While music fans have been sorely deprived of live shows during the pandemic, thankfully, many artists have been releasing new songs, videos, and even entire albums. Throughout this lockdown, I’ve fallen in love with music from In This Moment, Marilyn Manson, Taylor Swift, and the Hamilton live musical soundtrack. In a world typified by sensory overload, one of the few silver linings that’s stemmed from this period of isolation has been the ability to listen to music the way I used to: giving it my full attention and listening to a song, album, or musical from end-to-end without interruption. Getting to know and listen to songs as individual entities and albums as a whole.
This week, two of hip-hop’s biggest stars released a song that’s had folks around the internet clutching their collective pearls. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion dropped a song and video for “WAP” — an acronym for “wet-ass pussy.” (Although the cleaned-up version of the song’s refrain is “wet and gushy.”)
With rhymes like, “On the food chain I’m the one that eat ya / If he ate my ass he’s a bottom feeder” and “Hop on top / I wanna ride / I do a kegel / While it’s inside,” the song’s lyrics aren’t anything out of the ordinary for Cardi B. She’s always been an avid spokeswoman for women’s sexual agency, as well as her own. The same can also be said for Megan Thee Stallion. From TLC, Lil’ Kim, and Foxy Brown in the ’90s to Nicki Minaj and a procession of female rappers today, hip hop has a long lineage of women who know what they want and aren’t shy about stating it in sometimes-explicit terms.
“WAP,” as both a song and video, are meant to be fun and sex-positive at a time when we could all use a bit of racy escapism set to a bouncing beat. The video itself is cheeky with subtle visual references. The costumes and sets used in the videos are a sight to behold, swinging between pastel shades, candy-colored hues of lime green and electric purple, and houndstooth, leopard, and zebra patterns.
Politicians & People With Too Much Time On Their Hands
Yet, with everything going on in the world today, several politicians took to their pulpits to offer their $0.02 on the song. A second stimulus package hangs in limbo, unemployment is at 10%, hate crimes are on the rise, and we’re in the midst of a pandemic with little hope in sight. Yet, it didn’t stop politicos from hopping The Twitter to complain about the song.
Congressional hopeful James P. Bradley made several disparaging comments about the song, going so far as to lob a personal low-blow at Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, claiming the duo are “what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure.”
Another damning criticism came from conservative commentator DeAnna Lorraine (who recently ran a failed bid for Congress and has not yet updated her Twitter handle). She referred to “WAP” as “trash and depravity,” declaring that “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting and vile ‘WAP’ song.”
Even Tiger King alumnus Carole Baskin took a break from allegedly making ex-husbands into tiger tartar to deride “WAP” as “lurid” and leverage the controversy to inject herself into the conversation as a champion of wildlife.
Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion haven’t said much in response to the criticism. And why should they? In just two days, “WAP” reached #1 on iTunes and streaming services. Suffice to say, Cardi B. is laughing all the way to the bank.
But why say what’s already been said? In 2019, Cardi B. addressed her critics, saying:
First of all, I rap about pussy because she my best friend, and second of all it’s because it seems like that’s what people wanna hear… When I did ‘Be Careful,’ people was talking mad shit in the beginning… So, it’s like if that’s what people aren’t trying to hear then, alright, I’m going to start rapping about my pussy again…. There’s a lot of female rappers that be rapping they ass off and don’t be talking about they pussy, and don’t be talking about getting down and dirty, and y’all don’t be supporting them and they be mad dope… So don’t blame that shit on us when y’all not the ones supporting them.”
She then used her platform to elevate a number of female rappers who had been overlooked, including Rapsody, Chika, Kamaiyah, and Philly’s own Tierra Whack.
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And she’s right. The only female rappers that the media has latched onto have been women who make no bones about enjoying a healthy sex life. These women are alternately publicized, then criticized. Moreover, dirt sheets try to manufacture a feud between two of the top ladies in the rap world, pitting Nicki Minaj against Cardi B. Yet, you see collaborations between Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, joining forces — women supporting other women. You see Cardi B. using her visibility to challenge the media to shine a spotlight on other female rappers who represent the full spectrum of womanhood and life, which doesn’t always include sex and sexuality.
So, where does the REAL problem lie?
A Brief & Slightly Personal History of “Offensive” Music Since the 1980s
We should be past the point where songs about sex constitute as shocking. Listen to Lil Wayne’s “Love Me” or Akineyle’s “Fuck Me For Free” (which Drake and DJ Khaled sampled 20 years after the original). Both songs (while undeniably catchy) are just as — if not more — sexually explicit as “WAP.” But you don’t see people losing their shit or passing judgement on any of these artists. Yet, everyone gets their shit hot and starts talking about “decency” when a woman says many of the things a man has said in song.
Public outcry about offensive lyrics culminated in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) headed by Tipper Gore and other Washington wives called a variety of bands and artists on the carpet for music they felt was unfit for kids and teens to listen to. They put together a list of songs called The Filthy Fifteen, which included tunes by artists such as Prince, Motley Crue, Cyndi Lauper, and Judas Priest, that they deemed obscene. (Actually, it’s quite a stellar playlist, if you ask me. And by today’s standards, you wouldn’t bat an eyelash at most of the lyrics.) The irony is that most of these songs were never played on the radio and you’d have to go out and buy the albums to hear these songs, unlike today, where all you have to do is search for a song on Spotify.
As a response, the unlikely trio of Frank Zappa, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and folk musician John Denver spoke to the Senate in defense of freedom of expression. (If you’re checking out The Filthy Fifteen, it’s also worthwhile to look to YouTube for Snider, Zappa, and Denver‘s individual speeches to the Senate. The added bonus is you get to see a bunch of smug, uptight Washington douchebags get schooled by articulate and eloquent musicians.)
In an effort to police themselves without out-of-touch politicians attempting to curb artistic freedoms, the music industry made the concession to label certain albums with the bold, black-and-white Parental Advisory sticker we all recognize slapped in the corner of an album cover. However, in a sublime twist of irony, sales numbers for albums bearing these stickers actually skyrocketed. (Suck it, Senators!)
2 Live Crew: Founding Fathers of Filth?
A few short years later, Florida rap group 2 Live Crew was catapulted into the national spotlight in 1989 with the release of their album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be. By the time controversy around the album had reached a fever pitch in 1990, I was 11-years-old and a rabid music fan. While most of the stuff I was listening to was hard rock and heavy metal, my friends and I immediately wanted to hear 2 Live Crew’s album out of curiosity — exactly the opposite of the intended effect of the PMRC.
I was ultimately able get my mitts on a copy of As Nasty As They Wanna Be — thanks in-part to the fact that most record stores weren’t really enforcing the PMRC mandate and selling labeled albums to anyone who had the cash to pay for one. I wanted to hear it for the simple reason that it was music that someone said I couldn’t or shouldn’t listen to — which made it all the more appealing. Plus, when you’re 11, any song with a ton of curse words is automatically awesome.
Up until that point, the most cursing I’d heard in a song was Guns N’ Roses’ acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” on their GNR Lies EP. Axl Rose said “You’re fuckin’ crazy” many more times than he did in the original on Appetite for Destruction, making it a winner with me.
On As Nasty As They Wanna Be, Luther Campbell and his cohorts not only sampled GNR and Van Halen on one song, but said song (“The Fuck Shop”) had exponentially more f-bombs than even the Lies version of “You’re Crazy.” Every song was a filthy goldmine! In hindsight, the songs hold up well, yet are still controversial by today’s standards. However, it was that forbidden label that made me want to listen.
Looking back, a lot of the songs on As Nasty As They Wanna Be were quite sexist. (Catchy as hell, but sexist.) Even at an early age, I could recognize that songs like “Put Her in the Buck” didn’t sound too fun for women. And although it wasn’t immediately apparent, upon further dissection, tunes such as “Dick Almighty” and “Me So Horny” didn’t hold women in high regard. Yet, these songs did not color my self-esteem. (Acne, dandruff, and being slightly chubby chick had already beaten the shit out of my self-esteem already at that age.) Alternately, this steady diet of raunchy rock and rap music did not make me want to go out there and give mouth hugs to everyone in the neighborhood, either.
As a pre-teen girl, I was in that awkward phrase where I was rebellious and relished listening to what authorities told me not to, and hearing a string of swear words in the process, but also wanted to stay inside on a Friday night and snuggle my stuffed animals so I could wake up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Listening to those songs (or any of “The Filthy Fifteen”) didn’t shatter my innocence or limit my vocabulary. Rather, it gave me a greater understanding of how language was used to tell a story, to obfuscate the obvious, or to out-and-out shock. I was able to make the decision for myself as to how I reacted to the music and what I took from it. Musical artists don’t set out to be role models. It’s not their job to set a good example for kids. They’re expressing themselves for anyone and everyone to hear.
However, I think, if I was 11-years-old and heard a female artist singing dirty ditties, I’d have been pretty stoked to hear a woman’s take on things. I probably still would have laughed, hearing phrases like “wet and gushy” repeated throughout a song (because even though I’m a 41-year-old woman, I still have the sense of humor of a puberty-stricken boy).
While we’ve come a long way in making sure freedom of speech and artistic expression is still upheld since the late ’80s and early ’90s, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to erasing double standards that take women to task for expressing many of the same sentiments as their male contemporaries.
So, for everyone complaining about “WAP,” get over it. Artists continually try to breach boundaries. Art touches on all aspects of life and — gasp! — sex and sexuality happen to be a part of life. Furthermore, if we didn’t have people challenging societal norms, we’d still be living in a Puritanical society. And that was a pretty damn grim place to be, with authorities operating under false concern for the everlasting salvation of the soul, which was only a mask to keep power in their own hands and retain the status quo.
Fuck that. Besides, I’m sure John Waters would agree, sometimes a little filth is good for the soul.