Before Beyoncé wrote her sex-positive self-titled album and stood in front of a “Feminist” sign on national television. Before Nicki Minaj owned her sexual power (and Drake) with that lap dance in the “Anaconda” video. Before even Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore and Foxy Brown’s brand of raunchiness, there was Adina Howard paving the way with the song “Freak Like Me,” from her 1995 album Do You Wanna Ride?
That single, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts and was the No. 1 played music video on BET that year, was a no-holds-barred anthem for women who were freaks, didn’t care who knew it, and demanded to get freaked on the regular. And Howard, who described herself as a “feminist ‘representing the sisters’” in a 1995 Washington Post piece about her album, was as bold, sexual, and assertive as her music (“Freak Like Me” might have been the most family-friendly tune on the album). But the music, a delightful raunch-fest, was about more than just shocking people: She was confronting and challenging cultural assumptions about black female sexuality and turning the tables on male artists whose music treated women like sexual objects.
She owned her sexuality and her right to be sexual no matter who was questioning it — like during this 1995 interview on BET’s Video Soul. The host asked her, “Does it bother you that you will be remembered as a sex symbol more than an artist?” and Howard candidly responded, “Why can’t I be both?”
Unfortunately, being a trailblazer means taking a lot of heat. One Washington Post columnist cited her as an example of the moral demise of the black community, her videos were eventually banned from BET for being too provocative, and her outspokenness got her dropped from her label before she could release her third album.
Now, on the 20th anniversary of Do You Wanna Ride?, production company Rebel Life Media has released Adina Howard 20: A Story of Sexual Liberation. Through interviews with Howard, academics, record producers, and music writers, the documentary highlights how Howard’s music allowed female artists to be as sexual as they wanted to be, without shame. She was ahead of her time and never fully got her dues, but given the empowered Minaj climate we’re in, more than ever, it feels like the right time to revisit her music.
Watch the clip below, check out the full hour-long documentary online at Vimeo, and make sure to put “Freak Like Me” on your DGAF playlist right after Lil’ Kim’s “Crush on You” and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s “Feelin’ Myself.”