By: Rhonda Nemri
The four-pillars of hip-hop: Djing, MCing, B-Boying, and graffiti writing. Hip-hop was created back in the 1970s where poetic expression was given on the basis of life, humanity, poverty, love, etc. Hip-hip was the beginning of the “swag” that is well-known today in modern hip-hop. Just to name a few common hip-hop artists known as Run DMC, GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Fugees, Public Enemy and the hip-hop awareness group the Zulu-Nation. This was a beginning of a genre that will soon turn into a subculture of different motives and lyrical expressions. The subculture of hip-hop, which is known as rap music, has been around for decades, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Just like any industry, men and woman will take part in this type of musical genre, however the list of women in the hip-hop and rap industry is not extensive compared to the male dominated industry. Various woman hip-hop rap artists today are known as Queen Latifah, Lauren Hill, MC Lyte, Missy Elliot, Da Brat,Eve, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, and Nikki Minaj. Even though some of these women do not rap today, they are still hip-hop sensations that still appear on the lists of “old-school” musicians. As Hip-hop has reformed into new ideologies and musical talents, its success today is amazing with how many hip-hop/rappers there are in this rising industry.
Growing up I always loved the old-school hip hop. The Fugees was one that I can recall, also Run DMC, Eve, Lil Kim, and many more. I mouthed off the words to their music, danced to the beats, and often blasted the songs with the catchy bass and rhythms. However, while growing up I was completely naive when trying to understand the lyrics and make sense of what they were talking about. In this article I will be focusing on the male dominated industry of rap, the objectification of women through rap lyrics/music videos, and how woman rappers have to maintain a feminine and masculine persona in order to be accepted in the hip-hop/rap industry.
Men in this industry are the big ballers, shot callers, and have the 20 inch rims on the Impala’s. The role of the male rapper is “swag”, “gangsta”, funk, lyrically empowered, lovers, haters, etc. When I name these things this does not represent the whole industry, however, it represents the majority of what we normally see in a rapper. The rapper has money, flaunts his money, cars, houses, women, and music. The “gangsta” image is represented in a rapper, and without the “gangsta” image then society sees this person as inexperienced, have nothing to offer, or no talent. Because rap is a subculture of hip-hop, hip-hop has not been recognized as much as people would like. When comparing rap and hip-hop, we can see a major shift of objectives. Hip-hop artist are lyrically poetic, empowering others and themselves, speak on the current issues of our world, society, love (including sex), religion, etc. While rap focuses more on the struggle in their lives, money, sex, cars, women, and the highest forms of recognition in this industry. It has went from a poetic expression to demonizing other artists and gaining a sense of purpose through stardom and recognition through lyrics. Yes, I do listen to rap, and I do think that the rap industry has shifted in the expectations. We have all types of cultures/ethnic backgrounds becoming rap artists. The images that are constructed are based on a brand that these artists create for themselves. By these images that are created, these artists have a self-fulfilling prophecy given to them by major labels, music studios/productions and their fan base. So why does image matter so much?
According to an American Psychological Association rappers suffer a large percentage of trying to maintain unrealistic self-images placing them at risk of a host of emotional and interpersonal problems (“The Onion” 1998). In any case that we go through, our image is important. Its how we represent ourselves through language, clothes, communication, etc. It is these things that create our image. Because this image is so important, they have to maintain it with the materialistic objects that they hold, including women. The phrase “Sex Sells” has been a phrase that is highly noted especially in any marketing industry when trying to sell a product/brand.
Women in the male dominated industry are seen in two ways. You are either (1). woman rapper/hip-hop artist or (2). a video girl. Shifting from the lyrically poetic form of expression, the rap industry has objectified women in ways that makes or helps their image appeal to the audience. Today rappers known as 50 Cent, TI, Young Jeezy, Jay Z, Kanye West, Twista, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Eminem, have influenced the rap industry in many ways. Since I didn’t name all rappers, these are specific rappers whom have used their image and created a brand for themselves. Many rappers today sell vitamin drinks, energy drinks, cologne/perfume, clothing lines, and many more. They have a form of expression, however the objectification of women still exists in their lyrics and videos. For example 50 cent’s song “Candy Shop” explicitly relates women to a low rider car bouncing up and down:
“Wanna show me how you work it baby, no problem
Get on top then get to bouncing round like a low rider”
The reason why this piece of lyric is objectifying because it is relating women to a materialistic object such as the “low rider”. Another controversial rapper known as Kanye West has simply objectified women in ways not a lot have stopped to realize . In his song “Monster”, his expressions are clear that he is a “monster” and the “predator-like” image. This song was very intriguing to me when it first came out. I was always singing it, and waiting for it to come on the radio or listen to it on my iTunes. Sometimes I sing along not realizing the words I am singing. However, when I saw the video I was completely taken back from the metaphors used when portraying women as lifeless and dead, which Kanye (the monster) used these women as sexual pleasure and sexual objects. The most objectifying moment in that video is when Kanye held a woman’s head that has been decapitated. The metaphorically explicit lyrics and video has used woman as the desirable because she is dead or has no life left in her to even consider being a subject. Simone de Beauvoir discussed this in The Second Sex and stated:
“The situation under consideration is profoundly different-biologically, socially, and psychologically-for man and woman. For a man, the transition from childish sexuality to maturity is relatively simple: erotic pleasure is objectified, desire being directed toward another person instead of being realized within bounds of self. Erection is the expression of this need; with penis, hands, mouth, with his whole body, a man reaches out towards his partner, but he himself remains at the center of his activity, being, on the whole, the subject as opposed to objects that he perceives and instruments that he manipulates; he projects himself toward the other without losing his independence; the feminine flesh is for him a prey, and through it he gains access to the qualities he desires, with any object” (371).
Since Kanye considers himself the “Monster” then he is capable of doing monstrous things such as hunt his prey; women. With these objectifying acts, it makes women appear submissive and passive, because they are portrayed as the other in these scenes. As Simone stated about the instruments, it is apparent that Kanye uses his women as instruments. He is the actor, and women are acted on. This doesn’t mean he is the only one in his video that approves of such things. Jay Z, one of the most notable of the Hip-Hop era also condones this behavior because he too takes part of the lyrical expressions of the misogynist Kanye West.
Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong
Lochness, Goblin, Ghoul, a zombie with no conscience
question what do all these things have in common
everybody knows I’m a muthaf-cking monster
conquer, stomp ya, stop your silly nonsense
none of you n-ggas know where the swamp is
none of you n-ggas have seen the carnage that I’ve seen
I still here fiends scream in my dream
murder murder in black convertibles
I kill a block I murder avenues
rape and pillage a village, women and children
everybody wanna know what my achilles heel is
LOVE I dont get enough of it
all I get is these vampires and blood suckers
all I see is these n-ggas I’ve made millionnaires
milling about, spilling there feelings in the air (shot at Beanie?)
all I see is these fake f-cks with no fangs
tryna draw blood with my ice cold veins
I smell a massacre
seems to be the only way to back you bastards up
You might ask, “Well Nikki Minaj also raps in this song, isn’t she a woman?” Yes, It is quite clear that she is a woman, however she is still portrayed in the video as two different characters. Her first character is the “Monster” who appears to destruct the other character the “Barbie” image that Nikki tends to go by in her rap career. It is also apparent that Nikki is not secure with her image that she already portrays, but wants her audience to see the “Barbie” in her, which is the feminine side. Nonetheless she also portrays herself as the “monster” who is dangerous and sexually destructive.
Watch Kanye West Monster video http://vimeo.com/18551034
Being a Misogynist is something that isn’t clear to some. However the moment you compare women to any materialistic object, or glorify the objectification of women through lyrics, words, or music videos then you are a misogynist. Weitzer and Kubrin stated, “that rappers whose songs portray women negatively are influenced by three major social forces: larger gender relations, the music industry, and local neighborhood conditions. The most diffuse influence is the larger gender order, which includes the cultural valorization of a certain type of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity has been defined as attitudes and practices that perpetuate heterosexual male domination over women” (5). It involves ‘‘the currently most honored way of being a man, it requires all other men to position themselves in relation to it, and it ideologically legitimates the global subordination of women to men’’ (Connell and Messerschmidt 832).
Next, I will discuss women rappers roles in this industry and how their images are constructed in order to be accepted in this male-dominated industry. For hundreds of years it has always been hard for women to do masculine things, especially doing the same job as a man. In the rap industry that has been around for decades has generally male rappers. As I mentioned earlier in this article the few women rappers and hip-hop artists, these woman had to portray a certain image in order to be accepted. Image and lyrics are two different things that occur when a woman is a rapper. When Queen Latifah first started her rap career, we can definitely see that the Latifiah from the earlier 90s to the Latifah today has drastically changed. When she first began, she was dressed a certain way. The baggy clothes, “gangsta” appearance, and masculinity is apparent. In her music video “Just Another Day” she appears more masculine, and has a tough image that is comparable to how a male rap artist’s image is. I am not negating her lyrical expressions or her success. However, one must question whether Queen Latifah’s rap career would still be successful if she held her most recent image as feminine, Cover Girl spokesperson, and one who gets top movie roles. This also stands with Da Brat, who also held a “gangsta” image and shows her rough and tough image. I wont talk about all the women rappers, but you get the idea. Today’s women hip-hop and rap artists are seen as both feminine and masculine. However, if a woman rapper was just feminine would she still be accepted without the masculinity image? Earlier when comparing Nikki Minaj to a “Barbie”, she holds the persona as feminine, but her lyrics are very much explicit and brings out the hardcore side of her. For example, in her rap song “Did it on ‘Em” Minaj stated in her lyrics:
“All these bitches is my sons
And I’m a go and get some bibs for ’em
A couple formulas, little pretty lids on ’em
If I had a dick I would pull it out and piss on ’em
Let me shake it off
I just signed a couple deals I might break you off
And we ain’t making up, I don’t need a mediator
Just let those bums blow steam, radiator”
Minaj also uses metaphor’s in her lyrics, however when she stated if she had a penis she would “piss on em”. Having a penis is a representation of domination, masculinity, and a representation of in control in society. In the Monster video Minaj is appearing as both masculine and feminine, but struggles between the two in order to fit in this industry. She comes off as pretty, seductive, and sexual in order to appeal to male and female audiences, however to be accepted as a woman rapper she has to be tough and tougher than the regular male rapper to be accepted in such industry. Before Minaj, Lil Kim was the master of seduction, sexuality, and a sex symbol. However she possesses the same qualities as Minaj in her lyrics. They too are explicit, seductive, and appearing as a hardcore “badass” in order to become accepted in the rap industry. For example in her song “How Many Licks” she stated:
“Dressed in all black with the gat in the lap
Lunatics in the street – gotta keep the heat
Sixty on the bezel, a hundred on the rings
Sittin pretty baby with a Cash Money bling
12 A.M. I’m on the way to club
After three bottles I’ll be ready to f*ck
Some n*ggaz even put me on their grocery lists
Right next to the whip cream and box of chocolates”.
In these lyrics it showed her seductive and sexual nature, however when she stated that men put her on a list next to their grocery list, not only do male rappers objectify women in their lyrics, woman rappers also relate themselves as objects in order to appear “wanted”, and submissive. She also uses her money and material objects as a way to show that these objects can be obtained also, just like the male rapper. Without the woman rapper having sex appeal in today’s society would be hard for her to be accepted in a world where beauty is a necessity in the entertainment industry. Women rappers, are given the opportunities to become rappers, however they must have a masculine, “gangsta”, and hardcore feel to them. They have to be unstoppable, untouchable, and looked upon as one of the “guys” to be known and accepted as an artist. I am not stating that women cannot have masculine characteristics. Because a lot of women can be androgynous, however the argument I am claiming here is that women have to look, act, and be a certain way in order to be accepted in such industry such as hip-hop/rap.
“There is evidently a conflict between the girl’s narcissism and the experiences to which she is destined by her sexuality. Woman will not accept her status as the inessential unless she becomes again the essential in the very act of abdication. Being made object, lo, she becomes an idol in which she recognizes herself with pride; but she spurns the implacable logic which makes her still the inessential. She would like to be a fascinating treasure, not a thing to be taken. She loves to seem a marvelous fetish, charged with magical emanations, not to see herself as flesh subject to seeing, touching, bruising: just so man likes woman as prey, but flees the ogress Demeter” (The Second Sex 350).
In recent articles I have discussed women being an objects. However women must consider herself a subject in order to rid her from anything that objectifies her. Women have always been objectified in these societies. What is the message that these artists are trying to send? Some may view this as a petty issue that we have, however if we always objectify those through industries such as music, then objectification is surely happening in other ways and other industries. The fact that industries like these are supporting artists each and everyday is an indication that they realize these misogynist rappers is what’s supporting the industry in order to make a living. This also gives a bad name for those in the industry who stray away from the misogynist image, and relate to the issues that do affect us such as war, poverty, culture, love, and inspiration. Even Though I did not touch on a lot of the different rappers out there, objectification of women still occurrs within this industry, whether signed or unsigned rappers.
de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Published in 1989
Connell, Robert W., and James Messerschmidt. Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept. Gender and Society. (2005) : 19, 829-859
Weitzer, Ronald and Kubrin, Charis E. “Misogyny in Rap Music: A Content Analysis of Prevalance and Meanings.” Men and Masculinities. (2009) : 12.3, 1-28