"You Can't Rap With Us!" Sexism In Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop Elitism

There's no secret that the hip-hop industry has always been male dominated. This is a post I've been meaning to make for a while. I even covered some of it in a video I made last year some time. (Link: Lauryn Hill, Wyclef, & a lil' bit of "hip-hop elitism" Part 1)

I also want to briefly discuss "Hip-Hop Elitism". Basically from my point of view, "Hip-Hop Elitism" is is putting the more "conscious" and/or sub-genre or more "lyrical" type of hip-hop music on a pedestal while putting down other sub-genres. I also see it as praising the more "conscious" and less "hardcore" female emcees while putting down ones like Lil' Kim, Remy Ma, Da Brat, Eve, and Foxy Brown who were more hardcore in their primes. I see these ideals a lot amongst so called "hip-hop heads" and I use that term loosely, because many times many of these folks are only listening to one sub-genre and "kind" of hip-hop while there are many types.

I started realizing there was "Hip-Hop Elitism" happening in the genre along with sexism in hip-hop when I noticed how people (primarily male fans of hip-hop) would praise female emcees like Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, and Queen Latifah, yet put down female emcees like Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, and Remy Ma due to their raunchy, sometimes sexual, hardcore lyrics and images. I also discussed this issue of hip-hop in my Black Feminism class I took this past Spring Semester. The readings we read and discussed brought up the practice of “Hip-Hop Feminism”. This type of feminism includes being pro-woman, pro-black, anti-capitalist, anti-sexist, by promoting positive, inspiring, uplifting, and encouraging lyricism used through the art of rapping. It can even be used to promote the “sexual freedom” that raunchy female emcees rap about in their lyrics. Although I don't consider myself a (Black) feminist, I do agree with many of the ideologies and this is why Feminism is needed to a certain degree.

The irony of these males putting down these hardcore hip-hop divas was their own preferences in hip-hop music, which weren't as "conscious" or positive as they required female emcee lyricism to be. Look on their music players and they're bumping artists like Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Ice Cube, Eazy E, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Big L, Snoop Dogg, and the list goes on. Although these are some of my favorite emcees and some of the best to have ever touched the mic, I can't deny the negative content in many of their lyrics no matter how complex and fascinating their rhyme scheme is.

You Can’t Rap With Us: No (Bad) Girls Allowed

The restriction of sexual expression from female emcees is nothing but patriarchal double standards and sexism.  Hip-hop comes out of the 1970’s Black Power Movement, which also restricted the voices of women (the reason for the start of Black Feminism).  The B.P.M. and the start of hip-hop was a chance for Black men to be dominant, masculine, and lift their voices which has been silenced for 300 years in America. The Crack Epidemic of the 1980’s and the introduction of “Gangsta Rap” brought even more masculinity to the game from the emasculated Black American male. Hip-hop gave a chance for men to shine as well as women, but mainly for men in terms of male domination of the genre.

Hip-hop is masculine, and if ladies wanted to take part, it seemed to be some rules they had to follow. It's ok for the many of men in the game (mainly starting during the mainstream Golden Age) to refer to females as "bitches", "hoes", "sluts", and so forth, it's ok for these males to degrade women in music videos, rap about sex, violence, emasculation of fellow Black males, and drugs, but as soon as a female emcee raps about sex, it's a problem. It's especially problematic when females agree with this thinking females shouldn't rap that way but continue to listen to the males that do rap about the so-called negative subjects and so forth. This is basically showing that in order for a female to be a successful and dope emcee, she must spit up to the lyrical standards of Lauryn Hill and portray an image of "consciousness" and as a "respectable woman".

Other than restriction of sexual expression, the appreciation and credibility of females in hip-hop is also scarce especially in this new age of hip-hop where there are barely any female rappers out. If you don't dig deep in history and really research, you wont even realize the major contributions women have made in hip-hop. There is barely any major mention of female contribution in hip-hop as there is with males. For example, when reading or watching a documentary about the beginnings of hip-hop, you usually hear names like Afrika Bambataa, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, DJ Kool Herc, and Kurtis Blow. You rarely hear about the female emcees, dj's, break-dancers, or graffiti artists like J.J. Fad, Pink Lady, Spinderella, and Dynamic Dolls.

Whenever I'm watching a documentary relating to the subject of hip-hop, I always analyze the credit and appreciation given to female emcees. Last winter I was watching the Ice-T directed film "The Art of Rap" and noticed the only female emcees in the picture was MC Lyte and Salt from "Salt'N'Pepa". That made me disappointed to know that once again female hip-hop artists were left out the picture but especially by an old head like Ice-T who was popular during the same times as Roxanne Shante, Sweet Tee, Monie Love, The Real Roxanne, and so forth.

At the end of the day, I really feel it is intimidation with some males active in the hip-hop industry. Competition is apart of hip-hop, and don’t forget it’s a masculine genre. Not many dudes wants a female to out-do them on a track.  (Which is very common. Female emcees have always really stood out on tracks with males) Not many. Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim who both released their debut albums in the Fall of 1996 brought a new flavor of hardcore, sexy, and sassy to the hip-hop scene, something the world had never seen before on a mainstream level. They were basically rapping in a more "masculine" way with the hardcore flows, delivery, and lyrics. Lil' Kim was the female version of Notorious B.I.G. and Foxy the female version of Jay-Z/Nas. People didn't like this because they felt the women were being too sexual and too hardcore. It wasn't "lady-like" enough. They were rapping about sex, drugs, and weren’t portraying “appropriate” images like Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, etc.

To be fair, there have always been complaints and controversy even towards males about the lyrical content in hip-hop music. At the same token, it has been accepted and normalized especially with the growing generations listening to hip-hop. In 2013, more people are more accepting of the “non-conscious” mainstream female emcee, but the negative stigma remains present. These male artists that have made their careers off of some raunchy, controversial lyrics are seen as legends and receive respect regardless. Unfortunately for many female artists who have spit similar lyrics, in some cases they will always be seen as over-sexual and as "whores". The "You can't turn a hoe into a housewife" mentality.

My Unpopular Opinion: The Elephant in the Room

An unpopular opinion and observation I have is how the hip-hop community overly praises Lauryn Hill. I feel she is put on a pedestal and seen as an angel while other female emcees are put down as I mentioned previously. The irony is that “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” which I feel the hip-hop community overly praises, was not even a hip-hop album. Granted it was a great album, but there were more r and b songs on the album than hip-hop songs. Not to pour salt on Ms. Hill or bring up her past, but I also find it funny that these same people who down the Remy Ma’s and the Queen Pen’s never mention Lauryn Hill’s affair with a married man.

It is her personal life, we all make mistakes in life, we all can be hypocritical to certain extents, but to make songs about being respectful, conscious, and positive and in reality disrespecting someone’s marriage and significant other is not cool to me and those are my beliefs. It doesn’t take away from her talent, good music, or her being one of my inspirations and she sold albums without being sexual, but I’m not a fan of the pretend “conscious good girl” image. If you’re sending out certain messages through your music and you’re not living up to it, how does that make you look? When you mention that, the same hip-hop fans will rebuttal: “It was a mistake” “It’s her life” and so forth, but continue to put down the sexually honest lyrics of the “non-conscious” female emcee. I would rather someone be honest and not liked for who they are than talk a life they aren’t fully living.

In a former paragraph, I noted how I felt that “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was overly praised in the hip-hop community. I stated this because I noticed how many hip-hop heads would praise female r and b singers affiliated with hip-hop before they praise the female emcees
 in hip-hop. Some of these singers are Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu. I have seen countless hip-hop collages, pictures, and overall tributes presenting them surrounded by male rappers, but no mention or credit given to the women of hip-hop. I think that’s ludicrous. Mary J. and Ms. Badu have contributed bomb ass hooks to many hip-hop songs and are apart of the culture, but why the hell would you not include women like Lady of Rage, Missy Elliott, and Rah Digga who had such major impacts on hip-hop being female emcees? In my eyes, this is subtle proof of how sexist hip-hop culture can be and how secretly intimidated some males in the industry can be. A singing woman is obviously seen as more “feminine” and “acceptable” than a rapping one.

A lot of these critics who look down on the raunchy female emcees have barely heard their songs and never took out time to listen to their more conscious and personal songs. I even put my Black Feminism professor on a song called "My Life" from Foxy's "Chyna Doll" album. Foxy has a lot of songs where she raps about her personal struggles.  She said she never knew that Foxy made songs "like those". If you give these ladies a chance and stop thinking just because a femcee isn't "Lauryn Hill", you will be able to see that they have many relatable, and personal songs. 

Something a lot of people have messed up is thinking that sex was the only thing hardcore female emcees brought to the table. People ignore the lyricism Foxy brought on "Affirmative Action", the flow Lil' Kim gave on "Spend A Little Doe" and the delivery Remy Ma had on “Guilty”. It’s a shame that they can’t be recognized as equally lyrical due to sexism, intimidation, and people having closed minds.

Devil’s Advocate: Sexually Free or Sexually Enslaved?

Although hardcore, edgy, female emcees like Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim stated that they were claiming power through being sexual, both still succumbed to the idea of the male gaze. The male gaze is a theory in Feminism where images of the female and the female body are shown through the media for heterosexual male sexual pleasure. Biggie told Kim sex sells; so being sexual was a tactic for her to sell her image. It brings up the question are you being sexual for yourself or for the attention of others? Yes everyone is entitled to do and say what they please, but if in the end the sexual expression was for male desire, the purpose for being "sexually free" is invalid and it goes the same way for males. It brings up the question can a female truly be sexually liberated in a patriarchal society as her male counterparts?

Unfortunately as Black females in America, many think that female hip-hop artists like Kim and Foxy are bad representations of Black women and even women as a whole. Many saw them as bringing females down and having people think we're only good for sex and not beating male hip-hop artists at their own game. Although it is ignorant for people to think that all women or all Black women are like Kim or Foxy, many people do think that. It comes from many decades of Black women being oversexualized and exploited in America as well as the exploitation of women in Western society in general. Were Kim, Foxy, Trina, Remy, and others expressing themselves sexually or were they continuing the cycle of sexually exploited Black women?

Of course the two were representing for the ladies with their songs such as "Not Tonight" and "F*ck Somebody Else" the same way male emcees were representing for the guys, Kim and Foxy were still being seen as sexual objects for males by the images they portrayed. The fact that hip-hop is male dominated and patriarchal could make one question were they being sexual for their female listeners or for their male listeners and observers. Would they still portray themselves the same way if hip-hop was a female dominated genre?

In Conclusion: Is Art Imitating Life or Is Life Imitating “Art”?

The fact that females are selectively included and sometimes excluded in hip-hop culture shows how biased and sexist hip-hop honestly can be. This has been an elephant in the room for many years. The sexism along with other unspoken issues is a reason hip-hop is so stagnant in growth. 

At the end of the day, I can see how both male and female emcees using sex, violence, drugs, and overall negativity lyricism and images in hip-hop music has made the art problematic. Hip-hop being one of the most popular African-American music genres across the world has indeed become problematic. It makes me wonder that if the genre was never infiltrated by capitalist companies and record labels encouraging negativity, would there have been many of these artists that I admire and would hip-hop be as international as it is today? Would the many of the songs we enjoy yet have negative lyrical content, been created? We have grown immune to this and it is apart of our culture and capitalism in hip-hop has played a huge part of it. I feel that this dualistic and contradicting nature creates hip-hop as a gift and a curse. A gift because of the expression and the art, but a curse because some of the negativity it has been spewing throughout the years.

If you’re going to discuss how some female rappers discuss sex too much in hip-hop, don’t forget to discuss how the males also discuss sex and other negative, damaging subjects in their lyrics. At the end of the day whether it’s Nicki Minaj twerking and rapping about how good she rides it in her new music video or Wiz Khalifa rapping about having sex with “bitches” and smoking weed, we need to be conscious about what find entertaining, the images, and how the repetition of the lyrics are psychologically relevant to the actions and opinions of individuals that make up this society.

Hip-hop is an art and within art there should be no restrictions or limitations. With that being said, would we still label the so-called “wack” rappers as creating “fake” or “garbage” hip-hop? Personally, I’m not really a fan of the current state of hip-hop because I feel the essence, love, and respect for the art has been diluted. This may make me a “Hip-Hop Elitist” as well.

Could the same way some hip-hop fans disagree with the sexual lyrics of female emcees be equivalent to me thinking this new age of hip-hop is mediocre?

Can we say what is “real” hip-hop and what is “fake” hip-hop?

Is it ok for us to label what is “real” and “fake” art?

With limitations, rules, and restrictions on art as a whole, that leaves no room for creativity or new work. Yet, at the same token, some creative enlightenment that we call “art” could be damaging to a culture and to a people as hip-hop has become in a way today. Regardless of the talent of emcees whether they be male or female, if they are promoting negative images that does somewhat add to the damage of the hip-hop culture, which makes the growth stagnant. So does this mean there needs to be a filter on the artists? Not at all. Yet to have an equal balance, variety, and an open mind when it comes to the lyrics and images in hip-hop. 



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