I love misogynistic hip-hop songs. If you are an honest human being, you will admit that you love misogynistic songs, too.
My ladies, we all fall victim to it, don’t we? We just get into the beat and start singing along to the words as if these (male and female) rappers are not talking about us. But if they’re not talking about us, whom else are they talking about?
I have thought long and hard about this post trying to find some way to reconcile the dilemma that a lot of us hip hop heads face. How can we willfully show love for an art form that has amplifies the voices of disenfranchised black and Latino youths, yet perpetuates the same white supremacist patriarchy, violence and sexism that so many of us speak out against each day? The answer is that there is no answer, no call to action, no personal mantra and no Joan Morgan manifesto that can propose a satisfying, cookie-cutter solution to such a complex problem.
This conclusion has been haunting me ever since Rae Sremmurd released their debut album, Sremmlife, earlier this year. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed their work. Of course, I’d been singing and bopping along to their 2014 hit, “No Flex Zone” for months on my iPhone. But I didn’t think I’d sit through an entire body of their music and be amused by it, relate to it, and even be inspired by it in the way I was.
To give you better context on my music tastes, I’m what you call <strong>“sophistiratchet.”</strong> I indulge in my ratchet occasionally when in the privacy of my room, my car, my office or when I’m chilling with my ear buds on the train without judgment or interruption from the subway preachers, the b-boys, the pole tricksters and the poets. However, when enjoying others’ company, I’m inclined to play what posh<em> blacque</em> people are supposed to be listening to: Coltrane, The Roots, Stevie Wonder, and Nina. If my friends or family members were asked who my favorite music artist is, they’d probably tell say Prince or D’Angelo. It’s actually 2 Chainz.
Still, I didn’t expect to be so affected by Rae Sremmurd’s album because they seemed kind of…juvenile. Their screechy, high-pitched singing voices reminded me of the middle-schoolers I used to tutor in college (even though both Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are of legal age). I wasn’t raised in the American South, nor was I propelled into fame and fortune as one of hip pop’s latest, hottest acts. Usually I become bored and melancholy when listening to rappers boast about their riches and their crazy sexual exploits. This is because: one, I know that most of these niggas is lying; and two, my circumstances are far too modest to even compare my experiences with their rhymes. I didn’t have much reason to believe that <em>Sremmlife</em> would be any different.
Once I listened to it, I ate up that ratchet shit like sea-salted caramel gelato in a Talenti tub.
Ironically, it was the rap duo’s turnt, youthful vigor in their music that won me over. Their raw energy, sometimes angry, other times free-spirited, is contagious. They’re also surprisingly transparent in their songs. Swae and Jimmy confess about the meaningful relationships they crave, they unapologetically confront the girls that have broken their hearts in the past with haughtiness and humor, they reminisce on the highs and lows of their success story. I must admit, their lyrics are often crude and perhaps even basic. Yet I can’t help but admire their work because their transparency about being young, black and popular in the 21st century flies in the face of what every bulletproof, machismo rapper is supposed to be. More than that, their joy and lightheartedness is a sharp contrast to the downtrodden, monotone narrative that American socioeconomics has stamped on black boyhood and manhood.
However, despite my enthusiasm for the album, these positives doesn’t take away from the fact that Rae Sremmurd routinely refers to female characters in their songs with epithets rooted in shame and disrespect. We also don’t hear much about their philosophies of and experiences with the opposite gender outside of sexual contexts—many of which reference strip clubs and exotic dancing techniques. Their lyrics certainly aren’t particularly violent in comparison to their contemporaries, but they don’t appear particularly above that, either.
The inconvenient truth is that <strong>we all</strong> have human impulses that are violent, sexually deviant and straight up socially inappropriate. Resultantly, I’m hesitant to condemn artists for their less savory material. I can’t hate on 2 Live Crew or Too Short for articulating our impulses for us. Plus I think I’m smart enough to know when an artist is being facetious in their lyrics. The only problem is that many of them aren’t. I was horrified to see the recent headlines on Jagged Edge Singer Kyle Norman who brutally beat his fiancé and then tried to shove her engagement ring down her throat. Jagged Edge wasn’t known for singing violent music but if Norman’s actions weren’t misogynistic, I don’t know what is.
Chris Brown is another obvious example given his tragic attack on his former girlfriend, Rihanna back in 2009. Of course it’s been years since it’s happened and Brown has routinely asserted that he’s working on being a better person. It’s just hard to believe his statements considering some of his other violent antics since, the time he’s spent in prison because of them, and the harsh words he sings in catchy tunes like “Loyal.” (Full disclaimer, I sing along to this song every time it comes on the radio.) And I couldn’t speak about artists making misogynistic music without referencing Dr. Dre. Dre has blossomed into an immensely success hip-hop artist, producer and now businessman. Still every time I hear music he’s created or see a passerby sporting his famous headphones, I only think of Dee Barnes, the rapper and TV personality he viciously beat at a party for interviewing Dre’s former bandmate, Ice Cube.
Joan Morgan, author of <em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/When-Chickenheads-Come-Home-Roost/dp/0684822628″>When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost</a>,</em> first proposed a solution to the dilemma that every hip hop-loving and socially conscious person faces. In her classic essay, <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/466678?sid=21105787942763&uid=4&uid=3739832&uid=3739256&uid=2″ target=”_blank”>“Fly-girls, Bitches and Hoes: Notes of a Hip Hop Feminist”</a> she explained that sexism is used in hip-hop to mask black men’s pain. So instead of bashing male hip hop artists for songs that promote violence against women (and themselves) we need to nurture them. If we show love and support for whom they are, hopefully they’d do the same thing back to us. There’s no point for women to try to be right all the time if it just leads to an unfulfilling victory.
It’s been fourteen years since Morgan’s words have been published. Ever since, they’ve touched the hearts and minds of countless hip hop feminists—including me. But even though her words are powerful, they don’t really feel like a solution. How fruitful is it for us to show love when Rick Ross’s infamous date-rape lines had radio play for weeks before anyone did anything about it? Women showing support and reflecting for themselves on how they contribute to patriarchy and sexism in hip-hop is just one half of the solution. Having male rappers that are willing to listen to us and act accordingly to our critiques is the other.
I would like to shrug this entire dilemma off and say that maybe we don’t always need to give a fuck about the violence in our popular music because it would make life easier. But doing so would just be careless. Misogyny is still a huge issue, and hip-hop still has an immense impact on impressionable young people. Once again, I include myself in saying these things.
I’ve come to understand that being a feminist today means I don’t have to confine myself to certain kinds of music, certain kinds of messages or even certain ways of saying things. I can’t singlehandedly stop the effects of misogyny as it passes on into pop culture but I can at least decide which music artists I support and still be critical of them. I feel compelled to think about these things because I know I’m not an exception to hip-hop’s good girl—bad girl—straight-up bitch trifecta. It doesn’t matter which category you identify with the most, all of them are demeaning, one-dimensional ways of describing some of the most fascinating and layered groups of people in the world.
I could only imagine how startled I’d get if someone started talking to me like Too Short behind closed doors. Somehow, hearing these words to a beat make it feel different. But it really shouldn’t.