EARLIER this year, a handful of hard-core female rappers gave their sexist male counterparts a taste of their own medicine. But female rap never existed solely to respond to men's sexism. Women have been rapping as long as men, and most sisters, like the ones below, are more interested in delivering messages than going misogynists one up in mudslinging.

To hear a Sound Bite from these albums, call 202/334-9000 and press the number following each review.

Queen Latifah "Nature of a Sista' " (Tommy Boy). With her 1989 debut album, "All Hail the Queen," Queen Latifah established a reputation of excellence on the mike -- which is why this weak follow up is a royal disappointment. Notably missing are her ardently pro-feminist lyrics, her ace producer, DJ Mark the 45 King, and an agenda. The result is a very forgettable album of woefully drab music, heavy on empty boasting and light on direction. Ten of her 12 songs sound like filler, with only her new single "Fly Girl" -- an uninspired commentary on guys' pickup lines -- and the dance hall grooves of "Sexy Fancy" barely standing out.

For a Sound Bite, press 8102.

MC Lyte "Act Like You Know" (First Priority/Atlantic). On her third album, Lyte proves she shines brightest among female rappers. Eighteen well-written songs, a mixture of deliveries, and fresh beats and samples give her a rough, tough and psychedelic symmetry. Lyte articulately tackles serious topics such as AIDS, drug abuse, abortion, drunk driving and obsessive love on cuts like "Eyes Are the Soul," "Poor Georgie" (which brilliantly incorporates an old Toto sample) and her current single, "When in Love." When off the serious subjects, she's a devilishly funny and clever storyteller, and a ruthless competitor-slayer -- especially when she goes after other rappers on "Kamikaze."

For a Sound Bite, press 8103.

Oaktown's 3.5.7 "Fully Loaded" (Bustit/Capitol). These M.C. Hammer proteges are back and fully loaded, but for the most part, they're still shooting blanks. Unlike on the women's last album, Oakland rappers Terrible T and Sweet L. D. are writing more of the material, although as writers they're no great shakes. Songs like "Turn it Up," "It's Really Goin' On" and "That's Why We're Doing It" are fluffy, Hammeresque roof-raisers, while "All Over You" and "(Miss U) Come Back to Me" are at best "Quiet Storm" R&B imitations.

For a Sound Bite, press 8104.

Nikki D "Daddy's Little Girl" (Def Jam/Columbia). Don't let the album title fool you. Nikki D admits, through her infectious title track, that playing the role of daddy's little girl was a ruse for her teenage wildness, which leads to an unexpected pregnancy. Other seemingly autobiographical and intelligent songs such as "Hang On Kid" and "The Beauty Shop," address themes of trying to fit in and developing self-esteem. The album's second half makes Nikki D, who opens for 3rd Bass Monday at the 9:30 club, seem schizophrenic. She both discourages and champions promiscuity on five songs and kicks disturbingly homophobic rhymes about a fictional bisexual boyfriend on the sixth.

For a Sound Bite, press 8105.

Lady Levi "The Legend of Lady Levi" (Funki Dred/Motown). The Jamaican-born Lady Levi comes out of the Soul II Soul stable with a very respectable album, produced mostly by reggae artists Steely & Cleevie. Levi raps, sings and toasts her way through several strong, enjoyable dancehall jams such as "Looking for a Dope Beat," "Rude Boys" and "Borrow Man Girl," which are reminiscent of Shelly Thunder. When she gets serious and raps about racial equality on "Not This Generation" and poverty and homelessness on "Reality," her writing exceeds her rapping. Lady Levi's rapping delivery still needs work, but she's built a good musical foundation to work from.

For a Sound Bite, press 8106.