Hip-hop; a cultural movement, the voice of defiance, music for the soul.
As a middle-class white chick, I’m not going to pretend to have a deep cultural understanding or much authority on the oppressions that hip-hop was born out of, but I still love it. My passion for hip-hop, however, is being undermined by an increasingly uncomfortable recognition of the misogynistic culture that it often comes with.
After hours of listening to artists such as N.W.A, Biggie, 2-Pac, Dr. Dre, Nas, Wu-Tang-Clan, Jay-Z and Kanye, the recurring phrases of ‘hoes’, ‘bitches’ and ‘thots’ get pretty tiresome. Many songs by these artists glorify female victimisation and are essentially a toxic result of delicate male egos, sexual objectification and patriarchal social structures. And what’s more, the artists rarely acknowledge their own weaknesses or hypocrisy. Instead, they emanate a sense of entitlement and ‘brotherhood’, portraying females as dumb, needy sexual objects. Not ok.
As someone who eagerly awaited the release of Straight-Outta Compton, I couldn’t help but watch with discomfort at the unapologetic misogyny evident throughout the film. Key female collaborators like Yo-Yo are eliminated in the NWA story, as well as Dr. Dre’s violence against Dee Barns. Indeed, all female characters are relegated to the periphery, as partners, mothers and fans. But because I have so much love for hip-hop and appreciate its power as an art, the easy option is to gloss over the cavalier treatment of women and focus on all that is great about the music. Ava DuVernay, an award-winning director who grew up in Compton, fittingly stated that ‘To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser.’
You might think that modern artists, such as Drake, are an improvement on hip-hop’s early days of violent misogyny. Yet behind the guise of a sensitive lover, Drake too is spurring patriarchal lyrics, albeit more quietly. Many of his songs portray women simply as shallow gold-diggers, or helpless souls that need love and attention in order to be rescued.
Take Hotline Bling; you might have been having too much of a good time on the d-floor (like I definitely was) to notice that the song basically suggests that a girl must dress modestly, and have a respectful reputation in order to be ‘good’…
“…Got a reputation for yourself now… Started wearing less and going out more… Used to stay at home, be a good girl…” Hmm, do I detect just a lil’ bit of slut shaming?
Yep, even good old champagne-papi has become simply a pseudo nice-guy. Ugh.
And don’t even get me started on Kanye… simply the fact that he’s declared himself ‘God’s vessel’ and a ‘lyrical genius’ makes him a huge wanker in my books, but that’s another debate. Perhaps what irritates me most is that he hides behind the self-proclaimed label of ‘artiste’ – allowing him to produce sexist slurs from his pedestal under the pretence of ‘this is art’. His album Yeezus has been labelled ‘one long hate letter to women’, including lyrics like “Black girl sippin’ white wine/ Put my fist in her like a Civil Rights sign” and “One more fuck and I can own ya”. God’s vessel… seriously Kanye?
While he reflected on Twitter that using the word ‘bitch’ is ‘potent’, his more recent album The Life of Pablo still contains some questionable references to Kim: “I bet me and Ray J would be friends if we ain’t love the same bitch / Yeah, he might have hit it first, only problem is I’m rich.”
Following the albums release, Kanye attempted to backtrack on his earlier comments, now deciding that “Bitch is an endearing term in hip hop, like the word Nigga.” Thanks for making that decision on our behalf, Yeezy.
There are bucket-loads more misogynistic hip-hop lyrics that I could bang on about, and equally, there are a number of empowering lyrics that are battling against this. Unfortunately, sexism in music is a ramification of sexism in society, and we have a long way to go before that disappears. While acknowledging misogyny in hip-hop is certainly a good step, treating this misogyny as a given is dangerous. Instead we must continue to question and criticise sexist slurs, and give as much support as possible to artists challenging them.
After all, so many girls love hip-hop, and it’s time that hip-hop loves girls back.