Feminism. Today, the word holds a very negative connotation for many. When people think of feminism, they tend to think of hostile men-hating women who will stop at nothing to bring men down. In reality, feminism is the complete opposite. This movement fights hard to bring social, political, and economic equality to all members of society.
Feminist ideals have historically been expressed in music by Black women. From Bessie Smith to Aretha Franklin to Salt and Peppa, to TLC, Missy Elliott to Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae.
As we celebrate Black Music Month, we pay homage to the great sounds that have helped shape not only Black culture, but global culture. Sounds that have served to propel the feminist movement forward, including blues, jazz, etc. yes, and even rap. But as much as rap has moved us forward, it has sabotaged our ability move forward from its misogynistic dominance and, thus, has halted our success.
Rap music is still a male-dominated industry with a notorious reputation for blatantly degrading outlier groups such as women and members of the LGBT community. Next time you find yourself singing along, pull a T-Murda — the hilarious, yet effective way, actress Tracee Ellis-Ross attempts to decipher rap lyrics — and really listen. Just skip the beat and focus on the lyrics. I did, and as I began to truly listen to the words and an overwhelming amount of rap songs, what I found were lyrics that were appallingly sexist, laden with derogatory words about women and many down right dangerous.
We hear the “n” word, as well as the obligatory “bitch”, “ho” and “motherfu*%er” so many times in rap music, that we can become desensitized against their effect. In fact, research has found that exposure to violence through media can desensitize people to violence in the real world. Think about that as you recite the following:
“Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it. I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”
These lyrics are from the widely popular song ,U.O.E.N.O, by Rocko with features from Future and Rick Ross makes light of the use of date rape drugs and suggest that, hey, drugging a woman and having sex with her without her knowledge is acceptable.
In 2013 following backlash against the lyrics, Ross apologized, in part saying that “using a substance to rob a woman of her right to make a choice is not only a crime, it’s wrong.”
A sudden epiphany on his part? Nah, it was more likely that Reebok and other sponsors dropped him AFTER all the protests. That word “after” is important because along with why many rappers choose to write misogynistic lyrics, we have to ask why music executives, mostly older White men, demand it.
Where’s the rap about the fact that according to rainn.org, there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault each year and 98% of rapists will not spend a single day in jail?
Instead, music executives and radio stations create a market for:
” I don’t want her if that a** don’t sit like a horse.”
The above lyrics from T-Wayne’s “Nasty Freestyle” reflect a more common occurrence in many rap songs, the tendency to objectify women, to set a body type standard and make females believe they can’t be loved unless they meet these standards.
Off the top of my head I can think of dozens of rap songs that have almost identical lyrics to this one and I can’t believe more people have kept their voices quiet about it. Ladies, don’t let ANYONE make you feel ashamed about your body type or who you are. Be confident, live happily, be yourself. You will not shame me for the choices I make concerning my own body. I’m strong, independent, and oh yeah, #NotYourProperty.
Not only does feminism fight for the rights of women, it fights for the rights of members of the LGBT community. Another word that appears quite often in rap lyrics is the word “fag.” Eminem’s 2013 song Rap God was infamous for bashing homosexual males and implying that homosexual males will never accomplish as much.
As we celebrate Black Music Month and all the glory it represents, we must continue to hold artist’s music executives accountable for fattening their 10 billion dollar industry at the expense of all outlier groups and, therefore, society as a whole.
In a time when an abundance of people have finally found their voices and we have an amazing opportunity to create change, there is still so much holding us back. Rap music has the potential to hold so much power, to tell such a beautiful story. Rappers, instead of using your lyrics to degrade, use them to inspire. You have so many fans, many of which are youth, that look up to you and strive to be you one day. Please don’t let them down again. I challenge you to be that person that sparks the movement to change the reputation of your genre.
Not a rap problem but an American one.