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Reggaeton's Leading Ladies Combat Exclusion With Unfiltered Sexual Expression

Women at the forefront of reggaeton's second wave are loudly embracing their bodies and their sexuality.

Women at the forefront of reggaeton's second wave are loudly embracing their bodies and their sexuality.

Karol G, Natti Natasha, and Becky G are the women at the forefront of the most recent wave of reggaeton, Latin trap, and urbano music. They’ve each carved a space in a genre that has long been hostile to female artists, dominated by men who’ve centered women’s bodies in every aspect of their artistry and refused to create alongside them. But for the first time in its history, there’s more than one woman with a seat at the table. These women are bold. Their lyrics are sexually explicit and their lusty expressions of desire uninhibited. They’re operating outside the cultural and religious norms dominating Latin America and the U.S.-Latinx diaspora. Their mainstream success seems to suggest that Latinx people as a whole are shifting towards something more inclusive and less harmful. They’re pushing back on the once-impermeable parameters of Latinx machismo and misogyny. Still, it’s crucially important to acknowledge that, at its core, the room for aberration that has been afforded them is the direct product of their privilege as conventionally attractive, non-black Latinas.

Though unexceptional in many ways, Latin American culture fiercely clings to orthodox conceptions of sex and women’s participation in it. Catholic values are tightly woven into Latin American society and are inextricably tied to moralistic ideas about chastity, virginity, and purity—ideas that serve to strip women of their right to bodily autonomy. In the end, women are reduced to either the saintly domestic type ideal for marriage and childbearing or the seductive sex object whose value is limited to just that.

In part, the hostility toward women that pervades the Latin American music industry is a direct reflection of these values. Artistic expression and political subservience do not readily harmonize. If other musical genres have been male-dominated, then reggaeton has been especially so. It’s a genre marked by the profane and the impolite, an intentional rejection of middle-class moral codes and puritanical attitudes. The grit, the nasty lyrics, the profanity, the sweaty perreo symbolize everything that “decent women” should eschew.

 

Reggaeton's Unspoken Heroine

The first wave of reggaeton emerged in the ‘90s and early 2000s and its ripples were felt throughout the world. Women provided the subject matter, the visuals, the sex factor, and the perreo, but, with the exception of Ivy Queen, were all but directly denied the opportunity to succeed as artists. Jenny La Sexy Voz’s contributions to the genre and relative anonymity are perfect examples of the ways reggaeton exploited women’s bodies and sexualities while barring them from benefitting materially from it. She’s the woman whose sultry vocals and sexy hooks shaped the bangers that catapulted the likes of Wisin y Yandel and Daddy Yankee to international stardom. She’s the “dame paleta” behind their hit “Paleta,” the “papi, dame lo que quiero“ on Wisin y Yandel’s “Rakata,” one of the only reggaeton songs up to that point to land on the Billboard Hot 100. Her vocal features, however, were never credited, her contributions went largely unrecognized, and more importantly, she never received royalties for them. Ivy Queen, the single woman to experience success comparable to that of the men who dominated the genre at the time, often talks about the struggles she faced as a woman who wasn’t willing to settle for anything less than standing alongside her male peers.

When asked about sexism in the Latinx music industry in a 2015 Vivala interview, Ivy Queen answered, “Honey, I have enough stories to write not one, but several books.” Her success, to this day, remains the most transgressive success story in the genre. She didn’t look like the women in reggaeton videos, and she certainly didn’t exude the kind of sex appeal that her male counterparts liked to capitalize on. But her talent was undeniable. One of her biggest hits, “Quiero Bailar,” was an ode to women who relished in their sexuality on the dance floor and felt no shame about it. It was also a nod to women who wanted to make clear to men the difference between a dirty perreo and an invitation to have sex. Even if not explicitly so, it was a feminist call for bodily autonomy and the need for consent and respected boundaries. Her mainstream success, however, remained an anomaly for many years, especially after the fervor that drove reggaeton’s success fizzled out.

 

Reggaeton's Pop Music Resurgence

Since the second mainstream wave of reggaeton, birthed by Daddy Yankee’s megahit “Despacito,” 2018 appears more open to the idea of women participating in the genre, not only as physical bodies and faceless hooks but as female artists creating alongside their male peers. Colombian artist and songwriter, Karol G, has been in the game for a few years now; her 2017 debut album Unstoppable reached the second slot on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. Her video for “Ahora Me Llama” featuring Bad Bunny has over 600 million views on YouTube. She received two Latin Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Best Urban Song. The lyrics to one of Karol G’s 2018 singles, “Mi Cama,” playfully taunts a cheating ex-lover by letting him know that her bed’s been extra busy since she left him. She sings the hook “mi cama suena y suena” (“my bed screeches and screeches”) over the sound of creaky bed springs. During a concert, Karol G told the story of an interviewer who allegedly shamed her for what they deemed to be salacious lyrics, to which Karol G responded, “Lástima que la tuya no, y se nota.” (“It’s a shame that [your bed] doesn’t [screech]. And it’s obvious.”) Throughout the years, she’s remained vocal about her challenges with sexism in the Latin American music industry. “There are so many men and you can count the women on your fingers, and it’s not because we’re not here. There’s tons of talent.”

Mexican-American singer and actress Becky G has also made a name for herself in the reggaeton and Latin trap scene. She’s featured on Daddy Yankee’s “Dura” remix, which reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Latin Airplay. Her single “Mayores” featuring Bad Bunny also topped the same chart. The song features a lyric that includes sexual innuendo: “A mí me gustan más grandes/Que no me quepa en la boca/Los besos que quiera darme” (“I like them bigger/So that they don’t fit in my mouth/The kisses that he wants to give me”). When discussing the buzz around that particular lyric with Billboard, Becky G boldly reaffirmed her commitment to defining her values on her own terms. “Every time someone would bring up the lyrics, it’s like they were trying to make me scared, ‘That’s not what you meant.’ No, that’s exactly what I meant. I was very aware of the moment I recorded the line. Who are you to tell me what makes me feel sexy, what makes me feel empowered?”

 

Reshaping Reggaeton's Masculine Landscape

Becky G asked Natti Natasha, a Dominican singer, and songwriter, to hop on the song “Sin Pijama.” It’s one of the only recent songs in the urbano genre to top Latin charts and not feature a male artist. The video for the song, a satire playing up tired stereotypes about hypersexual Latinas, has almost a billion views on YouTube. In a Vevo interview, the two dive into conversations about gender inequality in Latin American households, public resistance to women who own their sexuality, and challenging gender roles in relationships. Natti Natasha has collaborated with the likes of Daddy Yankee, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, RKM & Ken-Y and Don Omar, to name a few. Her feature on Daddy Yankee’s “Dura” remix is every part as sexual and gritty as Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny’s: “Papi, si tienes el size, vente, enseñame lo que hay” (“Daddy, if you have the size, come, show me what you got”).

These women are not adornments in music videos or uncredited features to be capitalized on then pushed aside. They’re openly embracing their sexuality, often times objectifying men and reducing them to their bodies, and they’re doing so in shameless, indelicate ways. Undoubtedly, things have changed for some women since the early 2000s. But to ignore the confinements within which such transgression is possible would be remiss.

The question becomes, who is allowed to be openly sexual as an expression of freedom and affirmation and who gets shamed and chastised for it? The overlap among the women who’ve graced the Latin charts in the last couple of years should be apparent to anyone who’s been watching. Karol G, Natti Natasha, and Becky G are all openly cisgender heterosexual women. They’re conventionally attractive, thin, and most importantly, light-skinned non-black women—the kind who men deem worthy of respect and reverence even as they defy convention.

In a Red Bull mini-documentary celebrating the legacy of Ivy Queen, Chikki, an Afro-Dominican photographer, artist, and reggaetonera, highlights the racist double standards for female sexual expression: “When I was in high school, if I listened to reggaeton, I was considered ‘ghetto’ but if a white girl listened to it, everyone was like, ‘Oh wow, how sensual, how different.’ It’s good that [reggaeton] is reaching globally, and that it’s touching people from all backgrounds. But at the same time, it’s neglecting the people that actually started it. The roots of reggaeton are black no matter how you paint them.” Black Latin women are the essence of reggaeton—they are its creators and tastemakers—but they have yet to be represented or acknowledged as such by the industry. Instead, they remain props in music video backgrounds, consumed and discarded by artists looking to add an “authenticity” factor to their image.

The confines of Latinx machismo and sexual repression may be fluid for some Latin women, but certainly not all.

READ MORE: Pure Energia: Colombia’s Reggaeton Ruler J Balvin Returns

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John Witherspoon arrives on the red carpet at the world premiere of Columbia Pictures' "Hancock," June 30, 2008 at Grauman?s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California.
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A Word On John Witherspoon: The Black Voice Of Reason And Unfiltered Comedic Joy

You gotta be a real one to be called “Pops” where I'm from. Anybody with a little snow on the roof and a story to tell can be an “old head” but “Pops” is somebody who you actually want to listen to. With a smile and a wink, Pops will instruct you to heed the angel on your shoulder but leave a little room for what the devil has to say too.

John Witherspoon was was all of those things.

He was “Pops.”

John Witherspoon neé Weatherspoon was born in Detroit, Michigan–the northern soul of Black folks. The comedian, writer, and part-time model exuded Black cool without trying. There’s a select ring of respect for performers who were able to guest star on both TV shows like Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air because he could make all of us laugh. In those moments, he managed to inspire many of the comedians shining on the stage and on the screen.

“Everyone young and old had a reason to love John Witherspoon and his self-awareness to remain connected to the community that loved him,” says The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr. "The loyalty to his roots was reflected in his material which remained as relevant now as it was when he started his career.”

Spoon’s work speaks for itself. The man worked as a cast member on The Richard Pryor Show, played the ill-tempered boss in Hollywood Shuffle and guest-starred on Good Times, 227 and Amen (look it up). Basically, if it was Black and funny, you had to have Witherspoon and his specialized brand of comedy come through and make a sitcom writing staff look like geniuses.

His star turns on those legendary shows pale in comparison to what he gave us on June 28, 1992– the day Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang debuted in theaters.

In only 3 minutes and twenty seconds of screentime, he gave us “COOOOOrdinate” “Don’t be p***y whipped, whip dat p***y!” and the phrase that would be his calling card, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” I don’t give a damn how funny, original, or scene-stealing you call yourself, if you claim to have never quoted Willie Jones from Boomerang, I’ll call you a liar.

”John Witherspoon was the guy who felt like family and you could always depend on making you laugh,” says comedian Yamaneika Saunders. "Put it this way, the man stood toe to toe with Eddie in his own damn movie, using only a guest spot. There’s no such thing as small roles. If they give you one line, make it the one line everybody remembers. But Pops tripled up on it."

Legend is a word overused when we talk about our greats who have moved on to that leisure suit in the sky, but Spoon gifted us with over five generations of comedy.

His relevance was staked in his ability to reinvent. Comedian Aminah Imani recently opened for him at the DC Improv, making her dreams a bigger reality. “The one thing that gives me peace of mind is the fact that he was loved and adored by his fans,” she says. “I was introduced to him in Boomerang, I grew up with him on Friday and The Wayans Bros., and I learned about how the world works through Grandpa, Huey, and Riley on The Boondocks."

 

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Thank you @dcimprov and @johnnywitherspoon for a weekend of sold out shows!!! This was definitely one for the books💎 #standupcomedy #dcimrpov #hosting #standup #live #laugh #love

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When he convinces Ice Cube’s character, Craig in Friday how our generation is so quick to pick up a gun because we're “too scared to take an ass whoopin” ...we felt that. So many Black men in Detroit, Chicago, Philly, and many other cities across the country avoided a fatal outcome because Pops told us to use the only two weapons God gave us. “You win some, you lose some, but you live to fight another day.” Those thirteen words granted many of us to have another day to fight for.

While “America’s Dad” may have gone on a couple of years ago, Pops was right there all along. Always working.  Always there for us.

I can’t even fully open a new pair of sneakers without crooning “new shoes, neeeew shooo-ooes,” like his Granddad character from The Boondocks. Inside of every Black man exists a mix of a conscious-outthink-your-enemy like Huey and a chest-out-in-ignorance Riley-like character that are dually at odds.

Witherspoon’s Grandad was the voice of reason we'd aspire to mature into. It’s a holy trinity of our daily battle against making the wrong decisions. You win some, you lose some, but you live to fight another day.

Legacy is not appreciated as much as it should be in Black entertainment. We like to differentiate between generations and downplay anyone not doing as better as yesterday's icons. But John Witherspoon was a direct plug between Pryor and the many young up-and-coming comedians he was gracious enough to let open for him.

Comedian Lil Rel had plans to showcase some of that legacy soon with Witherspoon in mind. “The crazy thing was how I was talking to my publicist last week about creating a real show or special or something that celebrated our Black superstars that don’t necessarily get the Hollywood legend tap until they pass away,” he reflects. “I only thought more about that after watching John Witherspoon on the DL Hughley Show. This dude is a damn legend and we haven’t for honored him for that.”

He wasn’t too cool to do an Instagram video of him cooking with no shirt, while still headlining clubs and colleges all over the country well into his 70s. My condolences pour out to his wife of 31 years Angela, and sons Alexander and John David. We just say thank you for sharing him with us.

They remain the same for any black comedian who has done the following:

Needed a line from a movie to make everyone laugh. Understood the importance of Witherspoon’s business decisions in the world of comedy. Who needed a word from Pops to simply tell us what to do.

Bang, Bang, Bang.

Clark Jones is a comedian who starred in shows like Crashing and Night Train With Wyatt Cenac. He's also the host of the Classic Black Dude podcast. Get a laugh or two in from his socials @theeclarkjones. 

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The Amber Guygers Of The World Don't Deserve Black Forgiveness

Forgiveness isn’t an easy pill for me to swallow. As a writer, it could be the actual word that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's because had it not been “for” one’s actions then I wouldn’t be forced to “give” you, the transgressor, a grace you’ve proven undeserving of.

The mental and emotional gymnastics a victim must complete in order to get to a place of healing is too great for me to believe the offenses—whatever they may be—are mere mistakes, and when you are black in America that realization is crystallized with every acquittal.

Botham Jean was in his apartment watching his television and eating his ice cream on the night of September 6, 2018, when Dallas officer Amber Guyger barged in and shot the St. Lucian businessman because she confused his home for hers.

I remember reading about the Rodney King verdict and can recall exactly where I stood in New York City’s Penn Station when I learned of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. I have accepted that the justice system does not believe in "justice for all" its citizens and was fully prepared for Guyger to be found not guilty.

In a surprising turn of events, she was convicted. However, this is America. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief, I knew a slap in the face wouldn’t be too far away. The next day, it was revealed at Guyger’s sentencing she would serve 10 years in prison, just above the minimum. Prosecutors asked for 28 years, one for each of Jean’s life.

Kalief Browder served a third of Guyger’s 10-year sentence for a book bag that was never found by an accuser who was never publicly named.

Yet among all the topics that trended following Guyger’s sentencing, "forgiveness" was the most pronounced. At the tail end of 2019 and at the height of cancel culture, forgiveness—the act of showing softness and grace to those who deeply puncture you—became a polarizing talking point when Botham Jean’s brother hugged Guyger in the courtroom.

In America, forgiveness has always been a bitter root shoved down the throats of the oppressed by the oppressors, and it is my radical belief that my people’s empathy and breathtaking forgiveness aids in our own mental bondage. We are of flesh and bone just like those who deny us our humanity and kill us, yet even in our own justifiable grief, we’ve been taught (or adapted for survival) to soothe those who kill us. Maybe it’s because we know another blow will come soon and we must make room for future disappointments.

An argument can be made that true healing cannot take place without forgiveness, but who hugged Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal or Samaria Rice? Who draped their arms lovingly around the men and women who buried their children in some instances, a mere 12 years after their birth?

The embrace between Brandt Jean and Guyger will be tokenized as the gold standard in how one should move on from tragedy, but where is the how-to on not shooting and killing an unarmed black person? Where is that righteous symbol of compassion for other police officers to follow?

Surviving family members from the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting also forgave domestic-terrorist Dylann Storm Roof for killing their loved ones in their place of worship.

There is no beauty in the oppressed having to be bigger and emotionally better than those who cause our oppression and pain. The Samson-like strength needed to simmer one’s rage, sadness and maybe desire for revenge shouldn’t be diluted. And yet, for Guyger to be on the receiving end of a hug after bestowing bullets into Botham Jean’s flesh is a lopsided exchange of humanity that has been our responsibility to bear.

How much social justice currency did the hug heard 'round the world gain us? The oppressed must bear the weight of injustice, teach you how to recognize our humanity, and then shower you with kindness after you wrong us?

Go hug your damn self.

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Remy Ma’s Comments On Antonio Brown Show That Conversations On Sexual Violence In Hip Hop Media Lack Range

Following Monday’s episode of Revolt TV’s State of the Culture, Remy Ma’s commentary on former NFL player Antonio Brown’s rape allegations stirred up frustrations with how sexual violence is discussed in hip-hop media. Brown’s situation has been a hot topic so it was no surprise that it was a show segment, but Ma’s soundbite proves conversations in the space on sexual violence desperately need more empathy, nuance, and depth.

Some context: Earlier this month, Britney Taylor, a trainer from Florida, accused Brown of rape in 2018 and filed a federal lawsuit (the amount would be determined in court). She has not filed criminal charges against Brown. Brown denied the allegations and refused to shell out $2 million in a settlement with Taylor, ESPN reported. Remy called out Taylor’s decision to seek money via civil court before filing criminal charges, during the show.

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“If you rape my daugher, my sister...I don’t want your money,” Remy said. “I tell y’all all the time. I want you castrated...the things that I want done are crimes. Worst-case scenario I want something to happen to you to where you’re removed from being able to do this to someone else. When you come to me with a number, and say, ‘Hey give me two million dollars and I’ll go away,’ now to me that’s like you’re being paid.”

“But some people feel that that’s the compensation that they want,” co-host Eboni K Williams, who is also an attorney, rebutted.

But Remy continued to push back. “It seems like in a lot of these alleged sexual assault cases, the women are asking for money, ‘Hey give me some money and I’ll feel better.’ To me in any exchange with sexual acts are being compensated with money that’s prostitution.”

Host Joe Budden corrected Remy, but she doubled down on her comments by mocking victims who recount their traumatic experiences.

The truth is many people think like Remy and see victims who want to be compensated as extortionists scheming for a big check. Brown’s lawyer has chosen this messaging in response to Taylor’s lawsuit. Remy has previously caught heat on the topic when the show discussed Bill Cosby and R. Kelly’s cases in 2018. In both instances, viewers criticized her for being more defensive of the famous men than their alleged victims. This shaming is one reason why most victims don’t come forward with allegations.

Implying that Taylor and others who want compensation are money-hungry and not possibly seeking an alternative route to justice ignores that going the path of filing criminal charges can be a humiliating experience. Last year, President Trump called out professor Christine Blasey Ford for not filing a police report against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for sexual assault allegations when they were in high school. This birthed the hashtag “#WhyIDidntReport” in which thousands described why they felt isolated and silenced after being assaulted. The stats support their sentiments. Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free, according to the resti (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Three out of four cases go unreported, the organization states. Most don’t report to the police because they fear retaliation and think the police will not help.

Remy also shamed victims of sexual assault who seek compensation by shaming sex workers. Sex workers already face a difficult fight for human rights so these comments harm them too. Firstly, sex work is when money is exchanged for sex between consenting adults — as Joe Budden stated. But once someone’s sexual boundaries have been violated, whether at a party, on a date or during an exchange of sex for money, they have been assaulted. And if the victim seeks compensation in the aftermath, that is called restitution, not prostitution. As Williams brought up during the segment, a victim may seek compensation because they need to pay for medical and or therapy bills or have to be out of work for several months as they cope with the incident.

Ultimately, no one has the right to tell a victim or survivor what justice should look like to them, whether it’s pressing criminal charges, seeking compensation, or restorative justice in which a survivor may want an apology face to face from the person who assaulted them.

What’s also disappointing about Remy Ma’s comments on sexual violence is that they don’t align with her advocacy on behalf of black incarcerated women. Remy was released from prison in 2014 after serving six years for shooting a former friend in 2008. The rapper shed light on how black women in prison are often neglected. “I've gotten to meet women that haven't seen their children in a decade that live 40 minutes from them,” she told Fader in 2017. “Women who have husbands that they haven't seen since they got incarcerated 20 years ago. Women whose friends have signed them off as a loss,” she continued. She said incarcerated men often received so many visitors that visits were cut short. In 2018, Remy also launched a clothing line with VIM Vixen that donates proceeds to her foundation, which is working to empower women and their families who have been negatively affected by incarceration and the re-entry process.

Research shows one obstacle women and girls who are incarcerated face is sexual assault. The sexual abuse to prison pipeline is real and it starts young. Thirty-one percent of girls in the juvenile system have been sexually abused, according to a 2015 report by the Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and Ms. Foundation for Women. Eighty-six percent of women in jail have experienced sexual assault prior to being incarcerated, according to the Vera Institute. This especially impacts black women and girls, who are three-and-a-half times more likely to be imprisoned than white women and girls. Their victimization can lead to their incarceration. Take Cynotia Brown and Alexis Martin cases as examples. Not to mention women also face sexual assault while in prison. Given that the issues of incarceration and sexual assault intersect, how can Remy be an advocate for these women while consistently showing little empathy for survivors and victims of sexual violence? It isn’t adding up.

Some have brought up that Remy is also a victim of sexual assault, but that does not make her an authority on the subject. And although women are more likely to face this issue, women can still internalize and preserve misogyny. Discussing sexual violence requires knowledge and sensitivity, and Remy is unfortunately unequipped. The segment was not a top 10 rappers of all-time list, in which people can debate their own tastes. They were discussing something that happens to Americans every 73 seconds, according to RAINN. This means you or someone you know has been assaulted. The issue dates back centuries and intersects with other issues like poverty, gender identity, and sexuality. Sexual violence can result in emotional, physical and generational trauma, lead to economic insecurity, and even more extremely, death. Having researched and or worked with those who have experienced these issues should always be required before speaking on it.

Remy wouldn’t be the first woman in entertainment to be called out for their commentary on sexual violence. Da Brat and Erykah Badu have also been criticized recently. And countless men in the business continue to be rape apologists. But it’s time for platforms like Revolt to make it commonplace to consult organizations that have done work on sexual violence, like Black Women’s Blueprint, Survived and Punished, or the Georgetown Law Center's Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity before these discussions. These conversations need more visibility, but if the individuals on the panel lack basic understanding and spew harmful viewpoints, then the message fails viewers. Instead of dismantling sexual violence, these moments uphold it and the culture does not need it.

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