Almost from the moment Azealia Banks broke out last September with the viral smash "212," the 20-year-old Harlemite was beefing with today's top female rappers. First, she tweeted hate at Kreayshawn: "You're a dumb bitch. And you can't rap. I'll sit on your face … Fall back slut." Next, she called out the hip-hop bible XXL for featuring Australian sexpot Iggy Azalea on its cover despite a questionable lyric: "How can you endorse a white woman who called herself a runaway slave master?" Banks even accused rap royal Nicki Minaj of sitting too pretty on her throne: "The butt, the hair, the this, the that, all the other shit, like … As much respect that I have for her, we've seen you do this already, what else can you do?"

Minaj didn't respond (itself a classic power move), but she did raise the heat on her own ongoing feud with Lil' Kim with a track called "Stupid Hoe": "Bitch talking she the queen, when she looking like a lab rat." Ouch.

The gods of hip-hop have lived in relatively peaceful coexistence ever since Jay-Z and Nas ended their legendary war in 2005. Now the beef is back—except it's the ladies throwing down, while the guys are … brooding. Take Drake, who reacted with all the rage of a wounded wannabe—rather than the No. 1-selling artist he is—after being mocked by Common for his singing. "It was just disappointing," Drake said. "A guy who made such an incredible career for himself based off expressing genuine feelings about life and love is now targeting me for sharing my story."

Drake heads up a new class of male MCs (A$AP Rocky and ScHoolboy Q are also members; call Kanye West the godfather) who've been making some of the most innovative hip-hop in years by incorporating vulnerability into their verses and personas. Meanwhile, their equally original female counterparts are making the most of their time in the ring. It's not like the women of rap haven't talked smack before—as far back as 1984, 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté took on the all-male rap group UTFO in the classic dis track "Roxanne's Revenge." But what's changed is the opportunity for self-expression outside the traditional major-label system and its hidebound gender norms. "In the Internet age, we don't want cookie-cutter rappers anymore, especially with women," says Erika Ramirez, editor of Billboard's blog The Juice. "If you do have one rapper similar to another, with females, that's when the beef starts."

Sowmya Krishnamurthy, cohost of MTV's Hip-Hop POV, agrees. "Nicki Minaj is an alter-ego-changing fashionista. Odd Future's Syd the Kid proudly wears her amorphous sexuality. The new norm is individuality: Be who you are and the fans will follow." So is it any surprise that Banks bashed Minaj after being widely described as "the next Nicki Minaj"?

Despite this new wave of unconventional, outspoken female rappers, hip-hop is still a male-dominated genre, as Azalea—who's cultivated her own, distinct brand of surreal swag—acknowledges: "It's harder for women. We don't get a lot of the same looks, which means it needs to be this knock-down-drag-out for no fucking reason." But Banks is using beef in a time-honored way: to get attention. When T.I. gave a radio interview defending Azalea, his protégée, Banks took to Twitter: "Come on T.I… . Niggas is not scared of u and whatever shit u got to say on some radio show." Give her credit: At least she's an equal-opportunity disser.

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