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How TikTok Became the Home for the Rising Female Rappers of Gen Z

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
From Lola Brooke and Billy B’s “Don’t Play With It” to Maiya The Don’s “Telfy,” the social platform has proven to be the place for the next generation of femcees.

Long gone are the days in which A&Rs had to travel to the projects to discover a new artist like Roxanne Shanté and artists resorted to sneaking mixtapes into their favorite producer’s car like Da Brat did with Jermaine Dupri before being signed to So So Def. Now, the music stars of tomorrow are able to share their new music with the world with the push of a plus button on an app, sit back, and cross their fingers hoping for virality as largely determined by the 18-25 age demographic.

That’s right, we’re talking about TikTok.

In addition to being a tool for makeup tutorials, cooking hacks, funny animal voiceovers, and digestible news content, the social media app formerly known as Musical.ly until its rebrand in 2018 has become a go-to platform for music, entertainment, and snackable videos running the pop culture gamut. Particularly when it comes to music, TikTok has become a place for content creators and influencers to discover new tracks, or even updated versions of their favorite older songs.

From sped-up versions of RAYE’s “Escapism” and Justine Skye’s “Collide” to the remix of Coi Leray’s “Players,” TikTok has rapidly stamped itself in the industry as the main character in the love story between technology and music. Specifically during the pandemic, we saw increased attention and demand for female rappers for quick hits of virality and choreography, with BIA’s “Best on Earth” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body” and “Savage” ranking among the biggest of these breakouts.

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As VIBE Staff Writer DeMicia Inman describes it, TikTok has become a key pillar in the amplification of trending music and has ultimately changed the way that we search for, discover, and consume new artists.

“I think Tiktok has proven to be a platform for rising artists by allowing them the chance to have a viral moment with their original music. Through the app, they are not only showcasing their songs but also branding themselves through voiceovers, style videos, and using filters just like other users on the app,” Inman told Boardroom. “I think TikTok has changed the way we consume music in various ways — one is the rise of the mash-up. DJs have used TikTok to highlight their skills and in turn allowed listeners to imagine their favorite songs in different ways, oftentimes leading to music rediscovery. For example, Beyonce’s official remix for ‘Cuff It’ started as a viral TikTok sound.” 

Rapper Lakeyah performs (Prince Williams/Wireimage)

Fast forward to February 2023,  “CUFF IT (WETTER REMIX)” was released to the Beyhive in response to DJ Esentrik’s viral mashup of the acclaimed Renaissance hit with Twista’s 2009 hit “Wetter.” What do we have to thank for that? TikTok.

“I think the platform specifically serves as a home for rising female rap artists music to lead digital trends and in-turn gain new fans and wider audiences. Some of the biggest TikTok trends can be attributed to Black women rap artists,” Inman said. Pointing to examples such as Erica Banks’ “Buss It”, Doja Cat’s “Streets,” and Cardi B’s “Up,” she noted that each of these eventual TikTok breakout tracks enjoyed early viral moments as the app gained popularity throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think women rappers shine on the app not only through their music, but also through their personalities. Female rap artists also get to be themselves on TikTok,” Inman continued. “Baby Tate, Lola Brooke, Rico Nasty, Big Boss Vette, Latto, Lakeyah, Monaleo, Flo Milli, and more all show themselves freestyling, cooking, previewing music, or getting glammed up, adding an element of uniqueness to their already solidified brands. The app is one place on the internet where female rappers are allowed and encouraged to thrive and showcase that their creativity and talent for fans to engage with.”

Specifically for the rise of this current generation of rap music and the artists who create it, TikTok has ultimately proven to be the go-to venue for discovering some of the hottest creators that may not be dominating Apple Music and Spotify or holding down real estate on the Billboard Hot 100.

A prime example would be GloRilla, who blew up following her summer breakout hit “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)” (over 391,500 total creations to date). The Memphis-bred rapper earned her first-ever Billboard Hot 100 placement, a BET Award for Best Breakthrough Artist, and Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance, and a first RIAA Gold certification for “Tomorrow 2” featuring Cardi B (over 786,000 total creations). 

GloRilla is just one of the many female rap success stories to evolve out of the music industry’s budding relationship with the social media platform — a relationship that has already resulted in some first-time Grammy nominations and breakout records and several new collaborations, branded campaigns, and more. Other examples include (but aren’t limited to) Ice Spice’s drill-infused “Munch (Feeling’ U),” KenTheMan’s Trina-sampling “Not My N***a,” mommy-to-be Monaleo’s “We Not Humping” remix with Flo Milli, and Maiya The Don’s “Telfy.”

Latto performs during the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella)

“TikTok is the go-to platform for music discovery where the community has democratized how we are introduced to music. One of the platform’s most exciting and influential communities on TikTok is Women in Hip-hop. The amount of trends and artists introduced in the past year alone is remarkable and TikTok has been a major player in that,” a TikTok spokesperson exclusively told Boardroom. “When artists are authentic and organic with engaging content, the TikTok community relates to an artist will see a level of success on the platform. We see this firsthand with female rappers on the platform. Many women who have experienced trending moments are all engaged with their communities on the platform.”

Specifically, this company representative leaned into Maiya The Don’s Sept. 2022 teaser named after the “Bushwick Birkin” bag created by Telfar Clemens as a primary example. Leaning heavily into both beauty and comedy content, users began engaging with the sound which led to the official release of “Telfy” on Oct. 7. Since then, the snippet sound has amassed over 26,000 creations.

“Maiya is the perfect example of transforming your artistry and diversifying your niches,” the TikTok spokesperson said.

For Maiya The Don, TikTok provided her with the platform to get her music off the ground. In fact, the rapper noted that the social media app essentially served as “the birthplace of my career” and a starting point for hip-hop stardom.

“TikTok is a platform where music thrives. I’d say that’s why it’s more of a tool for upcoming artists,” the “Dusties” rapper told Boardroom. “Social media is the best marketing strategy. It’s the source of all news, music, and pop culture. It’s impossible to support your career without it.”

One of the internet’s favorite TikTok success stories is that of Brooklyn rapper Lola Brooke, whose video for “Don’t Play With It” has amassed over 30 million YouTube views and over eight million Spotify streams to date.

Following a resurfaced clip of Lola Brooke’s live performance of “Don’t Play With It” going viral on TikTok, she began to earn well-deserved traction as a rapper on the rise, and even secured an official remix of the song with Yung Miami and Latto. Earning co-signs from everyone from Kim Kardashian and Pusha T to Cardi B and Flo Milli, the latter of whom included her and Maiya The Don on her remix of “Conceited.”

The 4-foot-9 rapper even managed to snag a spot in a Timberland campaign — one that could potentially catapult her right into the intriguing intersection of hip-hop and high fashion where rappers such as JT and GloRilla are likewise finding ways to dominate.

“It’s funny because I knew that song would blow up on TikTok, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how it would. I love how it all played out, though — natural and organic support from people who felt the track’s energy and saw the need to make it their energy,” Lola Brooke told Boardroom about the resurfacing of “Don’t Play With It” on TikTok playing a large part in where her rap career is today. “I had to take a step back and ask myself if this was happening in real life or in a dream. It’s a grateful feeling to see a viral moment for your art. People make viral moments, and knowing that thousands or even millions of people out there support your music is the best feeling. On TikTok, you get the chance to see the support in some of the most creative ways possible.”

GloRilla performs on the Coachella Stage (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Coachella)

To aspiring artists, the “So DISRESPECTFUL” spitter encourages rappers on the rise to lean on social media as a tool to get their music to the masses while staying authentic to the personal brand that they began with.

“You sometimes have to meet your audience, or future audience, where they are,” she said. “Some people only use social media to discover new music so you gotta make sure you cater to them. You want to let that same audience know who you are as an artist, too. Going viral is dope, but keeping that support from that moment is just as important.”

According to EDITION by Modern Luxury Editor-in-Chief Bianca Gracie, while music discovery platforms such as Spotify and TIDAL have existed for quite some time, TikTok has effortlessly become a frontrunner since 2020 by providing a refreshing sense of comfort and entertainment during a time when we were all left to our devices.

“It’s been really crucial in discovery because literally anyone could pick up their phone, record a video to a viral song, and then they could get views that way rather than having to be signed to a major or independent label in order to get your song heard on a music streaming platform. That accessibility has really helped,” Gracie said in praise of TikTok’s ability to boost rising artists from around the world with the push of a button.

When it comes specifically to the portrayal and elevation of Black women, too, Gracie believes that the app breaks down barriers and allows space for unapologetic authenticity, especially when it comes to rap and hip-hop femcees. “I feel like the app has broken the facade of what Black women should be,” she said.

As an avid user of the app itself, Gracie notes that she sees different shades, hues, shapes, and sizes of Black women with various talents, hobbies, and storytimes — there are no barriers and no hierarchy on TikTok.

“As someone who’s scrolling, you could see yourself throughout all of these women, and there’s no one way that you could be Black. I think that’s really reflective in the rappers that we’ve seen, because each rapper that I’ve seen really blow up on TikTok, they all have their own sense of style, their own sense of rapping their flows, and there’s room for all of them,” she said. “It’s not like there’s this gatekeeping, so to speak, where only one or two women can have their moment. TikTok has really helped create an open format for these Black women to really express themselves. I think self-expression and creativity has really lent them to be as popular as they are now.”


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About The Author
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown is the Music and Entertainment Editor at Boardroom. Prior to joining the Boardroom team, she served as the Associate Editor at ESSENCE and Girls United, ESSENCE's Generation Z platform. Through the years, the Spelman College graduate has amassed bylines in entertainment, fashion, beauty, wellness, and business across For(bes) The Culture, HYPEBAE, Byrdie, HighSnobiety, xoNecole, REVOLT, and more.