It’s odd, isn’t it? Being a feminist Hip Hop enthusiast? We know the deep, long history of Hip Hop’s misogyny issue. Offensive lyrics, abrasive behavior, aggressive physicality and demeaning portrayal via music, videos and lifestyle. We know how this misogyny has made Hip Hop the ultimate boys’ club, with little female presence in the entertainment aspect. Women producers and emcees are often slighted by their male counterparts, forcing them to take on gimmicks, or go pop, or undress in the name of “sex sells.” We know that women roles in the entertainment realm Hip Hop industry are most accepted on reality television, under the condition that they make an ass of themselves. We dub this “The Woman Problem.” Eventually, cognitive dissonance takes over, and we accept that this Hip Hop/femme equation won’t be balanced for a long time. A love/hate relationship develops, never stopping the sting of sexism, but definitely numbing it.
It’s no secret (and unfortunately no shame) that rap is laced with misogyny. The slut shaming is real and the catcalling is ad-libbed in. Women are objectified, referred to as “b*tches” as if that’s our collective name and treated as punchlines rather than characters–and that’s just lyricism. Snoop Dogg, a cultural gem in my eyes, has the infamous “Bitches ain’t sh*t but hoes and tricks / Lick on these nuts and suck the d*ck” lyric. Eminem, a rap legend, has several standout sexism lyrics, like “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / Til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!” And even a contemporary favorite, Future, opened his most recent album HNDRXX with “My Collection,” stating “Any time I got you, girl you my possession/ Even if I hit you once, you part of my collection.”
And from the intersectional point of view, the issue is even worse. Rappers regularly partake in a colorism, likening lighter skin to more beautiful, “worthier” women. Lil Wayne does this in the hit song “Right Above It,” rapping “Beautiful black woman, I bet that bitch look better red.” Here is where you can imagine my confusion; that of a little dark-skinned girl, who’s also Lil Wayne fan, rapping this song at twelve wondering what he means.
And yes, Tupac did make “Dear Mama.” And sure, Kendrick Lamar made “Complexion.” But the hateful, sexist songs and messages drastically overwhelm those uplifting, cherishing or even just accepting femmes.
The Hip Hop music industry also has a reputation for shutting women out of top positions in companies, hindering women producers, PR agents and stylists from moving up. Even Hip Hop analysis finds a way to ostracize femmes. The last Hip Hop album review, thinkpiece, curated list, documentary was probably written, produced and/or piece together by men with little to no input from women and little to no femme-perspective.
Of course, femmes and feminist messages manage to make it in Hip Hop, regardless. We have the likes of MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, Noname and dream hampton. But it’s dangerous to think that the success of these women is sufficient for feminism. All one has to do is look at the drastic facial and bodily reconstruction of Hip Hop diva Lil Kim to see the effects of sexism and colorism in the Hip Hop world. And although we celebrate the likes of dream hampton’s success in Hip Hop journalism, we can’t forget Dr. Dre’s physical assault against Dee Barnes.
So how do we reconcile the gap between what we love, and what we believe in? Can feminists love Hip Hop, or must we abandon it until the culture catches up with our politics? Hip Hop journalist Kathy Iandoli made a powerful point addressing this issue: “Women can’t walk down the street without being harassed, so do we just stop walking?”
Feminist have a duty to continue to listen to Hip Hop and participate in Hip Hop culture, critiquing its misogyny just as we critique catcalling. After all, it’s not only your responsibility to preserve the culture you love, but to make it better.