For this Labor Day edition of Trail Mix, I could focus on this type of work song, but instead, let’s talk about the term “work” and its use in hip hop music.
Note: I’m not about to pretend this is a comprehensive list of the best examples, but maybe this post will inspire you to go down the rabbit hole of music surrounding multi-racial, queer, pan-sexual mash-up culture, which ultimately led me to this. But I’ve getting ahead of myself.
There are a lot of popular artists using the word “work” in their music these days. The most radio-friendly examples include:
Work Bitch – Britney Spears
Work – Ciara ft. Missy Elliott
Get Me Bodied – Beyonce
Work – A$AP Ferg
Work – Iggy Azalea
You may not know that the term “work” has its roots in New York City drag ball culture. Unfamiliar? Head over to Netflix and watch Paris Is Burning, a 1990 documentary film about African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities and balls in the mid to late 1980s.
A preview of the use of “work” in whilst vogueing in Paris is Burning:
The expression gained widespread popularity thanks to RuPaul.
SuperModel (You Better Work) – RuPaul
Are Ciara’s lyrics in Work making more sense now? Remember that part when she says this?
The dance train is coming back again
Extravaganza, you should run and tell a friend
Kings and queens are posted at the bar
Buckin’ down, it’s time to take it all
Yep, it’s all a reference to drag ball culture. And it’s awesome.
Recently, Azealia Banks’s song “Fierce” (featuring Franky Fuentes) includes direct references to (and arguably, celebrations of) Paris Is Burning. This video that mashes “Fierce” with footage of the film makes that point all-too-beautifully clear:
What’s next for “work”? It’s unclear, but in the 15 years that it’s existed in pop culture, it’s evolved from a word contextually exclusive to drag ball culture to represent an idea common in the larger heteronormative environment. For the forefront of the next wave of cultural [r]evolution, perhaps we should look to the rising NYC-based GHE20G0TH1K movement, started by Shayne Oliver and DJ Venus X. This subculture that embraces an uninhibited sense of freedom of expression, and it integrates fashion forerunners, ghetto kids, goths, (Afro)punks and more. In this space, vogueing, hip-hop, and breakdancing combine into a raucous mash-up.
Speaking of raucous mash-ups, check out what DJ Venus X did by combining Britney’s “Work Bitch” with vocals and beats from A$AP Ferg and Tim Dolla:
Newer queer artists like Cakes Da Killa, Mykki Blanco, and A$AP Rocky continue the tradition of challenging accepted norms by explicitly integrating an oft-veiled LGBT culture into hip hop music. We’re going to keep listening. Interested? Read more.
Maybe now you’re in the spirit to work on Labor Day?
And since it’s a holiday, here are some bonus tracks:
Creativity – Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock
Youthful Expression – A Tribe Called Quest
Art School – Das Racist
Don’t Sweat the Technique – Eric B & Rakim
Walk on the Wild Side (Fdel Edit) – Lou Reed