WAPPITY WAP WAP WAP: WOMEN AND SEXUALITY IN MUSIC

“She said put it in her mouth

I said my m*therf*ckin mouth

I mean her m*therf*ckin moooouuuuth….”

– Akinyele (1996)

Based on what I’ve seen online and on television since August 7 when Cardi B and  Megan Thee Stallion released their song WAP, Americans seem to approach the subject of women expressing their sexuality through music in a very interesting and I would even dare say, hypocritical way.  As a lover of music I’ve been actively listening to several different genres all my life but discovered that some songs had a “radio” version and a “dirty” version sometime around age 10 or 11 when my aunt heard me singing along to “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” by TLC and immediately told me that the lyrics weren’t something I should be repeating out loud.  I remember being confused because at our end of school year concert a month or two prior, girls in my class did what I thought was a “really cool” dance to the song. Cue the “shrug” and “facepalm” emojis at the same time.

By the time I heard the Akinyele song quoted at the beginning of this article I was 14 or 15 and while I listened to it with my mouth opened, I was at about half of a tank of shock by that time thanks to the fact that similar songs were receiving airplay (albeit edited) or you heard them at school or at friend’s houses.  What I noticed though, was that most of the artistes were men and while there were persons in the US lobbying to “clean up” genres like rap, the songs were pretty much accepted by the mainstream and were protected by US free speech laws.

Fast-forwarding to 2020, due to the fact that Americans pride themselves on living in a country founded on free speech and expression, I figured that having gone through Lil Kim’s “Hardcore” album, songs like “My Neck, My Back” by Khia (2001), “B R Right” by Trina (f. Ludacris) (2002) and even Beyonce’s “Partition” (2013), which all received heavy rotation on the radio and tv music channels, a song like “WAP” would not have been such a knock in the chest for commentators.

Now let me state categorically that I acknowledge that the song is very explicit and is definitely not for children but here’s the thing, in this article I am speaking specifically about how we women are allowed to express ourselves through music for ADULTS ONLY.  If you have children today, boys or girls, hopefully you can find a way to talk to them about this type of music, what it represents and how perhaps they shouldn’t go singing it to their teacher or grandparent.  It has to be tough raising children now because everything is so accessible and that is why it is important to have conversations with the children in your life.  Even though I think I am no prude when it comes to music, for certain songs, I find myself asking why are they being played on the radio as their lyrics are not for younger ears, even if they have been edited.

That said, being from Barbados, a sorta kinda conservative society (we struggle with what we are from time to time too), whether we like it or not, if you grew up in the late 80s to 90s to now, you would be aware of the Caribbean female musical sexuality spectrum which goes from “Aye Aye Aye” by Square One (vocals by Allison Hinds), to “Wining Queen” by Denise Belfon, to “Ninja Bike” by Tanya Stephens, “Heels On” by Lady Saw and “Correction Rod” by Lady Shabba.

Of the songs I just mentioned, only Lady Shabba’s song was banned from the radio (Lady Saw’s was edited) as I figured she would have had to re-work almost all of her lyrics to be suitable for general audiences.  This means that outside of parties, we would hear these songs all the time and even if we didn’t hear the uncensored version, we had a pretty good idea about what they were referring to.  These types of songs, coupled with our various carnivals and Crop Over, even if there are complaints from some quarters, have shown Caribbean women that our bodies are something to be proud of, our hips and butts and the mere ability to parade in a costume and feel free, even if just for one or two days out of the year.  Whether we realise it or not, the rhythm of our music is embedded into our psyche and over time, women artistes from the Caribbean have worked hard to stake a claim in what is traditionally a male-dominated arena.

Now back to the US.  What I’ve observed over the last week or so since WAP was released, was that as of today, the video had a total of 99,015,424 views on YouTube which means that A LOT of people watched the video and multiple times. Much of what I’ve seen and heard, made up of American commentary from conservatives to Joe Budden, Rory and Mal to Ebro and his co-hosts on Hot 97, varies.  From those who say that women are whores and sluts if they sing or rap unabashedly about sex to it’s fine if women produce this type of content but it’s still uncomfortable to hear.  In many instances, I’ve felt that the dominant thought is that women should “know better” because they are the ones who tend to be held up as role models, men aren’t held to this standard.  We are then expected to be sexual but only behind closed doors; the double standards abound.

What I will say is this: (1) Cardi and Meg did not move from being Disney stars to rapping explicit lyrics overnight, so this song should not be a surprise to anyone who has ever heard any of their music, (2) if we don’t like or feel comfortable with something, we have every right to speak about it so critiquing the song for its content is fine, as with any other song and (3) if a woman wishes to release a song with the intention of empowering/making their fellow women feel freer about being sexy or sexual, she should.  Women are not a single homogeneous group, there are those who will listen to WAP with their  husbands in mind and there are those who will listen for other reasons, neither is any of our business.

In concluding, I will ask these questions, do you feel offended at songs like “Doin’ It” by LL Cool J, “Wait (The Whisper Song)” by Ying Yang Twins, “U.O.N.E.O” by various artistes (listen to Rick Ross’ verse), “Turn up the F*ck” by Vybz Kartel or “Feel Good” by Popcaan? What makes those songs different from similar songs performed by women?  Do you think that there is a way that women should sing/rap/chant about sex?  How do you feel about WAP?  Do you think that certain songs shouldn’t be played on the radio, even if there is a radio edit?  Let me hear your thoughts. Should be an interesting discussion.

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