Comedian Issa Rae on the Ass

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Why you should care

Because some music can make you woke and freaky.

A handful of inches from the camera, a woman is shaking her ass. She’s bent over, and though her face is obscured, her butt moves as though it were nodding in vehement assent: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Then the camera crosscuts to cheering men and other women doing the same thing.

This is the 1998 music video for Juvenile’s massive hit “Back That Ass Up” — a seminal moment in the history of ratchet music. That genre of raunchy rap formed the soundtrack to young Issa Rae’s life. The comedian, and star of the upcoming HBO show Insecure, broke down the Juvenile track thusly: “The chorus alone lays the foundation and the formula for all successful ratchet songs. It has compliments, it has instructions, it has bravado and it has drums. It is perfect for strippers and all women of varying degrees of self-esteem,” she said at OZY Fest in July.

Little did Rae know how important big butts and big-buttedness would become: “Big asses …would have a huge theme in the music I would grow up to love,” she told the audience. Alas, she wasn’t genetically blessed with much of a booty herself.

And so she found solace in another ratchet hero: Missy Elliott. Yep, Rae got her freak on and claimed her inner weird. In Elliot’s video for her ratchet anthem “Get Ur Freak On,” the musician appears in a camouflage suit and raps while looking straight at the camera. She does not twerk. In fact, the video gives its viewer no idea what Elliott’s butt looks like.

Rae in turn embraced ratchet in all its complexity: “If it weren’t for the duality that ratchet has afforded me, I wouldn’t be the complex, woke, freaky-as-fuck feminist, dimensional Black woman who stands before you today.”

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