Aux Cord Chronicles IX: To all the ladies in the place
Get in ladies-first, fancy formation
**taps mic** This thing on?
I don’t know what I’m more surprised by — the fact it’s been so long since we’ve done one of these playlists, or that we’re already at the ninth installment.
All March, The Undefeated has been paying homage to amazing women for Women’s History Month. And to close things out with a different spin, below are 31 songs detailing the love women give, the strength they flex, the sexiness they glow with, and the sadness they often experience. Artists such as James Brown, Chaka Khan, Prince, Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur, Missy Elliott, Drake, Beyoncé, Rihanna and more are representing. It should go without saying, but feel free to hit us up with songs we may have overlooked. We know there are at least 571 other songs that could have, should have and would have made it here — had my editors not given me a song cap.
Nina Simone — “Feeling Good” (1965)
Think of Nina’s “Feeling Good” as you do Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” She didn’t create the song (it was created for 1964’s The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd), but she’s forever immortalized as the song’s one true owner. Fun fact: For the mixtape heads out there, you’ll hear G-Unit’s 2002 “Bad News.”
James Brown — “This Is A Man’s World” (1966)
The man may wear the pants. But it’s his woman picking them out.
Aretha Franklin — “Respect” (1967)
Before Birdman made it a meme, Aretha Franklin has been demanding respect on her name for a half-century.
Stevie Wonder — “Isn’t She Lovely” (1976)
Inspired by the birth of his daughter, Aisha, Stevie Wonder penned one of the all-time great songs of any genre. In the process, though, Stevie made it impossible for any father to ever get his newborn child a greater gift than isn’t she lovely / made from love.
Chaka Khan — “I’m Every Woman” (1978)
If your aunt/mom/grandma or some woman of influence in your life didn’t play this and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on repeat throughout your childhood, they failed you. Anthems, in every sense of the word.
Donna Summer — “She Works Hard For The Money” (1983)
Getting the money is one thing. Getting the money while having to make sure your house remains a happy home is a totally different beast. Yet, somehow, some way, they make it look easy.
Prince — “Darling Nikki” (1984)
No male artist spoke to the beauty, complexity and eroticism of women’s sexuality quite like Prince. Before or after.
Janet Jackson — “Control” (1986)
Janet Jackson not going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year is nothing short of criminal. Nevertheless, records like these made Janet the international icon she is today. She took “control” of her career. And thankfully, she never looked back.
Karyn White — “Superwoman” (1988)
All I can think of when this song comes on is doing chores on Saturday morning while my mama played her music.
Queen Latifah feat. Monie Love — “Ladies First” (1989)
Queen Latifah and Monie floated on this so crazy with the back-and-forth flow that somewhere Jadakiss and Styles P are slow clapping. Also, Latifah’s flow reminds me of Kid and Play’s rap battle in House Party. Random, I know. But now you want to watch the scene. You’re welcome.
LL Cool J — “Around The Way Girl” (1990)
I want a girl with extensions in her hair/ Bamboo earrings, at least two pair/ A Fendi bag and a bad attitude/ That’s all I need to get me in a good mood. Landmark opening lines in rap history, courtesy of James Todd Smith, currently of CBS’s NCIS: Los Angeles, yet dedicated eternally to all the independent neighborhood girls.
Tupac Shakur — “Keep Ya Head Up” (1993)
And since we all came from a woman/ Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman/ I wonder why we take from our women/ Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?/ I think it’s time to kill for our women/ Time to heal our women, be real to our women/ And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies/ That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can’t make one/ He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one/ So will the real men get up?/ I know you’re fed up, ladies, but keep your head. Not really much more to say after that.
Various Artists — “Freedom” (Theme from Panther) (1995)
I represent not only in the kitchen, and in the bedroom/ But also in the boardroom, so give me more room. Queen Latifah essentially sums up the entire premise of this playlist in two bars. Also featured on this often overlooked gem? Basically every black woman who was poppin’ in the mid-’90s: Yo-Yo, Left Eye, MC Lyte, Nefertiti, Salt-N-Pepa and many more.
Whitney Houston & CeCe Winans — “Count On Me” (1995)
A standout from one of the five greatest movie soundtracks in world history. Whitney (R.I.P.) and CeCe delivered the ultimate “ride or die” anthem. It’s basically Rod from Get Out in musical form, when you really think about it.
Angie Martinez, Lil Kim, Left Eye, Da Brat & Missy Elliott — “Ladies Night” (1997)
I couldn’t begin to tell you what song an 11-year-old me tried to dub off the radio more: this one or Biggie’s “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” from the same year. Regardless, I love the cut — a remake of the 1979 Kool & The Gang original. One time for Virginia legend Missy Elliott for absolutely bodying the hook, too. It’s still in my head 20 years later.
TLC — “Unpretty” (1999)
Before beauty began being defined by likes, shares and Snaps, T-Boz, Left-Eye and Chili laid the game down quite flat. Be comfortable with the skin you’re in.
Maxwell — “This Woman’s Work” (2001)
Written by Kate Bush, the soul-baring number was originally crafted for 1988’s She’s Having A Baby, starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern. But a la Nina Simone from earlier in the list, the song is Maxwell’s until further notice.
Aaliyah — “More Than A Woman” (2001)
Destiny’s Child — “Survivor” (2004)
I value both my safety and my family’s safety too much to omit Beyoncé. And since we’re talking empowerment anthems, between this and 2000’s “Independent Women” consider a bunch of bases covered.
Ludacris feat. Mary J. Blige — “Runaway Love” (2006)
A young Keke Palmer and Julito McCullum (aka “Namond Brice” from The Wire) make appearances in Luda and Mary J. Blige’s introspective cut detailing the horrors of young women suffering from verbal, mental, physical and sexual abuse.
Keyshia Cole feat. Missy Elliott & Lil Kim — “Let It Go” (2007)
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Missy Elliott is a living legend and should always be treated as such. A decade ago, she, Keyshia and Kimmy Blanco joined forces to create a club staple with the sole intention of helping to ease the pain of failed relationships and undeserving partners. It worked.
Webbie feat. Lil’ Boosie & Lil’ Phat — “Independent” (2008)
Trill Ent. is responsible for making a black woman president of the United States. How did that happen, you ask? I’m glad you did. Her predecessor was … impeached. **slowly cranes neck toward Michelle Obama or Maxine Waters**
Ne-Yo feat. Jamie Foxx & Fabolous — “She Got Her Own” (2008)
The video featured cameos by Estelle, Jill Marie Jones, Teyana Taylor and more. And as it turns out, paying homage to the ladies earned Ne-Yo a second consecutive huge single; “Her Own” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts, while its forerunner “Miss Independent” landed at No. 1. Black women serving as inspiration once again.
Bruno Mars — “Just The Way You Are” (2010)
Bruno doesn’t just make hits. He makes massive, international, sweeping juggernauts capable of dominating every radio station between Brooklyn and Bali. And it should say something that this song has more than 880 million YouTube views. I’m shocked it hasn’t hit a billion. This one isn’t a statement of liberation. It’s a statement of appreciation. And who doesn’t like feeling appreciated?
Drake feat. T.I. & Swizz Beatz — “Fancy” (2010)
Remember how impossible it was to take 10 steps in the summer of 2010 and not hear this song or someone saying, “Oh, you fancy, huh?”
Lil Wayne — “How To Love” (2011)
In certain cases, videos enhance the quality of a song. This is one of them. Lil Wayne narrates the story of a young woman affected by the actions of various men in her life.
Alicia Keys — “Girl On Fire” (2012)
While it’s not Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” Alicia Keys’ monster single was inspired by the birth of her son Egypt and marriage to producer Swizz Beatz.
Kendrick Lamar — “Sing About Me” (2012)
The greatest song Kendrick Lamar has ever done features a second verse so graphic and so powerful about a young girl “damaged by the system” that it nearly brings you to tears. You’re not the same person by the end of the verse and certainly not the same by the end of the song.
Solange — “Don’t Touch My Hair” (2016)
To be perfectly honest, nearly any song from A Seat At The Table fits here seamlessly. But Solange and Sampha still own a piece of my soul when they’re repeatedly harmonizing, What you say to me?
Rihanna — “Needed Me” (2016)
One of the best songs from the best album of last year. Robyn Fenty lavishly owns her savageness in a wicked reversal of stereotypical gender roles. Women can be savages, too. And they look better doing it.
Beyonce — “Formation” (2016)
Beyoncé has so many songs that fit on this list she could honestly command her own Aux Cord Chronicles. But do I really need to state how big this song was in 2016? For starters, it’s one of the two most important things to ever happen to Red Lobster (cheddar biscuits being the other). Law enforcement tried to boycott her. And “Formation” was the most Googled song of the year, for what that’s worth. Adele broke her own Grammy in half partially because she understood how impactful this pop cultural monsoon was. And still is.