The New Women of Rap Are Embracing Sex & Paying Homage In the Process

"This group of lyricists isn't vital simply because they're showing respect to their female forebears; they are harbingers for the kind of visibility women in the genre rarely receive."
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The New Women of Rap Are Embracing Sex & Paying Homage in the Process, Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Rico Nasty

Thematically, carnality is one of the most enduring traditions in rap—and, at present, no one does it quite like Megan Thee Stallion. In the video for her single “Big Ole Freak,” Megan embraces a bold and unrelenting brand of sexuality with visuals which accentuate her salaciousness. From frolicking in bubbles to twerking in latex, the Houston rapper leaves little to the imagination, while her lyricism remains as lusty as the artist herself.

“Ain’t nobody freak like me / Give ya what you need like me / Ain’t nobody got on they tip, tip toes / And rode to the tip like me.” —Megan Thee Stallion, “Big Ole Freak”

Megan’s late 2018 mixtape Tina Snow contains the same amount of daring bravado as “Big Ole Freak.” Over 10 tracks, the 24-year-old emcee finds autonomy in displaying and using her body as she sees fit. Sex isn’t an act that she submissively agrees to, but one she frequently initiates and finds enjoyment in.

Like Megan, the genre’s new raunchy legion of women—including Kash Doll, City Girls, Doja Cat, Kari Faux, CupcakKe, and Rico Nasty, among others—are narratively and stylistically using sex as a method of empowerment. Through music, each manages to showcase unabashed braggadocio while magnifying their sexual agency.

Of course, this approach is nothing new to rap; from Salt N’ Pepa’s “Push It” to Khia’s “My Neck, My Back,” women in hip-hop have continually exuded fortitude when rhyming about romantic relationships. Megan and her peers are simply paying homage to those who have paved the way for them—and whose catalogs have become classics.

Rap fixtures Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown skillfully employed eroticism to not only sell records—coincidentally their debut albums both arrived in 1996—but to keep a stranglehold on the spotlight long enough for their exemplary bars to be noticed. TLC’s resider rapper Left Eye wore a condom on her face to spark dialogue about safe sex practices. Trina’s entire career was built on her unyielding confidence; the Miami native's 2000 debut, Da Baddest Bitch, set the tone for 20 years of slick-talking and vivid sexual trysts.

Even Missy Elliott, who is lauded for her groundbreaking visual and lyrical inventiveness, is no stranger to sexually explicit songs; from her brash demands on “One Minute Man” to her thrilling and dirty narration on “Work It,” the Portsmouth, Virginia icon has always been vocal about prioritizing her pleasure.

The current surge of women rappers who are abrasive and unapologetic about sex falls directly in line with hip-hop’s lineage; that it’s finally happening in droves rather than one artist at a time is what is driving the pedantic discourse behind this phenomenon. As music journalist Briana Younger noted last year in an essay for The New Yorker, these women “are part of a movement of rappers that is changing in an industry and a genre that has kept women at bay, never allowing for more than one female superstar at a time while treating other women as incidental, pitting them against one another, or ignoring them entirely.”

Rap’s relationship with women has always been complex. Its male-dominated nature allows for misogyny to run rampant and, often, go unchecked. Like clockwork, male lyricists center women in their rhymes when they serve as signifiers of success, vessels of one-sided sexual pleasure or seductresses eager to deceive. Hip-hop’s latest batch of women rappers isn’t confronting these suggested roles, though—they’re doing everything in their power to quell them.

This past February, Cardi B won a GRAMMY for Best Rap Album, making her the first female solo rapper to achieve this honor; the historic achievement cemented the significance of reclaiming this narrative. Invasion of Privacy, Cardi’s 2018 debut on Atlantic Records, celebrated the Bronx native’s flair for delivering playful boasts and graphically detailed sexual escapades with ease. Combined with her candid personality and insurmountable confidence, Cardi’s refusal to fade into the background of hip-hop has only fueled the controversy around her success. 

Critics have condemned everything from her stripper past to her crass bars, but that hasn’t stopped Cardi from reveling in her femininity and sexually expressive nature. She brilliantly displays both of these concepts in her videos, too. “Money” masterfully shows the complexity of womanhood while her collaboration with City Girls on “Twerk” audaciously put the bodies of women front and center.

Cardi has previously acknowledged how legendary female rappers—most notably Lil’ Kim—have influenced her artistry. In a 2017 interview, she professed her appreciation for Kim’s racy lyricism: 

“The type of things that she used to say, like I always used to like the slutty talk,” she explained. “I think it was an alter ego thing. See—women like to feel that way.” —Cardi B, VLADTV

From sampling Lil’ Kim’s flow on “Wash Poppin” to flaunting looks inspired by the Queen Bee herself in Pardison Fontaine’s video for “Backin’ It Up,” Cardi B has never shied away from paying her respects to those who paved the way for her arrival. In addition to Cardi, there's British rapper Stefflon Don, whose 2018 mixtape Secure sports cover art inspired by Kim's The Notorious K.I.M; Bronx emcee Maliibu Mitch, who paid homage to her female predecessors with remixes to some of their most definitive songs, including Foxy Brown’s “Get Me Home,” Eve’s “Who’s That Girl?” and “Crush On You” by Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease; and Philly spitter Tierra Whack, whose visual project for debut album Whack World was not only groundbreaking but wildly imaginative, reminiscent of one of her biggest musical influences, Missy Elliott.

This group of lyricists isn't vital simply because they're showing respect to their female forebears; they are harbingers for the kind of visibility women in the genre rarely receive.

The last time multiple woman rappers—Da Brat, Eve, Lil’ Kim, Trina, and Rah Digga—entered the top 100 on Billboard’s year-end Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart was 2000. Nineteen years later, the influx of provocative woman emcees is debunking hip-hop’s steadfast conventions by showing that individualism amongst female artists is not only possible but profitable. 

In 2018, Cardi B became the first female hip-hop artist to earn three number one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while Megan Thee Stallion became the first woman act signed to 300 Entertainment. These women refuse to be relegated to the sidelines by demonstrating their value through sexual ascendancy and are cocky about it. Not only is this wave long overdue, but it also reaffirms the necessity of the female presence in a genre that has largely shunned it. 

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