How Sha-Rock's legacy as the first woman MC got buried in the hip-hop archive : Louder Than A Riot Decades before hip-hop's current renaissance of women rappers, there was MC Sha-Rock. Despite her influence on future generations, her contribution to the craft of hip-hop is not widely known. In this episode, we break down legacy: who gets to leave one in hip-hop and who gets left out.

Baby girl, you're only funky as your last cut: MC Sha-Rock

Baby girl, you're only funky as your last cut: MC Sha-Rock

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MC Sha-Rock. Amanda Howell Whitehurst/Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR hide caption

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Amanda Howell Whitehurst/Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR

MC Sha-Rock.

Amanda Howell Whitehurst/Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR

In 1981, MC Sha-Rock and her group, the Funky 4 + 1, were invited to perform on Saturday Night Live. It was one of the first nationally televised rap performances ever, expanding the reach of the nascent genre to mainstream audiences who might never have heard or seen it before. It was almost certainly the first time many viewers had seen a woman rapping. But little did SNL's audience know that Sha-Rock was hiding something — for the sake of the group's continued success, and for her own survival.

As sole woman in the Funky 4 + 1, Sha-Rock was its secret weapon. But just as often, she found that status led her to be treated as a token or accessory, even within the group — a dynamic that helped lead to its eventual demise. Sha-Rock's own legacy was damaged by that double standard, too: Part of why she isn't remembered as an originator is that hip-hop's canon has been curated mostly by men. As music critic Clover Hope tells it, "History is what a dominant group decides as fact."

In this episode, we dig into the knotty story of Sha-Rock, the first female MC, to understand how deep hip-hop's double standards really go.

To follow along with the music in this episode, check out the Louder Than A Riot playlists on Apple Music & Spotify. We'll update them every week.

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Audio story produced by Mano Sundaresan
Audio story edited by Soraya Shockley
Audio story engineered by Gilly Moon
Podcast theme and original music by Suzi Analogue and Kassa Overall
Fact-checking by Jane Gilvin and Sarah Knight