Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B and Lizzo are leading a pleasure politics revolution

The feminine-focused rapture is upon us and black female rappers are summoning us to indulge ourselves in more ways than one.
Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash 2019 - Concert
Megan Thee Stallion performs onstage during 2019 Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash on June 15, 2019, in Atlanta.Paras Griffin / Getty Images file
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By DaLyah Jones

It’s 98 degrees in Austin, Texas, and although I’m a little warm, I’m still surviving “Hot Girl Summer.” The phrase — now a social media phenomenon — was started by Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion as a way to encourage fans to be unapologetically themselves.

I’m riding down the street in my car with all four of my windows rolled down — my AC is broken. Random gusts of Central Texas wind escape in and out of my windows, carrying the booming sounds of the self-named Stalli’s “Cocky AF.” I rap along with her over the 808 snares while the vibrations of a trembling beat wobble the inside of my gut: “I’m holding my p---- like it’s a weapon… I’m Megan from Texas, I’m naturally sexy, uh!”

At a moment when women and trans women feel increasingly threatened, female rappers are fighting back with sensual, butt-shaking sonnets that frankly discuss their own sexual gratification.

More female rappers like Megan are crowding Billboard charts and surfing radio airwaves recently — music, literally, to country black chicks like me. At a moment when women and trans women feel increasingly threatened, female rappers are fighting back with sensual, butt-shaking sonnets that frankly discuss their own sexual gratification.

When Megan says, “I deserve it,” she's telling women that they deserve to be free to express themselves and their desires however they want, patriarchy, racial politics and beauty standards be damned. This encourages women to prioritize their own desires and needs in an effort to mend past trauma and acquire bliss.

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Indeed, this is what pleasure politics is all about. By brandishing their honeypots like “weapons,” female rappers are exploring the sometimes murky waters of carnal autonomy — and reveling in them. By loudly proclaiming sovereignty over their own flesh, women like Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty and Saweetie are defying restrictive norms, further hacking away at the very systems that restrict our right to do so.

Since its inception, music has served as an archive for history and expression. And hip-hop’s very birth is intrinsically tied to the experiences of black and brown youths in Bronx, New York. So, it comes as no surprise that more than 40 years later, the genre has been used by hip-hop foremothers and contemporaries to begin vital conversations about sex, sexuality, fetishization, pleasure, fantasy and pain.

Mainstream female rap has always pushed for the space to discuss their own bodies their own way — just look at Yo-yo’s “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo” (1991), Foxy Brown’s “Dog & A Fox” (1999), Trina’s “Da Baddest Bitch” (2000). The genre’s first female hip-hop queens mapped out the paths now followed by their trap-beat descendants.

With the rise of multiple streaming platforms and social media, rappers also now have the opportunity to manage their own public image. Artists can become a bit more intimate with and targeted towards their fan base. For example, Houston-born Megan Thee Stallion was jolted into the spotlight after a video of her free-styling in 2016 went viral. Straight forward, confident rhymes like “I’m just writin’ verses ‘bout how yo n---- should eat you,” garnered her instant praise.

Megan also boldly praises her own build — her rap name is a reference to the slang term “stallion,” which is commonly used by African Americans in the South to describe a tall, built, beautiful woman. This persona allows Megan to steer her own sexual fantasies. But it also acknowledges the uncomfortable reality that black women have been hypersexualized and objectified for centuries. Current policy has historically and still today fails to protect black women and their bodies.

Along with Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion is closely tied to strip club culture. Both women embody a “pay me what you owe me” ethos. They have also helped flip the conversation of conspicuous consumption on its head. Women are taking ownership of the diamonds and furs that men often flaunt and associate with their value. They’re showcasing what capsizing a heteronormative male-focused and -driven music industry looks like for not only themselves but also for some of the most objectified and exploited women in the music industry.

Recently, rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri announced that he was launching a cypher — informal rap jam session — for women after receiving backlash about his sexist comments on “strippers rapping.” Cardi B originally responded to the comments, pointing out to Dupri the hypocrisy in his comments since male rappers receive little blowback for rapping about “dancing in the club.” Female rappers are orchestrating music inspired by their environment — and they don’t need so-called gatekeepers like Dupri to validate them.

Another Houston-raised artist, Lizzo, who recently released her third studio album, “Cuz I Love You,” is likewise spreading the gospel of resiliency. Beyond her talent as a musician, Lizzo’s unyielding commitment to being herself is itself a rebellious act against Eurocentric body standards too often imposed on black women. Lizzo, who’s a plus-size woman, allows listeners to cast aside shame and dwell in the splendor of self-love and vulnerability.

Rappers have always given voice to marginalized communities, but for too long these marginalized communities were dominated by cis, heteronormative men. Now, women such as Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo and Young M.A recognize a whole other group of people — sex workers, plus-sized women, queer women. Young M.A revels in her brash image, itself an attempt to take back the mic from misogynistic male rappers and fans. In the process, she has received harassing comments and messages, all of which prove her point about male insecurity.

But these women aren’t simply rapping about sexuality — they are also bringing up issues such as the environment, sexual assault, immigration and socioeconomic injustice. In March, Megan organized a beach cleanup which included hundreds of fans who gathered in their swimsuits and daisy dukes to gather trash. She also hosted a scholarship pageant this past June for students at Texas Southern University in Houston, all while proclaiming that she doesn't consider herself an activist.

Female rappers are declaring themselves rap royalty, but a sense of camaraderie leaves space for others to hold sway. In Megan’s most recent Jimmy Kimmel Live performance, the rapper made sure to shout “Free JT!” during a rendition of “Big Ole Freak” — a "Hot Girl Summer" pimp anthem. Currently, Jatavia “JT” Thompson, the other half of Miami’s City Girls, is serving time in prison for credit card fraud but will be released in the next couple of months. The duo’s most recent song “Act Up” (2018) topped Rhythmic Songs airplay charts and continues to climb, following the success of songs like “Twerk” (2019), which was a collaboration between City Girls and Cardi B.

So what are we ultimately to glean from the recent success of women like Megan Thee Stallion? There is no justice or freedom for black women without joy, no political liberation without sexual autonomy. The feminine-focused pleasure rapture is upon us and black female rappers are summoning us to indulge ourselves in more ways than one. Who are we to say no?