Rihanna’s latest album ANTI is everything I didn’t know I needed in life. On first listen, one song in particular, “Needed Me” captured my attention and has refused to let go. It’s timely, really. Lately I’ve been wondering what would happen if people knew how savage women really were. I don’t mean cunning and conniving – although we’ve also mastered that. I’m talking about savage. Before your blood pressure gets too high, yes I know how white folks try to use the term savage to refer to anything they deem inferior. This ain’t that. We define for ourselves. That being said, a savage is a person who doesn’t partake in obligatory politeness. They don’t play politics or beat around the bush – they are putting themselves first and going for what they want. They’re winners. The term savage has long been in colloquial use in the DC area but most recently Rihanna brought it back on “Needed Me” when she asks Didn’t they tell you I was a savage?
There’s this commonly accepted idea that while women can be hoes, they can’t be savages. Because women are feeble-minded creatures who only know how to engage physically when emotions are involved; otherwise it’s just a black hole between our legs. This is what people of a range of intellectual abilities believe. Men and women alike.
However it turns out after much scientific research (listening to my friends’ stories about their sex lives), I’ve come to the conclusion that women can be savages. When women cheat, it’s not always emotional. And it certainly isn’t always in response to something a man has done. And yet these strange myths persist despite the myriad of evidence before us. Sex is a fascinating topic. Sex in Black America? Even more fascinating. You see, Black Americans in general – and African-Americans in particular – have a beautiful dark twisted relationship with sex.
For one, we are historically a deeply religious people. Many of us were raised in church, even if the rules of Christianity were only selectively adhered to. As Wale once rapped, Saturday night sinners do their Sunday morning faking. It’s a lifestyle we all know. But don’t get it twisted: white people have Catholic guilt, too. We’re not the only ones struggling with, and abandoning, our faith. Additionally, white men have been raping Black women for centuries, sneaking into slave cabins and hiding behind Jim Crow era laws to continue this barbarity.
One of the dopest parts of being Black in America is regardless of how varied our personalities and experiences are, there are many recurring themes: the pastor who goes on another twenty minutes after he says he’s about to sit down or the confounding images of white Jesus and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on church fans. We even have a political history with church, from religious leadership in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s or churches organizing to feed people in Ferguson who weren’t in school because the National Guard shut everything down. But this isn’t what y’all came here for. Or is it? You think you’re about to read about how women are how here scheming and having sex indiscriminately but it’s more about Black sexual liberation. And as you can see, this is a very touchy topic. Even as I write this I really hope my two pastor parents never read this.
I listened to ANTI and enjoyed the intro with SZA, the previously released “James Joint”, and the Drake-assisted “Work”. But the song that stayed with me was “Needed Me.” Instantly. I did that fist-to-mouth, jump up and down thing I do when I hear a really dope song.
“Needed Me” opens up with a DJ Mustard-signature beat. It’s a dark anthem. It’s a crossfaded off codeine and a blunt vibe. The beat drops and Rihanna kicks in the door with:
I was good on my own that’s the way it was. That’s the way it was.
You was good on the low for a faded fuck, on some faded love.
Shit, what the fuck you complaining for?
Feeling jaded, huh?
Used to trip off that shit I was kicking to ya.
Had some fun on the run though I’ll give it to ya.
But baby, don’t get it twisted
You was just another nigga on the hit list
Tryna fix ya inner issues with a bad bitch
Didn’t they tell you I was a savage?
Fuck your white horse and a carriage.
Bet you never could imagine
Never told you you could have it.
Fuck a horse and carriage indeed! This is not your typical fairy tale. This is not the narrative we’re used to. Isn’t she supposed to be enthralled with a man and in agony that she’s not being loved right? Not up in here. The very first thing she says is, “I was good on my own.” We start the story with Rihanna already being a complete autonomous individual. And it ends with “Never told you you could have it”, so wait they don’t even end up together happily ever after?!
This is why I love Rihanna so much – the absolute refusal to let anyone control her narrative. Media and fans alike desperately wanted to make her a downtrodden victim of domestic violence and she’s done everything in her power to eschew that label and just live her life. On “Same Ol’ Mistakes” a calm but annoyed Rihanna sings:
I can just hear them now “How could you let us down?” But they don’t know what I found or see it from this way around … Finally taking flight. I know you don’t think it’s right. I know you think it’s fake. Maybe fake’s what I like. Point is I have the right.
“Needed Me” comes almost as a response to Drake’s thin-line-between-melancholy-and-psychotic smash hit “Hotline Bling”. Drake details that ever since him and his lady broke up, she got exactly what you asked for, running out of pages in your passport, hanging with some girls I’ve never seen before. He annoyingly thinks aloud to no one, since she definitely isn’t the one sticking around to listen to him, Why you never alone? Why you always touching road? Used to always stay at home, be a good girl, you was in the zone. You should just be yourself.”
Every time I hear Hotline Bling I laugh at how happy this girl is after Drake finally left her alone. At the end of the day Hotline Bling is a trash song about Drake being mad that a woman healthily and happily moved on while he scrolls through her pictures. Songs like Rihanna’s “Needed Me” show the other side of that supposedly tragic scenario: Baby don’t get it twisted. You was just another nigga on the hit list. Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch…. Never told you you could have it. Put another way on “Sex With Me” I know, I know. I make it hard to let go. You’re going to have to get over this.
Rihanna’s in complete control of her sexual desires and her bigger narrative as an artist. She’s dominant. We’ve seen this kind of agency and sexual liberation with female rappers before; however, those perspectives were shared in a mostly-male space. Lil Kim ran with Biggie, Foxy Brown with Jay-Z. That is only noted to say there is something novel and awesome about Beyoncé and Rihanna expressing this sexual agency from the center of their own worlds. They’re lifting the burden of being a Black woman completely in control of their sexual proclivities. Rihanna’s critical self-awareness of her actions and romantic decisions are to be applauded: There ain’t nothing here for me anymore, but I don’t wanna be alone” . There are no dreams being bought or sold here.
But what if I told you this is how many women operate? What if I told you not every woman is a damsel in distress waiting to be delivered by dick? What if I told you that when Rihanna sings I know you don’t think it’s right. I know you think it’s fake. Maybe fake’s what I like. Point is I have the right, women collectively clap as they flashback to that time they called their ex just because they wanted to have sex? Am I blowing your mind?
What Rihanna is doing with ANTI thematically matches what Beyoncé began with her self-titled BEYONCE – having a ball living her life and disproving false dichotomies. They’re bosses, superstars, and sexual beings. And it’s dope. When Beyoncé sang You got me faded, baby, I want you. Can’t keep your eyes off my fatty daddy I want you people freaked. Not only is she talking about wanting to have sex, she’s using some atypical kinky language that we’re not used to hearing from Bey, or any mainstream singer. The twisted fairytale Beyoncé puts forth on “No Angel” is yet another example of two Black women expressing their authentic desires – not the ones they’re “supposed” to have:
Baby put your arms around me, tell me I’m a problem. Know I’m not the girl you thought you knew and that you wanted. Underneath the pretty face is something complicated. I come with a side of trouble but I know that’s why you’re staying.
Sonically there is something very different happening with both Rihanna and Beyoncé’s new offerings. Formation and tracks like Woo and parts of Needed Me take on this different genre – neither of them are really singing and they’re not technically rapping, but they’re using their voices as another instrument on the track.
Beyoncé and Rihanna are doing what more academics and activists should do – and that’s making this feminist movement accessible. All these think pieces on problematic pedagogy and nomothetic epistemology and other unnecessarily big words is one big circle jerk. The people we claim we want to work with and protect can’t even understand what we’re saying. So props to Bey and Rih for the work.
These offerings are particularly notable in a time when violence against women is becoming more and more visible. Jessica Williams brilliantly broke down street harassment on the Daily Show and we collectively screamed YASSSSS. Feminista Jones started #YouOkSis as a medium of support and awareness grew. There’s this general prevalence of negative sexual attention happening to women. Especially in Rihanna’s case and her past trauma. But here we have the two biggest Black female singers running the charts right now saying You needed me and I might get your song played on the radio station – declaring that not only can they offer amazing carefree life-changing sex on their own terms, but this experience might come with a rise in your popularity. And for men who think feminism is for hating men and other stupid ideas, just know that Rihanna gave y’all the playbook. You’re welcome.