by Robin Jacks
It may be an acquired taste, but most Memphians who care about hip hop have gotten used to the scary-sounding production, hardcore lyrics, and weird bass hooks that typify the music of Three 6 Mafia. The group's latent misogyny, however, is another matter. Luckily, Gangsta Boo, for years the group's only prominent female member, is around to set things straight. For this, Gangsta Boo doesn't get enough credit. Her lyrics and style are powerful and affirm femininity and sexuality. And because her songs and verses can stand alone, Boo's managed to escape the prevalent "token diva" ghettoization that has weighed down so many female members of male-dominated rap cliques.
The best song on Gangsta Boo's new album, Both Worlds, *69, is "Can I Get Paid (Get Your Broke Ass Out) -- Da Strippers' Anthem." The production is very Three 6 Mafia -- horror-movie Casio background and that tinny tap-tap-tap Memphis-style drum machine -- but the lyrics are affirming, revolutionary, and, dare I say, feminist.
There may not be any other song in mainstream music that is so empowering and supportive of sex workers. And before you bring up "What Would You Do," that ubiquitous current single by City High that hinges on a dialogue between a female stripper and a disapproving male friend, let me say this: "What Would You Do" is a nice start but the essential message of the song is that, due to family finances, some women have no choice but to become strippers and prostitute. This hardship sets them apart from (and above) other sex workers.
The theme of "Can I Get Paid" is much more straightforward: "Get yo broke ass out the club if you ain't gonna tip." Boo speaks in the voice of a stripper and her narrative doesn't come off as condescending, self-pitying, annoyingly contemplative and poetic, or, worst of all, pathetic. This woman is in control; this woman has demands. She doesn't waste time questioning the morality of her profession or the assumed hypocrisy of her career choice. Instead, she straight up tells her male patrons who don't tip to quit wasting her time, with lyrics that are 100 percent confrontational. The most blatant example: "We don't like them boys who be all up in our face/We don't like them boys who ain't spendin' no money/We ain't got no time for y'all muthafuckin' broke-ass n****s in the club/If ya ain't tippin' get the fuck out, bitch."
With the perpetual influx of rap and rock songs about stripping from a male and non-sex-worker point of view, "Can I Get Paid" is long overdue. Every other mainstream song about sex work ranges from being merely flaky to being outright detrimental. Example one, the best of the worst, is the aforementioned City High song. Example two is "Lady Marmalade," particularly the new version by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink. The song glamorizes the life of a sex worker without exploring aspects of the trade. In the video, the pop princesses prance around in corsets and high heels on a burlesque stage while servants help Miss Christina put on her I-fell-face-first-into-a-red-paint-can makeup. This is dangerous and may remind some of the movie Pretty Woman 10 years ago -- a Cinderella story that served as an enticement for lonely young girls to move to L.A. and become hookers. Example three is Tina Turner's "Private Dancer," in which the obviously hardened stripper longs for a life outside of her meaningless existence. Example four, the worst of all, is the typical narrative from a third-person (and usually male) perspective which either wrongfully describes sex work as nothing but dangerous and exploitative, pleads for women to leave the industry for Prince Charmings who promise a new life, or both. "Roxanne" by the Police and the new Wyclef Jean song, "Perfect Gentleman," are good examples.
Gangsta Boo's song is different. She knows why she strips; she knows the ins
and outs of her job; she knows the pros and cons; she knows how to make the money that's there. She doesn't fall in love with her customers ("Stick the money in my lacestrap if you want a show/I'm a private dancer/Be your love slave for awhile"); she maintains complete control of her performances ("If them beggin' bustas is perverted/Keep they mouth away"); and she doesn't wax poetic about escaping the business ("I got bills to pay, but a sister's gonna suck it up"). Her job is just that, a job -- and she makes it clear that strippers can be smart businesswomen in control of their bodies and lives.
Gangsta Boo definitely knows what she's talking about -- surprisingly so for a woman who admits that she's creating a character and not speaking from her own experience. Of all forms of mainstream music today, rap and R&B seem to be the only two genres where women are crossing boundaries and making major progress. Gangsta Boo is absolutely at the forefront of that. Getting paid is essential, but can the lady get some respect too?