Being a woman who loves hip-hop is the ultimate internal conflict. While it is by far my favorite genre of music, sometimes it feels like I’m in a toxic relationship with hip-hop. At the beginning of the relationship things were exciting, meaningful and provocative; but somewhere along the way the relationship took a misogynistic turn, characterized by verbal abuse that interchanges “woman” with “bitch” or “hoe”.
I see the good in you and that leaves me with glimmers of hope; Nevertheless, I feel twinges of guilt as I twerk.
Every genre of music is guilty of having sexist elements, but in hip-hop, they are much more explicit.
In his 2013 song “U.O.E.N.O.” rapper Rick Ross boasts about drugging and raping a woman: “put molly in her champagne/ she ain’t even know it/ I take her home and enjoy that/ she ain’t even know it.” A more recent example is a tweet from one of hip-hop’s most successful and revered artists Kanye West who stated, “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!”
Even Drake, the supposedly sensitive voice of hip-hop, in his hit “Hotline Bling” is a bitter, sad-boy anthem, bemoans his ex’s newfound sense of independence with, “ever since I left the city you/ you got exactly what you asked for/ running out of pages on your passport/ hanging with some girls I’ve never seen before.”
There are women in hip-hop who enjoy commercial success and demand respect in a male-dominated industry, but even they are not safe from double-standards. This was made especially evident in 2014 when Nicki Minaj released the album art for her single “Anaconda”. The Young Money artist known for going toe-to-toe with all of your favorite male rappers (outshining the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye in her “Monster” verse) appeared squatted in a pink sports bra, blue sneakers and a pink g-string, proudly displaying her voluptuous posterior.
There was backlash. The owner of allhiphop.com wrote an open letter to Minaj expressing his disappointment and citing his fatherhood to a young daughter as the source. Pandora censored the image as think-pieces spread throughout the internet claiming that Minaj was selling sex.
Where was all of this paternalistic concern for the ornamental, scantily-clad women in Nelly’s, 2 Chainz’ and Snoop Dogg’s videos? Where are their think-pieces?
These often faceless women are deduced to their body parts. Why is it that a woman expressing her sexuality on her own terms is problematic and ruining the youth, while male rappers using women as decoration in their videos elicits no negative response?
Sexism did not originate from hip-hop and is not a symptom of “black culture,” which seems to be implicit in most critiques of hip-hop.
Hip hop’s roots can be traced to the South Bronx (NY) in the 1970s and developed as a local, underground alternative to the mainstream beat. At hip-hop’s core is a confrontational message in response to urban poverty and police brutality and a push back against systemic racism. The genre that began in the streets of New York as political and underground is now an international, multi-billion dollar phenomenon that dominates mainstream charts. Now artists like Common, Mos Def and Talib Kweli whose lyrics are socially conscious and politically oriented are labeled with an “underground” or “conscious” prefix. However, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly has demonstrated a resurgence of political hip-hop; Lamar’s most recent work is a detailed examination of race relations in America and still enjoyed commercial success.
In order for artists to achieve mainstream success they must conform to the demands of their record labels. An article in The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “70 percent of the paying (and downloading) hip hop audience is white kids living in the suburbs.” Companies that depend on black talent like Pandora, Live Nation, Apple, Spotify, AEG, Warner Music Group, Clear Channel Communications and Universal Music Group are dominated by white executives, often from privileged backgrounds.
So, if white audiences are consuming hip-hop and white executives are producing it, who is to blame for its problem with women?
The sexism we see in hip-hop music is a reflection of the sexism we see in society as a whole. Hip-hop, however, is dominating pop culture and Top 40 charts, making it an easy scapegoat. Rampant misogyny in hip hop is simply a by-product of rampant misogyny in American culture.
Of course I wish for a less misogynistic hip-hop but I know that until then I’ll keep listening. Chris Brown was wrong about how “hoes ain’t loyal”.