Perhaps the longest shadow cast over Hip Hop since its beginnings through to now, is the constant presence of misogyny. Perpetually within song lyrics, but also often in the actions and words of the rappers. We question the influence these attitudes have on our youth, but how much blame can we really place on Hip Hop in a culture where toxic masculinity reigns, and casual sexism is not only accepted, but expected?
Hip Hop’s tumultuous relationship with women is no secret- it’s one of the most hotly debated issues facing the genre. Here’s where it gets tricky. Sure, Hip Hop’s consistently poor treatment of women is unsavory to say the least, but is it any more consistent than in other genres of music? Than in television and film? Than in real life? Or is it simply more brazen?
If it isn’t gratuitous rape in Game Of Thrones or hyper objectification of women in pop music videos, then it’s girls in Slasher tees accused of being “posers” at skate parks by bearded dude-bros or yet another EDM festival lineup entirely devoid of female acts. Misogyny is embedded in all aspects of our culture, particularly within music and its countless scenes and subcultures.
Pretty depressing, right? But we know this, don’t we? So why then does Hip Hop carry the brunt of the blame when the conversation turns to dangerous attitudes towards women and where they come from? It’s because by its very nature, rap music is bold. It’s raw, emotional, and confronting. The provocative nature of Hip Hop makes it an easy target when it comes to pointing the finger at anti-feminist voices in our culture.
Is that why we’re so shocked when a pop song with gross undertones such as Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ slips through the cracks and into heavy rotation? Do we really expect better of pop? Because we shouldn’t. It may be the home of feminist icons like Beyonce and Rihanna, but it’s also host to countless nice guy anthems, predatory or objectifying lyrics and female on female aggression wrapped in layers of catchy EDM beats and crooning vocals.
As much as I love pop music, it tends to embrace the deceptive and superficial. That’s why I expect more from rap, because it is about truth. I hold it to a higher standard. This is a genre that was born of an urgency, a need to be heard. Hip Hop has always been an outlet for protest and social commentary, and can raise serious societal issues by painting meditative and detailed tapestries of the human experience, particularly that of people of colour. So must it so often reduce women to faceless, nameless agitators? Meaningless objects to be discarded and replaced at will? “Hoes n’ tricks”?
No. Because Hip Hop is better than that. Because we know that casual sexist language is dangerous. We know that dismissing the use of this language as ‘satirical’ or ‘reflective’ is cheap and exploitative. Cutting social commentary can exist and Hip Hop can maintain its provocative, confronting edge, but it doesn’t have to be to the detriment of women or the way they are viewed by men.
Nor should I have to constantly try to reconcile my being both a feminist and Hip Hop fan. Rap music has the ability to uplift, and to empower. Already there are shifting patterns in the landscape of Hip Hop politics. We’ve seen the meteoric rise of wholesome lyricists like Chance The Rapper and Macklemore. Gender norm defying artists like Young Thug and Jaden Smith. On home soil, rappers Urthboy and Illy, male Hip Hop artists taking a stand against the entrenched misogyny in the genre.
And then there are the ladies. Who could forget Beyonce standing in front of the word FEMINIST at the VMA’s? Nicki Minaj’s bold reclamation and celebration of her sexuality? Sampa The Great’s applause for all queens in her ferocious anthem ‘FEMaLE’?
We’re seeing more and more strong female acts with empowering messages, and more male artists ditching the use of derogatory terms like ‘bitch’ in their lyrics out of solidarity. And this is where it starts. Hip Hop belongs to all of us, and we shouldn’t have to choose between the music we love and respecting ourselves. Using our voices to protest inequality and praise female strength is the first step toward ushering in a new era of the genre, by working harder to empower ALL listeners.
Hip Hop should not just be as misogynistic as the world around it. Hip Hop should strive for a higher truth. It should lead by example, stop reaching for the low hanging fruit that is the ongoing and institutionalized mistreatment of women and try harder. Life imitates art, and it’s time to start making art that reflects a world we all want to live in.