Encore! As a hip-hop head who grew up in the ’90s, I can assure you that Queens feels pretty damn magical. It’s a love letter I want to read on repeat. From watching my childhood favorites (hey, Brandy and Eve), to hearing hip-hop classics and new joints produced by the ever-so-talented Swizz Beatz, to being in awe of the performances by new talents like the Chicago native Precious Way and the Nigerian American actress-singer Pepi Sonuga, I found the series started off as strong as a perfect verse over a tight beat.
To kick off episode three, the Nasty Bitches fail to meet their fans’ nostalgic standards (a true case of art imitating life). In their defense, asking 40-somethings to be just as they were in their 20s is pretty unreasonable — not everybody “still got it” after years away from the stage (Jodeci, I’m looking at you). The girls head straight to the drawing board and mock up a comeback plan. The new goal: being themselves.
Naomi’s ego and her need to be the controlling star of the group ignite one of the dopest battles in TV musical history. Brianna reminds her that she’s not Valeria (in other words, she ain’t scared of her) and challenges her to a freestyle battle with some stakes on the line: If Brianna wins, everyone contributes equally to the new song; if Naomi wins, the status quo of Naomi writing the melody and structure (not to mention writing Valeria’s verse) remains. Spoiler: Eve makes the battle so dope! When Brianna raps, all I can see and hear is the Philadelphia pit bull in a skirt, and sis is spitting. I have to give Brandy her props as well because Naomi brings it. Nothing is off-limits in this battle, and the two emcees’ bars are filled with metaphors and punch lines that don’t hold back on the cheating husband, young hoe phases, or toxic parenting. Naomi and Brianna come back harder with each round. But the deciding moment comes when Brianna silences the DJ and spits a cappella, gathering every last strand of Naomi’s edges and giving herself the win. And so each lady writes her own verse reflecting who she is in 2021.
In her verse, Naomi expresses her love for her daughter, Jojo, acknowledging that Jojo gives her purpose and hope. The two spend some quality time together. Although they still have a lot to work through (like Naomi telling Jojo who her father is), we finally get to see Naomi in mom mode when she accompanies her daughter to her audition at a prestigious classical-music school. It’s clear that Black girls like Jojo are underrepresented in this predominantly white space, and Jojo realizes her musical training is much different from the elite training the other potential students received. The pressure of performing just as well as, if not better than, the other students causes a rift between Jojo and Naomi. Thank goodness for some authentic L.A. tacos, new Jordans, and motherly advice so the tension between the two doesn’t last long. In fact, the Black-girl-magic-themed advice Naomi offers Jojo appears to resonate with her. During her audition, Jojo brilliantly merges classical music with hip-hop and honors her mother by performing a remixed classical rendition of the Nasty Bitches cult-classic song.
Brianna’s verse is about her husband’s infidelity, mixed with boasts about what a dope wife she’s been. Jeff’s cheating has really broken her trust, and she’s unsure whether to stay in the marriage. But despite his mistakes, Jeff isn’t willing to give up so easily. When their youngest daughter gets in trouble at school for wearing her momma’s infamous Nasty Bitches chain, Jeff stands up for both his daughter and his wife by schooling the conservative principal on Brianna’s legendary accomplishments (e.g., tackling misogyny in hip-hop by disrupting the patriarchal structure of the music business) and the importance of young women and girls having the space to reclaim words that were designed to be derogatory. Brianna and Jeff go on an afternoon date that gets interrupted by a phone call from Jeff’s mistress. Despite this, Brianna decides to choose her family and forgive Jeff, but when Jeff fails to respond to her “I forgive you” speech, she realizes that the father of her five children and her husband of 20-something years is dead from brain cancer. Despite how truly shocking this moment is, Brianna barely reacts. She simply gets in their bed and snuggles next to him one last time.
In contrast, Jill has multiple first-time moments. The freedom of being an out lesbian grants her a new audience that includes both new fans and new dating prospects. Unbeknownst to Jill, it appears that after her BET Award performance, the LGBTQ+ community deemed her the “Hottest Lesbian in the World.” Her verse documents the challenges of her religious upbringing and captures her new identity as an openly gay woman. After Jill’s coming-out debacle, this queer revolution, as she calls it, allows her to take the necessary steps to put her story into her own words when she has an interview with Alicia, a reporter from Out magazine. Alicia can’t help but flirt with Jill and invites her to hang out with a group of her friends at a gay bar. Once the ladies find out it’s Jill’s first time, they give her an accelerated course in Lesbian 101 and affectionately nickname her “baby gay.” By the end of the night, and with a little persistence, Alicia succeeds at getting in Jill’s pants.
You know who doesn’t succeed at getting in someone’s pants? You guessed it: Mr. Eric “I like to play with women’s hearts” Jones. In episodes one and two, the music executive tried to relive the past with Naomi by sweet-talking her, and now he’s doing the same with Valeria. If the group breaks up again, I’m blaming it on Eric! Period! He works his magic and pushes Valeria to find her inner rap bars by reminding her of her Puerto Rican roots. The two enjoy each other’s company, laughing and doing some inner soul-searching over good Latin cuisine. They even bust a couple of moves on the dance floor. By the end of the night, Eric gets Valeria to write a dope introspective verse that’s free of her typical Hollywood façade.
Like the cutthroat hustler she is, Valeria curves Eric’s efforts during their time together. Episode three gives us some juicy tea related to the in-house love triangle between Naomi, Valeria, and Eric. For starters, Valeria was at one time pregnant. Besides Eric being a player and Valeria being self-centered, she has both abandonment and mommy issues, so it’s no surprise she chose not to move forward with her pregnancy. What is a surprise to both her and Eric is that Jojo may be his daughter. While listening to old, unreleased verses from Naomi, Eric (and Valeria, who was ear hustling) notices her say, “A life grows inside me, there isn’t any doubt, but we can’t tell the world cause his girl up underneath.” The revelation almost gives Eric a heart attack — I mean, 20 years have passed, and that’s a lot of time to miss out on a kid’s life. For Valeria, all that matters is that Naomi (potentially) had Eric’s baby, not her, even though she admits she doesn’t regret her decision. Whether Valeria will hold this against Naomi, however, we will have to see.
For now, the ladies end this episode unified. And though they each have a lot of personal ish to sort through — a deceased husband, more infidelity, continued paternity issues, 20-year secrets, whew! At least they can celebrate the fact that they have recorded a dope contemporary track.