WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion Pushed the Globe Into OverdrivePosted by Mike Schumacher
As many of us choose for evenings home on the couch over nights out with friends this winter, Belcalis Alamanzar’s classic words ring out through the internet ether: “A ho never gets cold!” Cardi B, the rapper popularly known as Cardi B, parades down a hotel hallway in a plunging, barely-there bralette and a tight-fitting skirt in a 2014 video that went viral.
Megan Thee Stallion has created a reputation for herself as a woman who wears little and cares even less about it. With their breakthrough 2020 track, WAP, an homage to female sexuality and “wet ass pussy,” Meg and Cardi would go on to spawn a movement, bringing a taste of the club to the world’s living rooms at the height of lockdown.
The two take us through the hottest of bedroom sessions in three minutes and seven seconds of lyrical filthy language, only they are firmly in the driver’s seat, contrary to patriarchal traditions. Cardi and Megan leave their victim vulnerable with everything from fellatio to make-up sex.
Their sexual appetite (and that of women in general) became the topic of passionate discussion when the film soon became a talking point throughout the globe. While some complimented their forthrightness, others were less thrilled, with Fox News’ Candace Owens calling Cardi a “cancer cell” that was destroying society.
The idea for a documentary on WAP fever was sparked by such dramatic and polarized reactions, according to filmmaker and producer Poppy Begum. “I wasn’t expecting the morality police to get so worked up over the song,” Begum admits.
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She started to consider the disparity in treatment of male and female rappers. “When a woman [writes a song like this], the level of scrutiny and speculation skyrockets.” It becomes tedious after a time.”
The loud, strong exclamations of Meg and Cardi made an impression, but they weren’t the first. Women, particularly female rappers, have long spoken about sex.
They’re following in the footsteps of Lil Kim, Trina, Missy Elliott, and Khia, among others (who was responsible for the iconic 00s anthem My Neck, My Back). Despite this, many people react with a mixture of astonishment and contempt when they hear such open talk.
Begum unpacks people’s thoughts in Queens of Rap, attempting to put herself in Cardi’s shoes by visiting her old stomping grounds in the Bronx, likening the singer’s upbringing in a tight-knit Dominican neighborhood to her own childhood in London’s Brick Lane’s Bengali community. Almanzar was originally renowned in the streets as a stripper for her boisterous laugh, aggressive flirting, and slightly misaligned front teeth, which she has subsequently had repaired (see: Got a Bag and Fixed My Teeth).
Begum thought that little had changed in the same streets when Cardi was first coming up. “In the offline world, the amount of people I came across who had old school, conservative views… [talking about Cardi and Megan] didn’t always go down well,” she says, despite the online fame of performers like Doja Cat. The debate’s circularity irritated her, reducing it to “the same classroom debates I had with my friends in school.”
Begum speaks with one lady on the street who recoils at the prospect of the WAP lyrics (“She’s a mother,” she adds of Cardi). Beyoncé, who collaborated with Megan on the remix of her smash Savage, is a mother, too.
While the singer teases on the tune about joining the pornographic website OnlyFans, she has gotten little to no backlash from the media for her improper behavior. Cardi is presented as “ratchet” – unpleasant, unclassy – owing to her rags to riches narrative, but Beyoncé is perceived as more respectable, even from “better stock,” due to her rags to riches story.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, one of the film’s contributors and the former editor in chief of the women’s news and entertainment website Jezebel, believes the music business hasn’t yet accepted women as active players. Shepherd wants to emphasize that music about sex is nothing new, comparing Cardi and Megan to early blues musicians like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, who recorded “f*cking and s*cking songs from the 1930s.”
However, there is still a blind spot in the sector, and reform hasn’t always come from inside. “It took the internet’s democratizing force to get us to a point where we could have more than one mainstream woman rapper at the same time,” she continues.
WAP’s no-nonsense approach to sex – and the possibility for utilizing one’s body for financial benefit – connects with discussions about sex work. The presenter Zeze Millz says in the documentary that WAP is “soft porn” to her. To others, being deemed beautiful and then selling that image to women as a captive audience is complicity in your own fetishization.
But, as journalist Jacqueline Springer points out, it is preferable to profit from your own fetishization than to give authority to someone else for women who want to make it big at whatever cost. Controlling their own image – to “reclaim and defame,” in Shepherd’s words – might be an effort to leverage this catch-22 scenario.
Artists, on the other hand, are still helpless in certain aspects. Shepherd believes that the cultural and aesthetic freedom that comes with crafting this kind of music is limitless. However, the capitalistic nature of music sales means that “absolute empowerment” won’t be attainable “until the industry is dismantled from its long history of exploiting Black artists.”
Queens of Rap depicts a colorful history of female sexuality in music, though there is still much more to discuss (for example, beauty standards and colorism in relation to sexuality could be a whole separate documentary – just look at the constant trolling Lizzo received after collaborating with Cardi). It does, however, show that WAP was more than a fad, and that a new generation of female rappers will soon take up the role.
And, as the arguments and conversations continue, there may be opportunity for a sequel.
Thanks to Danielle Koku at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.
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