Earlier this month, Cardi B issued a tongue-in-cheek apology for a lyric in her mega-horny Megan Thee Stallion collaboration, “WAP (Wet Ass Pussy).” But it wasn’t addressed to the pearl-clutching Republicans who blasted her online, nor the “radical conservative” Ben Shapiro, whose reaction to the sexed-up song was the stuff of meme dreams. Instead, Cardi jokingly apologized to “ass eaters worldwide” for “callin ya a derogatory word such as ‘bottom feeder.’” It was a hilarious nod to the controversy, which added yet another chapter to the history of sex-positive women in rap being blasted for owning their sexuality.
None of this is new. In 1974, Millie Jackson’s “The Rap” told a story of forbidden lust, with Jackson fantasizing on wax about fucking her married lover. These themes – sex, infidelity, betrayal – continued to characterize her lyrics, which came paired with smooth, soulful production and witty spoken word interludes. Album after album, Jackson cemented her legacy as the raunchy godmother of soul and rap – but like Megan, Cardi and other trailblazers since then, she was met with misogyny.
“Men didn’t want my records in their house,” she told Atlanta Magazine in a 2014 interview, which marked the anniversary of her iconic concept album Caught Up. “They wouldn’t come to see me live. Because I spoke truth to women, I got a reputation for being rough on men.” This meant instructing guys in bed, too: in “All the Way Lover,” she urges men to make women cum (the orgasm gap is still very real, by the way); Jackson gets more specific in “Slow Tongue,” extolling the virtues of exploring every “love fold.”
As rap blossomed in the aftermath of the Sugar Hill Hang’s 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight,” talented women like Lady B and The Sequence made vital cultural contributions which have largely been erased. The handful of stars who did rise through the industry in the ‘80s, like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Roxanne Shanté, were celebrated for going toe-to-toe with the guys, indicating that women could find success – as long as they dialed back their femininity.
Salt-N-Pepa pushed back against this with tracks like “Tramp” and “I’ll Take Your Man,” and in 1991 they put sex firmly on the table with “Let’s Talk About Sex Baby” – which, title aside, was really an ode to communication.
Politics comes into it, too. The devastating impact of the AIDS crisis made “sex” a dirty word in the ‘80s, so stars like Salt-N-Pepa and TLC, who proudly rocked condoms to open up discussions of safe sex, played a key role in moving the needle. When Boss released “Recipe of a Hoe,” which called out gendered double standards of promiscuity, in 1993, the seeds of change were being sown.
Of course, the revolution came just a few years later in the form of two young, fierce New Yorkers: Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. Both had prestigious co-signs, boundless charisma, and unrivaled skills, but what set them apart was their willingness to self-sexualize, both musically and visually. While Kim straddled a polar bear rug and ordered guys to eat her out (“I don’t want dick tonight / Eat my pussy right”), Foxy grabbed her crotch on magazine covers and dropped increasingly filthy verses, like her scene-stealing turn on Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy (Remix),” which ends with an authoritative “fucker.”
Although they changed the game, the backlash was strong – against Kim in particular. Throughout the ‘90s she appeared on talk shows to defend herself against claims of sexualizing children and setting back feminism, all of which are still being leveled against sex-positive women today. “I don’t think that,” she said of these claims in a 1997 interview with feminist pioneer bell hooks. “We have people like Too $hort, Luke Skyywalker, Biggie, 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.”
It didn’t take long for other women to absorb this message, too. As the years passed, a handful of rappers started recording their own versions of explicit tracks, like La Chat’s rework of Three Six Mafia’s iconic “Slob on the Knob,” which she named “Slob on My Cat.” (Gangsta Boo’s remix deserves an honorable mention, too). A spirit of collaboration reigned supreme, and soon, other gloriously filthy women began making a name for themselves, especially in the South.
The late ‘90s and early 2000s were the golden era of sexed-up women in rap. Trina smashed her way into the game with explicit lyrics that touched on everything from period sex (“I make him eat it while my period on”) to bisexuality (“you don’t know nann ho… / [who] let another bitch straight lick the clit”), and in 2004, Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” became an unlikely radio hit. The most underrated of these women is undeniably Jacki-O, who made a splash with a catchy ode to her pussy. Although her album underperformed, it still holds up today – listen to “Champion” to hear her tear down Trick Daddy (“How many nuts I gotta bust in your face before you shut up?”), or the self-explanatory “Sugar Walls” for more cum-filled innuendo.
Some of these women don’t get the props they deserve, especially as an extensive dry spell came towards the decade. Nicki Minaj put an end to this with her meteoric rise, nodding to sex-positive pioneers like Kim (she rapped over “The Jump Off” and paid homage to Hard Core with her Sucka Free mixtape poster), Trina, and Foxy, who came out of hiatus to lay down a verse on “Coco Chanel.” Naturally, Nicki has never shied away from sex either: see her remix verses on “Lollipop” and “Freaky Girl” for proof, as well as her first take on Biggie’s iconic “Dreams.”
Now, the list of women making gloriously filthy tracks is seemingly endless. Sometimes, they’re funny: CupcakKe brags that she’ll “make your balls stick up like space buns,” Princess Vitarah went viral for her ode to “swallowing kids,” and Queen Key (who just released a “WAP” remix of her own) blends introspection with punchlines on her impressive mixtapes Eat My Pussy and Eat My Pussy Again. Then there’s Young M.A., who spits flex-heavy bars about weed and pussy; last year, she featured alongside Mulatto, Dreezy, DreamDoll and Chinese Kitty on the blockbuster “Thot Box” remix, kind of a 2019 “Ladies Night,” just with more lyrics about squirting on du-rags.
There’s still a long way to go – as the predictable pearl-clutching over “WAP” has proven – before women can own their sexuality without backlash, but the main difference now is solidarity. In the past, women have been pitted against each other for the one “Queen of Rap” spot. Now, collaboration reigns supreme: City Girls have tapped everyone from Doja to Saweetie (and, of course, Cardi) for features, whereas the likes of Yung Baby Tate, Maliibu Mitch, Bree Runway, Kamaiyah and more all understand the power of a co-sign. Even the “WAP” video doubled up as an endorsement of talented, rising stars Mulatto, Sukihana and Rubi Rose, who recently went viral for earning $100,000 in just two days on OnlyFans. The Ben Shapiros and Cee-Los of the world might always recoil at the mention of a wet ass pussy, but the game is changing for good – and women are now more dominant and more unified than ever.