It could be argued that the most taboo of genres that were introduced in the 20th century where Rap and Hip-Hop music. “The youth movement that emerged in 1970’s that later resulted in hip-hop entailed a variety of art forms, including rap music” (Ross and Damian, 2). Looking at the history of this genre, we can see that the lyrics that support cruelty and carnal tendencies towards females, are what associates this genre with hyper-masculinity. However, by utilizing their linguistic skills, woman have now slowly but surely begun to succeed and gain respect in the hip-hop industry. Therefore, it is necessary to explore how hip-hop and rap have constructed gender roles in society, by paying close attention to how women are impacted by and have impacted the hip-hop culture.
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Rap is not just a bunch of run on sentences, but poetry that is carefully and, usually, quickly spoken. “Hip-hop feminism is a perspective that requires change. This concept implies that there are challenges when it comes to gender and race, and targets to eliminate the negative” (Tyree and Michelle 54). From disclosing the worries of the black and LBGTQ community, to erosing conversation about what is or isn’t appropriate for women to say or do, Hip-hop lyrics have significant meaning.
One of the best things about the Hip-hop community is that it commemorates and applauds the expression of anybody or any group of people that have felt as if they were the “black sheep” in their lives; still, the genre has yet to welcome women with open arms. “The past few years have changed with women embracing their space in what was then a male dominated genre of music” (Durham, Brittney, and Susana 721). With up to date music streaming services such as Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, etc., female rappers now have significantly more ways to access, and hopefully identify with, more female listeners.
Looking at the way hip hop is shaping music, it is, however, not time for women to celebrate yet. “If the genre is to be considered the most powerful art form to ever exist in the music industry, it should not only reveal but also emphasize the complex lives of women” (Townsend et al. 273). It must allow them to express their lived experiences without the need for them to sell some parts of their body, or anything for that matter. Regardless, most of the women working in the rap industry today, seem not to sit around and wait for permission to express their thoughts, opinions, and most importantly, showcase their talent…Which is a step in the right direction.
Hip-hop is a mirror that re-live cultural failings, particularly in the United States. Woman, especially black woman, have been viewed as less than since the beginning of time. Somehow, someway, Hip-hop made this same mistake when not supporting the welcoming of women into the rap culture when it first began. “In the 1990s, female rappers were widely underrepresented; however, they appeared in R&B and some hip-hop songs” (Weitzer and Charis 23). Support for women in the rap game still remains at a low today. Believe it or not, female rapper shamers actually still exist among the male community in this industry, and they still do well and are even sometimes awarded. Most movements call for accountability and respect. However, mainstream hip hop has continued to ignore this wave and is still largely shaped around good music at the expense of female opinions and voices. However as time goes on and social norms change, as specified by Shabazz, “women in rap have worked and spent the past years changing the view about this genre of music and developing impressive, genre-redefining music” (370).
Surprisingly, “Nicki Minaj, one of the the famous female rappers, is doing much better than her male counterparts” (Toth 295). Successful women in hip hop music are progressing, and backlash from sexist competitors is only challenging these women to become even more powerful.
Cardi B, who has risen in the list of world popular female rap artists seem to set the pace for other promising female artists to not only embrace their talent but also, their sexuality and female qualities. Her willingness to take bold risks when it comes to scandalous performance movement or scandalous clothing and costumes, is an opportunity for other woman to feel welcomed in the hip hop industry, especially those who often undergo public scrutiny and backlash for expressing their femininity. However some Cardi B fans do not agree with her lyrics advocating for woman to use sexual practices, with the hopes of luring men into buying certain things for them. That is why the success of women in the hip hop industry continues to increase but at the expense of their image. This does nothing but support the false impression that women cannot financially support themselves.
Rap music has also given the false impression to men that women often deceive them to get pregnant. Impregnating a woman is often feared by men, unless they are at the time and place in their lives where they are able to support a child. Peers tease men who fall for these women. “It is not only the financial costs of fathering a child that seems to scare most of the men mentioned in the rap songs about such women, but also the aspect of fatherhood as a whole” (Shabazz 372). Men’s fear of exploitation by females has existed since decades ago, and it is not a new phenomenon in hip hop music. Although the idea of gold digging among women is also feared, rappers who have risen their status and achieved more wealth do not consider it so much. They have money to waste and lose. This, however, might affect the opinions of their audience and especially men who have a lot to lose when it comes to gold digging women.
Some rap songs portray women as individuals who use their sexuality and especially, beauty, to exploit weak men. “The rap songs strongly rebuke young women who are deemed femme fatales, and urge men to stay away from women generally” (Chakraborty et al. 223). These women are portrayed as evil and judged for departing from the “accepted standards” of a woman. “Surprisingly”, there is no comparable marker for men who behave the same way towards females.
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Torkelson argues that, “one of the common connotations that have been viewed in pop culture, is because of its saturation with misogynistic lyrics, and that it presents little respect and hyper-sexualize’s women” (258). The commonness of these misogynistic words goes against the progress of gender equality. According to Tobias, “it is imperative to be cautious in denouncing misogyny and be vigilant to not consider these aspects of this genre of music” (53). With a need for change in the lyrics that compose such songs, aspiring rappers need to not make these messages a part of their nature. However, and unfortunately, sexual objectification is prevalent in most rap songs. This concept is the notion that women are only worthy of sex. Such a concept goes hand in hand with the everyday idea that “men stay away from commitment, and most importantly, marriage, and that they regard women as objects that should be exploited sexually and discarded. Sexual objectification of women results in the sexual empowerment of men” (Szymanski, Lauren, and Erika 8). A popular example of this concept is bragging in the case of men about how easy it is to lure women for sex. Men reap admiration from other men. Such a fact is predominant in disadvantaged communities, where men do not have other bases of self-esteem besides their sexual status. Male hip-hop artists, in many instances, brag about their sexual conquests, and unfortunately, this does not go unrewarded, especially in the music industry.
In many rap songs, songwriters portray women in general, without realizing they are targeting every women to ever exist individually. “Most of the rap songs have since the past had lines demeaning women” (Tobias 55). “…status degradation remains the theme of some of the hip-hop songs with others, concentrating on the unwillingness of women to cooperate with their male counterpart” (Van Oosten et al. 986). This shaming process that stems from these lyrics are a result of the praise men receive when they treat females poorly. Furthermore, as much as some men attack other men and not just woman, they often use derogatory labels that are still feminized.
“Violence is showcased in most rap songs, and this is especially against women who do not respect their male counterparts” (Ross and Damian 7). In extreme case, rappers literally threaten women who do not accept their sexual advances. And believe it or not, women in rap will support such content to become popular as far as music is concerned. Yet they are oblivious of the fact that they are undermining other women. Justifications for the mentioning of violent remarks against women is still existent in the rap music industry.
Rap offers a platform for the advocating of feminist strategies of resistance and provides a voice for women. “The song Love is Blind by Eve was one of the songs that stood out for the championing of reduction of male ill-treatment of women” (Weitzer and Charis 23). In the song, the female artist first reprimands the man who abuses his woman. Though she doesn’t approve of the misogynistic lyrics, she next questions the woman who is willing to stay with him. When wondering how one could even get away with saying things like this, she comes to the conclusion that its mostly because of the music industry customs at the time.
Today, sexisism and racism have significantly impacted what hip-hop and rap music is written about. Therefore, it is necessary to explore how hip-hop and rap have constructed gender roles in society, by paying close attention to how women are impacted by and have impacted the hip-hop culture. Female hip-hop and rap artists have been advocating for gender equality in this industry, which has been dominated by men for the most of time. They have done this by providing avenues for women to voice their concerns and be recognized as members of the society who can also succeed in the same industry. Women have been impacted negatively by such music, for instance, being sexually objectified, associated with violence, and viewed as financially unstable. This is why the success of female rappers might alter such opinions and views, and hopefully, in the future, women will be appreciated for their changing roles in society.
- Chakraborty, Aheli, Durgesh K. Upadhyay, and Manju Agrawal. “Young Adults’ Music Preferences and its Relation to their Attitude towards Women and Sexuality.” Journal of Psychosocial Research, vol. 12, no. 2, 2017, pp.223-232.
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