As rappers like Megan Thee Stallion and Queen Key continue to grow devoted fan bases with lyrics about "riding to the tip" and projects named Eat My Pussy (and Eat My Pussy Again) respectively, they maintain a long lineage of bold Black women bringing their sexual desires to the forefront of cultural moments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this boldness has been met with many misogynistic takes in every day social media discussion.
Search the terms "women rapper" or "female rap" on Twitter and, looking past the stan culture, you'll find an assortment of disparaging tweets disguised as 'hot takes,' unjustly comparing women to their peers and predecessors and perpetuating the idea that women rappers should tone down their sensuality.
Women, and especially Black women's sexual desires have always been policed by society; those working in hip-hop are no exception. Men often view women who detail their sex lives through witty bars, enticing dance moves and revealing clothing as lesser than their male counterparts, who rap about the same things and either exhibit the same behaviors themselves or use other, typically unnamed women as props for the same purpose. (Women succumbing to internalized misogyny or subscribing to respectability politics pass judgment, too.)
But women unapologetically rapping about how they split, flip and spit is an aspect of hip-hop culture that should never die. Whether a song details experience with sex work or celebrates a risqué rendezvous, every bar matters. Women who choose to rhyme explicitly endure being cast as lazy stereotypes, but the choice to reclaim their identity as both human and sexual, not deviant or barbaric, is a powerful one. Using artistic expression, these artists also empower a fan base that is routinely objectified and dehumanized for their very existence.
The shameful view cast upon raunchy female rappers reveals deeply ingrained historical disdain for women in general. Long before the Bronx birthed hip-hop, Black women were hyper-sexualized and fetishized while simultaneously being discarded and disregarded. Throughout centuries of trauma and turmoil, Black women have endured racial and gender discrimination used to control and objectify our existence. Harmful stereotypes transformed Black women's natural, human desire for intimate gratification into animalistic and overtly lewd behavior that's ironically exploited by those who would profit from it or take advantage of it themselves. This jezebel stereotype portrays the idea that Black women are promiscuous with an unlimited sexual appetite, always on the prowl for their next encounter and available for others to use at their disposal.
That notion, one of the oldest and most dehumanizing views of Black women, continues to harm our existence and disrupt our daily experiences. Black women and girls around the world face a disproportionate and devastating amount of sexual violence. In the U.S., over 20 percent of Black women and girls are raped during their lifetime, according to The Institute for Women's Policy Research (or IWPR), a higher percentage than among women overall.
Despite this, Black women still step in the booth and speak their truths, not letting negative commentary or unwanted advances quiet their voices or control their minds. From sexism to the crack epidemic, OG queens of the genre have never shied away from taking it there; however, flaunting one's sexuality has not always been the lane to success.
Mothers of the genre, such as Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante, Lady Of Rage, YoYo and Monie Love made careers out of hip-hop boasting bravado dripped in street swagger, proving through lyricism and message their ability to dominate alongside men — or even dominate them outright.
It was Salt-N-Pepa, the first female rap group to reach gold or platinum status, who brought a refreshing sound and image to hip-hop in the late 1980s. Sporting spandex and gold chains, Salt-N-Pepa pushed female-driven, sex positive messages through their music. With songs such as "Push It," "I'll Take Your Man," "Chick On The Side" and "Tramp" on their 1986 debut Hot, Cool & Vicious, Salt-N-Pepa empowered women to be demanding, bold and defiant in a genre often pushing the opposite agenda.
In 1991, the group released "Let's Talk About Sex" to both huge popularity and backlash for its explicit content. "Let's Talk About Sex" promoted healthy communication in intimate partnerships, with lyrics such as "Let's talk about sex for now/To the people at home or in the crowd/It keeps coming up anyhow/Don't be coy, avoid, or make void the topic, cause that ain't gonna stop it."
With the song, they created a movement and opened the doors for women in hip-hop to not only talk about sex, but rap about how they get down. "Let's Talk About Sex" reached No. 13 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, spending 20 weeks listed. In 2017, Salt shared with Rolling Stone the intention behind the song.
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"We had already gotten flak for 'Push It' and so it was us being really, really bold and challenging the status quo of radio," she said. "The song was about talking about sex. The song was not about sex. The song was about communication and talking about a subject that nobody wants to talk about. So just from the gate, for me, it was brilliant. Because I knew it would catch everybody's ear, how could it not?"
Women continued to spit verses about sex and as the genre grew, lyrics got more explicit. Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes of TLC rapped, "In other words lets refresh your head, about pullin' down curtains and breakin' da waterbed. Yeah, I like it when you (sound of kiss) both sets of lips," in 1992 on "Aint 2 Proud 2 Beg." MC Lyte, the first solo woman rapper to release a full-length project and the first to be nominated for a Grammy award, rapped, "Never questioning can he get buck wild, he's gotta smack it, lick it, swallow it up style," on "Ruffneck" in 1993.
These artists continue to evolve into 3-D prints of their predecessors. All of the women mentioned who remain in the industry as artists are essential to hip-hop, and their ability to rap about their power in the boardroom and the bedroom gives freedom to Black women in a genre and a world that consistently demeans our existence. Women have been integral to hip-hop since the beginning, as artists, and as props.
During the six year span between Salt-N-Pepa's debut album and "Let's Talk About Sex," Florida rap group 2 Live Crew dropped "Me So Horny," taking raunchy rap to another level. Their most infamous song reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart and No. 26 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Although commercially successful, the song received push-back for the overly suggestive lyrics. Members of 2 Live Crew were arrested for performing after U.S. district court judge ruled the album obscene.
As 2 Live Crew faced backlash, the group continued to create the music they wanted well into the 1990s. Their male rap contemporaries did the same. Hip-hop's output and influence grew tenfold, embracing multiple styles beyond the conscious, lyrical sound popularizing the genre. As gangsta rap, g-funk, Southern swagger and West Coast artistry helped take hip-hop global, women who rapped existed alongside the guys, often as one of the guys.
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Men rap about women as property, for their personal use. There are songs that promote colorism, rape culture and physical abuse against women and the catchy, bass-filled beats ensure radio play. Women are labeled bitches, hoes, gold diggers, and other names to promote hatred. When women take the reins, the narrative shifts to another, non-male, focal point providing necessary perspectives to a genre with strong roots in storytelling.
Women who were both lyrical and poised as sexual beings did not become mainstream until Lil Kim and Foxy Brown emerged on the scene. Bringing an empowering sex-positive attitude to hip-hop, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown succeeded with the co-sign of heavy hitters B.I.G. and Jay-Z, respectively. (That they needed men backing them to achieve acceptability is another, though closely related, story). Both incorporated their sexuality at all levels of presentation. By 1996, thanks to them, hip-hop changed and would never be the same.
On November 12 of that year, Lil Kim's studio debut Hard Core entered Billboard's Hot 200 at No. 11., spending 47 weeks on the chart. Only one week later, Foxy Brown debuted Ill Na Na on November 19 with equally impressive numbers. The album reached No. 7 on Billboard's Hot 200, spending 43 weeks on the charts. Both albums displayed individuality and talent yet contained similar content. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown rapped gangsta, grimy street rap and included the sexually explicit lyrics that their male peers were lauded for, to both critical and commercial success.
In 2014, Lil Kim told Billboard that her erotic presence was not initially well received by record label executives.
"Biggie's partner from the label, Un (Lance 'Un' Rivera) knew the essence of being fly. He said, 'I don't want to change her image.' He wanted to make me more sexy and put me in mink coats," she said. "They'd spend their own money. My record company didn't understand a female rapper being sexy. They thought I needed to look like MC Lyte, wear sweatsuits and all that."
A 1997 PAPER interview between bell hooks and Lil Kim focused on the sexuality of Lil Kim's music.
As Kim explained to hooks, "[W]e 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. 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."
Foxy Brown told Cynthia Garrett in 1999 shares that her music was an extension of how many women felt but were not able to verbally express. "A lot of women they come up to me and say, 'Foxy, when I have an argument with my boyfriend, I put on your CD and it helps me feel better,' so that right there inspires me to keep making the same music," she said.
Not only did Lil Kim and Foxy Brown boldly embrace their sexuality, but they also encouraged financial independence, carefree fashion, self-love and overall empowerment with no regrets. For young Black girls, the two Brooklyn rappers represent freedom not easily attained. While the Foxy Brown and Lil Kim blueprints inspired many after them, the multidimensional genre never fit one mold.
As hip-hop's cultural dominance expanded, more women stepped up to the mic and did not hesitate to unleash their sexual prowess. Establishing her presence with 1997 debut Supa Fly, Missy Elliott became immediately revered for her eccentric style and individuality. Although she may not have portrayed herself as a sex symbol, her lyrics (complete with animal sounds) boast some of hip-hop's raunchiest bars.
Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Missy Elliott continued to drop sensual tunes and were joined by more women year by year. In 1998, Trina debuted with a fiery feature on Trick Daddy's Naan Ni**a. Eve came fresh out of Philadelphia in 1999 with Let There Be Eve...Ruff Ryders' First Lady peaking at No. 1 on Billboard's 200 chart. Shawnna added an unforgettable element to Ludacris' breakout single What's Your Fantasy in 2000. Khia dropped off her infectious My Neck My Back in 2002.
Remy Ma released her debut project There's Something About Remy: Based on a True Story, in 2006. Queens-bred Nicki Minaj arrived in 2007 with underground mixtapes and entered the mainstream in 2009, signing to Young Money with Lil Wayne. Her unmatched energy and audacious personality exuded through her music and appearance, with many stylistic nods to the bold women the came before her.
Winning the 2019 Grammy award for Best Rap Album for Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B became the current woman on top, rapping openly about her past in sex work, poppin' pussy and "screaming ]her] own name during sex." Though her stardom still teeters underground, CupcakKe continues to make viral noise with crass lyrics and matching creative visuals. On the rise, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, Kash Doll, Dreezy, Queen Key, Rico Nasty and Saweetie have seven different styles and none are hesitant to wear their sensuality out-loud.
Our patriarchal society does not exclude hip-hop culture from dwelling under the umbrella of a male-dominated world. Taking ownership of sexuality gives women control over their own bodies and, subsequently their own lives. Sexual liberation pioneered by women in hip-hop furthers the goal of erasing double standards and creating a society where genders are equal. Women can confidently live and dream, without needing validation, a cosign or support from men.
Women should always rap about sex simply because they can. As a whole, women rappers create arguably the most carefree music across the board. From looks to lyrics, female emcees consistently push boundaries, and an artist exists for every audience. A room with unlimited capacity that once only made space for a handful of female lyricists is now filled with women claiming mainstream, underground and in between fanbases. The beauty of it all? We will only keep evolving.
Photography: Christian Witkin for PAPER