In June 1954, Eunice Kathleen Waymon performed on an Atlantic City stage for the first time under the name Nina Simone. This performative self-creation is mirrored in the structure and lyrical content of one of her best-known songs, “Four Women,” in which each verse features Simone singing as a different woman. By examining the similarities between the varying accounts of Waymon’s transformation into Simone, and by conducting a close reading of Simone’s performances of “Four Women,” it is possible to understand Simone’s song as challenging representational politics by pluralizing identities.
This strategic decision was underscored when the rapper Talib Kweli and DJ Hi Tek recreated “Four Women” as “For Women” on their 2000 record Reflection Eternal. “For Women” reproduces the structure and message of Simone’s original. Mimicking the logic of self-creation that Simone embodied both in her life and in “Four Women,” Kweli and Hi-Tek craft a song where Kweli transitions, often mid-verse, between rapping about each of these four women in the third person and taking on the first-person perspective of each woman. Understanding these two examples together illustrates the power and legacy of “Four Women” and its critique of representational politics and of the rigidity of unique subject positions.