Hip-hop brought black America at its most unfiltered into the mainstream like never before. And rappers have been pushing the envelope for sexual content dating back to even the genre’s earliest pop crossover moments. (Recall the “Rapper’s Delight” verse about “super sperm.”) But it took some time for hip-hop to get really dirty. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was often gangsta rap pioneers like Ice-T and N.W.A. that set the bar for explicit sex talk, but it felt almost like a side effect of their penchant for breaking other taboos.
Miami’s 2 Live Crew became one of hip-hop’s first major acts to center their image on sex, and, in the process, upset the same censorship advocates that had been so focused on Prince a few years earlier, becoming unlikely champions of free speech. Throughout the early ’90s, gangsta-rap albums continued to be peppered with odes to orgies and oral sex, and even relatively clean-cut acts like MC Hammer made ass-shaking anthems like “Pumps And A Bump.” LL Cool J evolved from hip-hop love-song pioneer to the sex god of “Doin’ It.” Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” became a pop phenomenon in part because of his cleverly cartoonish approach to sex, but, as his career continued, he got even more anatomical with songs like “Put ‘Em On the Glass.”
In the mid-’90s, the burgeoning hip-hop underground allowed more leeway for kinky lyrics that didn’t even try to get past radio censors. Akinyele of “Put It In Your Mouth” fame dedicated his career to obscenity. Kool Keith’s Dr. Octagon project became an indie-rap touchstone with a playfully absurd cocktail of sci-fi themes and sex raps. And R.A. The Rugged Man’s 1994 debut album contained such perversely nasty lyrics that even the presence of rising mainstream star Notorious B.I.G. on “Cunt Renaissance” couldn’t keep it from being shelved for several years.
Early sex-positive female rap stars like Salt-N-Pepa gave way to X-rated pinups like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, and in the early 2000s, Khia and Trina. By the 2010s, nearly every female rapper of note is as comfortable and unapologetic in rapping about ass and pussy as their male contemporaries, from superstars like Nicki Minaj to underground upstars like cupcakKe. Meanwhile, the rise of the Internet has reduced radio’s role as a gatekeeper, giving tracks like “Fuckin’ Problems” and “UP! (Beat the Pussy Up)” more room to thrive on the pop charts without being cleaned up for broadcast.