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.
In her book, Temporarily Yours (2010), sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein penned the idea of “bounded authenticity” to describe the complicated relationship paid companions share with their clients. By challenging the long-held dichotomous thinking that intimacy is either “fake” or “genuine”, she ushered in a more complex understanding of the emotional realities of paid sexual scenarios. It’s PARTYNEXDOOR’s rare awareness of the dexterous emotional balance that sex workers achieve in their labor that makes the collection of songs on his 2013 self-titled debut EP so special. When PARTY croons in “Right Now”, “You can be his forever baby, but tonight you mine/I pay you in cash baby, he just pay you in mind/…Tell me you love me baby, and tell me it’s mine/cause timing is money, and money is time, ” he declares that women are capable of complex emotional range and that a society which denies them the right to engage in sex for money is fundamentally sexist.
Then he raps in “Make A Mill”: “My bitch educated/had her clients pay the payments/She don’t need a damn thing, my bitch look like Tammy To’ [a reference to famous porn star Tammy Torres]”. Looking beyond what I consider the warmest possible use of the word “bitch”, PARTY is very supportive of his partner’s professional choices here. He further challenges deeply held societal whorephobia by unabashedly commemorating the beauty and desirability of a well-known porn performer. As Shannon Bell writes in her seminal book Reading, Writing, and Rewriting the Prostitute Body (1994), the stigma associated with prostitution marks sex workers as “profane women” who are only “redeemable” once they have been accepted effectively back into domestic life as a wife or mother. Because PARTY makes no such demands on his partner yet offers her respect and care, he reimagines and asserts sex workers’ fundamental social value—not despite our work, but maybe even because of it.
In contrast to the bleeding heart condescension of pop music determined to rescue we Roxannes from our own red lights, plenty of mainstream rappers are reveling in sex workers’ expert performances and bringing that appreciation to mainstream audiences. Today’s hip hop artists are complicating social narratives around sex, love, and labor rights in meaningful ways, and PARTYNEXTDOOR’s work is pushing even the most progressive hip-hop songwriters to a new level.