Prince was a centerfold; scan from Creem Magazine, June 1985
A game I like to play with my stripper friends sometimes is one where we pick our desert island strip club musicians: If you could only have five artists to dance to, ever, in the club, who would they be? The one artist that’s on everyone’s list is Prince.
There is no other catalog of music that has a broader application for strippers. Working in a club that banned hip-hop? Working in a hip hop club but feel like you can’t pull it off? DJ who doesn’t understand your requests? “Only top 40” rule? Old crowd? Young crowd? Prince has it covered like no other. And like Josephine said to me the other day, “Literally the worst pole dancer cannot screw up ‘Darling Nikki.'” When I was a baby stripper, dancing to Prince was how I learned to dance sexy on stage. “What would Prince do?” I thought, and then I humped the floor, and made more stage tips. [READ MORE]
When Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love” first came into our lives, every stripper I know considered surfbort to be the highlight of her night at the club for a solid month. My escort friends curate playlists for their incall appointments and memorize which song signals the end of a session (try Semisonic’s “Closing Time” if the 90s are your thing and subtlety is not). If you ever pay me for sex, we will bump uglies to a bump-n-grind playlist of today’s top 40 hip hop. My middle-aged white clients probably do not identify as R&B fans, but their involuntary bodily response to a good beat makes my job a lot easier. The truth is that every professional has her favorite playlist for work, but not all songs are created equal. Any music that keeps our heads in the game despite the threatening click of loose dentures during cunnilingus is already doing a service to sex workers. But in addition to salvaging some of our least sexy sexy times, certain cultural producers seem to be the lone voices unironically celebrating our savvy skills as sex professionals. Enter Canadian rap artist and Drake’s protege PARTYNEXTDOOR.
This guy joins a proud list of his countrymen (Drake, The Weeknd) in his lyrical appreciation for ladies of the night. But while we’ve long extolled his fellow Canucks for the special place they hold in their hearts for girls like us, there remains a significant disparity between him and the rest: PARTY doesn’t simply remark on the beauty of his hired hands. He lends a socio-political complexity to hegemonic narratives surrounding paid affection in a way his colleagues haven’t quite accomplished.
Beyonce’s “Formation” can be described with two words: unapologetically black.
Images of black babies sporting their natural hair, lyrics such as “I got hot sauce in my bag (swag)”, and Beyonce atop a sinking New Orleans police car in what appears to be the wreckage of Katrina are what make that description a snug fit.
The scene that made tears well up in my eyes, however, was at 3:45 – a little black boy in a hoodie, clearly an homage to Trayvon Martin, dances, carefree and passionately, being,well, unapologetically black. But here’s the catch; he does this in front of a line of police officers, all standing at ease. When he finishes and throws his hands up gymnast-style, their hands fly up in surrender. This scene is immediately followed by footage of graffiti that reads:“Stop shooting us.”
Last night, Beyonce went even further. She made history when she brought this imagery to one of the most widely watched television events of the year: the Super Bowl 50 Half Time Show. Her live performance of “Formation” continued the theme of unapologetic blackness. Her costume was a tribute to one of the greatest performers in history, Michael Jackson, and her dancers mirrored the attire of the Black Panther army.
The line in the song that hits home the hardest for me as a black sex worker is “always stay gracious/ the best revenge is your paper.” It’s reminiscent of Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” where she spat, “get that cash/ whether it’s 9 to 5 or shaking your ass.” It acknowledges us black sex workers in a way we usually don’t experience in our community. Beyoncé has alluded to sex work positively before in lines such as “a diva is a female version of a hustler.” She’s come a long way from the rampant whorephobia in her earlier work (side eyeing “Nasty Girl” here).
Rihanna playing X-Box. (Photo by Gamer Score Blog, via Flickr)
2015 was a year in which hip hop and R+B continued to produce excellent soundtracks for the hustle. Here’s my shortlist of the cream of that crop, in no particular order:
Trap Queen-Fetty Wap
Fetty Wap’s infectious “Trap Queen” was technically first released in 2014 online and independently, but only really blew up this year with its major label release, ultimately peaking at number two on Billboard‘s Top Ten. The ditty happens to fall into my favorite hip hop subgenre: two members of the lumpenproletariat in lurv. Fetty Wap enthusiastically enlists his stripper beloved in his drug operation and immediately treats her as an equal and partner-in-crime after he teaches her the zen of cooking rocks. The video features a totally desexualized, smiling Black woman in jeans and a hoodie (what an accurate take on the dress code for a dancer’s day off!) diligently counting their shared money while Fetty Wap clowns around with his buddies, occasionally checking in to give his trap queen an affectionate kiss. (Accurate again: it’s the woman who takes care of business, and not much drug dealing actually gets done if you leave it to the boys.) Fetty and his bae illustrate how two heads are better than one in the hustle as they make financial plans together: “We just set a goal/talkin’ matching Lambos…” Maybe I’ve got a soft spot for the drug dealer-sex worker power couple as depicted in pop culture because of my own history, but you’ve got to admit the track is also just unstoppably cheerful—the antithesis of grim gangster rap, perfect for any psyche-yourself-up-and get-ready-for-work playlist.
Bitch Better Have My Money-Rihanna
Rihanna’s revenge ballad might be aimed at her cheating accountant, but its no-holds-barred titular sentiment is one any sex worker can identify with. “Don’t act like you forgot/ I call the shots” is a bottom line we all have to make sure our clients remember when they try to haggle with and lowball us. And their excuse filled whining in reply just sounds like “blah blah brrrap braaap” to us. All controversy over the graphic video aside, this is another excellent choice for any pre-work playlist.”Pay me what you owe me!”—doesn’t it all come down to that? Plus, brava to Rihanna for making it clear that men are the biggest bitches there are.
As an indie-listening escort, I was surprised by the content of August Alsina’s 2014 medley/single, “Grind n’ Pray/Get Ya Money”: “Wait a sec, is this actually an ‘I’m a sex worker’s partner and I understand the economic uncertainty we both suffer because I’m a member of the lumpenproletariat/grey market too’ song?” Most strippers will probably be familiar with Alsina from his track “Porn Star” from the same album, Testimony, but I’m still just discovering the R & B genre and realizing just how much I’ve missed—neither Belle and Sebastian nor the Magnetic Fields are going to be writing a slow jam about the perfect love of a stripper and a drug dealer any time soon.
But Alsina is here to save the day and provide everything the hipster musical canon doesn’t in the touching underclass story this track tells: