The Legacy of Sweet Pussy Pauline: Iconic, Explicit, and Sadly Forgotten

If you’ve been clubbing over the past thirty years, chances are that at some point, you’ve danced to the sounds of Sweet Pussy Pauline without even knowing it.

Candice Jordan has known many incarnations. She’s performed and released tracks as Sweet Pussy Pauline, Hateful Head Helen, and Candy J, so it’s fitting that over the decades, her legacy has morphed through various different phases along with her musical identity. 

In the late ‘80s, Jordan started gigging in the burgeoning Chicago house scene, giving live vocal performances that transported her to becoming a musical sensation. She then started releasing tracks under her own name; tracks like “Why Are You Wasting My Time” and “Desire” brought her a faithful crowd in her live performances, but it was for her “bitch tracks” that she gained a nationwide following. 

Bitch tracks were a fixture of ballroom culture in the US, and provided a fitting soundtrack to the voguing battles that would go down. A deadly house beat usually guides the track, with a vocal line full of razor-sharp put-downs and sizzling wit. Jordan debuted this side of her with her 1988 track “Desirable Revenge (The Saga of Sweet Pussy Pauline),” released under her Candy J moniker. It would soon solidify her position as one of house music’s most influential voices. It features a lengthy, explicit monologue about “little-dick ass motherfuckers running around here who think they got a big dick” over a stomping house beat. The frankness of Sweet Pussy Pauline gave a voice to the sexual agency of black women in the house scene. Famously, Junior Vasquez remixed one of her monologues into “Work This Pussy” and launched Sweet Pussy Pauline to more mainstream success.

Jordan’s subsequent bitch tracks featured filthy, hilarious monologues that didn’t hold back from documenting every minute detail of her character’s sexual exploits with verve, warmth, and charm. They became legendary in underground ballrooms across the United States, and she became a well-known figure in the queer dance music scene, performing live at clubs like Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage.

Jordan has since left the music industry and fallen out of the public consciousness, but her tracks continue to have an influence on the generations of producers and DJs that followed in her footsteps. By tracing her influence through the tracks that sample her, hopefully, it will bring to light just how influential and iconic she was and bring her to a new generation of clubbers.

Below are five tracks sampling Sweet Pussy Pauline that demonstrate her influence on dance music today.

Teyana Taylor feat. Mykki Blanco – “WTP”

In 2018, American hip hop and R&B artist Teyana Taylor released her album K.T.S.E. on Kanye West’s imprint, GOOD Music. Kanye himself had overseen all production on the album. In true hip hop style, the whole album is littered with samples, but “WTP” is notable in that it’s essentially Taylor’s vocals laid over the top of Junior Vasquez’s track. Vasquez ended up settling with West, receiving royalties as a writer, but the track brought Sweet Pussy Pauline to life again without most people realising it. The official video for “WTP” pays tribute to the rich history of balls, providing a fitting homecoming for Miss Pauline, placing her iconic vocals back with the audiences that first appreciated and treasured her. Although Taylor’s version only takes the initial refrain of “work this pussy”, leaving out the more NSFW content of Pauline’s speech, the sample here brings the acerbic wit and attitude of the original drag balls to a new and younger audience.

Stacy Kidd – “Mother Fucker”

Stacy Kidd is one of Chicago’s most prolific producers. He’s released on labels like Ministry of Sound and Warner Music, and also maintains his own imprint, House 4 Life Records. With a back catalogue like his, some tracks are bound to be forgotten over the years. “Mother Fucker” is a difficult song to get a hold of if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are several different versions floating around on YouTube and SoundCloud, but the obfuscation only adds to the track’s charm. The dub version was released on vinyl in 2004, with an instrumental version and a separate version featuring vocals by Matthew Yates following in 2009. It samples generously and joyously from a track that Candice Jordan produced under her Hateful Head Helen alias that came out in 1989. The differences between Hateful Head Helen and Sweet Pussy Pauline are difficult to identify, as Jordan’s vocal performance follows the same patterns; she asks if she can talk to the fellas for just a minute, then spends the next six minutes cavorting off into sexy anecdotes and hilarious catchphrases. In Stacy Kidd’s track, the attitude, confidence, and outspokenness of Sweet Pussy Pauline is palpable just from the well-enunciated refrains of “motherfucker!” and “ooh shit!”. Aside from her dirty talk, Candy J’s Sweet Pussy Pauline was loved for her refusal to be anything but what she was, and Kidd preserves this marvelously in his sampling.

Deee-Lite – “Groove Is In The Heart”

The plurality of Deee-Lite as a group and in their appeal and in their approach to songwriting makes this song a fitting home for a Candy J sample. Hailing from New York, Deee-Lite were made up of Lady Miss Kier on vocals, Supa DJ Dmitry and jungle DJ Towa Tei. Although he didn’t play any instruments, Towa Tei was adept at sampling, and pieced together audio clips that could work as samples in the band’s songs. “Groove Is In The Heart” is therefore akin to a kind of sonic quilt; it stitches together various different samples that are all exciting in their own right, with an overall impression of something very new. 

The Candy J sample is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention; the motorboating “blblblblb!” sound in the song’s breakdown is, again, snipped out of Candy J’s “Hateful Head Helen” track. It feeds into the irreverent campiness of “Groove Is In The Heart,” and is a brief, split-second lesson not to take life too seriously. “Groove Is In The Heart” hit number one upon its release and led Deee-Lite to perform at such diverse slots as the drag festival Wigstock and an opening slot for De La Soul. Though indirectly, the success of “Groove Is In The Heart” for Deee-Lite is a small testament to Candy J’s capacity for infusing dance music with a silliness and candor that warmed her to audiences up and down the US.

Lady Blacktronika – “Change Your Love”

In her releases, the self-proclaimed First Lady of Beatdown, Lady Blacktronika, pivots between the hardest techno and the smoothest deep house. “Change Your Love” was released in 2018 and falls into the latter category. The Candy J sample comes in halfway through the song, featuring shouts of “shoulda known better” from Candy J’s track of the same name, released in 1993. The original was released with various instrumental mixes, but the version that stands out is the Sweet P dub. 

The early ‘90s saw Sweet Pussy Pauline turning from her exuberant and cheeky monologues to a darker subject matter; “Shoulda Known Better” sees Pauline soliloquising on domestic violence and her inability to tell her abusive partner no. At one point, Pauline quips that her man kicked her “so hard that he left the word Nike across my forehead.” It’s moments like this that demonstrate Candy J’s ability to make you laugh while making you think, strengthening our empathy for Pauline rather than just seeing her as a comic caricature. 

Just as she was an example of vivacious black female sexuality when she was first introduced to the world, Sweet Pussy Pauline became something of a voice for the issues of sexual violence. In an extremely rare interview with Red Bull Music Academy in 2018, Candice Jordan said that she “donated tens of thousands of dollars to domestic violence programs… It was my cause.” All set to a funky house beat, Lady Blacktronika’s track is a prime example of dance music as a vehicle for a political message. The repeated sung plea to “change your love” could be read as a recontextualisation of Jordan’s original message for change. Given how little has changed in terms of domestic violence figures (The Blackburn Centre recently reported that in the US, more than 40% of black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a man than white women), her message is more pertinent than ever.

The Candy Girls – “Fee Fi Fo Fum”

This one is cheating a little bit, as after UK duo The Candy Girls sampled Candy J, she then went on to perform with them as their vocalist for a few years. The Candy Girls were made up of Belfast-born DJ Paul Masterson, who went on to find success in the late ‘90s as Yomanda, and Rachel Auburn, who was a resident at Leigh Bowery’s London nightclub Taboo. After “Fee Fi Fo Fum” found chart success, placing in the UK top 25 upon its release in 1995, the duo invited Candy J to perform with them as a vocalist, and they released the following hit “Wham Bam!” in 1996. 

“Fee Fi Fo Fum” samples a Sweet Pussy Pauline track called “The Walk”, which featured such excellent one-liners as “motherfucker so ugly they named him twice: Boo Boo,” and “I don’t work at a bank but lemme check.” The sample comes specifically from a section where Pauline talks about giving head to an extremely well-endowed gentleman, right before a hilarious ten-second interlude of exaggerated gulping sound effects. “Fee Fi Fo Fum” exemplified a style of house influenced by the up-tempo and sickly sweet hi-NRG and Eurodance. Its relative chart success brought Sweet Pussy Pauline across the pond to find success in Europe. Although Candy J’s stint with The Candy Girls was short-lived, her willingness to try anything once is what made her so appealing to audiences. 

It was a surprising step in her career, and there aren’t many house music stars who can say that they made the jump into this brash, ecstasy-fuelled era of dance music with some success.

Jemima Skala is a freelance music journalist. Find her on Twitter.



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