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Hip-hop, rap and misogyny

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misogynyThe relationship between hip-hop and rap music and women has always been a tricky one to digest.

All too often we will come across a song playing on a popular radio station that attempts to reclassify the female entity on so many derogatory and sometimes disturbing levels.

Rap and hip-hop music has always had a tendency to represent misogyny at its true best, capturing the essence of women in the oh-so-catchy rhymes of debased and objectified, crude animal forms.

The rap thesaurus for ‘woman’ is over-bulging with terms like ‘ho’ and ‘bitches’, but there are other less understood synonyms.

The emergence of hip-hop and rap on to the urban music scene has transformed the way we view mainstream music, and our exposure to the genre continues to heavily influence our perceptions of the opposite sex.

Music of these genres use women, drugs and gangster violence as their muse, and some artists take the latter to almost devastating extremes, attempting to imitate life through their art and the other way around – for instance, Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace.

If the violence described in hip-hop is as real as it can be, then surely by definition, so must be its opinion and treatment of women?

In many cases, violence and sex go hand in hand, and echoes the conventions of gangster mentality with women being objects passed around in the same way as guns

But in more recent times it seems that violence is no longer a dominant subject matter of hip-hop.

“The traditional gangsta-rap narratives don’t hold the grandiose power they used to,” said hip-hop writer and filmmaker Nelson George (‘Hip-Hop America’; CB4).

Instead, violence is evolving into new forms and finding new outlets, such as video games.

“If you’re 17 years old, you don’t want to listen to a guy shooting somebody. You want to be the guy,” George continued.

But if this is true, then surely representations of women still cannot have altered greatly, especially if you consider the highly sexualised portrayal of females that appear in most fighting games.

Hip-hop artist, Kendrick Lamar agrees that music has evolved away from first person encounters of violence, as was common in 2pac’s day.

Lamar’s own critically acclaimed hip-hop album, “good kid, m.A.A.d city”, sees a significant shift in the way violence is portrayed.

Instead of being a partaker in it, he chooses to remain a solitary observer, commenting on the violent actions of others.

“I turned 20 and realized that life wasn’t getting anyone anywhere,” Lamar said.

“You hear stories from the ’80s about people selling dope and becoming millionaires, but in reality it’d just be guys walking around with $70 in their pockets.

“I knew I wanted something else.”

This move away from direct gang violence is also evident in other contemporary artists such as Drake. Here, ideas and emotions are the forefront of each song, and in turn hidden expressions of love, heartache and longing finally surface.

In Drake’s best-selling album, ‘Thank Me Later’, he commends the independent woman, who exudes class, intelligence and refinement.

In his track, ‘Fancy’, he raps, “And you don’t do it for the men, men never notice/You just do it for yourself, you’re the fucking coldest/Intelligent too, ooh you’re my sweetheart/I’ve always liked my women book and street smart.”

Lil Wayne’s, ‘Something You Forgot’, reveals his heartache and respect for his ex, post break-up: “Please don’t worry ’bout the women I have been with/No engagement can amount to your friendship”.

Rapper T.I.’s feel-good ‘Got Your Back’, is nothing short of true gratitude to the woman he loves: “Just wanna let you that we appreciate it/Everything you do for us on a day to day/And I know we don’t show you all the time but we lucky that you ours/No bouquet of flowers/Could ever show how much we know we need you/We do, all that’s in our power just to please you.”

And it doesn’t just stop there. The celebration of the mother figure also indicates a definite removal from the otherwise brazenness of regular hip-hop.

Snoop Dogg’s, ‘I love my Mama’, sees him place his mother onto a pedestal: “She the queen in my life, and I’mma make sure she gon’ shine again/She taught me everything”.

But it is perhaps Kanye West who gets first prize for his sentimentality and vulnerability in ‘Hey Mama’, about his late mother.

“And you never put no man over me/And I love you for that mommy can’t you see?/Seven years old, caught you with tears in your eyes/Cuz a nigga cheatin, telling you lies, then I started to cry / As we knelt on the kitchen floor / I said mommy I’mma love you till you don’t hurt no more”.

Whether or not you agree with the supposedly shifting moods of hip-hop and rap, it seems clear that women in the industry do not feel in any way less dominant or influential than their male counterparts.

Artists such as Rihanna, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha are notorious for using the stereotype of hip-hop to their advantage.

Albeit their songs are still highly sexualized, but it is on their own terms.

They view themselves as evolving and strong women with minds and voices of their own.

The emergence of female movements combines the free lyricism of rap with liberality of thought.

The non-for profit Hip-Hop Sisters Network founded by MC Lyte promotes positive images of women, ‘redefining the essence of women through union and empowerment’.

And it offers scholarships of up to $100,000 to emerging new artists wishing to break into the competitive music industry.

In the end, it all comes down to a matter of opinion whether you believe women can emerge as equal and independent from this pre-dominantly male orientated industry or if they will remain overly sexualized possessions.

Jozen Cummings, of the New York Post, insists, “Rap still has a misogyny problem, and many rappers are still speaking ill about women, but at least now we can say it’s the rappers themselves who need to grow up, and not the entire rap genre.

“A lot of the best rappers these days either are in love or have been in love, and they’re not afraid to rap about it.”

  1. Very good article – balanced, considered and well-researched.

    I’m not sure I agree that ‘Rihanna, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Kesha…are highly sexualised, but still on their own terms’. How can we tell the difference between sexualisation that’s done for male approval and sexualisation done ‘on your own terms’, since they seem to appear identical?

    I find it easier to believe women are doing things on their own terms when they’re not being sexualised at all. I know a woman’s sexuality is hers to own and put out there, but that’s all the music industry seems to allow women to do. The likes of Missy Elliot and Queen Latifah come across as having genuine power and control, whereas Minaj, Rihanna and even the mighty Beyonce come across as puppets who are told what to wear and encouraged to writhe around wearing as little as possible in their videos.

    It’d be great to get back to the day of Salt and Pepa – women who rapped about sex in a positive, empowered way, but didn’t have their crotches out in their videos and seemed to have a modicum of control over their image. But I fear those days are gone.

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