Call and response has a rich tradition in Black music and culture, and represents a “pervasive pattern of democratic participation” that allows artists and ordinary citizens to participate in a conversation as equals. When I first heard David Guetta and Nicki Minaj’s new track, “Hey Mama” I was captivated by the call and response between them, so I downloaded the song from YouTube and added it to my running playlist. This morning, as I was out doing some intervals, I really listened to the words, and holy shit this song is awesome!
Here are six things about “Hey Mama” that make these lyrics and the whole song amazing!
1. You get what you give
Be my woman, girl
I’ll be your man
Be my woman, girl
I’ll be your man
Right out of the starting gate, this song is about equality and reciprocity. This is no white knight rushing in to save the damsel in distress. Guetta is making Minaj an offer and making it clear that conditions are attached. He’ll be hers, but only if she’ll be his. There is a truism circulating in culture that love should be unconditional, and that’s true when it comes to parents and children, but not when it comes to adults. Love is always conditional. These are mature adults who understand that.
2. Yes means yes
Yes, I’ll be your woman, yes, I’ll be your baby
Yes, I’ll be whatever that you tell me when you’re ready
Yes, I’ll be your girl, forever your lady
You ain’t ever gotta worry, I’m down for you baby
Minaj accepts Guetta’s offer but doesn’t take it for granted. Yes, she’ll be his woman, when he’s ready. And she understands the offer comes with obligations – long term fidelity and support. Again, a very mature response, with no hint of entitlement on her part.
3. You don’t always get what you want
Best believe that, when you need that
I’ll provide that, you will always have it
I’ll be on deck, keep it in check
When you need that, I’mma let you have it
This little section is almost revolutionary! Minaj is acknowledging that her needs are not always going to be the most important and she will occasionally need to keep her shit in check? Contrast this with something like Megan Trainor’s Dear Future Husband, in which Trainor explicitly details all the ways she will not be keeping her shit in check and her future husband better be prepared to suck it up. I’ll take the adult responsibility of being on deck, thanks.
4. The ship only has one Captain
Yes I’ll do the cooking, yes I’ll do the cleaning
Plus I keep the na-na real sweet, for your eating
Yes you be the boss, and yes I be respecting
Whatever that you tell me, cause it’s game you be spitting
Traditional gender roles catch a lot of bad press, but the reality is that couples who follow the Captain/First officer script tend to be the happiest. Minaj is fierce when she sings that he’s gonna be the boss and she will be respecting, leaving no room to consider her weak, submissive or subordinate. Being the First Officer is a prestigious position after all. Can anyone make the argument that Spock is somehow oppressed by Kirk, or Riker by Picard? The First Officer and the Captain work together as a team. The Captain has the final say, but it comes with final responsibility, too. Hence the respect.
5. Give first, give often
Whole crew got the juice, yo dick game the truth
My screams is the proof, them other dudes get the deuce
I’mma speed in the coupe, leaving this interview
It ain’t nothin’ new, I been fuckin’ with you
None of them bitches ain’t taking you, just tell them to make a U-
Huh, that how it be, I come first like debuts, huh
So baby when you need that, give me that word
I’m no good, I’ll be bad for my baby
There are a whole lot of euphemisms deployed here, but the message is that wanting to always come first is selfish, and since Minaj knows Guetta’s “dick game” is gonna deliver “screams”, she has no compunctions about giving first. She’s not in a competition with Guetta, she’s in a mutually satisfying relationship, and she’s prepared to be “bad” for her baby.
6. A lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom
So I make sure that he’s getting his share
So I make sure that his baby take care
So I make sure I’m on my toes, on my knees
Keep him pleased, rub him down, be a lady and a freak, oh
Pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, is a two way street and showing appreciation is one of the smartest things a woman can do. Taking pleasure for granted or believing gratitude is unnecessary is a death knell for a relationship. Entitled lovers suck. Minaj knows that keeping her man pleased is the best way to make sure he keeps her pleased, too. She gives a passing nod, once again, to the exclusivity and fidelity of the relationship. Yes, you can be a freak, but that’s behaviour for the bedroom. Be a lady in the living room.
In a popular culture saturated with messages to be selfish, self-absorbed and entitled, it’s downright refreshing to hear a killer beat and call and response song that celebrates men and women as different but equal, and mutually invested in one another.
Nikki Minaj does most of the heavy lyrical work on Hey Mama (helped out by Bebe Rexha) but the song is credited to David Guetta first, which reflects the work he did writing and producing. That’s called putting your money where your mouth is. Minaj doesn’t just sing about respect, she lives it.
Now that’s a woman I can get behind.