Post- Magazine

ice spice gives baddie, body, and structuralism [A&C]

the embodied poetics of “doin’ my dance”

Gum-covered bus rides. Fingers stained Bomb Pop red. Billabong swim trunks clinging to two still-growing legs. This is what “Clarity”—Zedd’s iconic 2012 pop banger—means to me. When Ice Spice samples it on her song “No Clarity,” one of her first songs to gain traction, pop becomes a signifier: From the first few notes alone, Ice Spice, the rapper who came from nowhere, emerges already familiar to us. 

In “No Clarity”’s music video, Ice Spice is objectively steeped in drill culture: She wears a red Moncler puffer, a true emblem of New York drill, over her sheer bodysuit. The bass of her beats declares itself drill with each bellow and groan; in her language, she often utilizes the term “grahh,” an ad-lib found in nearly every drill song. In a recent profile of Ice Spice as the new face of drill, The New York Times picks up on this juxtaposition, labeling her work “Pop drill.” 

However, something about Ice Spice’s particular “grahh” feels slightly out of place. It is, traditionally, a sound that intensifies the gritty violence of what the critic called “rah rah drill.” “Grahh” usually accompanies death threats, repping sets, and dissing opps. For Ice Spice however, it is a word completely incongruous with the rest of her aesthetic. 

In attempting to understand this fundamental incongruity, it is tempting to ask, “How is Ice Spice more than a drill rapper?”  When Ice Spice samples pop, she uses it to mobilize her particular musical expression. Like the 2010s pop beats, the hard baselines with “grahh” sprinkled between could function more as a form than a home, making drill a signifier rather than an identity. What does invoking the sound and aesthetics of drill allow her to do? If drill too is functioning structurally here, what is it giving? 


“I said baddest in the room because that’s what it gave,” Ice Spice declares matter-of-factly in a Genius interview, explaining the self-affirming lyrics to her song Bikini Bottom. From the outset of her career, Ice Spice has prioritized giving “baddie.” It wasn’t until she went viral on Tik Tok with the #BussItChallenge—a “thirst trap” which features her twerking—that she “knew [she] could be an artist,” she told the Times. As a Black woman in the rap industry, giving body, or platforming one’s body, always comes with the risks of objectification, commodification, and even physical danger. During a cultural moment in which Megan Thee Stallion, one of the biggest emblems of female body positivity in hip hop, was the victim of a public assault on her body, the violence of men who feel entitled to the female body is especially relevant.

Using the structure of drill, Ice Spice’s poetics combat this presumed bodily access at every turn. The formulation, “that’s what it gave” is particularly informative here: Her combination of the past tense and a vague pronoun reference for a subject places the right to evaluate her body just out of the average listener’s grasp. Without a clear subject or agent giving Ice Spice this power, no one can claim ownership over it or refute it. She uses the same formulation in the viral hook of her song Bikini Bottom: “How can I lose if I’m already chose.” She protects her claim to her body by housing it in a fortress of semantic ambiguity.

While it may be foreign to grammarians, “it gave” is a phrase that is prominent in New York vernacular. The language of drill—a subculture within New York—has a particular lexicon, a narrow group of signs, signifiers, and signified, that only holds meaning for a specific group. When Ice Spice raps, “Like, grrah, keep it a stack, bitches move wock' 'cause they know I got bands,” nothing happens in a narrative sense, and the phrase is meaningless to an outsider. In reality, however, the words themselves do communicate something: group membership in the New York drill genre. Lines like these are more valuable for their semiotics than their semantics, for the only way to generate meaning from these words is by connecting them to the subculture. 

In its syntax and vocabulary, the structure of drill gives Ice Spice the protection of exclusivity. Ice Spice embodies the Gen Z expression “IYKYK” with quotes like: “I said what I said if you get it you get it”; “If you not from New York you wouldn’t understand”; “You just have to be from the Bronx to get it.” Drill not only identifies her as a New Yorker, but it determines the signs she uses, and thus the audience who can properly perceive her. Perhaps the most powerful example of this mode of expression comes when Ice Spice “comes out,” so to speak: She raps, “I like ni**as, bitches too,” a statement delivered so casually and in so few words that it initially meant nothing to me. However, her Genius interview put all the pieces into place, with a simple, “Had to let ‘em know, we’re here and we’re queer.” By embedding her sexuality within the language of drill, Ice Spice is hiding it in plain sight (to borrow from Benoit Blanc). To those who speak drill, she is powerfully asserting her presence and the queerness of her body. At the same time, she protects herself from a broader popular culture that often fetishizes and objectifies queer bodies by speaking in terms that do not signify queerness in standardized English.

Within the space provided by drill, Ice Spice has forged her own body-positive aesthetic: she embodies what drill researcher Nicole Racine calls “sexy drill,” a drill that is about “being feminine.” Ice Spice’s sexy drill can be traced back to her iconic line in “Munch,” where she rhetorically asks, “You thought I was feelin’ you?” In her lyrics and imagery, Ice Spice refutes the implicit claim of someone else feeling her body by placing her body firmly within her own grasp. Ice Spice’s signature dance move is literally feeling herself; In almost every appearance, she rubs her hands across her chest, waist, and butt. The cover for her recent EP Like..? features a cartoon image of her bending over and covering her genitalia, a move which she has called “doing her dance.” With these sensual signature moves, Ice Spice draws power from her own body by visually staking claim on who gets to access it. In the few instances in which she is pictured dancing under the touch of someone else, the only people feeling her are the circle of homegirls who hover around her in every music video. So, even when she does relinquish control, it is only as “a baddie with her baddie friends,” girls who mirror her own persona. 

With her body firmly established as her own, Ice Spice uses it how she sees fit: She takes her body beyond the aesthetic and uses it to generate meaning—a practice of embodied poetics. On the radio show Ebro in the Morning, she explains that her catchphrase “like..?” only works when accompanied by a head tilt and eye roll. In a silence defined only by ellipses and an eye roll, Ice Spice makes the recipient feel ashamed, foolish, and out of place. Here, her body becomes a physical extension of the uses of drill: It functions as an elusive structure, an alternative means of expression which no one outside of her physical space can claim ownership over. In Glissant’s terminology, her body is another form which preserves her opacity.

As a scholar of drill, I’m picking up what Ice Spice is putting down; as a listener—and proud member of the Spice Cabinet—however, I am still left with a nagging question. What is she giving us? How can Ice Spice—a woman whose work is predicated on being unreachable and reveling in nothingness—be so catchy? Why can’t I stop saying “you thought I was feelin’ you??”

Loni Jones writes that the “most profoundly human act we can commit is to feel.” How, as a listener, does one access Ice Spice’s intimate acts of feeling herself? Here, I return to the concept of “sexy drill” in that it recalls Audre Lorde’s Uses of The Erotic. Just as sexy drill is both sexy and feminine, the erotic “is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” Lorde’s terminology describes Ice Spice’s work perfectly: It weds the unapologetically personal to a poetics of feeling. Lorde’s erotic also holds the key for understanding the communal quality of what Ice Spice is giving, for the erotic is “self-connection shared,” a feeling that “cannot be felt secondhand.” 

Thus Ice Spice is giving us exactly what drill gave her: the locational, linguistic, and bodily space for us to be baddies. While Ice Spice may rap in the first person, her poetics construct a space that is at once personal and communal, a space that one must physically embody themselves in order to access, a condition which at once empowers the body and protects it from objectification. Those who find themselves habitually ‘doing her dance’ in any remotely reflective surface are not just fans of the music, but people experiencing an embodied experience of “self-connection shared.” Therefore, when she raps, “the baddest in the room, so tell ’em to make room,” she is also effectively articulating what she will only explicitly say post-facto in an interview: She “wants us all to be baddies.”

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