In the opening shots of Rico Nasty’s recent Coming Up documentary, we see the 21-year-old Maryland rapper bathing her three-year-old son Cam. “How did you find out you were pregnant?” asks the interviewer. “I was masturbating and after I came, my stomach was brick hard,” is her reply. Rico represents a new slew of mothers in music who are frank, unapologetic, career-driven, sexual, bread-winning and killing it. They exist at a time when there’s scope to be more nuanced in how the world views femininity. But, perhaps more importantly, they give zero fucks what the world thinks anyway.
There’s a surprisingly small canon of pop songs by female artists about their own motherhood, which could be down to a reluctance to make that special bond performative. Or maybe, in the binary space that women are often expected to exist in, musicians have been afraid to remind the world that they’re at once artist and mother. There was a time when a pregnant pop star was expected to a make a sort of Sophie’s choice between career and parenting. The tabloids took thigh-rubbing glee in the demise of Ms Dynamite post-pregnancy. “You could tell everyone was thinking, your timing couldn’t be worse,” she told an interviewer back in 2005. But now female artists are letting the world know that they’ll be doing motherhood on their own terms. “You know what – I’m a grown woman,” said Cardi B, following her pregnancy announcement in 2017. “I’m a schmillionaire and I’m prepared for this… Why do I gotta choose a career or a baby? I want both.”
Wanting it all won’t quiet the deafening doubters, and artists could be forgiven for finding the public scrutiny dispiriting (remember the ridiculous Beyoncé baby bump debate?!). But it often feels as though pregnancy and motherhood sharpen focus. Perhaps it’s perspective. Perhaps it’s the genuine abandon that accompanies deep and compounded tiredness. Perhaps it’s the next logical step in embracing the embarrassing mum role. Once an artist reaches a point of genuinely not caring what people think, creativity is limitless. Cardi B released her album Invasion of Privacy just four months before dropping her bun. A year after giving birth to Blue Ivy, Beyoncé innovated the surprise drop with a self-titled album that changed the pop music landscape forever. Lauryn Hill had a baby and then promptly made Miseducation.
“When some women are pregnant, their hair and their nails grow, but for me it was my mind and ability to create,” Hill said to Ebony about her only solo LP back in 1998. With To Zion, Hill may have created the ultimate anthem of motherhood. The universal and earthy contendedness of that track will jerk tears for eternity. But, of course, there are many and varied ways that motherhood can inform all corners of artistic output. For Bey it unlocked the sort of sexuality that can be found on tracks like the brazenly climatic Rocket; for Rico Nasty it hardened her protective thrasher rage, taking her high-octane rap sound to a gloriously punk place.
Day-glo Tennessee rapper Bbymutha is the proud single mum to two sets of twins, who all appeared on the cover of her 2018 EP Muthaz Day 3. She raps with relish about everything from her sex life to how much she likes cocaine and she makes no apologies for doing it as a mother. She told Paper magazine in November last year: “In interviews when people want to ask about my family, it’s cool because I do have a family, but that’s not the only part of me… there’s more than one facet of being a woman with children.”
Pregnant and jobbing female stars are now more visible than ever before, but when Neneh Cherry stepped out on the Top of the Pops stage back in 1988 to perform Buffalo Stance in gold lame jacket and teeny black lycra skirt gift-wrapping her heavily pregnant belly, Little Britain almost spontaneously combusted. An appreciation of maxi dresses and Breton stripes is not a pre-requisite for motherhood. A woman’s sartorial tastes don’t change once her egg is fertilised. And neither does the sexual appetite that got her there. Cardi B’s 2018 Coachella performance was a thing of maternal beauty. As she twerked on hand and knees shouting “That’s how I got pregnant, y’all”, she defied a world hell-bent on averting its gaze from how babies are made.
Frankness about the realities of pregnancy has also been key. Cardi B said that she had “kinda, sorta” considered abortion; Kehlani has used Insta to detail her struggles with prenatal depression. When Bbymutha was told by an interviewer that it was a blessing to have two sets of twins, she replied, “It’s two Scorpios and two Leos and it’s just a lot for my Virgo ass.” Adele accepted a Grammy in 2017, sharing that “in my pregnancy and through becoming a mother, I lost a lot of myself.”
Even those without kids are confronted constantly by motherhood. Hit 30 as a female artist and you best be ready to answer questions on plans for children as readily and frequently as “still or sparkling?” But the responses are slowly becoming less rehearsed or people-pleasing. When Miranda July spoke to Rihanna back in 2015 she asked her what she searches on the internet. “Childbirth,” RiRi replied. “Phobia of a big vagina.”
At the end of the Rico Nasty doc she spits to a crowd of thousands who mosh hard and chant along to each and every word. Just as she’s whipped them to peak frenzy, in tiny playsuit and giant platinum weave, she carries son Cam out on stage. “This is for all my young mamas out there. Don’t let them tell you what you can and can’t do”. It’s conspicuous motherhood but there’s no pretence. A chant erupts of “bitch, I’m nasty”. And it’s true, Rico’s a Mum but she can still be nasty. “I’m a girl, so you know they told me I couldn’t do it. I got a baby, so you know they told me I couldn’t do it,” she screams, defiant. “DO. THAT. SHIT.”