In 2021, Clover Hope wrote The Motherlode to chronicle women’s immeasurable contributions to hip-hop; now, she looks at the culture’s lady-baiting history through the hormone-fogged eyes of her teenage self. From Whodini’s leather-clad sweet nothings to Method Man’s wild-boy appeal (and now his 52-year-old gym selfies), rap has always seasoned its masculinity with a heavy dash of sex, and Hope is the perfect guide through the recipe.

Truly inhabiting the sex symbol label in hip-hop can never just be about being the finest person alive—it’s the music that completes the allure. While I felt quietly emboldened by Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, and Trina as a teen in the ’90s, I also daydreamed of being Method Man’s ride-or-die. At 14, when hip-hop was shedding its sateen finish, I hung a giant poster of DMX’s stunningly shirtless and bloody cover of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot on my bedroom wall. I mailed a handwritten letter to Ja Rule in the 2000s when fan clubs were in style. (Who knows if he ever got it.) In college, I drew a replica of another then-crush, Nelly, mean-mugging on the cover of XXL. I’m sure, in my young mind, there was danger in finding sex appeal in a hardcore hottie, and maybe part of the lust was a desire to be seen as the girl in the crew who was loved upon and seemingly protected.