One of Dominican rapper Tokischa’s latest music video appearances sees her strutting into an office, dressed in her sexy-secretary best, before throwing a pair of files on a desk in front of her: “Bellaca Putona,” the files read. Horny Slut. Within seconds, she’s squatting on the tabletop, twirling her pigtail box braids and demanding to be fucked.
Tokischa isn’t into niceties. Many of her peers aren’t, either. The 25-year-old from Los Frailes is just one of many artists representing a new, wanton wave in Latin hip-hop, one where women are laying claim to their own bodies and reveling in the joys of sexual pleasure. This movement includes artists like Gailen La Moyeta, Tomasa del Real and Ms Nina, among others, whose performances span from the softly erotic — think, silk robes and grinding girlfriends on the dancefloor — to the raunchy theatrics of “Bellaca Putona” and its video. Together, these women are delivering a sonic spit in the face to the spaces that attempt to stifle their sexual and sensual desires, be they the barrios back home or the misogynistic, machista music industry at large. But this opportunity to do so wasn’t always a given.
In the ’90s and early aughts — years before this nuevo orden femenino — even a legend like Puerto Rican reggaetonera Ivy Queen often felt the need to elude all things hypersexual and ultrafeminine. This was, in part, a kind of self-preservation during a time when Senator Velda González blamed the entire denigration of her gender on none other than perreo, the doggystyle dance synonymous with reggaeton, and the scantily clad women engaging in it. On the other hand, Ivy’s gruff voice and tomboy appearance also helped to secure her a spot in reggaeton’s male-dominated scene. Yet this didn’t stop la diva from wanting to protect the “pretty girls,” as she put it, the women whose club nights weren’t ruined by perreo itself but by the unwanted sexual advances of men. In 2003, Ivy released “Quiero Bailar,” where she schooled the guys on dancefloor consent while still affirming the joys of a perreo sucio.
Ivy, not unlike early hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa with their hit “Let’s Talk About Sex,” took up the labor of educating the masses while calmly fighting for her own sexual freedom — an exhausting role that many women in music, especially Black and Afro-Latinx women, know all too well. But there’s also a bolder (if commercially wrought) way to convince listeners that women deserve to enjoy sex and sensuality on their own terms. At the same time Ivy was busy breaking the Caribbean’s collective consciousness with “Quiero Bailar,” there were women in the States already going full X-rated on the mic. From Foxy Brown’s G-spot guide on 1997’s “Big Bad Mama” to Lil’ Kim’s Tootsie Pop-inspired treatise on cunnilingus in 2000’s “How Many Licks?,” Black women in the U.S. were writing the sex-positive playbook one audacious track at a time. And they never stopped: By 2020, the most popular song in the world was a sexual-empowerment anthem by a Black “Houston Hottie” and an Afro-Latina MC from the South Bronx.
While it took years to see their deliciously lewd lyrics reflected in the same way in Latin America, the women there were clearly taking note. On her 2020 single “Varón,” Tokischa dreams about all the sexual fantasies she would fulfill had she been born a man. Then there are tracks like Ms Nina and Tomasa del Real’s “Y Dime,” released in 2019, that combine reggaeton’s classic tropes of sexual conquest with the Y2K nostalgia of neoperreo, a women-headed subgenre first launched by Tomasa in Chile. “Se lo hago bacán, pero no cocino/Sabes por las uñas de tu gata fina,” Tomy sings in Auto-Tuned bliss, essentially saying that the sex is great, but don’t expect her to cook and risk ruining her manicure. Meanwhile, for Argentine trapera Cazzu, liberation can simply look like declaring that she has a doctorate degree in sex.
From South America to the Caribbean and beyond, these women are challenging the Latinx machismo that would otherwise see them reduced to a faceless pair of thick thighs in a music video, or a breathy “ay papi” on the track. Still, in considering el nuevo orden, it’s necessary to acknowledge that some women are afforded more space than others to share their stories of sexual liberation. It is the conventionally attractive, non-Black Latina who enjoys the most visibility and praise in the mainstream for her sexual admissions, whereas the few Black Latinas represented in the industry must often field criticisms rooted in misogynoir and assumptions around their class status and availability. For an artist like Gailen La Moyeta, pushing back is part of the job: On her 2020 single “Tienes Que Pagar,” she asserts that she’s not “so easy” to share herself with a partner who isn’t pulling their weight financially. “Tu no me pagas renta, no me pegas taxi,” she sings, pointing out that her would-be lover isn’t the one covering her rent or calling her a cab — and if they want “100 percent” of her, they’ll have to step up and pay up.
Lazy assessments might portray women like Gailen as stranded by their own self-objectification, as some critics assume that profiting off of one’s sexual power remains an act that is purely pursuant to the male gaze. It is true, of course, that sex sells — that the music industry often exploits women as erotic objects to satisfy the sexual fantasies of men. But painting women as trapped by their choice to participate and gain commercial mobility is not only an insult to their business acumen; it fails to hold patriarchy itself accountable for establishing a culture of harm against marginalized identities in the first place. Included here are LGBTQ+ artists, whose queer longings further complicate the assumption that anything produced under the umbrella of feminine desire exists only to serve men.