As we celebrate 50 years of hip hop, let’s take a moment to put the spotlight on MC Sha Rock! Known as one of the first female emcees, MC Sha Rock is a significant icon in hip hop history.
Charlie Ahearn, Photograph of Sha-Rock, The Valley, NYC, 1980. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture / © Charlie Ahearn.
MC Sha Rock, whose birth name is Sharon Green, entered the world on October 25, 1962, in Wilmington, North Carolina. She grew up in the South Bronx, New York City, during the early beginnings of hip hop in the late 1970s. Sha Rock began her journey with hip hop as a local B-girl (breakdancer) in 1976, and followed the famous B-Boys group Keith and Kevin Smith, known as the Legendary Twins, as they appeared around the Bronx at various house parties and park jams. If it was part of hip hop, Sha Rock was there! Though thehip hop scene was very male dominated, Sha Rock was determined to be part of it. Lots of people in the hip hop scene shared similar struggles, and the music was an escape from all that, at least for a while.
I mean, just being out there in the street and just listening to some of this, the sounds and the music and the percussion — it just gave you a feeling like you could just take on the world. It just empowered you as a woman. – MC Sha Rock
After being asked to audition for an MC spot by a member of the group “Brothers Disco Work,” she wrote her rhyme for the audition on the bus ride home from school. There was a big crowd auditioning for the MC spot, but Sha Rock was the only female. The group loved her flow and rhyme and chose her as their next MC! This prominent position led to her being known as the first female emcee in 1977, alongside two male MCs, Keith Keith and K.K. Rockwell. In 1978, the group added Rahiem to the list of MCs and changed their name to the “Funky 4.” They would participate in the first, what is now known as rap battles, with Grandmaster Flash’s group called the Furious Four. Sha Rock was also the first female MC to ever do a rap battle against someone else!
She decided to leave the group after Rahiem was kicked out of the group. While she and Rahiem were close, she didn’t know what led to his departure. Rehiem then joined Grandmaster’s Furious Four, becoming the Furious 5. After some time, Sha Rock decided to come back to the group, and with the addition of new members, they changed their name to the “Funky 4+1.” They thought, why not the “Funky 5”? However their manager didn’t want to compete with the name “Furious 5.” Sha Rock recalls the new name felt sort of odd because she was part of the original 4, and the name made it seem like she was the “plus one” as the sole female. The label didn’t affect her impact on the art of hip hop and MCing, influencing other hip hop pioneers such as Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC.
In October of 1979, Sha Rock got her first record deals as the Funky 4 + 1 and recorded their first song. Soon after this, Sugarhill Records was interested in having Sha Rock join their label instead. Eventually they negotiated with her previous label, called “Enjoy,” and joined Sugarhill Records within a year. Later, Sha Rock did a Saturday Night Live performance with the Funky 4 + 1 while keeping a little secret from the rest of the group: she was pregnant. Despite emotions and physical pain that pregnancy can bring on, she went out there and put on an incredibly iconic performance.
After the other members of the group found out she was pregnant, they seemed to feel that it would hinder their success. They were all at the height of their careers. This led to two members of the Funky 4+1 leaving the group. Sha Rock was scared and was trying to figure out her next move. She wanted to fall back in love with the culture of hip hop again and get back the spark that made her want to be part of hip hop when she was first introduced to it as a B-girl. According to Sha Rock, she decided to take a step back from recording after staying with her label and not seeing any money or credits coming through for her work. Nobody was informing her of what she was selling, or pretty much anything. She was broke, and considering the work she was doing, this didn’t make any sense. She was still signed to Sugarhill?, so she was a bit stuck in this situation. She felt the only way she could handle it at the time was letting her contract run out and then move on from there.
Her next moved involved getting together with Lisa Lee and Debbie D, who are both pioneers among female MCs. They were good friends of hers. She was signed to a label, but the other girls were not. They ended up auditioning for a movie called Beat Street, where they performed together for a scene. Sha Rock was able to get permission from her label on one condition: that Melle Mel from Grandmaster Flash the Furious Five had to write the hook and the song to Beat Street.
To this day, MC Sha Rock is considered one of the best in the hip hop scene, and her impact is prominent for representing women in music. She received several awards including the Honorary Award from the Council of New York and The Women’s Distinction Award by The Hip Hop Culture Center in Harlem.
To this day MC Sha Rock is considerded one of the best and her impact for representing women in music. She broke barriers for other women in hip-hop. She’s recieved several awards including awards such as the Honorary Award from the Council of New York and The Women’s Distinction Award by The Hip Hop Culture Center in Harlem.
The misconception is that it was a male-dominated field, and the females just came on the scene later. No, the males didn’t dominate anything. We were always there. – MC Sha Rock
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