Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape on repeat was the soundtrack to my ninth grade life. As I sat at the cafeteria’s colored girls table in my almost all white high school, my friends and I talked about Nicki more days than I could count. More than once the girls at my table said that they would sleep with Nicki if they ever got the chance–she was just that damn sexy.
High school slugged on and my iPod moved on from Roman’s Revenge to Rihanna’s. S&M owned the radio, and I saw parents in my suburban town simultaneously blast pop stations and gasp with horror as their kids sang along. My white classmates made endless, often tasteless jokes about the song. “Shouldn’t Rihanna have liked Chris Brown beating her?” they said. No one around me seemed to comment on the fact that a Black woman was in the mainstream media in chains that didn’t represent her enslavement, but her pleasure and control. And as people continued to taunt Nicki Minaj’s wigs, they ignored the fact that her existence provided an acceptance of queerness in an otherwise homophobic environment.
Both Nicki and Rihanna taught me more about my sexuality as a young Black woman (and a queer woman, even if I didn’t fully accept that yet) than any of my sex ed did. Their bodies are allowed to experience pleasure. They break the strict codes of acceptable behavior for Black women. Even if I didn’t act on the sexually charged words, artists like Nicki and Rihanna expanded the boundaries of sexuality and pleasure without shame in who they are. When society polices poor, queer, and Black/brown femmes and tells them they are hypersexual by nature, seeing these artists own their identities liberated me.
That’s why Nicki’s raunchy, over the top look was more than a gimmick. Jillian Hernandez, an artist/activist/academic triple threat, defines raunch aesthetics as “creative practices that often blend humor and sexual explicitness to launch cultural critiques, generate pleasure for minority audiences, and affirm queer lives.” Even before hip hop, raunch has always been a tool of poor people/people with lower social standing. It easily transfers to other peoples (Black and brown folks, queer folks, women, femmes, fat folks, disabled folks, etc.) who are institutionally disenfranchised as a way to fight against oppressive structures. Raunch is used as a teaching tool to connect people through generations. Raunch doesn’t view sexuality as taboo; instead it’s natural for it to be explored by all ages, allowing kids to be included in the conversation.
While raunch exists other places (in movies, in drag, etc.), raunch in hip hop has my heart. Against the danger of street harassment, I can think of Remy Ma’s lyrics in Conceited and walk a little taller: “I look too good to be fuckin’ you / I look too good to be lovin’ you / You know I look way too good to be stuck with you / I’m conceited I got a reason.” Or if I am feeling insecure because I didn’t have time to put on my makeup one day, I can hear Nicki and Ciara singing in my head, “I’m the shit with no makeup / Don’t have to curl my hair up.” Not only does this music continue to teach me, but it provides me with confidence I can wear like an armor.
Non-femme raunch artists like Ludacris matter to me too, but femmes remain underrepresented in the rap game. Sexism, racism, and queerphobia in the music industry reflects that of society at large, pushing talented artists out of the limelight. I have realized more and more how much I need raunchy, Black femme love in my life. This music makes me feel empowered and at home in myself and dares me to take up space. The playlist below starts with people I grew up with like Lil’ Kim and Remy Ma and moves to artists I’m listening to today. So here I am, sharing a little raunchy resistance with you.
Malana is a Black, mixed race, disabled white passing queer woman smashing the patriarchy daily. People she doesn’t know often come up to her and tell her their life stories, apparently because she has a lot of water in her astrological chart.
This piece was edited by Maryam Ahmad.