Trina vividly remembers shooting the music video that would mark her introduction to the world—Trick Daddy’s “Nann” in 1998. While the Miami rapper admits she was scared on set, it wasn’t because of the glow-in-the-dark body paint scenes, her iconic diamond bra or even that she was doing something she hadn’t done before. It was because somebody brought a tiger with them to work that day.

Trina’s mother, Vernesa Taylor, and her friends, who were also featured in the video, gathered at Trina’s house to watch the official cut when Slip-N-Slide Records CEO Ted Lucas sent a link. “I couldn’t believe it was me and I kept rewinding it,” Trina tells ESSENCE. At the time, she had no idea the four-minute video would mark the beginning of her 20-plus year career as “Da Baddest B-tch.”

Since her debut album was released on March 21, 2000, Trina has lived up to its title. Starting out at just 19 years old with no prior rap experience, she unapologetically carved out a space as a powerful alpha female, normalizing sexual agency for women in a male-dominant industry.

“Sometimes it’s like ‘wow’ to actually know that it’s been 20 years and you have fans who are consistently supporting you, following your performances and continuing to repeat your songs. It just honestly takes me away,” Trina says humbly.

At the time she was signed, Slip-N-Slide Records had no other female artist besides Trina. “These guys were macho and stuck in their own mindset and I had to break those barriers and put my foot down,” she explains. “Always going after what I believed in and staying true to myself was one of my strongest points. I was maneuvering my way and I didn’t let up off that.”

While onlookers may not have been aware of the internal battles Trina had to fight with her label, her stage presence offered a hint of the type of energy she carried when dealing with misogyny behind the scenes.

“Her attitude made room,” says music critic Briana Younger. “Trina helped normalize a particular way of being and rapping and commanding space on a track, and the words she used [then] are like a regular day at the office two decades on.” Adds Younger, who penned a piece for The New Yorker about the relationship between women and rap, “Her music was about power—sexual, financial and otherwise—that doesn’t need permission, and we’re still figuring out what that looks like even to this day. She made it okay to be exactly who you are with no cue cards.”

After “Nann” popped off, Trina was quietly mandated to push out an album right away while still trying to manage the ins and outs of touring, understanding performance cues and honing her stage presence. “I knew that was the record that broke the gate, that’s what got the deal but then I wanted something else.”

She remembers being on tour and looking out into the audience to see all of the women reciting her verse word for word. Trina wanted the same feeling of call-and-response from her audience, thus her first single “Da Baddest Chick” was born. She took a year on the road to evaluate the creative processes of her major influences—from Beyoncé to Janet Jackson—studying their show lengths and single-to-visual rollout plans to perfect her own album.

“I had all that time to think about how I wanted to do it because all I kept thinking about was going back on the road with my album without Trick and I’ve gotta do this myself. I came up with my way. The label sent me out my way and it’s been that way ever since.”

From uptempo dance to hardcore rap, there was a potpourri of musical inspiration around Trina which developed her appreciation for the diversity of sound within her city and beyond. 2 Live Crew’s Uncle Luke was her first taste of the Miami music scene. As she got older, Trina began to listen to Poison Clan’s JT Money, Tre+6 and Trick as Florida expanded its influence in rap with artists like Pitbull and Carol City’s own Rick Ross. 

“Miami has grown into one of the biggest Southern places next to Atlanta when it comes down to music,” she says shouting out other artists from the Sunshine state like Kodak Black and Flo Rida. “It just grew out of nowhere. Once [Miami] artists started collaborating with artists from up north, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, our sound became the sound. It’s a sound that everybody is using and everybody is wanting to implement in their music.”

That statement rings true today when you look at the rappers who are dominating the charts. “The clearest, straight line I can make to her impact today is the City Girls,” says music and culture journalist Naima Cochrane. “They are Trina’s daughters all day, every day. You can hear it in their flow and subject matter. This is Trina’s impact right here. When you look at Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls and even Cardi B, Trina, Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim wrapped together really kicked down the doors of not only feminism but brash ownership of the weaponization of your sexuality.”

Cochrane notes that women rappers matching their male counterparts’ energy with their talent, lyricism and flow was “some whole other shi-t” at that time. “When you match Trina up with the rappers that came before her, she just allowed for a greater level of ‘don’t give a f-ckness,’ and I love that.”

As celebratory as Trina’s ability to take charge is, the reality is she didn’t have much of a choice. “I don’t feel like a lot of the men, especially men in power, stand up in their position and hold on to the women who are about to fall over the Titanic and make sure the ship doesn’t sink. It doesn’t feel like that and I think that it should be,” the 46-year-old says. “These are the men that we came into the industry looking up to. As a woman, when you look up to a man, you want to feel protected. We do need a lot more respect and men who will stand up when they need to. That needs to be the new normal.”

Until that protection becomes the standard, Trina has given new generations of women language for how to love themselves and weed out misogyny, sexism, homophobia and patriarchy.

“Trina’s self-identification as ‘Da Baddest Bitch’ articulates her own sense of desirability. She doesn’t require external validation,” says Dr. Treva Lindsey, an associate professor with expertise in hip-hop studies, Black feminism and sexual politics at The Ohio State University. “Trina has consistently offered rap anthems for women who refuse to acquiesce to retrograde and, frankly, sexist expectations for how women talk about their sexuality. In a world that so often denies Black women’s right to pleasure, her music rejects sexist and patriarchal norms about how women express desire.”

Though she coined the term “baddest b-tch” some two decades ago, its definition still holds firm today. “It’s you being in the element of your strength. As strong as you’re gonna be, that’s your inner baddest b-tch,” she says. “I never folded, I didn’t have to hate on anybody, I didn’t have to cross anybody or fall out with anyone because I’m not on that vibe. My frequency is on a whole other level.”

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