‘WAP’ Is Just One Part In A Long History Of X-Rated Rap

I can’t lie; when Cardi B says “I want you touch that little dangly thing that swings from the back of my throat” on “WAP,” I did a double take. I chuckled. I even rolled my eyes a little. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great line. It’s just that I’ve heard worse — much worse — over the course of my years on Earth listening to hip-hop music. Which is why watching so many people — Republicans, reality television stars, random commenters on Twitter, and this idiot — grabbing their rosaries and clutching their pearls over the content on “WAP” has been a disconcerting experience for me.

In November last year, Chicago rapper Dreezy instructed listeners, “When he hit it doggystyle, grab his balls from the back” on Hitmaka’s ladies-only “Thot Box” remix. Less than six months later, City Girls’ JT boasted, “This pussy so ghetto, this pussy speak ebonics” on a song called “Pussy Talk.” Just about two weeks ago, on “Muwop” — what may prove to be the introductory song of her career for new listeners after her appearance on XXL‘s Freshman cover — Mulatto co-opted the hook from Gucci Mane’s 2007 hit “Freaky Gurl” 13 years later: “Make him give me brain in the front seat of the Hummer.”

I say this to say: Raunchy raps are hardly unexplored terrain in the world of hip-hop — especially for women, who often rebut complaints about their content with reminders that they’re just keeping up with the fellas. In the continuum of raw, filth-filled freestyles and salacious soliloquies, “WAP” does occupy an unprecedented nexus. It’s really the first time — at least, it’s the first time in a long time — that such unfiltered references to sexual escapades have come from the top-selling artists in the field and especially without the benefit of innuendo or double entendre.

On “WAP,” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion explain in detail all that they plan on doing to their paramours and expect in return. In Cardi’s verses alone, she promises to “do a kegel while it’s inside,” roleplay with disguises, and gag during fellatio with the aforementioned uvula action entailed. But where critics of the song — which even includes US congressional candidates — are mistaken in their objections is their insistence that “it’s gotten worse” or that it never has been. Their comparisons to more respectable MCs miss the mark as it becomes clear they haven’t really paid close attention to these alternatives or to the history of rap as a whole.

You certainly can compare Cardi to her immediate predecessor on the raunchy rap throne, Nicki Minaj. Before this year, the Queens rapper’s biggest hit to date was “Anaconda,” a direct reference to the size of her lover’s junk. A sample bar: “Let him eat it with his grills and he tellin’ me to chill.” Before that, Nicki dedicated lines on previous hits like her verse on Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$)” remix to requests for directions to the “best ass eater” and promises to “bust this pussy open in the islands of Waikiki.”

“What about Missy Elliott?” You may protest. As the next in the lineage of tremendous stars with near-universal pop appeal, Missy kept her image as squeaky-clean as Nicki’s hoo-hah in “Dance,” right? Get serious. Have you listened to Missy Elliott’s No. 1 hit single “Work It?” Did you think it was about a job? Were you so focusing on deciphering the reversed section of the hook that you missed Missy’s command to let her “search ya” if you “got a big [elephant trumpet]?” Maybe you forgot about Missy’s dismissal of the one-pump chump on “One Minute Man” or weren’t yet of age to truly grasp what “getting ur freak on” truly meant.

And let’s not forget that while all this was going on, women like Khia, Shawnna, and Trina were telling anyone old enough to turn on a radio when, where, and how they wanted to get down and dirty. Khia’s “My Neck, My Back,” released in April 2002, was a moderate hit, peaking at No.42 on the Hot 100 with a chorus that said, explicitly, “My neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack.” Shawnna appeared alongside Ludacris, king of rapid-fire, raunchy raps, on songs like “What’s Your Fantasy,” and “P-Poppin‘” — and we all know what the “P” stands for. Her own biggest hit interpolated Too Short’s demands for oral; “Gettin’ Some” went platinum in six months. Shawnna is also one of only nine women in the history of rap to reach No.1 on the Hot 100.

Trina, meanwhile, is considered a whole racy genre unto herself, filling her lyrics with lines that could make even a professional sex worker blush — or work that much harder. Her single “Pull Over” from debut album Da Baddest Bitch guarantees she’ll “Slip him off the bed, throw him on the floor / Turn on the cameras start the freak show.” In the self-titled lead single, Trina even nasty-brags “I make him eat it while my period on.” The worst part? She’s not even the only female rapper to make this boast, with Rah Digga throwing in a menstrual punchline on her own debut album Dirty Harriet just a month after Da Baddest Bitch‘s release.

You may have noticed we haven’t even gotten to Lil Kim or Foxy Brown yet, largely credited as the originators of the raunchy rap style (Kim more so than Fox). Tell you what, you can have “Magic Stick,” as a treat. The point is, “WAP” is in no way novel or a huge departure from a tradition of buttoned-up, bars-first, housewife-able female rappers in the vein of MC Lyte — who also has her share of sex bars, to be honest — or Rapsody (ditto). That’s to say nothing of all the men who told women that it “Ain’t No Fun” if the homies can’t have some (a song whose radio version is basically just an instrumental) or to “Get Low,” or to “run girl, I’m tryna get your body wet” (the clean version of David Banner’s “Play“), or to “Put It In Your Mouth.”

From the aforementioned Akinyele to Too Short to Juicy J to Ludacris to The Notorious B.I.G., men’s sexually explicit raps breeze by with nary a comment. It’s when women try to take back some of their agency in these fantasies that concerns about “the example we’re setting for our children” reach the volume they have in the past week or so. The comparisons to “respectable” female rappers fall short and get batted down artists like Noname and Chika, who post their own tawdry bars in response to quell those fallacious arguments. And rap’s history of celebrating uninhibited women looms over it all, reminding us that before Megan and Cardi came up with their catchy acronym, the women of hip-hop have been proudly praising the power of the P all along.

Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.