Tag Archives: misogyny

Parental Advisory: The Brutal Reality of Misogyny in Hip-Hop

My mother would stubbornly insist on having sit-down family dinners as often as physically possible.  Often, these meals would consist of brief anecdotes about my parents’ work frustrations, neighborhood gossip, or my most recent book assignment for class.  I  usually had nothing to contribute aside from answering their questions with the least amount of information possible before I scooped another twirl of spaghetti into my mouth.  But this time, I had something on my mind.

“I have something to announce to you both, “ I said, trying to hide my nervous shaking with some façade of confidence.  Both of my parents put down their forks and raised their eyebrows simultaneously.

“I think I should be allowed to buy parental advisory CD’s.”

This request wasn’t the bold statement my parents had expected.  They didn’t have a clue what was going to come out of my mouth.  But this family rule, prohibiting me from purchasing any explicit music that wasn’t previously censored, had been grinding away at my temper for some time now.  I was eleven years old, attending an inner-city public middle school.  I was bound to hear explicit language regardless of my parents’ restrictions.  It only seemed fair that I should be able to purchase Eminem’s latest album without the corny edits.  My mother thought otherwise.

“Name an album you want to buy,” she proposed, “and we’ll look up the lyrics and talk about why I don’t you think you should be listening to it.”

Perfect, I thought, I’ll pick an album that’s about love and companionship.  I’ll prove her wrong.

So there we were, looking up the lyrics to Ja Rule’s most recent album “Pain is Love.”  I know, you’re probably laughing now, because I naively picked an album titled “Pain is Love.”  What I initially thought would be my mother’s soft introduction to a softer side of hip-hop turned into an endless nightmare of “I told you so.”

At the obliviously confident age of eleven, I was trying to explain why I should be able to listen to Ja Rule rap about his so called “love” of women, with lyrics like: “Hold down on the bed while I’m yankin your braids/Thug style, you never thought I’d make you smile/While I’m smackin your ass and fuckin you all wild.”  I had convinced myself, perhaps because of the song’s catchy hook, that this was a love song.

Sometimes I find myself, eleven years later, still turning a blind eye to the ever-prominent displays of violent sexism in hip-hop.  For whatever embarrassing reason, I’ll cringe at one mention of the word “faggot” buried in a song centered around sexually dominating the entire female population.  This conflict appears in my hip-hop critique, too, as a few of my close friends have confirmed. I’ve written countless pieces praising rappers–Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Common to name a few–for their socially-conscious messages without so much as addressing the rampant  misogyny in their verse.

Playing the “naïve brainwashed victim” role isn’t a substantial excuse.  I’ve close-read far too many hip-hop lyrics to try and pretend like rappers don’t objectify women in disgusting fashion.  Rather, I’ve been puzzled about how to appropriately criticize this glaring conflict.

Just as hip-hop embraces the “Black CNN” role for reporting inner-city violence, the genre’s widespread sexist imagery is a testimony of much broader, equally complicated problems within our societies double standards on gender and sex. We can label all mainstream hip-hop as offensive, sexist garbage, but that won’t change the fact that women are objectified in all areas of artistic expression, fashion, the workplace, and countless other platforms.

I don’t intend to give rappers a free pass on their sexist content.  But rather than dismissing its presence as simply wrong or shameful, we’re better off asking more critical questions: why is misogyny so frequently used to assert excellence or status? Why do rappers feel the need to objectify women, or use them as metaphorical subjects to claim dominance?

I don’t have simple answers to these questions. I do know that rapping about money and hoes is the easiest way to get a hit single on the radio.  Countless rappers align with this role of a sexually dominant pimp, in part because they feel pressured to perform that image, not necessarily because they believe everything they say in their lyrics.  From the schoolyard cypher to the BET Awards, hip-hop finds itself grounded in a braggadocios mindset.  Every rapper wants to be at the top, and this guy at the top has plenty money and plenty women, so why not start rapping about making it rain at the strip club?

Then, there are rappers who are simply being honest about their sexist thoughts. Sure, we can blame them for openly discussing their misogynist state of mind, but do they really deserve more culpability than any other 20-something straight male who objectifies women?  We can criticize rappers for perpetuating the idea that sexism is acceptable, and we should. But we must also recognize that their lyrics display the brutal truth about the tainted relationship between men and women in our society.

The problem, as I see it, is that men are born into a culture that glorifies sexual dominance over the opposite sex.  The alpha male is the ultimate desirable image, whether it be a CEO, rapper, or a pimp on the streets.  It’s the same glorified image that convinced me that Ja Rule was singing a genuine love song when he bragged about yanking braids and smacking asses.

I’ve made it a personal goal to criticize rappers more often for their sexist lyricism.  Even my favorite rappers are responsible for perpetuating an image of a sexually dominant, and inherently successful man.  But let’s take it a step further, and recognize that hip-hop isn’t here to paint a pretty picture about the world.  Hip-hop will always thrive on screaming the candid reality of our societal problems into our ears.  If we dismiss these rappers as repulsive scoundrels, then we just can’t handle the truth.

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Transforming Misogyny into Homo-Eroticism: The Full Spectrum of Sexual Dominance in Hip-Hop

When you hear critics of hip-hop talk about the problems with hip-hop music “these days,” the prevalence of misogynist lyrics—lines overtly boasting a man’s masculinity through his dominance over women—surfaces as a serious issue within the genre.  Aside from the occasional R&B love ballad (i.e. any track by Miguel, Frank Ocean, or The Dream), women only appear in mainstream hip-hop as one of essential items on a rapper’s to-do list; it goes: get money, purchase some fresh Jordan sneaks, fuck bitches, and then rap about the journey.  Not necessarily in this order, but for simplicity’s sake, that’s usually how it goes.

Rappers find something evidently comforting in telling the world of their hyper masculine habits of objectifying women, whether it be ordering “hoes” to get into their cars, teaching “shorties” how to perform proper oral sex, collecting “a group of bad bitches” for poly-amorous pleasure, or why not all three?  Aside from Wiz Khalifa bragging about how he smokes more weed than us (wooptie-doo), you’ll never hear a rapper assert his bravado with his drawing or cooking skills.  The hip-hop world doesn’t find value in being able to drive a stick or change a flat tire.  God forbid, rappers start showing off their ability to raise children or cook a meal for their family.  While masculinity can certainly be proven with all of these skills, sexual dominance over women continues to pave the easy route to being a “certified G.” In a mainstream cycle where materialism is the only material, rappers have established women as the hot item.

The fact that hip-hop is primarily dominated by men is, to me, the root of the problem.  When women surface as mainstream rappers, they spend far too much time vying for the spot of the top woman in the game, or as the men would say, “the baddest bitch.” Even in one of Nicki Minaj’s best verses, her feature on Kanye West’s “Monster” that boasts the line “you can be the king, but watch the queen conquer,” her video performance shows Minaj’s evil persona avowing sexual dominance over her other self, her Barbie persona.

Men will not fully understand how their misogynist lyrics affect women until women can successfully turn the table and find a way to brag about their sexual dominance over men. For now, sexual domination over men is entirely absent from mainstream hip-hop.This got me thinking, what about about queer rap?  How would straight men, ever-concerned with their masculinity, feel about men rapping in their ear about their ambition to objectify other men? We have small samples of queer rap, with artists such as Le1F and Cakes da Killa emerging as gay rappers, but the likelihood that queer rap will surface to the mainstream in the near future is dim. Instead, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands with an experiment: what if we changed the lyrics to mainstream rap so far as to make the songs about men objectifying men?

Let’s take the chorus of Lil’ Wayne and Drake’s hit single “She Will” as an primary test.  After all, the song only needs a simple change in pronoun to transform into a homo-erotic anthem:

Uh, he just started to pop it for a nigga

And looked back and told me baby it’s real

And I say I ain’t doubt you for a second

I squeeze it and I could tell how it feel

I wish we could take off and go anywhere

But here, baby you know the deal

Cause he bad, so maybe he won’t

Uh, but shit, then again, maybe he will

Do it for the realest niggas in the fucking game right now, he will

Do it for the realest niggas in the fucking game right now, he will

Maybe for the money and the power and fame right now, he will

Do it for the realest niggas in the fucking game right now, he will

All you straight guys out there: is this making you uncomfortable?  Are you squirming at the thought of a man sexually dominating you? Do you think you can keep reading?  If not, maybe you should consider how the original lyrics make women feel on a daily basis. Let’s continue the experiment, this time with something a little more jarring.  Some tracks don’t even need to be changed to be about a man; all it takes is imagining the subject as a man.  Here is the first verse from Trillville’s radio hit “Some Cut,” appropriately rapped over the sound of squeaking bed springs:

You looking good, I think I seen your ass in the hood

With your friends dressed up, trying to front if you could

But anyway, gone and drop a number or something

So I can call you later on, on your phone or something

Take you home, and maybe we could bone or something

It’s no limits to what we do, cause tonight we cutting, gut busting

I’m digging in your walls something vicious

With your legs to the ceiling, catch a nut something serious

You delirious, or might I say you taste so delicious

With your pretty brown skin, like almond joys and kisses

And you a certified head doctor

Number one staller that takes dick in the ass and won’t holler

Bend you over and I”ll follow you straight to the room

Where it goes down lovely in the Legion of Doom.

Whew, how many straight guys do we have left reading after that trial?  After hearing about men calling them a “certified head doctor” in the “legion of doom,” ready to “catch a nut something serious.”  Women who listen to hip-hop have to hear about themselves getting sexually dominated in almost every song, but if men had to hear the same, the song wouldn’t gain a single spin on the radio.  I’m not necessarily trying to make men uncomfortable, or shove homo-eroticism in their faces. Hopefully this experiment offers a change in perspective, a baby-step for men to understand how it feels to hear men threatening sexual dominion. Perhaps we can soon change the culture of hip-hop, in so far as rappers feel comfortable bragging about other qualities that prove masculinity.  Perhaps we’ll reach the point where rappers are no longer concerned with their masculinity in the first place.  For now, a simple change in the gender of the song’s subject provides a small glimpse into the issues within hip-hop’s misogynist material.

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