Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” Is Good Music And Better Spectacle
The professional-asshole radio host sits upright in his office chair. He tilts his head to the side, and he scrunches up his eyebrows in mock shock. “There’s some whores in this house,” he bleats, his adenoidal voice cutting through the air. “There’s some whores in this house.” He reads through some song lyrics, substituting “p-word” for “pussy.” He uses the word “vulgar” a lot. He says, “So, guys, this is what feminists fought for.” He fumes stiffly and theatrically. He transforms himself into an instant meme.
The professional-asshole radio host probably meant to turn himself into a meme. This, after all, is how professional-asshole radio hosts shove their way into cultural conversations in 2020. But in cementing his meme status, the professional-asshole radio host also made something glaringly obvious: Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion won. These days, right-wingers have mostly given up on presenting themselves as avatars of upright moral decency. They’re the ones constantly crying freedom of speech whenever they get ratio’d on Twitter. But Cardi and Megan made a song so nasty and so internet-inescapable that at least a few prominent right-wingers reverted right back to the moral-scold mold that they’d tried to abandon.
The song in question is “WAP,” the delightfully filthy new track that seems custom-built to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 next week. “WAP,” as you are doubtless already aware, stands for “Wet Ass Pussy.” This is not new subject matter, for Cardi or Megan or popular music in general. Black female musicians have been celebrating Black female sexuality in song ever since the advent of recording technology, and “WAP” exists within a long lineage of knowingly dirty rap music. But there’s still a charge to “WAP” — to both Cardi and Megan, their diction as clear as their intentions, bringing over-the-top theatrical flair to their sex talk. Cardi: “Not a garter snake, I need a king cobra/ With a hook in it, hope it lean over.” Megan: “If it don’t hang, then he can’t bang/ You can’t hurt my feelings, but I like pain.” It’s brazen.
“There’s some whores in this house,” it’s worth mentioning, is not a lyric. It’s a sample. Producers Ayo & Keyz built “WAP” on the bones of “Whores In This House,” a 1992 house track credited to Frank Ski, the current Atlanta radio personality. In the early ’90s, Frank Ski was a radio DJ in Baltimore, and he played a role in the birth of Baltimore club music, the stripped-down and hard-rattling breakbeat-driven Black dance music that remains one of my hometown’s greatest cultural exports. A year earlier, Ski had been part of the group 2 Hyped Brothers & A Dog, whose 2 Live Crew-sampling single “Doo Doo Brown” used to go off at my middle-school dances.
“Whores In This House” is a single that Ski released on Deco Records, the local indie that he co-founded. The voice on the song — “There’s some whores in this house!” — belongs to Al “T” McLaran, the uncredited producer who actually did almost everything on the track. McLaran, a former Army serviceman, had been calling out the refrain in a dirty-joke version of a boot-camp cadence. (My friend and colleague Al Shipley caught up with McLaran in this fascinating Vulture story. McLaran isn’t credited on “WAP,” and he would very much like to get paid.) “Whores In This House” has been sampled and interpolated plenty of times over the years — Juicy J in 1994, Joe Budden in 2003, the Pack in 2009, Lil Wayne in 2018. It’s never sounded as huge as it does on “WAP.”
“WAP” takes McLaran’s refrain and builds a big, stinky beat out of it, slowing it down and stretching it out, giving Cardi and Megan room to operate. As rappers, Cardi and Megan are both precise and gleeful in their raunch. Both of them have always had fun talking shit about sex, delighting in their ability to use men for money and satisfaction. Both have found enormous success in both making sex a big part of their personas. When Cardi talks about the time she spent as a stripper, there’s no shame in it, and the joy that she takes in her own sexiness goes way beyond male-gaze titillation. When I went to a Cardi arena show a year ago, the crowd was overwhelmingly female.
Cardi and Megan are vastly different rappers who represent vastly different regional rap traditions. Part of the fun of “WAP” is in hearing their voices bounce off of each other — Megan’s husky Houston drawl careening into Cardi’s nasal New York honk, Cardi rushing to keep up with Megan’s athletic flow. And part of the fun is in hearing these two women, who could easily be seen as competitors, locking in and joining forces. It’s Cardi’s first single in more than a year, and it’s Megan’s first since she was shot outside a Hollywood party last month. But both of them sound like they’re at the peak of their powers. There’s no vulnerability on “WAP.”
Director Colin Tilley’s video takes the song’s sex-superhero idea and pushes it deliriously over the top. Even before the song starts, Tilley shows us the downright filthy image of water flooding out under the door of the cartoon mansion where everything takes place. The clip has all the visual verve of the Busta Rhymes/Hype Williams videos from the late ’90s, going nuts with CGI and candy-colored sets and big, dangerous animals and utterly absurd costumes. Certain scenes from the clip — purple-and-green Dr. Seuss machine-room, the Siberian tigers, the Normani dance break — go straight into the pantheon. Others, like the Kylie Jenner cameo, are already provoking Twitter fights, which was probably the intent. In a summer that’s been hopelessly devoid of crowd-pleasing spectacle, the “WAP” video is the closest thing we have to a new Avengers movie.
For reasons that I don’t understand, the “WAP” video uses the song’s radio edit, not the explicit version. Somehow, this only makes the whole thing seem dirtier. After all, “wet and gushy” is a more tactile, physical phrase than “wet ass pussy.” And when we hear bleeps rather than actual words, we have to imagine what the rappers are saying. Cardi’s line about “I want you to touch that little dangly thing that swing in the back of my throat” definitely seems more intense when we can barely hear any of what she’s saying.
“WAP” is knowing provocation. Cardi and Megan understood that they were going to incite widespread tut-tutting and head-shaking; it’s why they made the song the way they made it. They knew that people would look at the song’s success as a sign of the apocalypse; they freaked it that way on purpose. At this point, it feels like we’re on our fifth or sixth wave of online “WAP” discourse. If you spend too much time on social media, then “WAP,” a five-day-old song, already seems like it’s already existed. “WAP” is a part of culture now. You, and the professional-asshole radio hosts of the world, are dealing with it.
1. Backxwash – “Psalms 23″ (Feat. Camp Blood)
At some point, I’ll probably have to write a whole column about Backxwash, the jagged and experimental transgender Montreal rapper who delivers her lyrics in a commanding yowl over crunched-up metal samples. Right now, I’ll just say that Backxwash’s new Stigmata EP slaps and that “Psalms 23,” a collaboration with the Boston industrial rap group Camp Blood, is the track that messes me up the most.
2. Young Dolph – “Death Row”
Dolph compares himself to the hallowed gods of West Coast rap over the kind of bassline that any of them would’ve been happy to have. But in his hard-twang growl, he’s never sounded more Memphis: “You look good but your baby daddy broke, bitch/ In the trap, they love me like the pope, bitch.”
3. Armani Caesar – “Simply Done” (Feat. Benny The Butcher)
In her first big single, Griselda’s newest Buffalo affiliate gets both an on-fire Benny The Butcher verse and a vintage DJ Premier neck-snap beat — two things that could totally overshadow most not-yet-established rappers. But Caesar still comes off tough, and she still keeps control.
4. Baby Jungle – “The Purge (Remix)” (Feat. Lil Keed)
Once upon a time, a tank in a rap video was a symbol of over-the-top supremacy. Today, a tank in a rap video is a symbol of survival in the coming apocalypse. It’s still fucking cool. (Good song, too.)
5. Sada Baby – “Chief Keef”
Now I want Chief Keef to make a song called “Sada Baby.”