Queens Series-Premiere Recap: The Band Is Back Together


Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Kim Simms/ABC

Imagine if we had inside access, beyond social media, to some of hip-hop’s most iconic women emcees’ lives. We could ask so many personal questions like “What has the transition from being a rap superstar to being a stay-at-home mom been like for you?” “Who threw the first punch?” “Why did the group really break up?” “What made you devote your life to God?” “When did you feel it was most safe to celebrate your identity as a lesbian?” “How did you manage life after losing millions of dollars?” “What do you think about the current state of women in hip-hop?”

But since we don’t have that access (yet), we can watch those questions play out in ABC’s Queens, a show about a fictional female hip-hop group from the ’90s who quickly achieved fame and legendary status and disbanded at the height of their career.

Created by Zahir McGhee, Queens is the musical drama about women in hip-hop that we didn’t realize we needed. Not only does it emphasize the importance of sisterhood in rap, the story line subtly weaves hip-hop feminist ideologies in a way that empowers its women viewers. Academic hip-hop scholars Aisha Durham, Brittany Cooper, and Susana Morris “see hip-hop feminism as a generationally specific articulation of feminist consciousness.” So far within the show, it is hip-hop feminism that allows the members of the Nasty Bitches to call out the problematic and misogynistic ways of rap culture and industry while also unapologetically taking own their pro-sex group name (Nasty Bitches). Who are the Nasty Bitches, you ask? Brianna, a.k.a. Professor Sex (Eve), Jill, a.k.a Da Thrill (Naturi Naughton), Valerie, a.k.a Butter Pecan (Nadine Velazquez), and Naomi, a.k.a Xplicit Lyrics (Brandy) make up the group. Now in their 40s, the women reunite to reignite the magic they once shared.

The premiere brings us back to 1999, the year the Nasty Bitches’ exclusively released their Tim Story–directed video for their hit single “Nasty Girl” on MTV (the good ol’ days when MTV actually played music). It makes sense that the framing of the video screams Hype Williams influence. The video is everything the late-’90s early millennial was — big budget, helicopters, mansions, male eye candy, extravagant jewelry, designer swimsuits, special effects, and, of course, a yacht scene.

We meet the women via split-screen — life in 1999 visually juxtaposed against life today. Professor Sex (or P Sex) delivers 2000-like lyrics so effortlessly (She is a platinum-selling rapper IRL, so no surprise there). During Professor Sex’s performance, it’s hard not to imagine which female emcees her character was inspired by. I’m sure the answer is many. Twenty years later, Professor Sex is now Brianna, a stay-at-home mom of five married to a college professor (RonReaco Lee). As one can imagine, being a housewife and navigating multiple kids is as hard if not harder than touring the world and selling millions of records. While doing the hair of two of her daughters’, her youngest daughter rocks her Nasty Bitches chain. Brianna and her husband have a seemingly happy marriage. The two flirt while discussing her husband’s recent health issues. From their cute kitchen flirting, we learn that it’s been a while since they’ve had sex.

We next meet Jill (Da Thrill). During her Nasty Bitches days, Jill had a wild side. Her post-rap superstar life, however, is now devoted to God, and she lives a quiet life in Montana with her husband. But we quickly become aware of Jill’s secrets: She’s cheating on her husband, and her secret lover is a woman. Jill has been hiding her sexuality from her family and friends for years.

Miss Butter Pecan, the original Puerto Rican Princess (sorry, Joseline), has a star quality that lies with her beauty and less in her lyrical abilities. She is the root of many of the group’s problems, specifically the beef between her and Naomi is a wound that has yet to heal even after two decades. Twenty years later, no longer known as Butter Pecan, Valeria is the only group member who has maintained a successful career in the limelight. She is the current host of “The Shade” — America’s top-rated morning talk show. Because of her selfish ways, Valeria initially has no interest in reuniting with the group; the thought is, in her words, “beneath her.” But when she finds herself in trouble at work because of her shady i’m-a-do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-to-the-top ways, she quickly reconsiders.

Last but not least, Naomi (Xplicit Lyrics). Back then, she was a hard-core female rapper. In the present day, she’s a washed-up deadbeat mother who is resentful of her groupmate for stealing the love of her life. I’d say she has the most drama of the four women. Naomi is also the most talented of the group (I mean, in real life, this is true as well; Brandy is one of the biggest music-TV stars of the ’90s and has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide). Because she knows this, she continues to chase fame, even if that means having her mother take care of her teenage daughter for her.

A lot happens in the premiere episode. Brianna catches her husband, whom she gave up her successful career for, sleeping with one of his students. She can’t even be fully pissed at him because he’s diagnosed with cancer (whew, what a way to get out of being called a sorry-ass cheater). Naomi surprises Jojo for her birthday, but Jojo feels abandoned and rejects Naomi’s efforts. Jojo also called out Naomi for not knowing who Jojo’s father is (Naomi does know; she thinks she was protecting her daughter). Jill also gets called out, but more lovingly by her girlfriend, who is tired of keeping their love secret. She gives Jill somewhat of an ultimatum. And Valeria gets caught drugging her co-host out of spite and jealousy. Her plan worked temporarily. Her co-host went on a racist rant during a segment on police brutality, but Valeria’s actions were all caught on-camera (what an idiot!).

While their regular-degular lives crumbling, their iconic single “Nasty Girl” is played on the radio, and the response is crazy. Fans now want to know why the group broke up and their current whereabouts. After 20 years of not seeing or speaking to each other, the now-40-year olds meet up in L.A. The meet-up is filled with excitement, nostalgic handshakes, hugs, and Black girl–like greetings.

That is up until Valeria arrives. Naomi stares her down, and Valeria says, “Wassup” (which is like asking for an ass whooping), so Naomi charges at her, and the two end up on the floor fighting. In reality, there are numerous stories/rumors of girl groups fighting, from Xscape to Danity Kane, TLC to 3LW, and the infamous fried-chicken incident. Most recently, producer Dallas Austin recounted when Monica punched Brandy in the face before their VMA performance. Since then, both Brandy and Monica have confirmed the teenage brawl. While watching this scene, I imagined what it would be like if all the fight rumors that have spread over the years had been captured on tape.

Naomi and Valeria get their resentment and anger out of their system. After the scuffle, the two share intimate moments. During one moment, in particular, Valeria (who we find out grew up in foster care) encourages Naomi to continue connecting with her daughter, reassuring her that all she wants is for her mother to call her. It sucks this moment doesn’t last for long, though. Twenty years ago, their manager Eric Jones was one of the causes of their fractured friendship, and he continues to play both sides. I smell nothing but drama.

They only have a week to prepare to perform at the BET Awards with new-age colorful rapper Lil Muffin. As the Nasty Bitches try to figure out who they are at 40, they rename the group Queens and fully embrace their new identities. After the drama is set aside, they get to the dope-ass cypher! And the women do not disappoint! The cypher is set to a classic hip-hop beat, and the collective’s performance makes it seem like the Nasty Bitches really existed. The women jump right into practice mode, accompanied by Lil Muffin and the iconic hip-hop choreographer Fatima Robinson. The practice sessions are filled with a little stumbling and shaky 40-year-old knees, but overall, all five ladies appear unified.

At practice, Jill catches Lil Muffin crying in the bathroom. Muffin, whose real name is Lauren, is frustrated by her managers and the male-dominated industry in general. While venting about the many hands that are “in her pockets,” she asks Jill whether they want the best for her or themselves. Jill reminds Lauren of the importance of separating her persona from who she is as a person. Appreciative of the moment they shared in the bathroom, Lauren invites Jill and the girls over to her house later for an order of Benihanas.

When they arrive at the lavish mansion, they find the place a wreck and an overdosed Lauren passed out on her bedroom floor. They get Lauren to the nearest hospital, and the young rap star is okay, but her managers only care about the optics — huge rap star checked in to county hospital, scandal/career killer! Jill steps in and advocates for Lauren’s overall well-being by challenging her managers and demanding that she remain in the hospital until properly discharged. She sees so much of herself in Lauren, including the drug habit. The tension between Jill and Lauren’s manager ends with her backhand saying “Hi” to his face. He, of course, breaks the joint-performance agreement.

With their big opportunity no longer in front of them, the ladies start finger-pointing. Amid the arguing, Jill shouts out that she is gay. Her religious background has hindered her from ever being her whole self, but in front of her sisters (even after shading one of them), she is able to do just that — find the courage and support to live in her truth. The women make up and acknowledge that their friendship is worth more than a crowd or stage.

Lauren, who once had no idea who the Nasty Bitches were, is grateful for the mentorship and sisterhood they offer her. She interrupts their intimate moment to thank them for caring about her and lets them know that she does not intend to perform without them.

Sisterhood is a big theme here, as the women forgive and love on each other. They also remain committed to putting on a flawless show to honor their once-thriving career. Another theme is paying homage to those who have come before you, which is something Lil Muffin does at the BET Awards when she gives the stage all to the Nasty Bitches. The performance starts a bit rocky with Brianna having wardrobe issues, but she stops the music to engage with the crowd and give herself more time to get it together. What stands out most in this scene is we see her embrace her identity as a mom who owns her sexy. The performance also includes a revised verse from Jill da Thrill where she expresses her love for her girlfriend. The ladies understood the assignment so much that the Queens are going on a world tour with Lil Muffin! I’ll be getting my ticket!

Other Notes

• I could listen to Brandy sing all day! I absolutely love how her singing was integrated into episode one.

• Yup, both Brandy and Eve will write and record original songs for the show. As a fan of both, I love this for them (and me), an opportunity to continue to express themselves creatively.

• Did y’all peep hip-hop video veteran Fatima Robinson? The choreographer and creative director has had a long-standing career in the music industry and was one of the go-to choreographers of the ’90s and early aughts. She most recently was the creative producer for the 2021 Grammy Awards.

• The casting! Well done!

• So far, the show doesn’t feel gimmicky or corny. I hope it remains that way.

Queens Series-Premiere Recap: The Band Is Back Together