- Words Jessica Rogers
Saweetie and Doja Cat's BFF anthem “Best Friend” is the latest female collaboration to redefine women in hip-hop by amplifying female voices and perspectives.
2020 was the year female rappers made history with collaborations that had everyone hooked. Nicki Minaj’s remix of Doja Cat’s “Say So” was the first song by two female rappers ever to top Billboard’s chart, shortly followed by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP”. Despite controversy surrounding its explicit sexual content, the song became one of the best-selling debuts of the century, according to Billboard.
2021 has kickstarted with Saweetie and Doja Cat teaming up to drop the BFF anthem “Best Friend”, joining the series of female collaborations that are redefining the cultural phenomenon of women in hip-hop, by amplifying female voices and perspectives in the historically male-dominated industry.
After its release last week, the music video for “Best Friend” had already racked up over 28 million views on YouTube and it’s not hard to see why. Portraying camaraderie antics, aesthetically satisfying fits in every scene whilst simultaneously, calling out misogyny and celebrating femininity and sisterhood.
The opening scene sees Saweetie in diamond-encrusted signature ICY bikini and Doja Cat in a rainbow two-piece sunbathing when ‘Jamal’ interrupts them, attempting to chat them up by conveying himself as woke feminist; “I can’t believe these disrespectful men out there, just staring at y’all bodies, objectifying y’all. Listen, I’m Jamal and I just want to let y’all know you’re not just sexual beings”. Saweetie and Doja proceed to subliminally communicate: “Great another fake woke misogynist. Does he really think he’s an ally to the feminist cause?” “Bitch please, that kind of crass virtue signalling is nothing but a less overly nefarious form of toxic masculinity”. It’s the unapologetic attitude and ownership of femininity, both lyrically and visually, that is so captivating about the track and the duo. It’s a reflection similar to the appeal of “WAP” and Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage”.
Last year “WAP” came under fire from conservative critics who argued the song’s explicit lyrics were anti-feminist and vulgar. Other criticisms, notably from men, came from Russell Brand who filmed his own thought piece on the track, explaining that his critiques lay within the idea that these female artists were emulating a template for femininity that was established by males to satisfy the male gaze. While Snoop Dogg in response to the song suggested some things should be left to the imagination, and in regard to the acronym WAP said, “That should be a woman’s pride and possession. That’s your jewel of the Nile. That’s what you should hold on to. That should be a possession that no one gets to know about until they know about it”. He later apologised, as did CeeLo Green who stated there is “a time and a place for adult content”.
The controversy that the song sparked solidified that society has adopted a customary habit to normalise and accept men speaking about women’s bodies and sexuality in their music yet hypocritically condemn females for speaking about their own bodies and sexuality in the same way if they desire to. In an interview with GQ Megan said; “Some people just don’t know what to do when a woman is in control and taking ownership of her own body. I feel like, for a long time, men felt like they owned sex and now women are saying, “Hey, this is for me. I want pleasure. This is how I want it or don’t want it,” it freaks men the hell out”.
A shifting of cultural norms – in this case, what women speak about in their music and how they choose to present themselves – in any form will always face critics as everybody possesses their own personal ideals, and this has always been magnified in regard to the topic of how women should look, speak and act. However, the new wave of female artists – also including the likes of Princess Nokia, SZA, Rico Nasty, Leikeli47 and City Girls – who are unapologetic and show no signs of slowing down will continue to carry on the movement to diminish the shame of female desire, pleasure and agency within music.
The visuals for “Best Friend” do several things, for starters make you want to get dressed up and drive laps in a bejewelled Tessie with your best mate. However, what it does best is portray an accurate depiction of the uniqueness and value of female friendships. This is in sharp contrast to the video vixen laden visuals that usually accompany male rappers’ songs, a recurrent theme that persists today. It’s notable that excluding Jamal the fake feminist, the only other male cameo is when the duo shrug off a pair of guys while reciting the lines “All the rich ass boys wanna f*** on us / All this ass sittin’ up you can look don’t touch”. The duo takes centre stage, conveying that women do not need the permission or presence of men to be empowered. The saying goes ‘behind every strong man there is a woman,’ but also in reality behind every strong woman is a collective of strong females and the video captures this essence beautifully.
Hip-hop has always been more than a genre; it’s a form of cultural power with the ability to put a microscope on larger societal issues such as race, inequality, gender and sex. OG pioneers from the 90s like Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill brought the female voice into hip-hop, with “U.N.I.T.Y.” and “Doo Wop” eternal female anthems. Meanwhile the likes of Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Eve and Foxy Brown established the vocalisation of female sexual perspectives within the genre, with Kim revealing in the series Hip-Hop Evolution, “I was supposed to be the girl that was cute and made the guys look good, but I liked being vulgar and explicit sometimes because it made me feel free”. These women who shaped and set the pace in the female hip-hop industry faced the same criticisms in their time, but it is evident that their embodiment of female empowerment is reflected in the new era of women in rap who are on top of the game now.
For those of us who grew up listening to that generation of powerful and defiant female artists, perhaps we have become accustomed to hearing women using language that has traditionally been reserved for men. Perhaps that’s why rather than shying away from this type of music, we embrace it – we want to see and hear women championing their bodies and reclaiming their sexuality. Hip-hop is in constant evolution and so long as the movement of female artists, who refuse to allow societal pressure and criticism reshape their views and music, continue to harness the power of hip-hop to generate awareness and understanding, we are on the right track.
As hip-hop culture now more than ever flows into and influences mainstream pop culture, it’s important to question the double standards placed on men and women in the industry as to not only normalise but also celebrate the individual ways female artists may wish to share their narratives and perspectives. These female collaborations are great evidence of the progression that can be made when women uplift one another. With females dominating the scene and making music history, while also breaking down traditional social barriers, the space to grow as individuals but also as a community is offered to all women.
If the outcome of female hip-hop collaborations in this generation (aside from bangers you’ll play on repeat) is the advancement of a cultural movement that encourages women to present their version of femininity as they please, offer their perspectives on what it’s like to be a woman without critique, and let women make their own rules, then I’m here for it.