Black Women Having All the Fun: ‘Bongos’ and ‘You Wish’ Celebrate the Joy of Black Sisterhood

In Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Bongos” and Flyana Boss’ “You Wish,” Black women hip-hop artists create spaces for pleasure, joy and sisterhood.

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in “Bongos.”

“The future of rap is female,” declared the New York Times just days ahead of hip-hop’s official 50th anniversary on Aug. 11, 2023. The evidence of this might be seen this month in two recent music videos released within a week of each other.

The videos could not be more different. The first, “Bongos,” pairing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion on a second single that is just as raunchy and bawdy as their first controversial single, “WAP,” cost an impressive $2 million with bedazzling fashions and a Beverly Hills mansion infamously showcased in movies like The Godfather and The Bodyguard, as well as Beyoncé’s third visual album Black Is King.

The second, “You Wish,” featuring viral sensation rap duo Flyana Boss (comprised of bandmates Bobbi Lanea Tyler and Folayan Omi Kunerede) captures the modestly budgeted cosplay fun and whimsical creativity of their TikTok “running” videos, teasing their song over the course of the summer season.

Both songs contain explicit lyrics about their sexual bravado, but one video leans into the hypersexual spectacle of Black women’s bodies, while the other explores the quirkiness of said bodies.

This is not to suggest one is “more appropriate” than the other—far from it! We are witnessing the full spectrum of Black women rappers engaging in pleasure and joy. It is no wonder Niela Orr situates the future of hip-hop within a community of women who “are having all the fun.”

Last month, I authored a series for Ms. on “Turning 50,” highlighting women’s roles in hip-hop over the decades. Despite the male-oriented and masculine bravado of hip-hop, women played integral roles in amplifying the music in the wider community. Women specifically created the social and sonic spaces for hip-hop to thrive: from Cindy Campbell, hosting and sending out the invites to her brother Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell’s party that fateful August night in the Bronx, to producer Sylvia Robinson releasing the first commercially successful rap song and signing the rap group Funky 4 + 1 More (featuring the first female rapper MC Sha-Rock).

This continued with other women, featured in the “Turning 50” series: Dee Barnes, the first woman to host a hip-hop show, Pump It Up!, on network television from 1989 to 1991, and Drew Dixon, who as an executive working at labels like Def Jam and Arista, integrated hip-hop with soul and R&B, with songs like “You’re All I Need to Get By” (Method Man featuring Mary J. Blige) and “A Rose is Still a Rose” (Aretha Franklin and Lauryn Hill).

Both women were driven out of the culture due to violence, and this legacy is still a hallmark of too many songs and videos in mainstream rap music. This is the irony of celebrating hip-hop’s milestone year: It represents the beats and the voices of pleasure and joy, just as much as it captures so much pain.

This week, my students engaged in a discussion about this legacy of hip-hop and even marveled that a label run by an alleged sexual predator that chased away the talented Drew Dixon would go on to create the raunchy album cover Hardcore featuring rapper Lil’ Kim—which essentially became the blueprint for depicting and marketing women rappers through a hypersexual framework. The throughline is easy to follow from this spectacle circa 1997 to 21st-century artists like Nicki Minaj, City Girls, Cardi B, Meg Thee Stallion, Latto, Sexxy Red and Ice Spice.

And yet, as Black feminist porn studies scholar Mireille Miller-Young once argued, Black joy and pleasure should mobilize our communities to resist and fight for freedom just as much as our movements based in Black pain and death. As she put it:

“If we concentrate on how some representations are injurious and damaging to our sense of progress or integrity, we might miss reading the unreliability, unknowability, and ambiguity of [Black] women’s complex sexual desires, fantasies, and pleasures. … This is not to discount in any way the structural issues of sexism and violence as they are reproduced constantly in hip-hop and pornography; it is to propose that we take seriously how and why [Black women] are finding their own legibility in these forms, and how they self-fashion themselves through and against hypersexuality.”

That is what makes the videos for “Bongos” and “You Wish” so much fun to watch. The artists are creating legible spaces for pleasure, joy and sisterhood.

The “Bongos” video provides close-up shots of twerking bodies while Cardi B fans herself with a Playboy magazine—a nod to her role as the platform’s creative director, who also flips the scripts of once male-dominated spaces like hip-hop and the once-reigning sex magazine. The energy is clearly hyperfeminine and defiantly sexual in a world that still wants to police and confine female sexuality to a cis-heteronormative family dynamic.

Cardi B and Meg twerking against right-wing conservatives, against women-hating chauvinists, against violent men is a triumph of the joys and freedoms of sensual pleasure that so many have unsuccessfully tried to police.

Cardi B often proudly owns her identity as a married wife and mother, as shown in her shared behind-the-scenes photos of her “work wife” partner Meg Thee Stallion interacting with her children; however, her sexualized performances push back against notions that she has been “redeemed” for respectability. She refuses to erase her past as an exotic dancer and eagerly partakes in sexually fluid roles with Meg Thee Stallion when their bodies intertwine in the video.

Cardi B even engages in a role reversal, in which men are reduced to eye candy in the video. (Admittedly, the choice to have an Asian male model in this role may reinforce the feminization of Asian men that is too prevalent in our culture; however, it also does much to provide a rare depiction of such men as desirous sex partners for non-Asian and non-white women.) Overall, Cardi B meaningfully engages sexuality for both labor and leisure.

In this context, she and Meg Thee Stallion indulge in a fantasy where Black and Brown women can call the shots and revel in the leisure of sunbathing at a beach or swimming at a luxurious pool. The latter location is also an interesting callback to Beyoncé’s use of the same swimming pool in the segment, “Mood 4 Eva,” from Black Is King. Here, the pop star signified on the Hollywood spectacle of an Estelle Williams movie through the mobilization of Jamaica’s synchronized swim team. That Meg and her backup dancers repurpose that pool for their aggressive twerk dancing in luxurious swimsuits is both a tribute to Queen Bey’s reclamations of the space for Black freedom and her own feminist restyling of “hot girl summer.”

That this video released around the same time that Tory Lanez was set to begin his 10-year prison sentence for shooting Meg in her foot—after he failed in a disinformation campaign that made her out to be a liar about the incident—simply recalled the famous words of Queen Bey: “I twirl on my haters!”

In Meg’s case, she twerked unapologetically on all her haters, who thought her sexual reclamations of her body was an invitation to be unprotected by the law. Cardi B and Meg twerking against right-wing conservatives, against women-hating chauvinists, against violent men is a triumph of the joys and freedoms of sensual pleasure that so many have unsuccessfully tried to police.

Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion indulge in a fantasy where Black and Brown women can call the shots.

Their luxurious fantasy contrasts with the humbler space of Flyana Boss hanging out in their bedroom and eating takeout (with their tongue-in-cheek “product placement” from DoorDash). But their dreams and fantasies are literally constructed for the viewer in a behind-the-scene green room with projected anime imagery. We are clued in that their video is a literal construction and projection of fantasy. This contributes to the playful vibe of their overall personas. Black girl joy can look like twerking in luxury, or it can look like eating fast food in a bedroom while hanging out with your girlfriend.

Hip-hop duo Flyana Boss consists of rappers Bobbi Lanea Tyler and Folayan Omi Kunerede.

This past summer might very well be recognized as Black Girl Summer, from Beyoncé’s splashy world tour Renaissance to Janelle Monáe’s release of her fourth studio album The Age of Pleasure. It is perhaps no mere coincidence that Flyana Boss, endorsed by this year’s Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee rapper Missy Elliott who is featured in a remix of “You Wish,” is now opening for Monáe’s current Age of Pleasure tour. Nor should we overlook how their stage name derives from the “boss” Diana Ross, who was recently seen as a surprise guest at Beyoncé’s Renaissance birthday show.

Both Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe, who are also part of hip-hop culture, have provided a blueprint for how to build on these Black cultures and reclaim them for women, femmes, and queer artists and audiences. That they are so much at the top of their game is encouragement for the current crop of artists who can create concrete spaces of joy, fun and pleasure because the foundation has already been laid.  

All of these artists have also been more than adept at showing their appreciation for those who came before them. Cardi B has lovingly shouted out Lil’ Kim in a high-heeled tribute in “Bongos”; while at her birthday show, Beyoncé showed her gratitude to Diana Ross and even interpolated a song from the early days of Tia and Tamera Mowry’s girl band Voices when she spotted Tia in the audience. And veterans in turn are doing what they can to make space for up-and-coming talent, as Monáe and Missy Elliott have done for Flyana Boss.   

This is the epitome of sisterhood and community building. It is more than edifying to see this modeled in our popular music, lessons that hopefully we can transfer to different arenas. If this is what hip-hop’s feminist future looks like, we’re here for it!

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Janell Hobson is professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at the University at Albany. She is the author of When God Lost Her Tongue: Historical Consciousness and the Black Feminist Imagination. She is also the editor of Tubman 200: The Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Project.