Anyone who knows me can tell you that when they think of me, they think of my love for rap and hip-hop music. I’m talking all kinds of rap here…from club music to slow, poetic verses, I listen to it almost every day. Yet I find myself holding back on expressing how much I love this music because I support the empowerment of all women. How can I listen to hip-hop music when it has objectified us? Having to defend my love for a style of music that is seemingly at conflict with my values hasn’t been easy to explain. So, I wrote this post, which is in no way meant to defend or support the objectifying of women but instead to create some understanding as to why hip-hop is always the target for this criticism.
Let’s first state the obvious that not all hip-hop contains sexist lyrics. However, even since its early days, hip-hop has had the reputation of being sexist, misogynistic, heterosexual, and demeaning. It’s unfortunate to say, but hip-hop hasn’t come very far from losing its association with those words. Luckily though, it has become recognized and we are starting to have conversations about it. But why is hip-hop the biggest target? Perhaps it’s because hip-hop is one of the most global, trend-setting genres in our society. It’s played everywhere, and the lifestyle of a rapper, at least in my opinion, is fascinating to keep up with. It’s a dominant part of American pop culture.
But we must get one thing straight- hip-hop is not the only genre that includes sexist lyrics, nor was it the founder. Sexism has existed in just about every other style of music, even before the birth of hip-hop, so why are those lyrics overlooked and justified? Perhaps the rock, punk, country, or indie songs including the sexism aren’t as mainstream. Maybe because the objectifying of women isn’t as obvious in their music videos. Whatever the case, the popularity of hip-hop shouldn’t be a reason these other genres are ignored. Not acknowledging other sexist lyrics won’t help change anything and it isn’t fair to all women.
Race plays an important factor in hip-hop’s image too, as it was popularized by black and Latino youth in New York. It’s often the narrative in the critique against hip-hop. Our society already stereotypes black men as being very masculine and aggressive so it blames these rappers and makes them the easiest target. This offers another possibility as to why other artist’s lyrics aren’t criticized-because they’re white. We also know that due to the imagery in rap videos, gendered, racialized, and even sexist meanings have been attached to African-American women’s bodies (Lind 274). . Back in the day, Europeans used to create images of women of African descent and label them as sexually deviant because of their large hips and butts. But in hip-hop, these features are desired. With that, I believe rap has helped create a new beauty standard for American women. I find it empowering that often these artists praise larger and curvier features. Not at all to say other body types aren’t beautiful or should be degraded in these songs, but in a society where larger body types are not the ideal standard, it’s nice to hear them commended. But its important to understand when these artists are praising or degrading. And to include women rappers, when I see someone like Nicki Minaj dancing in a video, I don’t think she’s being overly sexual, I think she looks confident.
You can be a woman and still love hip-hop. Yes, there are lyrics towards women that can cross the line. And in that case, I chose not to listen to the song or watch the video. That’s easy for someone who has taken courses about the media and its influence. I am aware when offensive music starts to affect me. But for those who have not been media trained, it’s important that we teach each other about the influences of music and the media. I believe a step in the right direction is to keep the conversation about sexism alive. Although just refusing to listen to a certain song may not sound like much of an effort to change these lyrics, it’s a start.