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You probably know Sesali Bowen for her TikToks breaking down who each rap girl makes music for. Or you might know her for coining “trap feminism” and writing her debut book on the term. If not, then surely you know her for her moniker and social media handle that sums up the intersections she proudly sits at, Bad Fat Black Girl.
She’s breaking ground for the way media covers Black femmes and queer artists in hip-hop. And with her podcast “Purse First,” she and co-host Pierre Phipps, of the gay rap duo Freaky Boiz, are making history with the first and only platform dedicated specifically to the girls and gays of rap.
The New Jersey-based journalist first had the idea for her podcast in 2020 while working on her book, “Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From a Trap Feminist.” She saw a void in how female and queer rappers were being discussed in comparison to straight male rappers. There was clearly an opportunity being missed, especially considering the boom of female and queer rappers on the scene in recent years. And often when they were being discussed, it was either in a disrespectful or minimizing way.
Enter “Purse First.”
“I thought a lot about the disconnect between how I listen to hip-hop and how so many people around me listen to hip-hop,” Bowen said. “We only listening to mostly women because there was so much there, and having to get on the internet every day and find out about how the hosts of these other really popular hip-hop podcasts are problematic, even misogynistic, have hosts with sexual assault allegations or just generally disrespectful to women in general.”
She recruited Phipps as her co-host, and they launched their first season in early 2021. Bowen, who worked in publishing at Nylon and Refinery29′s Unbothered previously, knew her judgment around the worthiness of a show like “Purse First” was on point, despite an initial struggle to secure funding. She got confirmation of that when the Pussy Rap and All of That group, founded by Mikeisha Vaughn, Laja H, Robyn Mowatt and Kia Turner, gained a lot of interest at the height of Clubhouse, the social network based on audio only.
“Purse First” launched independently, and the hosts had to be scrappy about production, using their industry contacts and Bowen’s media knowledge to book guests and promote the show.
The episodes often include guest interviews with both newer and seasoned artists. Previous interviews include Kidd Kenn, Baby Tate, KenTheMan, BbyMutha and Trina. Bowen and Phipps also do historical dives, including an oral history of Phipp’s group Freaky Boiz. “Purse First” recently hit its 5,000-download mark, a milestone for the duo that records virtually on different coasts. This season, they’re hoping to lean into video content and live conversations to complement their show a lot more. This season, which premiered Aug. 12, features guests including Dai Burger and Kali.
“We hope to be just a very refreshing alternative,” Bowen said.
Bowen spoke with me about the importance of “Purse First,” her journey to coining trap feminism, stan culture and her hopes for the future of rap.
Congratulations on this third season of “Purse First.” First of all, “Purse First” is very much history in the making, in the fact that you and Pierre are the first to break this ground in podcasting to shine a light on female and queer rappers.
Can we talk about it? All the girls that are out in rap right now and nobody thought to do this.
That void just speaks to how underrepresented women and queer people have been in hip-hop historically. Talk to me about how you came up with this idea and concept for a podcast.
I came up with the idea for “Purse First” in 2020. We were obviously in the pandemic. I was actually still in the process of writing my book on trap feminism. I talk about female rap in my book, so I had just been thinking a lot about the fact that we had so much female talent that was just constantly cropping up. I mean, Meg was dominating everything. We had Nicki, we had Cardi, we had Latto, KenTheMan, everybody. So I’m like, “OK, there is no show about this. There is no podcast.” That felt weird to me.
I thought a lot about the disconnect between how I listen to hip-hop and how so many people around me listen to hip-hop. We only listening to mostly women because there was so much there and having to get on the internet every day and find out about how the hosts of these other really popular hip-hop podcasts are problematic, even misogynistic, have hosts with sexual assault allegations or just generally disrespectful to women in general.
And I’m like, so you mean to tell me we got all of these bitches that’s making more money, making better music, doing bigger deals, and the only show that they’re supposed to respect and look up to, to go sit down and talk to people about their work is abusers and predators? I started to put together a pitch, and I felt really strongly about it and I knew that I wanted Pierre to co-host with me because, first of all, Pierre funny as hell, but also Pierre is legendary in his own right, as one of the Freaky Boiz.
Where does the name “Purse First” come from?
So that actually is so funny because a lot of people associate “Purse First” with… apparently Bob the Drag Queen has a song called “Purse First.” But the saying, the full saying is “purse first, ass last.” I thought it was just a popular Black colloquialism. It’s like some shit that your grandma will tell you when you get your first adult boyfriend. But apparently, it actually is a saying that originates in sex work, specifically pimp culture. Which makes sense that I grew up hearing that because I’m from Chicago. Chicago, Detroit, pimp culture is just a big thing there.
So, it was just like a Black colloquialism, purse first, ass last. So I liked that as a title for the show because I feel like that’s really the vibe of the femme rap that we’re getting. It’s really about being in your bag. It’s about putting the money first. It’s about just really getting to it. Also because we’re very intentional about not asking our guests about their relationships. We don’t ask those salacious-type questions. We don’t spend a lot of time doing that. We really do put the first purse first and the ass last.