Photo Graphic: Okayplayer
"Let’s Have A Sex Talk": The Eras of Sex Talk By Black Women In Hip-Hop
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's explicit anthem "WAP" is the most talked-about song of the year. But it's not unprecedented. Hip-hop has a long history of sexual anthems from women rappers.
On August 7th, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion debuted their radical, sexually explicit song “WAP.” From the beginning, the song is direct and clear: “Certified freak, seven days a week. Wet Ass Pussy, makes that pull out game weak.” The song is accompanied by a Frank Ski sample that repeats “There’s some whores in this house” like a church choir chant praising the divine.
The new sexual anthem, which broke streaming records in its debut week, has caused conservative figures and politicians alike to openly speak out about an absence of respectability and conformity. But that’s indeed the point. It should not be a revelatory act for Black women to boast about their pussies and how they prefer it to be pleasured, yet here we are – and not for the first time.
Over the past four decades in hip-hop, candid sexual anthems have been an arena in which female rappers — with or without vaginas — and queer artists vocalize their standards for sexual satisfaction. They're sharing their own carnal sermons. Their ministry is for those who want to hear their words, which often incites a camaraderie between free-loving ride-or-dies shaking their asses on one another while rapping along in electrifying praise.
The different phases of "sex talk" in women's rap music have undulated much like their witty bars have over rippling beats. Their influence can be surveyed by looking at the different eras of women rappers from Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott, and Trina to contemporaries like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Historically, Black women’s bodies have been shrouded in shame and used at the whims of financial gain purely for the pleasure of others. Violence, sexism, racial tropes, and more all play a large part in female rappers’ music. The songs created by these and many other women not only allow them to rhythmically explore their erotic pleasantries but allow Black women to rehearse their explicitness on this empowered journey towards holistic freedom.
Sex talk has always been a major part of America's mainstream music culture. But for Black women, the roots of lyrical lucidity can be directly tied to blues music.
"[Songs were] often about a soured love, a wild night, erotic desires or 'cooking' — i.e. sex," Alexandria Cunningham, a Ph.D. Candidate in African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas, said. According to Cunningham, dirty blues music — a blues subgenre between the mid-1920s and 1960s — set the precedent for sexual euphemisms and confessional storytelling.
In her 2019 thesis, "Make It Nasty: Black Women's Sexual Anthems and the Evolution of Erotic Stage," Cunningham wrote that blues functioned as an indirect site for discussing "multiple pleasures such as shifting gender roles, financial insecurity, mental and social escape, drug use, and sexual fantasy."
Although dirty blues was dominated by men, with notable selections like Bo Carter's "Please Warm My Weiner" from 1930 and The Swallows' "It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion)" from 1952 (a popular hit that was yanked from radio station broadcasts at the time), women were also contributing anthems that were just as vivid in language as their male counterparts – the difference is that Black women’s themes touched more on "domestic metaphors."
Julia Lee's "King Size Papa" from 1948 (used in the 1999 film Life which featured comedians Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy) — is an example of this:
"King size papa, he's my king size papa. He's a real super daddy and he knows just what to do."
Cunningham said songs like Lee's gave way for sex talk in genres that superseded the blues: R&B, funk, soul, and hip-hop.
Let's Talk About Sex, Baby: The Early Years
Photo Credit: Tim Roney/Getty Images
Hip-hop culture began as an underground movement in the Bronx in New York in the 1970s. Brown and Black youths used hip-hop as a means for self-expression, and as an escape from violence, poverty and drug use that plagued the city due to inequities. The Mercedes Ladies, Sha-Rock, and Lisa Lee were among some of the first female MCs and girl groups to pop up on the hip-hop scene. But it would be West Coast gangsta rap's rise in the late '80s that would give the genre its first instances of explicit women rappers.
Too Short, one of the first rappers to include explicit lyrics like "bitch" in his music, featured two women rappers — Barbie and Entice of the Danger Zone — on his song "Don't Fight the Feelin'" from 1989's Life Is...Too Shortalbum. Short boasts about his sexual abilities to an uncaring and unwanting Barbie and Entice during his first verse, declaring:
"You want flowers, I'll buy your ass a rose
But later on you're coming off with them pantyhose."
Both Barbie and Entice chop down the male rapper in response, rapping:
"Do they call you $hort because of your height or your weight?
Diss me boy, I'll hang your balls from a cliff."
Barbie and Entice exemplify a type of direct rejection of the rapper's unprepossessing lyrics. By claiming that they're both not "dick pleasers" they're putting their own sexual gratification on the table first.
Barbie and Entice were the antitheses to Short's pimp persona and an early embodiment of women recognizing and embracing their sexuality in hip-hop. This continued on in the early '90s with Salt-N-Pepa and TLC, groups that both confidently expressed their sexuality while promoting healthy discussions around banging.
In 1990, Salt-N-Pepa released "Let's Talk About Sex," which featured the memorable hook, "Let's talk about all the good things/ And the bad things that may be." (The NYC group also released an alternate version titled "Let's Talk About AIDS," with the lyrics changed to more directly address AIDS and HIV.) The chart-topping track encouraged partners to celebrate the exhilaration of having sex and to be open about discussing the risks and precautions that needed to be taken when doing so.
In 1991, TLC released their debut single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg."
"...we just talkin' about somethin' in a fun way," T-Boz said in a 1992 interview. "If you're gonna have sex, we're singin' use protection. But then again since you're doing it, let's talk about it."
The trio also used fashion to highlight and promote the importance of safe sex, pinning condoms to their baggy and vividly colored outfits. Despite TLC's well-meaning intent, the group was shut out from performing on certain TV shows because of their content.
"Women rappers often found themselves playing the role of conscience in a milieu that didn't have room for much open, mature talk about eroticism," NPR Music writer Ann Powers wrote in her 2017 book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music.
Women rappers were also being stifled by their own teams and labels, as was the case with NYC's Bytches With Problems (BWP). Lyndah McCaskill was around her late-teens when she and Tanisha Morgan formed BWP. McCaskill was a single mother who was struggling with addiction and trying to cope with the recent loss of her mother to colon cancer. Many of her lyrics convey pain and hurt, but she said she mostly wrote about taking back power from the abusive men in her life.
This is evident in BWP's most popular song "Two Minute Brother," from their 1991 debut album The Bytches. The track, which made it to number six on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs chart, was both instructive and prescriptive.
"On your knees, motherfucker, let your tongue stroll/ Push upon that bitch until you hit my flow," McCaskill declares in the first verse to a man who has proven to be a lackluster sexual experience. The duo's raunchy lyrics rivaled that of 2 Live Crew — BWP was often referred to as the female version of 2 Live Crew — who would win a first amendment rights case over the censorship of their own controversial lyrics in 1992.
"When I wrote the lyrics to the song it was kind of empowering for me because it was all the things that I wanted to say but was never able to say," McCaskill said.
Despite BWP's success, their label and its distributor — Russell Simmons' RAL Records and Columbia Records, respectively — distanced themselves from the pair's The Bytches album by taking their names off the record. Although some believed that the intention was to distance themselves from any controversy the album received for its offensive content at the time, Simmons claimed the RAL logo wasn't on the album because it was "important for the group to establish themselves on their own."
"We were just ahead of our time with it and it was hard for people to accept," McCaskill said.
BWP and other similar girl rap groups like H.W.A. (Hoez With Attitudes, the Compton rap trio signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless Records in the early '90s) didn't achieve mainstream success like Salt-N-Pepa or TLC. Still, their contributions are just as important and foreshadowed the next step two women rappers, in particular, would take in presenting their own sexual independence in the mid '90s — Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown.
Like rap sirens calling male rappers out to sea, women like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown presented their hardcore lyrics about sex and wealth with a more feminine physique.
Lil’ Kim came into the rap spotlight with a porn-star-esque approach where she’s wined and dined, but her boss-bitch demands are tended to explicitly. Her 1996 debut album, Hard Core, is filled with sexual connotations; in album opener “Big Momma Thang,” Kim makes reference to two popular adult film stars while reveling in her own kinks, rapping: “Heather Hunter, Janet Jacme / Take it in the butt, yah, yazz wha.”
In a 1997 Paper magazine interview with Black feminist scholar bell hooks, Kim spoke on how it’s more acceptable for men to be sexually explicit in their music than women.
“...We have people like Too Short, Luke Skyywalker [of 2 Live Crew], Biggie [Smalls], Elvis Presley, Prince, who are very, very, very sexual, and they don't get trashed because they like to do it,” she said. “But all of a sudden, we have a female who happens to be a rapper, like me, and my doin' it is wrong. And 'cause I like doin' it, it's even more wrong because we've fought for years as women to do the same things that men are doing.”
A week after the release of Hard Core came Foxy Brown’s own debut album, Ill Na Na. Before she was known as Foxy Brown she was known as the “Ill Na Na” — slang for good pussy — a nickname she had since she was 14. The then 17-year-old was already known for her provocative rapping, appearing on Case’s “Touch Me, Tease Me” and JAY-Z’s “Ain’t No Nigga.” But Ill Na Na served as Brown’s proper introduction to the mainstream, the rapper creating mafioso tales while confidently showcasing her sexuality. This is best captured in “Big Bad Mamma,” the album’s third and last single that became Brown’s second-highest charting song. The first verse finds the rapper taunting those that can’t handle her, as she raps: “And every third minute, y'all wanna swerve in it / Come quick like a virgin in it... owwww!” From there, Brown continues to revel in herself, celebrating her body and offering tips to would-be interests on how to satisfy her: “For the best effect you got to use your tongue / Find my G-Spot get me hot I'm ill.”
Although Kim and Foxy are often the primary examples referenced when it comes to sexually explicit lyrics from women rappers, they weren’t the only ones expressing and sharing their sexual desires during the late ‘90s. Queen Pen, best known for her appearance on the Blackstreet classic “No Diggity,” released her debut album, My Melody, in 1997. The album featured the controversial track “Girlfriend,” where the rapper explored taboo subjects like bisexuality and homosexuality, offering lines like: “If that's your girlfriend, she wasn't last night,” and “Pull you out your closet, sex on weekends/ It's my business of what I do, him or her, he or she, inside you.” The song even incited a feud between Pen and Foxy Brown; the latter took offense to it and wrote a diss track filled with homophobic remarks directed at Pen called “10% Dis.” Although Pen later revealed that she was neither bisexual nor gay, she was dubbed in the New York Times as “perhaps the first recording artist to use rap, a genre known for the misogyny and homophobia of its lyrics, to depict lesbian life."
In 1998, Gangsta Boo — the first woman to be a part of Three 6 Mafia — released her debut album Enquiring Minds, which included the song “Suck A Little Dick.” The hook is its most memorable part, as Gangsta Boo and DJ Paul explicitly — but playfully — request oral sex from each other. But there’s also moments that speak to kinks that were unheard of in rap, like engaging in oral sex while also using cough drops.
The late Magnolia Shorty — one of the first women signed to Cash Money Records — was a force in New Orleans’ bounce music scene, and made a name for herself on her 1997 EP Monkey on tha D$ck. The EP’s most popular song is the title track, which featured the following memorable hook: “Ooh, ooh, monkey on that dick, monkey on that dick.”
The young rapper, who was gunned down during a drive-by shooting in New Orleans at the age of 28, has an influence that still lives on, having been sampled on contemporary songs by Drake (“Nice For What”) and London on da Track (“Throw Fits”).
“...she definitely was a trendsetter and she definitely set a milestone here for New Orleans for female rappers,” Big Freedia said of Magnolia in an interview with Okayplayer. “As you can see, you see the City Girls doing that same kind of Magnolia Shorty feel. So Magnolia Shorty definitely set the mile-high for bounce music and the culture for female rappers.”
In 1997, Missy Elliott made her debut with the album Supa Dupa Fly. Through her pen, Missy created a lyrical mainstage for Black creativity all while subverting ideas of sexuality. Similar to Salt-N-Pepa or TLC, Elliott was playful — but assertive — in her sexual desires. “Sock It 2 Me,” the second single from the album, encapsulates this, the rapper telling her sexual companion “Swing that dick in my direction, I’ll be out of control,” and challenging him to “bring the nasty out of me.” The chorus continues with that playfulness, Missy assuring her companion that she can “take it like a pro,” while commanding them to “Do it long, bro, with the backstroke.”
“One Minute Man,” one of the single’s from Missy’s 2001 album Miss E… So Addictive, was, essentially, a successor to “Sock It 2 Me.” The former was another fun and playful song where the rapper let it be known that she wants a man who can satisfy her for longer than 60 seconds.
“The song is my revenge on those dudes and a wake-up call to the male species,” Missy said of the song in a 2001 interview with the Guardian. “Get your shit together in the bedroom!”
But the star of the track is arguably the rapper who comes at the very end of it: a Florida rapper whose unapologetic and explicit raps would play a pivotal part in sex talk in the early 2000s — Trina.
Da Baddest Bitch: Trina And Khia Up The Stakes
Photo Credit: Johnny Nunez/WireImage
Trina helped usher in a new era. The Florida rapper burst on the scene courtesy of her show-stealing feature on Trick Daddy’s 1998 song “Nann,” where she went bar for bar against his sexual brags. To say Trina bested Trick on his own song wouldn’t be inaccurate: she raises the stakes in ways he can’t in her verse, even making references to same-sex interactions. “Nann” foreshadowed what was to come in Trina’s 2000 debut album, Da Baddest Bitch. Like Kim and Foxy, Trina crafted explicit raps of getting what she wanted through her sex appeal. The title track of the album, which also served as its first single, embodied this. Trina not only wants the pleasures that come with riches but with sex, and she’s in control every step of the way. But some of the track’s best parts are when Trina normalizes sexual acts that, even now, are still seen as taboo or uncommon, like the line “I make him eat it while my period on” or “I never took it up the ass / Often tried but I pass / And from what I heard it ain’t bad.”
“People around me in the industry wanted the raw and explicit Trina more and more,” Trina said in an email exchange. “In the music industry, women are not taken so seriously to dominate like men, and I am not stating this on a music artist perspective.”
“I won’t say that I have contributed to the evolution of sex talk amongst women rappers because to me, we are just expressing our thoughts,” she added. “We make life, so why can't we be open and empowered about our sexuality?”
Trina wasn’t the only Floridian putting on for women’s wants in rap — so was Khia. Even now, not too many songs come close to her hit single “My Neck, My Back.” The first single and opening track from her 2001 debut album Thug Misses (the album had a wider release the following year), “My Neck, My Back” was an instruction guide on satisfying women through oral sex and anal-oral sex.
For Khia, a man with a fancy car or a lot of money is secondary to that pleasure, the rapper opening her second verse with:
“You might roll dubs, you might have G's
But fuck that nigga, get on yo' knees
A bitch like me moans and screams
Thug Misses’ know what I mean.”
“I definitely spoke for everybody — men and women — I said what they were too shy or ashamed to say,” Khia said of the track in a 2011 interview. “I think it’ll be here for a long time.”
But Trina and Khia weren’t the only women rappers representing the South during the early 2000s — so was La Chat. In 2001, the frequent Three 6 collaborator dropped her debut album Murder She Spoke. What’s notable about the album is that it includes La Chat’s take on Three 6 Mafia's classic “Slob On My Knob” called “Slob On My Cat.”
“Slob On My Cat” and “My Neck, My Back” are kinfolk. Like Khia, La Chat could care less about the sex, instead preferring oral sex over anything else. But the former plays with chauvinist ideas popularized in rap music too, lines like “If the shit is good, you do my whole crew” a foil to the “pass it to the homie” trope that still exists in the genre today.
Unfortunately, by the late 2000s, there was a dearth of mainstream women rappers. But one would emerge that came to define the first half of the 2010s arguably on her own: Nicki Minaj.
Itty Bitty Piggy: A Dearth of Mainstream Female Rappers
speaks on stage during the 2017 NBA Awards Live On TNT on June 26, 2017 in New York City. 27111_001
On the cusp of the 2010s, Nicki Minaj emerged into an era in hip-hop that left mainstream music pining for women’s voices. Minaj was a challenge to the status quo of a male-dominated industry; she had sex appeal, lyrical dexterity, and an eclectic brand that showcased her talent as a rapper and pop star.
As a fellow New York rapper, it’s understandable that Minaj comes from the lineage of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. She could rap and she was confident in her sexuality, as is evident from her 2007 debut mixtape, Playtime is Over. The project included the track “Dreams ‘07,” which was a play on The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Dreams (Just Playin’).” Like La Chat’s “Slob On My Cat,” “Dreams ‘07” is playfully subversive, Minaj listing off a number of then up-and-coming rappers throughout the East Coast that “could probably get it.”
Although Minaj’s breakthrough debut album Pink Fridayis pretty tame in its sexual references, it’s interesting to see how she would use the alter egos she introduced in the album — particularly Roman Zolanski — to subvert and play around with sexual lyrics often said by male rappers in subsequent albums.
Described as a gay man from London, Roman is Nicki’s most well-known alter ego, and appears in a handful of songs from her 2012 album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, including “Come on a Cone,” “I Am Your Leader,” and “Stupid Hoe.” All three find Minaj playfully teasing her haters with dick references; “I Am Your Leader” even features the following hook: “I am your leader, yes, I am your leader / You not a believer, suck a big dick.” Through Roman, Minaj is able to play around with the boastful and combative remarks often reserved only for men.
Two years after Roman Reloaded, Minaj returned with The Pinkprint, which featured the hit single “Anaconda.” Sampling the Sir Mix-a-Lot classic “Baby Got Back,” Minaj reinvigorated the ‘90s anthem dedicated to women with big booties.
“I wanted to create a song that embraced curvy women,” she said in an interview with Complex. “I wanted to be sexual but be playful with it. And I wanted it to be so melodic that even if you don’t understand English you could still go along with the melody and you would have no idea about all the raunchy shit I’m saying — I get a kick out of that.”
The playfulness is evident all throughout the track, with some lines even referencing anal and oral sex.
Nicki regularly topped charts — still does — and has amassed a worldwide following. She exemplified every aspect of the legacy that made many female hip hop artists a mainstay: sex appeal, lyrical dexterity, a challenge to the status quo of a male-dominated industry, vocal range, an eclectic brand and autonomy in the business of industry over the course of her career.
The blueprint that she created during the 2010s would be one that succeeding women rappers are still utilizing now.
Big Ole Freak: Women In Rap Are Here To Stay
Screengrab via YouTube
Much like Nicki, younger rappers who have emerged in the late 2010s and into the 2020s bring new sounds that give listeners access to “sex talk.” Now, high-profile rappers like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, City Girls, as well as artists like Noname, Rapsody, and Rico Nasty have helped to further affirm sex talk as part of a holistic conversation, and not just attached to an artist’s image. These women are rapping about their wants, needs, and experiences.
Houston’s own Megan Thee Stallion is the embodiment of that. Strongly influenced by the late Pimp C, Megan delivers boastful sexual lyrics about admiring herself, all while making sure she too benefits from the sexual encounters. In songs like "Captain Hook" from her third EP Suga, which is based on a more pimp-like person, she states “I like a dick with a little bit of curve/ Hit this pussy with an uppercut/Call that nigga Captain Hook.” Megan conveys a world in which she knows exactly what type of sex she wants all while giving consent.
Megan also explores realms outside of sexual pleasure explicitly with men by stating:
“I love niggas with conversation that find the clit with no navigation.
Mandatory that I get the head, but no guarantees on the penetration.
I be texting with a bi chick, we both freaky, just trying shit."
She completely breaks the mold for Texas rappers just by finding mainstream prominence in a long line of Houston rap legends who have historically been male. In an interview with editor and writer Clover Hope, Megan openly embraced her mark as a force for women. She also mentioned how her own mom, Holly Thomas (Holly-Wood), who used to rap in Houston’s South Park, provided the foundation for her to step into her full title as a Texas-made Rap virtuoso.
Queer voices in hip hop’s “sex talk” revolution are also driving a stake into the mainstream fold.
In her 2016 breakout hit “OOOUUU,” Young M.A. expressed her sexuality explicitly and unapologetically, subverting sexual terms often used by heterosexual male rappers and directing them at same-sex interests.
Last year, M.A. was featured alongside Dreezy, Chinese Kitty, Mulatto, and Dream Doll for a remix of Hitmaka’s “Thot Box.” The remix served as an all-girl foil to the original, which featured Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, YBN Nahmir, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, and Tyga. The remix hearkens back to women posse cuts like 1997’s “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix),” the group of rappers coolly basking in their sexuality. As the only queer rapper on the roster, M.A.’s verse stands out most, the rapper ending her verse with a callback to “OOOUUU”:
“She got that wet wet, we gon' have the best sex
I'ma kill the kitty, that’s a death threat (That's a death, ooh)
So you can say we fuckin' on her deathbed (Ooh)”
M.A. has spoken candidly about her sexual orientation. While discussing a line from her song “No Mercy” with Time magazine, she also touched on why she doesn’t use labels to describe herself.
“I’m not a label person. Before, I used to think being a label was cool. With this industry, they didn’t welcome a person like me, what I represent. I busted some doors down, with no hesitation...But then I got to a point where it was just like, ‘I don’t need nobody defining me. Sometimes I don’t even know my damn self.’”
The rise of women rappers has come at a time where hip-hop, like the rest of the world, is reckoning with its mistreatment of Black women, genderqueer, and non-binary folks who are both unseen or front-facing within the industry. Rapping about sexual pleasure and wants did not directly save any of these women from becoming victims of gender parity and violence, rather, it gave them room to channel their rage and set boundaries around consent. Rap has historically been a tool used to challenge violent structures against Black and poor communities, but the capitalist institution around it has allowed those very acts to define the genre itself. Black women will continue to break through these ceilings with their lyrics, using hip hop for its intended purpose: as a tool for resilience and survival.
Sex talk is a weapon that equips artists and women, gender-queer and non-binary folks for battle on the very fronts that deprive them of their humanity. These rappers are from the very places where the country is seeing high rates of COVID-19 deaths, insufficient living conditions, high rates of violence, environmental pollution, and other disparities. The communities these artists are from have the most to lose if that “energy” for genuine change isn’t tapped into during a global movement for Black lives, and if rapping about pussy-popping gets us closer to justice and freedom, then may jiggly cheeks continue to bounce along to lascivious lyrics that demand respect and sufficient cunnilingus.
DaLyah Jones was born and raised a country girl behind the “Pine Curtain” of East Texas. She is currently a staff writer for the state watchdog magazine Texas Observer and a board member for movement journalism organization Press On. Her other work can be found at Texas Observer, NPR, Texas Monthly, NBC Think, and more. She also works on side projects like her independent podcast Two&Fro, which speaks on issues and trends related to the contemporary black southern experience. One day, she hopes to run her own media organization to further validate and provide movement journalism to under-covered communities in the rural South.
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