“Ooh, that pussy good, won't you sit it on my taste bloods?” Kendrick Lamar casually requests in the first verse of “Humble,” arguably the year’s biggest rap hit. Despite the double entendre, it's clear what's on Kendrick's mind.
Rick James was a pussy-eating pioneer when he sang “I really love to taste her” on his 1981 smash “Super Freak.” And there’s a whole Reddit listing of Lil Wayne’s cunnilingus lyrics, the “Weezylingus Project.”
Male hip-hop artists have been rapping about performing oral sex on their lady friends for years, and their female counterparts are just as vocal on the subject.
“You ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this!” Lil Kim declared on her 1996 anthem “Not Tonight,” which she followed with a “Ladies Night Remix” that had all the girls in the club singing along with Missy Elliott, Left Eye, Da Brat, and Angie Martinez: “I don’t want dick tonight—eat my pussy right!” A couple of years later Miami upstart Khia was bold enough to demand top-to-bottom tongue service: “my neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack.”
While modern rap and pop culture relish all the intricate details of oral sex, reggae and dancehall have maintained their own set of sacred practices. Most people think of dancehall as a very free and sexually charged genre, but Jamaica’s strong conservative Christian tradition extends to the music, particularly in “Bowcat” lyrics, expressing disapproval for oral sex.
MOST PEOPLE THINK OF DANCEHALL AS A VERY FREE AND SEXUALLY CHARGED GENRE, BUT JAMAICA'S STRONG CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN TRADITION EXTENDS TO THE MUSIC, PARTICULARLY IN "BOWCAT" LYRICS.
The roots of “Bowcat” go all the way back to Shabba Ranks’ 1990 hit “Dem Bow,” perhaps the best known of all anti-oral sex anthems. Even more than hardcore cuts like Ninja Man’s “Wrenking Meat,” Shabba’s early ‘90s Digital B release spread the gospel that to “Bow” or to perform oral sex is a nasty, dirty habit. Shabba was one of the first to spell it out: “Bowcat a man who put him head under frock.”
Female dancehall stars like Lady Saw and Tanya Stephens have also recorded records admonishing women against performing oral sex. “Remember it was under the Sycamore tree,” Lady Saw sang on Dave Kelly’s 1996 “Joyride” riddim. Saw tells her man to flee after he asks her to “Bow.” And on her hit song “Goggle,” Tanya Stephens pleads: “Gal don’t goggle!” The slang is hilarious, but the reasoning behind it is more ominous: “You never goggle so him can’t tell him friend nutten,” Tanya says, implying that rumors marking a girl as a “Bowcat” could ruin her reputation.
All in all, dancehall dictates that it was probably best for “good girls” to just say no to giving oral sex—much less to ask for it. Mr. Vegas’s international hit song “Heads High” conveyed the same message, telling his female fans that any time a man asks for oral sex the best thing to do is to “Kill them with the No!”
If blow jobs are at least officially forbidden, it pretty much goes without saying that nobody should—under any circumstances—eat pum pum. To “nyam punany” is considered an unforgivable offense. The song “Crazy Notion” by Beenie Man, aka “The Girls Dem Sugar,” still gets a big forward in the dance when his lyrics ring out: “So could I hear some gunshot inna di air? Nuh gal neva sit inna yuh face like chair!” Other songs like Kartel and Wayne Marshall’s 2001 collab “Why You Doing it” discourage men from the act of cunnilingus: “Why you chewin' it when you should be screwin' it? I know you never see a curry or a stew in it!”
So it was a pretty big deal when up-and-coming dancehall star Ishawna dropped her track “Equal Rights and Justice” this past April. She makes the case for the same kind of oral sex equality that Lil Kim demanded back in the ’90s. Ishawna was just speaking her truth—“if you waan head, my youth, you haffi suck this,” she stated boldly—but while her record came out 21 years after “Not Tonight,” she’s facing a major backlash the likes of which Lil Kim never saw.
The reaction to lyrics like ”Boy, me nah go compromise / Me wan’ feel how your head feels between mi thighs” was immediate. Some selectors made a point of refusing to play the song and critics had a field day on social media.
Male dancehall artists wasted no time recording “counteractions” to the song over the same riddim track. ”What kinda equal rights and Justice?” Black Ryno asks on his song “Correction,” adding “Man no nyam pussy, gyal me fuck this.” And on “No Eating Rights,” Kiprich sings “Blowjob me nah pressure you for, caw me nah return no favor.” Just last week Mr. Vegas released “Kill Har Wi Di No,” an update on his earlier hit “Head’s High.”
“To me oral sex is normal,” Ishawna tells me. “It’s a part of love making. In the past it was frowned upon if a woman was doing it. Back then you had male artists who came out with songs that it’s OK.”
The first male dancehall artist to tell the truth about enjoying oral sex may have been Spragga Benz. In 2000 he released “Harder,” which casually mentions a girl giving him head. More recently artists like Kartel, Gage, and Alkaline have made it somewhat okay to be a “freaky gal,” i.e. a female who will give a guy head.
But it doesn’t seem as if the concept of a “freaky man” will be seen in a positive light any time soon.
The outcry surrounding “Equal Rights and Justice” highlights a double standard that cuts deeper than music or sexual preferences. “The fact that it touched a nerve is based on social culture,” says Pat McKay, Director of Programming for Reggae at Sirius XM. “What Ishawna is singing about predates her. In Jamaican popular music, misogyny has great precedence. Women asserting themselves in any way has never been as popular as men doing the very same thing. So I think this current backlash is just an exposure of some gender issues in society. The fact that it generated such an outsized reaction says more about the reactors than it does about the artist or the song.”
IN JAMAICAN POPULAR MUSIC, MISOGYNY HAS GREAT PRECEDENCE. WOMEN ASSERTING THEMSELVES... HAS NEVER BEEN AS POPULAR AS MEN DOING THE VERY SAME THING.
Ishawna obviously knew her tune would touch a nerve. “Nuff ignorant people ah go cuss this,” she sings in the chorus. Later in the song she rebuts any objections her man might have: “You never hear 'bout foreplay? / A modern times now, boy, relax...it's ok / If me ever bring it up inna the group chat / You get the threesome for your birthday.”
“A nuh who fuss it, a who buss it,” says Ishawna with a laugh. “We are all girls. We talk in the hair salon, we know what’s going on.” For her, the bottom line is to keep up with the times: “It’s 2017. We want men to know we love it. We don’t mind pleasing them but they have to please us too."
It may seem crazy that oral sex is even up for debate in 2017. “Slavery done longtime,” Ishawna said when she appeared on Sirius XM’s “Sway in the Morning Show” to talk about the controversy. Although the show’s hosts Sway, Heather B, and Tracy seemed shocked why her “Equal Rights” record has caused such fuss in these times, they respected the artist’s commitment to her message.
“I’d never heard of her before,” Heather B explained later. “We liked the fact that she wasn’t backing away from that topic. A lot of times when you confront artists about certain topics, they say ‘Oh I didn’t mean that.’ No, homegirl owned it!”
“They’re acting like I told them to eat the booty like groceries,” Ishawna tells me, referencing the Jhené Aiko lyric that brought ass-eating up for discussion in the R&B/hip-hop world. That’s a whole other topic of conversation, one that’s way down the list of battles to be fought in Jamaica at present.
For now, Ishawna is focusing on one clash at a time. “Equal rights and justice,” she says, repeating the title of her song like a mantra. “If you want it done to you then do it back to us. Simple.”
Three months after the release of Ishawna’s controversial song, the debate raged on at the 25th anniversary of Reggae Sumfest. Held each year in Montego Bay for the past quarter century, Sumfest has become Jamaica’s largest international music festival.
Ishawna did not perform on this year’s festival. But her song was still a hot topic—especially among other female artists.
“Pum pum is a powerful tool,” said Spice, who rolled out on this year’s Sumfest stage laying on a giant bed with satin sheets and sexy dancers. Her recent hits “Needle Eye,” “Indicator,” and “Between The Sheets,” prove she knows all too well what a vagina is capable of doing. Last year at the Red Bull Culture Clash in London, she ethered the rival Taylor Gang sound by screaming “Wiz Khalifa eat the pum pum!” and jumping into a side split that sent London’s O2 Arena into a frenzy.
It wasn’t long before Spice touched on the oral sex issue at Sumfest. “Ishawna say man fi eat di pum pum / Every man a cuss say dem nah eat pum pum / Jamaican man nah eat di pum pum / But them a liar them a hide and eat the pum pum!” The freestyle caused a roaring reaction from the massive festival crowd.
“If everyone’s not doing it but most of the girls are getting it, then somebody’s not telling the truth," Ishawna says. "My aim is to speak up for women. I represent woman and if I'm going to say something that makes men mad, then I don’t really care.”
Spice was not the only artist to bring up “Equal Rights” during the festival. “Queen Ifrica nah entertainer,” the Fire Muma stated as she took the stage on the final night of Sumfest. “War mi come for.” Born and raised in Mobay, Ifrica is a Rasta woman whose songs, from “Montego Bay” to “Daddy,” have addressed painful social issues that plague Jamaica, ranging from police brutality and economic oppression to child abuse. During her performance of ‘Black Woman,” Ifrica blazed a fire on Spice before speaking her mind on Ishawna’s song.
“We nah come on here with no bed and no sheets,” Ifrica stated. “And the equal rights mi ask for are more money like the man dem get, treatment like how the man dem get. Ah them equal rights mi want…. So black woman, start ask a likkle bit more!"
“I think that Ishawna did something that was powerfully liberating,” says Pat McKay of Sirius XM. “She took her own power, her ability to speak for womankind. I don’t know that on a broader level the specifics of what she’s talking about are the most empowering. The fact that she said it is the bigger issue. The fact that she said it is what she’s being—no pun intended—spanked for.”
“I think they are just brainwashed and still enslaved by men and that’s fine,” Ishawna says of her female critics, “They’re not woke. If you are a woman and you think there’s something wrong with the song then there’s something wrong with you. Because I’m fighting for us, really. This is a very serious topic, this is sexual. Whether you’re a nun or a stripper no matter how perfect you think you are, if you don’t want anything in return you sound crazy because you should want equal rights."
IF YOU'RE A WOMAN AND YOU THINK THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THIS SONG, THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU.
Since speaking out on the topic, Ishawna’s career has survived the backlash and is now soaring to new heights. “Girl is busy with people reaching out,” she says. “It’s funny because the men are loving it too. I did a show a few weeks ago and one of the men took the microphone and said ‘Ishawna, thank you for that song.’”
Whether or not Ishawna meant to piss people off, she has everyone’s attention. Her stance has made a powerful breakthrough in putting a topic on the table for debate and letting women have a say in what they need in the bedroom and beyond.
Last month, Ishawna took the stage at the huge Jamaican show Dream Weekend in full “bad gyal” attire: black pasties, thong, and blonde extensions down to the floor. While singing “Equal Rights and Justice” her mic malfunctioned, but the track kept playing. As annoying as this could have been, things suddenly took a turn: The crowd was singing her song word for word. Ishawna stood at the front of stage, enjoying the moment. On this night, the girls had her back.