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:
The medley begins with “Grind N’ Pray”, a look at drug dealing stripped of romanticism and macho gangsta rap bravado, seen strictly through a labor lens. Through spare lyricism borrowing from The Lord’s Prayer, Alsina depicts a street dealer’s job, a monotonous routine broken up by moments of terrifying risk: “If I should die before I wake/I pray the lord my soul to take…all I do is grind n’ pray/riding through these streets all day.”
Having detailed his own struggle “getting to this money,” Alsina segues to “Get Ya Money,” in which he empathizes with and “salute[s]” his dancer girlfriend’s grind and relates it to his own:
“What you do and what I do ain’t that different/…I know how it is to hit the block and get the gwap/and you know how it is to hit the stage and make it pop.”
“Get Ya Money” is no perfect politically correct paean. I’m not a fan of the way the song opens with Alsina’s statement that “they [her club customers] don’t ever see you like I do/first thing when you wake up before you put on your make up,” which reminds me of too many sex workers’ partners who need to assuage their insecurity by claiming some aspect of their significant others’ lives which their clients can’t have. (On the other hand, don’t all us whores love a guy who loves us in our sweatpants?) And the invocation of respectability politics in “Get Ya Money”’s identification of the stripper girlfriend as a “single mother in college,” combining the two most socially acceptable uses of sex worker funds, motherhood and education, in one lyric, rubs me wrong. But, although Bubbles assures me that the Hustle Respect song is a thriving post-90s subgenre, I’ve personally never heard another song in which a lover proudly tells his girlfriend that he “love[s] her ambition” in the context of the sex industry. In every way that matters, the track bucks convention deliciously, from calling a dancer and a dealer a “power couple” to the verse dedicated to Alsina’s admiration of his girlfriend’s pole trick acumen and her raw hustling knowhow (“Girl I love seeing your back bend/ they cashing out/and you cash in/they going broke and you working/back broke when you twerking…”)
Alsina’s song actually eclipses a lot of feminist rhetoric in its affirmation of his girlfriend’s bodily autonomy, with the chorus’ simple statement that both “that body” she works and “that money” she makes from it are hers without question. The the love he sings about has nothing to do with anti-trafficking hysteria or hip hop misogyny around “pimping”, but rather is an example of us sex workers having economically interdependent relationships with our long term partners the way everyone else does. In Fabolous’ cameo on the track, he matter-of-factly states his faith in the fact that “if I ever need it/she the back up for me.” And don’t we all want our partners to be there for us like that?
But my favorite part of “Get Ya Money” is its unswerving economic realism. The video portrays a stripper’s typical work day, and the basic movement motto that sex work is work is made blindingly clear through the business like affect the dancer displays as she goes about her routine: walking to work, curling her hair in the dressing room, and working the pole. The prayer of the refrain, connecting both partners’ experiences, is an accurate and poignant representation of the feast to famine limbo of working for yourself in the black/grey market, knowing that the law will not protect you should someone try to steal that hard earned cash:
“I know how hard this shit can be/ when income is uncertain/ hustling just to make a way/and I know you thinking/ Damn I hope somebody spend some money today/ And I pray nobody come and take it away/ Cause I’m just out here doing what I gotta do/ Cause all these fucking bills are due/and I see all this money to make…”
Mainstream culture often either glorifies our lives or casts us as victims. That’s why it’s so refreshing to listen to Alsina’s unadorned love song, threaded with admiration and support for his dancer beloved as they both just try to get shit done and pay their bills.