get respect and damn near impossible for women MCs to be recognized. That changes with the Kennedy Center’s I Am Woman: A Celebration of Women in Hip Hop, part of the space’s 50th anniversary celebration. Hosted by hip-hop legend MC Lyte (a founding member of the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council), the evening includes performances by renowned women rappers, hip-hop artists, and MCs including Da Brat, Monie Love, Yo Yo, Remy Ma, Mumu Fresh, and Tierra Whack. Today, women artists consistently outperform men in sales, streaming, and general interest—in 2020, five women rappers topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart—so it might be hard for younger generations to comprehend the sheer chutzpah it took for these artists to pursue a career in hip-hop. But Lyte was the first solo woman MC to release an album on a major label and both she and Love were still teenagers when their debuts dropped. “When I saw MC Lyte, I wanted to be MC Lyte,” Da Brat says in the ABC News special The Real Queens of Hip-Hop: The Women Who Changed the Game (2021). “She was the tomboy to me and I could relate to her.” Lyte and Love were the original “you have to work twice as hard to get half as much” MCs, clawing their way to respect and popularity, while guiding women and girls coming up behind them. Da Brat, in turn, became the first solo woman rapper to sell a million records. Together, they normalized the idea that women in hip-hop should and would be respected through chart hits, Grammy nominations (nine total between them), film and television appearances. In short, these groundbreakers paved the way for the likes of Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Nicki Minaj. April 15 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. $49–$149.

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