I reserve the right to shake my ass if I want to… but how much longer can we ignore misogyny in rap music?
It was comedian Chris Rock who explained it simply and the best:
“People always say that Rap music is misogynistic and degrading to women but what I realised, women who like Rap music don’t give a ****! ”, he joked in his memorable 2004 stand up show, Never Scared. “They don’t care what they’re saying, if the beat’s all right, she’ll dance all night!”.
He had a point. Even the most socially conscious woman tends not to express care about feminist values when dressed to impress and ‘sl-t-dropping’ to a sexy hip-hop beat. Guilty! This, as a growing (very liberal) feminist, is my worst contradiction and I forever remain in a morally grey area, as where at times I stand firm as an empowered young woman and a little sanctimonious, I always reserve the right to shake my backside in a club to Big Sean’s, A$$ if I want to.
Yes, very guilty.
It’s unfortunate that to love popular Hip-Hop and Rap almost means to learn to happily accept blatant objectification. Many of the lyrics and videos of songs that make MTV airplay are boldly offensive, belittling and sexist, yet widely perceived as an expected and ‘normal’ characteristic of the genre. A rapper would seem naked without two deliciously curvy girls under both his arms, right?
Shouldn’t all women be naturally offended? I know I should be, but nothing has really made me want to boycott my favourite genre of music - until the Birthday Song, that is. Afraid of being deemed as a self-righteous prude I tried to reject my most visceral feelings that the latest video from G.O.O.D Music signed rapper, 2 Chainz, was degrading.
Let’s just say the Birthday Song isn’t anything similar to the Stevie Wonder classic.
The video is comedic, sure. A video perfectly fitted to the songs premise:“all I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe”`- you expect big booty hoes and you get them. There’s no real narrative - it’s unequivocally and unashamedly a song about ass. There’s the birthday cake shaped like an ass, girls shaking ass and erm, a clown that gets jumped… but overall it’s ass, ass and ass! I guess the Birthday Song is to be taken lightly. I guess. And there’s been far more vulgar videos to date. Sure. It could even be intended as satire? Possibly. Yet the surreal cinematography accompanied by 2 Chainz’s simple, monosyllabic and tasteless lyrics left me and many others a little … unsettled. You have to watch it to really understand.
So why do we ignore videos like this? Play a blind eye to the ‘hoes’, the ‘bitches’ and the over-arching hyper masculinity that some rappers try to depict as being a ‘real man’?
THEY DIDN’T BURN THEIR BRAS FOR THIS.
Is it too much of a controversial statement to think that we may actually like it? That, unlike the dull reality of our day-to-day lives, the idea of being a rappers “bad bitch”, glamorous and glorified for just our bodies, showered with gifts and living a fast and frivolous lifestyle is part of some freaky fantasy? A hip-hop 50 Shades? It’s a theory that would take us back a few decades in the female equality struggle and something I wouldn’t like to publicly admit. After all, the Suffragettes really didn’t march for this. Women in the 1960’s definitely didn’t burn their bras for this either. Or is it this more attractive answer: that as the modern woman continues to become more self-assured, independent and sexually liberated, we, in fact, relate more to the aggressive and egotistical rap personas and not the proverbial hoes they’re always going on about? We rap lovers seem to deny that the rappers are talking about women ‘like me’. It’s the only reasonable excuse I can give myself when I’m passionately singing along with “rack city bitch, rack rack city bitch, 10 10 10 twenties on yo titties BITCH”. I’ll humbly admit, fighting for gender equality seems a little redundant if we continue to give rappers a free pass from a feminist witch hunt, especially when we condemn and vilify other men in the public eye for saying sexist comments.
BITCH BAD, WOMAN GOOD.
The fact women are objectified in popular culture isn’t anything new. Sex sells. We as smart and knowledgeable consumers are more than aware of this. Music genres of all kinds use women as a sort of commodity to sell and we blindly accept and consume. Big boobs, skimpy clothing and ass-shaking is some-what commonplace and expected of an industry that’s less about creativity and all about profit. This is the Simon Cowell generation of music after all – most records struggle to sell without a pretty marketable face, right? That’s the problem. All integrity in music has started to be watered down to cater to the assumption that the audience is incredibly shallow. In particular, the men who listen to rap music are seen as the MOST vacuous and shallow of all. Throw in a Maserati, new money, violence and a woman doing ass acrobatics and you’ve got yourself a platinum selling record. Rap - made by men, for men. Homosexuals and feminists not allowed. It’s all incredibly patronising.
Where’s the line? First it’s a woman in a fitted dress seducing rappers with her unreal curves, grinding in a swimsuit, spinning on a pole, twerking with freakish skill, to lying on a table covered in icing, to having sex with a rapper on screen. Unsurprisingly, all have been done before. So, I assume, there isn’t any real taste and decency boundary at all.
With censorship in music seen as a direct offence against freedom of speech, and with hip-hop being the most outspoken of all, it would be unfair to omit that rappers should not freely vent whatever they like. After all, the women in the videos don’t have to be there and we don’t have to listen it. Yet, as rap continues to state its presence as one of the most influential genres in modern culture; with clothing, coined-phrases and ‘swagger’ mimicked by an entire generation of people irrespective of age, gender and race, it would be naive to think that the music couldn’t have an impact on how women view themselves, their role in relationships and society. Do rappers need to take on some sort of social responsibility?
Of course, we do have female rappers that challenge the Gentleman Club culture in rap and hip-hop. We pay homage to the likes of Missy Elliot, Lil-Kim and more for showing that it isn’t just a men only playground. Although, there are only a few female mc’s that have made commercial success and even less have done so without playing up to the sexual archetype. Nicki Minaj, although lyrically talented (well…) and record-breakingly successful as a rap artist, won’t be doing much for the female consciousness with her fake behind and the whole Barbie image.
DANCE PUPPETS, DANCE!
Is hip-hop unfairly portrayed as the MOST sexist genre of music? Sexism and misogyny obviously did not start with Rap, in fact, its origins are quite the opposite. It’s why I love it. Similarly to the violent iconography in videos, we could argue that rappers are the victim of a need to play up to negative stereotypes to flatter mainstream perceptions. Those in control of the images we see, the corporate puppet-master, should also have blame for misogyny being so embedded in the music we hear.
THE FIRST “VIDEO” GIRL
I can’t ignore that it’s seen as a ‘Black thing’, with rap being of Black origin and the women in the videos predominantly Black. Black women have been sexualised for centuries; debased to our shapely hips and robust asses and our propensity for ‘dropping it low’(really, really, well). Like most issues in Black society it can be explained historically. Sara Baartman, have you heard of her? The poignant story of the young African woman taken away from her home and made to stand naked in a museum, her large breasts exposed and her ass touched and mocked by Englishmen. For me, the legacy of the big-booty video girl starts with her and we’ve been conditioned to believe that that’s all Black women in the public eye are good for. It’s really sad.
Nonetheless I’ll reiterate, Hip-hop isn’t all like this, of course. The defenders of the true art form still remain and I can happily listen to the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Talib Kweli, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Nas and more without having to question my moral standpoint. The conversation surrounding misogyny in Hip-hop is an ongoing one and has importantly been challenged by some of the artists themselves; Lupe Fiasco’s new song Bitch Bad is a testament to that, even provoking Kanye West to question his use of the word Bitch in his music on Twitter. Progression.
So sure, 2-Chainz and rappers like him are not artists MEANT for me or women like me. Yet, when I’m feeling the urge to drop it low, it’s nice to know 2 Chainz and his video hoes will be continuing to make music. I kid. A bit.