The impetus for writing piece began with a conversation I had with a friend. Recently he notice my Riri earrings (<-shameless plug to my side hustle), and asked me to help him work through the tension of understanding femmes in the industry, objectification & agency. I go hard for Riri, I think she’s the most underplayed of the trinity, I’ve told friends for years that I identify more with her womanism than I do with Bey’s, mostly because I try to cultivate a healthy IDGAF attitude, and I live for the pleasure of good sex & blunts. My love of the popular/mainstream, causes a lil cognitive dissonance for people that read me as a head and don’t get it twisted, I love Hip Hop, she’s where I learned to love my queerness, saw reflections of myself, & have gotten free, but its is because of this that I go so hard for women like Rihanna.
We need to create a more nuanced conversation, one of the things coloniality does so well is it causes us to get lost in reductive binaries, we like Riri exist at complex intersections. With Hip Hop, the binary is often framed artistic production is either done for the love and the culture, or its the bastard version that capitalism birthed known as mainstream, the inauthentic, the wack… however, just because a body exists in the space of highly visible, celebrity, captilaist “success”, it does not mean its robbed of its radical/disruptive potential, simply in the act of being…Black & femme, Rihanna is a refusal of whiteness and coloniality. As a cultural producer Rihanna exists at the intersections of counter hegemony & black radical womanism. Some themes in her body/canon of werk are a revenge fantasys, rude girl/gurl aesthetics, and femme centered pleasure politics, which all work to disrupt the center with experiences of the marginal. Outside of these themes, throughout her career she has been active in maintain her self- determination over her cultural productions, she currently owns all the rights/masters of her previous works, which is crucial to her being able to control how it is licensed, represented and used.
She mobilizes revenge fantasy as catharses from the various traumas associated with the colonial encounter and her specific read on the social conditions/violence of being a Black, woman, Indigenous, diasporix body from the Caribbean… in her Man Down video, she depicts liberatory justice over the violence of rape, when she kills her assailant. Throughout the video (filmed in Jamaica) we see Rihanna having to navigate being a highly femme presenting body in spaces where she both invites and rejects the gaze…Because the video is shot in Jamaica, & opens with her utilizing the creole sak pase it instantly shifts the focus from an American/Eurocentric–English language center, to a space that is definitely Black/Queer and complex… and we could argue, it speaks deeper to the colonial conquest of the Caribbean and rape/violence that took place against Black bodies in a larger historical context. Knowing the origin of the production of the track, Rock City (producers) who want to create a femme-centered version of Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff, which at the time was commentary on the relationship of the oppressed with the police/state violence. This ties her body (of work) to a legacy of Caribbean cultural producers whose werk was utilizing fugitive aesthetics and concepts of marronage to reorient cultural values, the notion that justice can never come from the oppressor and that some violence is necessary.
The visual for BBHMM continue this revenge fantasy as catharsis by providing a space to werk out the violences of white supremacy and capitalism. Rihanna positions herself in a way that takes back power first by playing on this trope of white womanhood as the highest form of victimization and then through the imbalances of power due to patriarchy as its tied to whiteness and capital. These are refusals of a value system that does not serve her, the video depicts the vampiric/ parasitic relationship whiteness perpetrates on Black and Brown being. Bitch better have my money, is an assertion of all the things coloniality owes Black and Brown peoples, pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot she reminds white supremacy and capitalism that we know our history, our worth and there are consequences.
Rude girl/gurl politics & aesthetics
The rude girl/gurl as a politic is the refusal to live within the parameters of social respectability, it is the conscious knowing that comes from the embodied experiences which tell you respectable folk will kill you and say you enjoyed it, so you might as well make some noise (h/t ZNH). Rudeness is the queering of spaces and the disruption of whiteness & cishet patriarchy. It is a swag that is not for sale, its not knowledge you get from a text book, its the ability to turn nothing into somethin’, to be pressed and fresh, its taught in the form of ritual, learnin’ passed down from hands. Rude boys (and rude girls) drew from the Rastafarians’ ideologies and rituals in order to celebrate the legitimacy of “the moralities of ghetto culture”. (The latter phrase is quoted by sociologist Obika Gray from her book, Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 1960-1972 (page 95) The sonic markers of rudeness are grounded in the shared history/legacy of the Black Atlantic sounds of jazz, soul, ska, rocksteady, and evolved out of Afro/Indigenous Caribbean sounds. Like all Black Atlantic aesthetics, rudeness is tied to movement, its sounds and styles heavily influenced the grim, ragga, jungle and other genres began by Caribbean diasporas living in the UK. Rihanna’s sound builds on all sonic histories. Rihanna in her embodiment of rudeness, flips the script on what is social desirable/acceptable in all of her blunt rollin’ and smoking glory. In her track Needed Me off of Anti, she explicates this politic perfectly, “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? Fuck your white horse and a carriage.” She reclaims savagery, reappropriating a word that is tied to a colonial legacy of dehumanization and violence…she continues by refusing the values of cishet partriarchy…not everyone desires the fantasy of being rescued.
femme-centered pleasure politics
To be a femme presenting person who is vocal about your own bodily desires and sexual pleasure in a world framed by misogyny/misogynoir is a radical act, furthermore in a world where women are killed for refusals, pleasure politics are dangerous in the face of coloniality. In her track Cockiness (love it), she explicitly centers the conversation on her own pleasure with a lover, the track opens with the assertion “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion. Eat my words and then swallow your pride down, down. Place my wants and needs over your resistance” As femmes, we are social condition to see our pleasure as secondary, especially within heteronormative relationships, however this track asserts that “I love it, I love it -I love it when you eat it” which not only gives voice to Riri as an agent over her own body, but in terms that leave no room for ambiguity we hear that sex positivity through pussy and the eating of it are conversations that deserve to be normalized.
In her Rude Boy….the hook, “Come here, rude boy, boy; can you get it up? Come here rude boy, boy; is you big enough?” underscores the primacy of her pleasure, she is questioning her potential lover, to see if they have the ability and the size to give her what she needs/wants out of a sexual encounter. As the song continues, lyrically there are two other points that are important when discussing sex positivity and pleasure politics. The first is the countering of language that is often used to demean and denigrate the female body, “Tonight I’mma give it to ya harder, Tonight I’mma turn ya body out” . The concept of gettin’ turned/turnt out is usually used exclusively for male sexual prowess, in terms of turning a sexual submissive/shy person (typically a femme) into a freak, just through good dick. Riri puts this notion on blast by affirming that her pussy is good enuf to make you cum. The other lyrics in the track that are so important to sex pos conversation are, “I like the way you touch me there, I like the way you pull my hair” through these lyrics Rihanna reminds us that consensual sex should be a conversation, we should be telling our lovers, what we like, what we don’t & what our triggers are….These lyrics also work to normalize (hella light) BDSM, through the idea that things like hair pulling are both acceptable and pleasurable, as long as all parties involved in the sexual acts have discussed and agreed.