Recently, Hitkidd & Glorilla’s “FNF (Let’s Go)” has gone viral on social media. The breakup anthem arrives just in time for summer when the hot girls will hit the streets in pursuit of fresh hearts to break. While the song reflects the themes of hip hop divas like Megan thee Stallion’s “Plan B,” there’s a long heritage of Black women using music to explore intimate relationships.
Blues singers shared the experiences of U.S. Black women at the start of the 20th century and touched on similar issues of sex, love, and relationships. For example, in FNF, during the chorus rapper Glorilla chants:
I’m F R E E
Fuck nigga free
Dat mean I don’t gotta worry bout no fuck nigga cheatin’
And I’m S-I-N-G-L-E again
Outside hanging out the window with my ratchet-ass friends
In the 1925 blues song “No Man’s Mamma Now, Pennsylvanian Ethel Waters similarly describes divorce in liberating terms:
I’m a gal who is on a matrimonial strike;
Which means, I’m no man’s mamma now!
I’m screamin’, “There, I know how
A fella feels gettin’ out of jail,”
I’ve got twin beds,
But I take pleasure in announcin’ one’s for sale!
Am I makin’ it plain? I will never again
Drag around another ball and chain!
These songs show Waters is as happy as Glorilla to quit her relationship. Mainstream pop music, in contrast, often associates breakups with melancholy, while Black women performers imply a wider spectrum of sentiments.
Black Women’s Music as A Sign of the Times
According to Hazel Carby, blues songs like “No Man’s Mamma Now,” communicated a sense of sexual independence for Black women navigating the social, economic, and cultural upheaval that defined the period of the twentieth century known as the Great Migration. Hip hop feminists like Joan Morgan argue Black women rappers embrace autonomy and empowerment as resistance to structural factors that affect their experience of culture and society, including within close relationships. Take, for example, Cardi B and Megan thee Stallion’s “WAP,” released in August 2020.
In this particular song, the rappers eagerly communicate to their paramours exactly how they desire to experience sexual pleasure, as Megan does in her opening lines:
Gobble me, swallow me
Drip down the side of me
Quick, jump out ‘fore you let it get inside of me
I tell him where to put it, never tell him where I’m ’bout to be
I run down on him ‘fore I have a nigga running me
The lyrics give a roadmap to sexual pleasure and communicate erotic power, which counters gendered sexual scripts that encourage women to be subservient and mute about their expectations. In the 21st century, evolving cisheteroromantic conventions encourage oral sex as an equal opportunity act, rather than one in which only the woman partner performs a “blow job.”
This theme also emerges in blues music and its various derivatives. A song that comes to mind for me is Connie Allen’s “Rocket 69,” recorded in 1951, where she posed a tantalizing question to a potential partner:
Would you like to ride in my rocket 69?
Well, would you like to ride in my rocket 69?
Little sweet man like you,
we could have such a wonderful time
Rocket 69, of course, alludes more subtly to cunnilingus than the rappers of today. Nevertheless, Allen maintains the same openness to mutual sexual pleasure that thee Stallion echoes in her own song. Despite a seventy-year gap, Black women’s music continues to challenge heterosexual power dynamics in the evolution from blues to rap.
The Sexual Politics of Black Women’s Music
On a more abstract level, I consider this continuity evidence of the collective standpoint of Black women. Historically, some Black women resist the hypersexualization and devaluation of their bodies through a politics of respectability or a culture of dissemblance. These strategies enable Black women to renounce dominating images by embracing conservative sexual mores. While this approach confronts the pathologization of Black sexuality, it circumscribes Black women from public expression of sexuality and erotic power.
I believe these sexual politics, reinforced by institutions like the church or the family, explain why Black women’s music causes controversy. Hazel Carby speaks about how blues women were evoked in the Great Migration moral panic. Reformers wanted to shut down dancehalls and other venues where blues women made their money. Many sought out the creative industry for a greater level of agency than low-wage domestic labor and manufacturing jobs of the time.
Similarly, the venues where rappers earn their money, particularly strip clubs, face closure owing to the same moral panic surrounding blues music. Local and state governments employ zoning legislation and liquor licensing to control venues’ locations and activities. Thus, the socioeconomic factors that influence Black women as artists stay stable across time, exposing how the matrix of domination shapes U.S. culture.
- Carby, Hazel. 1998. 27 “It Jus Be’s Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women’s Blues.” In: O’Meally, Robert G., ed. the jazz cadence of american culture. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 471-483. ↩︎
- Carby, Hazel V. 1992. “Policing the Black Woman’s Body in an Urban Context.” Critical Inquiry 18: 738-755. ↩︎