By Madeline Barry / New York City
It was a Friday afternoon on a clear, chilly November day in Brooklyn and four of my seventh grade students (all girls) at the public school where I teach were in my classroom during lunchtime, chatting away about the dresses their favorite celebrities wore to the Met Gala earlier this month.
Soon the conversation shifted to music, my favorite subject, so I chimed in. “What are you guys listening to these days?” I asked. A classic rock girl myself, I feel a little disconnected from the rap world my students occupy, but being in the know as a teacher of teens is important, and of course I was curious.
The girls stopped the fashion talk and looked at one another. Though their masks were on, I could tell by their eyes that they were smiling.
I pressed on. “What’s the deal with A Boogie wit da Hoodie? I always hear his name.”
The girls giggled and one young lady declared that she thought he was cute. A debate ensued as to whether or not he was indeed cute, and then it was decided that “some people like him for his looks.”
“But what about his music?” I asked.
“His first album smacks.”
“Yeah, and he can hype you up sometimes or calm you down.”
“Sometimes he gives you life advice.”
Boogie, a 25-year-old rapper whose given name is Julius Dubose, is originally from the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx and has more than 15, million monthly listeners on Spotify, a popular music app.. His biggest hit is “Numbers” which debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. But “Swervin,,’ a song that features the highly controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine,((he was convicted of a child sex crime two years ago), has the most plays of his catalogue with over 650 million listens on Spotify.
I asked about their favorite Boogie songs and they mentioned “Drowning,” a melancholy song with haunting, repetitive piano chords and a booming bass line accompanying the artist’s autotuned voice.
“Ok,” I pushed on. “Who else?”
“Lil Baby!” they said.
“What’s his deal?” I asked.
“He has a good beat and he gets you hyped up too.”
Lil Baby, whose real name is Dominique Armani Jones, has a whopping 24 million monthly listeners on Spotify. The 26-year old Atlanta, Ga.-based rapper’s best-known song is “Drip Too Hard,” which features the rapper Gunna.
“He fell off the stage!” one girl added and they all burst out laughing.
Later on, I googled “Lil Baby falling off stage” and there it was on YouTube. In the middle of addressing the crowd at a concert in Dubai October 31., the rapper tumbled down a set of small stairs on the side of the stage. To his credit he bounced back fairly quickly and blamed the fall on the copious amounts of alcohol he had consumed that night.
“Okay, okay. Lil Baby. Keep them coming.”
“We gotta represent the women!” the girls decided.
I nodded in agreement. “Okay, so what female rappers are we listening to?” I asked.
“Megan Thee Stallion! She makes you want to dance all over the place.”
“Yeah, she’s got those Megan knees--she can get down.”
“Megan knees?” I inquired.
“Yeah--she drops it low!”
Upon further research later, I found there is a trend on TikTok called “The Knees Like Megan Challenge” which the entertainment website HITC describes as “...completing a specific dance routine that sees you slowly squatting to the floor. All you have to do is copy the routine and upload your video to TikTok with the hashtag #kneeslikemegan.” Videos of those who have bravely accepted the Internet challenge feature mostly women (I found one compilation that even showed a young woman doing the squat challenge holding her little one) with the song “Knees Like Megan '' by female rapper Mouse on Tha Track providing the soundtrack.
I took a quick break from my rap scholarship, and tried the #kneeslikemegan challenge myself. I can report that it is as hard as it looks. Megan Thee Stallion has some incredibly strong knees. But anyway, back to the story at hand.
“Any other ladies?” I asked.
“Cardi B!” They all agreed.
“Ah yes, of course! Cardi B!” I enthused.
“She is a whole different vibe from other artists…” one of the young women explained. “She likes to play around, she makes her songs funny.”
“She has good vibes.”
“And her outfits are iconic!”
But her outfit at the Met Gala was not it.”
I am perhaps most familiar with Cardi B (real name Belcalis Marlenis Almánzarthe), the Bronx native who is known for being outlandish, outrageous, and downright hilarious. Cardi B achieved stardom by appearing on the VH1 reality show Love and Hip Hop: New York and cultivating a presence on Instagram. A former stripper, Cardi B has fearlessly entered the male-dominated rap world and gained a group of very loyal followers. Her single “WAP” which features none other than Megan Thee Stallion, came out August 2020 and swept the nation. I will not go into what the name “WAP” means or any details about the extremely provocative song, (ask Mr. Google), but I will say it is catchy.
“Alright, so who is the best?” I asked.
The girls conferred for a minute.
“Okqy, in order we think it’s Megan, Cardi, A Boogie and then Lil Baby.”
“Yeah, that's the best to worst.”
“Got it,” I said. “I feel cooler already.”
They laughed (either at me or with me. I couldn’t tell for sure) and then upon hearing that there was some sort of delicious snack being handed out in the cafeteria. They ran out of the room in a gale of giggles and excitement. When they left, I naturally googled Cardi B’s Met Gala outfit. They were right. It was not it.
Madeline Barry is a junior high school teacher at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center in Brooklyn, New York. Listening to music and writing for The Insider has kept her semi-sane during the pandemic.