Do me a favor. Visualize the mainstream hip hop landscape in the year of our Hov, 2012. Peer through the ranks of the dominant YMCMBMMGGOOD conglomerate¹, at the images and content promoted through your radiowaves and on your television screens, and all throughout your internet browsing experience.
Got it? Now tell me, does any of this content you are currently holding in your thoughts seem particularly sensitive to, or even concerned with, the well being of women? I’ll wait…
While I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule that mainstream hip hop is an entirely misogynist endeavor, you’d be hard-pressed to prove to an alien that many of the figures with the biggest platforms in our culture do not have a deep-seated, hateful relationship with women and femininity. This isn’t news – scholars with pedigrees in hip hop and African American studies, like Dr. Imani Perry of Princeton University (read chapters 5 and 6 of her text Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop) and Dr. Tricia Rose of Brown University (see her text The Hip Hop Wars for nuanced discussions of all things hip hop, including the subject of this piece) number the many who have confronted hip hop’s problematic relationship with women, calling out artists for their words and images.
This work of challenging artists and holding them accountable to the communities they reference and represent is one that the current generation of culturists, critics and scholars should not only pay attention to, but also actively continue. Consider what’s at stake: the continued unregulated commodification of sexism and misogyny in our culture at the expense of the next generation’s minds.
Speaking of the youth, Did you know Waka Flocka Flame totally advocates respecting women? During the promotional lead up to Mr. Let it Go‘s sophomore album Triple F Life: Fans, Friends & Family, the rapper sat down for an interview with Hot 97‘s Angie Martinez and unleashed the following gem while speaking about his step daughter:
“I don’t have kids of my own. [My step daughter is] my daughter. That’s my baby. It’s mines. That’s why I don’t like degrading women though. Because if I degrade women, she’s gonna grow up and listen to that. If I make it cool to degrade women, she gon be like ‘Damn, my ni**a could degrade me.”
Let’s give Waka, birthname Juaquin Malphurs, some credit here. Mr. Malphurs appears to genuinely love and support a child that’s not biologically his own, and seems to recognize the detrimental psychological effect his art could potentially have on her, and people in general. It could have been a watershed moment, but unfortunately, all one has to do to render it completely impotent is listen and read his album’s lead single, “Round of Applause“, featuring another rapper who’s earned recognition for his “sensitive” approach to women, Young Money‘s Drake. See below:
Some choice lyrics from Waka’s verse:
“When I hit the scene girls yellin’ and they scream
Flocka can you be my baby daddy?
Pimpin like Im Dolemite, hoes jump in my caddy
Smoke like I got Cataract, In the strip club throwin up them stacks
Got racks on top of racks, bust that p-ssy make that ass clap, clap, clap
I aint done wit you baby bring that ass back
Still got 20′s, still got 50′s, even got them 100′s
Throw some money, throw some money, Imma let it go,
Waka Flocka Flame better know as Mr.Let It Go”
The misogyny in Waka’s music (by no means limited to “Round of Applause”), taken in tandem with his statement suggests one of two things:
1) Waka completely lacks self-awareness and feels no cognitive dissonance between what he represents and who he is as a man
2) Waka is self-aware, pandering to an audience that will do little to hold him accountable for his contradictions, and ignores any cognitive dissonance between what he represents and who he is as man.
I’m personally inclined to believe the latter, considering this is a man who once said “I ain’t got no lyrics. That’s why I don’t trip when niggas be like, ‘Man, shawty can’t rap’. The nigga that everybody say is lyrical, they ain’t got no shows,” in response to criticism that his lyrics were lacking in the areas of substance and technical proficiency. Waka appears to at least pay some attention to how he is perceived as a figure in the game, which raises a complicated question: have disrespect, disregard, and degradation become so normalized in mainstream hip hop culture that artists can no longer discern instances of them?
I’m reminded of a jarring line from Drake on Rick Ross‘ hit “Ashton Martin Music” : “I hate calling the women bitches, but the bitches love it”. The “bitches” Drake refers to were once someone’s little girls, and that those girls felt the need to empower the word “bitch”, in a similar fashion to how black men empower the word “nigga”, suggests the lack of power women must feel while growing up and trying to find a place in this hyper “masculine”, misogynist culture. No wonder Waka, while speaking about his home life as Mr. Malphurs (wherein “That rappin’ [goes] out the window”), felt the need to voice his concern for his step-daughter’s psychological growth in spite of the pimpin’ implications of his art. Does this mean that Waka will stop degrading women in his music?
No. And in fact, he never claims that he will. Like Drake, Malphurs may feel uncomfortable with the way things are – “I don’t like degrading women” – but we currently have no reason to believe that this will lead to new behavior on his part. Why would he risk fucking up his money?
Maybe Lil Wayne has the answer. Could the author of countless odes to bitches, hoes, and the like, be a womanist sympathizer? He did author one of the more popular “Black Girl Lost” narratives in recent years, 2011’s “How to Love“. He is also responsible for cosigning and bringing exposure to the biggest female hip hop artist of the last decade, Nicki Minaj, consequently opening doors for other female rappers in a largely male dominated field. Should the line read “Weezy F. Baby and the “F” is for Feminist?”
The answer is obviously and unequivocally no, but that doesn’t stop Wayne from thinking so. In an interview he is quoted as saying:
“That’s a female; first and foremost Nicki Minaj is a female. I don’t know what anyone else believes, but I believe females deserve the ultimate respect at all times no matter, when or where or how.”
That’s a pretty audacious (and probably not well thought out) statement from a man who once rhymed “shut up bitch, swallow” with “shut up bitch, gargle,” but for the sake of my argument, give him the benefit of the doubt for a second while I give you some context (in case you were unlucky enough to miss out on all of the “fun”). In the first week of June, New York‘s Hot 97 radio station held its annual Summer Jam concert in East Rutherford, NJ. With about 60,000 fans in attendance, one of the hip hop shows of the year began with Nicki Minaj as its headliner. The event was going smoothly until one of Hot 97’s popular DJ’s, Peter Rosenberg, opined “I know there are some chicks in here waiting to sing along with ‘Starships’ later. I’m not talking to y’all now. Fuck that bullshit. I’m here to talk about real hip hop shit,” while on stage. Feeling (reasonably) disrespected Nicki apparently told Wayne about the comments, which led to Weezy pulling all Young Money personnel from the show. Nicki, unburdened from having to perform, tweeted several times as Summerjam continued, including the following:
Not blak but on blak radio dissin blak women > RT @JAE_MILLZ Radio personality with NO personality… fuck nigga!!! & u ain’t even black…
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) June 3, 2012
Fast forward to the present, wherein Lil Wayne attempts to justify pulling Minaj from the concert in an interview with MTVNews by implying that Peter Rosenberg is somehow a sexist for calling “Starships” “bullshit”. At this point, fellow field hands, I have to ask you: Am I missing something? Is there some underlying misogynistic subtext to Rosenberg’s comments that I’m not comprehending (If so, please enlighten me in the comments below this article)?
If not, I’m forced to conclude that Weezy is pandering to women and womanists in a wrongheaded attempt to gain the moral high ground by citing Minaj’s womanhood as the sole reason she shouldn’t receive criticism (criticism somehow = disrespect, a false equivalency in dire need of some unpacking). In taking this course, Wayne not only exposes himself as a hypocrite (not a particularly difficult task), but also trivializes the efforts of the women and men fighting for true equality and respect between the sexes in hip hop culture. This is dangerous; it isn’t hard to imagine some in Nicki Minaj’s extremely loyal and engaged fanbase learning the wrong lesson from this moment and going on to misidentify instances of real sexism and misogyny.
Some of you may read this and feel resigned, as though sexism in hip hop is a forgone conclusion; many times, I’ve felt the same way. However, in those moments of weakness, remember that there are folks in the field doing the work, holding artists accountable for their words and their actions, and gifting wisdom to those who seek it. But you must participate in the conversation, especially if you enjoy the music of Wayne, Waka, Hov or others, as I do. A well adjusted mind and psychology is the result of challenged notions and assumptions, and to consume this art without confronting it when it is problematic, is to allow hate to obscure your sight.
I’ll leave you with a bit of wisdom from Dr. Tricia Rose:
“Part of the power of sexism and racist sexism is their capacity to seem so normal they almost disappear from view: they recruit us all into participation even when we know better. But at the same time, we cannot continue to defend or si lently condone commercial mainstream hip-hop’s hefty contribution to the hostility and disrespect endured by black women. To do so is not to defend black men or hip-hop; it is to defend sexism against black women.”
This friendly reminder to check your vision regularly is brought to you by The Field.
¹FYI: it truly is a family affair, as all three labels happen to be subsidiaries of Universal Music Group, where most of your favorite artists go to get sold.