Ethical Slut


Contessa Stuto, “Horny Lil’ Slut,” 2014, video, color, sound, 3 minutes 7 seconds.

CONTESSA STUTO, the Brooklyn-based rapper and founder of the Cunt Mafia, released her new single “Killing in Vain” within twenty-four hours of the release of New York cultural ambassador Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” two odes to messy love. While Swift’s litany of clichés about millennial coupling is characteristic of peers Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and Selena Gomez, many of whom she apes with sheepish modesty, Stuto rejects the Swiftian promise of a happy norm with her “low-budget realness,” serving an aggro femininity that contravenes Swift’s suburban sameness with Dreamlandesque swagger. Stuto continues to splice romance with her characteristic huff, a way of rapping that leaves you with the sense that she has run out of both rhymes and breath, in her new video “Horny Lil’ Slut,” premiered here for the first time since YouTube removed it in December 2014.

In “Killing in Vain,” Stuto—“Count Contessa,” as Azealia Banks once crowned her—doesn’t rehearse the pop line on True Love so much as reinvent the genre in a gutsy ode to death-driven desire, putting Swift’s banality on blast: “I’LL TARE YOUR FACE OFF,” she spits. “DON’T MAKE ME FEEL IMCOMPLETE. The song, which mostly concerns the betrayal of an ex-lover, deals with how the physical intensity of desire fragments experience. “[T]ook me a long time to over come these / fears,” Stuto writes in the lyrics posted to her Tumblr, continuing later:

i feel my bones brOKE and
my body bleed to death and
I’m starting to feel something

Contessa Stuto, “Killing in Vain” (2014).

This deictic somethingness opens on larger questions regarding the language of desire, particularly in Stuto’s repeated insistence that it not make her “feel incomplete.” Part of the song’s energy is that it never seems entirely convinced that completion is really what Stuto’s after. The lyrics crack up in generative, insistent anger, often struggling to specify injury:

my night slaying
wish he was the
killing in VAIN
for ME !!!

Rather, what is specified is what the man doesn’t (or can’t) do. Letting her bleed to death he fails—repeatedly—to meet the terms of desire: “cupid wasted his dart,” Stuto sighs. She continues with barbed fury, recalling the “sephora scent” of the woman with whom the man cheated. She screams: “I’m hell bent.” And headed toward hell. In an extended version of the lyrics not included in the recording, Stuto writes, “AND HE WANTS ME DEAD. / IM beTTER OFF DEAD.” I’m not convinced—nor is Stuto. She concludes: “I GUESS.” Cunt Mafia, after all, makes the rules, declaring who lives and who dies.

Contessa Stuto, “Horny Lil’ Slut” (2014).

This Mafia, Stuto’s rap and nightlife collective that includes Quay Dash and Cakes da Killa, recalls a project outlined by Germaine Greer in her 1970 essay, “The Politics of Female Sexuality.” Like Stuto, Greer countered male privilege with a seismic, renegade energy rooted in the taboo language of “pussy-power.” In “Politics,” she proposes a method for upending patriarchal structures by re-envisioning female sexuality as more than a mere “function of meat,” calling for a lexical revolution in how we talk about female bodies and desire. “It ought to be possible to establish a woman’s vocabulary of cunt,” Greer wrote, “prideful, affectionate, accurate and bold.” Later: “Cunt is a channel drawing all towards it. Cunt is knowledge. Knowledge is receptivity, which is activity.”

In “Killing in Vain,” Stuto calls for her man to kill in vain—a literalization of Greer’s diagnosis of male sexuality as a confusion of “aggression for power.” Set in a greasy restaurant and a singed backyard, the music video for “Killing in Vain” supplements this aggression with a vision of a cruddy New York antithetical to Swift’s shapeless, all-purpose Village. Stuto’s own complex sexuality finds its analog in the grit of the Brooklyn diner: Messy, anguished, she grabs at herself in mock frustration at love’s unresolved dramas (which, in this case of murder-inflected love, is exclusive to meat-space), serving food with indifference to her patrons. “I’m an arrow and Cupid wasted his dart,” she sings as the song shifts to a metal-inflected register. Cunt is knowledge is activity: “Break down my heart, and I’ll break you apart.”

In “Horny Lil’ Slut,” Stuto hijacks gendered vocabularies of shame, reclaiming “slut” as a restorative, powerful word for the production of female sexuality: “I’m a horny lil’ slut and I want to fuckin’ fuck,” she repeats in the song’s chorus. Later, Stuto declares that her man is her king, that she will show her “twisted fantasy” where he “finger-fuck the pink.” The video, filmed to look like it was made with a home tape recorder, features Stuto performing at a house party and concert, revisiting the anguished gestures of “Killing in Vain” in an orgy of bodies as Stuto performs around them in the washed-out effect of an old VHS recorder. With its jumpy camerawork, the video recalls the low-fi porn and leaked sex tapes of the (ritually resurgent) 1990s. “Horny Lil’ Slut” ends with Stuto tied up in rope before the video cuts.

Hercules & Love Affair, “My Offence” (2014).

Of course, Greer’s vocabulary exists. Last summer, Hercules & Love Affair released “My Offence,” a quasi-PSA on “cunt” featuring Juliana Huxtable, Bailey Stiles, Sam Banks, Stuto, and other performers, musicians, and artists. In the video, they discuss the word’s unique New York registers. Stuto laughs and drawls, “It’s the highest prowess of power, it’s called the pussy and the cunt.” The video ends with Huxtable stating that “the greatest ways to point out the flaws [of patriarchal society] is to live in a way that exists directly in opposition to that but doesn’t sacrifice the idea that I function, that I live, that I’m vital.” This oppositional vitality refuses the normsy manners of a post-Bloomberg city in thrall to a cultural ambassador whose only legible “politics” is a stance against streaming music and whose “Welcome to New York”—the opening track of her 1989—offers us a city entirely devoid of cunt. We need a new ambassador.

Andrew Durbin