Now Reading
Do You Know the First Female MC? Her Name Is Sha-Rock and This Is Her Story

Do You Know the First Female MC? Her Name Is Sha-Rock and This Is Her Story

The voices of MCs carry a certain flow and power that matches the beat of the music. MC (or emcee) stands for microphone controller or master of ceremonies. While the name is given to anyone who can put an audience into a trance with their lyrical skills, the title is most often associated with men.

According to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which analyzed 700 top songs on Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 chart between 2012 and 2018, women make up a small percentage of the music industry. Only 21.7 percent of artists were women, 12.3 percent were songwriters, and 2.1 percent were producers.

Because the industry favors the male chromosome, many female rappers spend their careers trying to get a fraction of the attention their male counterparts receive. One woman, in particular, has endured the brunt of this inequality. 

Sha-Rock, the first female MC to be a part of a mainstream hip-hop group, has helped set the foundation for what rap is today. Yet few people know who she is. 

Who is Sha-Rock?

Sha-Rock, also known as Sharon Green, was featured on the NPR podcast Louder Than a Riot, where she reclaims the fame the music industry took from her.

Growing up in the birthplace of hip-hop, the Bronx in New York City, Sha-Rock became a part of the cultural renaissance as a b-girl, or a breakdancer.

“As a woman growing up, hip-hop and pop culture has always meant peace, unity, love, and having fun.” Sha-Rock shared with Psychology Today

Sha-Rock embodied these four principles on the dance floor. You could often find her breaking dancing at parties and clubs throughout the Bronx. One day she was introduced to an opportunity to audition for the hip-hop group Funky 4, an opportunity Sha-Rock didn’t take lightly. She wrote her rhymes and practiced relentlessly. When it came time for her to audition, she nailed it.

From that moment, she was signed to Enjoy Records and became part of Funky 4. At the time she was only 17 years old on the cusp of turning 18. With Sha-Rock, the group eventually moved to Sugarhill Records and rebranded to Funky 4+1, a rebrand meant to single Sha-Rock out. 

How Sha-Rock set the foundations for rap

When Sha-Rock joined the group, their success exploded. Other rap groups struggled to find female rappers to compete with the Funky 4+1. Yet, Sha-Rock was an untouchable artist. 

The Funky 4+1 performed in some of the first-ever rap battles. During these events, the group had to perform so well that they maintained the audience’s attention while keeping the peace. Although the hip-hop era was booming with new sounds and music, violence and drug use plagued communities. Thus having a prominent hip-hop group perform at an event or party meant everyone would be temporarily united through music.

Sha-Rock had unique rhymes that engaged the crowd. Although her rapping style was enough to entertain the public, she took things to the next level using an echo chamber. This device would repeat the last word of her rhyme and loop it to create an echo. With this tool, Sha-Rock created an unforgettable performance. She was so influential that other rappers, such as DMC from Run DMC, replicated her technique. 

“Sha-Rock’s presence, soul, spirit, and sound of her voice is one of the inspiring motivations that encouraged me to pick up a mic and try to MC,” DMC tells DX by email. “She had a confidence and control that broke through and captured and held your attention prisoner! Her dominating delivery, presented with ease, smoothness, and great rhyme, is mesmerizing. And it was amazing to hear her vocals in the echo chamber.”

The success of Funky 4+1 was unstoppable. Not only did they play at parties and shows, but they also played to atypical crowds. They performed at high-end places such as the Kitchen and the Ritz and introduced hip-hop to new listeners. 

“We got a lot of write-ups in the Village Voice, and the punk rockers would come to see us and go crazy. That’s why you see footage of us in the Kitchen and hole-in-the-wall places, and these places were packed,” Sha-Rock explained to The Foundation

The performance that introduced hip-hop to the world

Because of their appeal to diverse audiences, the group was invited to perform on Saturday Night Live. The network wanted to introduce hip-hop on television in a wholesome and appropriate way for all audiences. Since Funky 4+1 had a woman in the group, it automatically made them more palatable. 

The SNL performance was life-changing, not only for the group but for the progression of hip-hop. It meant being the first group to present hip-hop music to the world. Hip-hop was no longer confined to clubs and house parties. Performing on network television meant hip-hop entered the homes of families and listeners worldwide. Funky4+1 was the first hip hop group to perform on network television.

As exciting as this performance was, the timing of it was problematic for Sha-Rock. No one in her group knew she was pregnant. Thus when she went to perform, she was uncomfortable and in pain. Yet she powered through for the group.

After the performance, she told her group members the truth, and they were unhappy. Sha-Rock accepted their disappointment and stepped away from the music scene to have her baby. After having her baby, Sha-Rock returned to the music scene, trusting her manager Sylvia Robinson would take care of her. Yet Sha-Rock never received compensation for the music she created. Eventually, Sha-Rock decided to leave the group.

She later connected with other female MCs, such as Queen Lisa Lee and Debbie Dee. All three women performed in the movie Beat Street as the hip-hop group Us Girls. However, Sha-Rock couldn’t take the group any further because she was bound to her contract by Sugarhill Records. Thus Sha-Rock faded out of the music scene just like the lights dimming at the end of a show.

Sha-rock’s passion for hip-hop has never died down, and neither did her fight to get what was due to her and the members of Funky 4. After a decade of struggling, Sha-Rock and the Funky 4 won their lawsuit against Sugarhill Records and finally received past-due payments. You can listen to how she overcame this battle on the Louder Than a Riot podcast.

Over the years Sha-Rock has learned to become financially stable and took up a career in law enforcement. As a result, she can now continue her passion for hip-hop without the financial burden. 

Sha-Rock became known as the “Mother of the Mic.” She also wrote a book Luminary Icon about her life and her impact on fashion. 

Why her story matters

Sha-rock’s story is not uncommon. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Koko Taylor, Black women’s stories in history are often untold. 

Throughout her career, Sha-Rock had to fight for her legacy. She knew she had to speak up for herself or no one would. Thus, her story reminds women to fight for what is right and what they deserve. 

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
Scroll To Top