Released on August 7th, rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s song “WAP” broke records with 93 million streams in its opening week alone to become No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Its music video currently has 116 million views on Youtube, and a dance to its chorus went viral—#WAP has about 10 billion views on TikTok alone. Despite its wild success, the song has also brought along heavy criticism from politicians and conservative people in the media.
James P. Bradley, a California Republican congressional candidate, said, “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion are what happens when children are raised without God.”
DeAnna Lorraine, a Republican commentator and previous California congressional candidate, tweeted that “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting & vile ‘WAP’ song”.
Not to mention Ben Shapiro’s infamous tirade on his show produced by The Daily Wire, where he said, “This is what feminists fought for […] It’s not really about women being treated as independent, full rounded human beings. It’s about wet-a** p-word. And if you say anything different you’re a misogynist”.
Why has a three-minute song garnered such simultaneous hate and appreciation? “WAP” sets itself apart because of its unusually sexually explicit lyrics. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion rap with veiled and blatant sexual innuendos, talking about how they want men to please them. It is fresh and seemingly unlike anything the media has listened to before.
However, “WAP” is not the first of its kind. Black women in hip-hop have a history of so-called sex talk. Journalist DaLyah Jones from Okayplayer analyzed sexually empowering artists from the past: Lil Kim (Kimberly Denise Jones), Foxy Brown (Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand), Trina (Katrina Laverne Taylor), and Khia (Khia Shamone Finch)— all of whom are black female rappers that debuted in the late 1990s. Their songs fought both misogyny and homophobia in rap culture, and they received criticism for it, too.
Khia’s 2001 single “My Neck, My Back” hit No. 42 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but it was also slammed for its explicitness. Rapper Too Short even released a corresponding diss track called “My D***, My Sack” and was quoted saying, “There’s too many females out here celebrating.”
So “WAP”’s reception in popular culture is an example of a much larger trend, one that began three decades ago. Male artists with graphic mentions of sex are hardly anything to blink at. It is commonplace, the normal, and so are the often misogynistic themes within their lyrics that objectify women. It never attracts a slew of insults from conservative politicians.
In contrast, these sexual anthems are never examples of toxic content or an objectification of men. Khia said about “My Neck, My Back”: “A lot of them hard heads feel like I’m just trying to bash guys, and that’s not really what the song is about. It’s just about a man and a woman […] pleasing each other when y’all making love”.
These female rappers use uncensored and maybe unconventional lyrics, admittedly, but in doing so, they emphasize a necessary theme of consent, mutual pleasure and depict women on equal footing.
So the issue isn’t actually subject matter. It comes down to the creators. Explicit music is only widely accepted by a certain demographic. By terming songs similar to “WAP” as shallow, ‘without God’, or too vulgar, we are actively drawing the line between male artists and female artists, condoning one but condemning the other. It creates a double standard within the music industry.
Of course, breaking down the double standard does not mean female rappers should suddenly be immune to criticism. But when conservative figures verbalize hatred towards Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion specifically because of media that displays positive female sexuality from a female’s perspective, they are gatekeeping who gets to speak about sex. If the sole reason for these angry Tweets is that Cardi B raps about…women enjoying sex, then it becomes a clear demonstration of a barrier in media that accepts explicit lyrics as long as they don’t originate from…gasp, a woman. The longer we condemn females being vocal about sex, the longer we are complacent in the sexual objectification of women.
Whether or not you like listening to “WAP”, it is crucial to acknowledge the strides in empowerment derived from its incredible popularity. Ben Shapiro didn’t mean it, but he was right with one thing. Songs like “WAP” are partially what feminists are fighting for—or, to rephrase his words, it is a beautiful product of how far the feminist movement has progressed. Sex-positive talk that encourages females is relatively new and still a process, but “WAP” and its skyrocketing number of streams is a milestone. It has not been an inherent right for women to be sexually explicit in society.
Christi Carras from the Los Angeles Times wrote that “WAP” “carries a political weight that men rapping about sex doesn’t”.
Female rappers leading the way with their sexual anthems should not be considered too ‘disgusting’, or ‘vile’, or viewed as inconsequential for their songs. They demonstrate women reclaiming their bodies and their independence to choice in an extremely male-dominated genre. They are spreading a powerful message of body autonomy and sex-positive feminity that overturns long-held societal standards.
Today’s generation of female rappers contributing to the ongoing revolution includes City Girls, Rico Nasty, Saweetie, and Noname, with millions of streams each.