Between Rap and Feminism

By Deeba Abrishamchi, Staff Writer

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Tehan Ketema photographed by Cameron Smith

This story appears in the Fall 2017 issue of EMMIE Magazine.

January 16, 2009. My brother and I were anxiously waiting for Lil Wayne to come on stage at the Nassau Coliseum in New York City. I’d been listening to strictly Weezy for the past few months, getting hyped up for my very first rap concert. Finally, the lights went down and the crowd roared. I was filled to the brim with excitement to recite all the words of my favorite songs like “6 Foot 7 Foot” and “She Will” in unison along with 17,000 other fans and with Lil Wayne himself.

What the fuck is up, New York!” Lil Wayne exclaimed after finishing his opening song. “Where all my bitches at?” he yelled as the ladies in the crowd began to scream and cheer. “If your pussy stink, be quiet.

The laughter erupting in the room was quickly drowned out by my own discomfort. How was everyone passively laughing at a statement that diminished women to mere sexual objects? The resulting pit in my chest would become a familiar feeling through the years as I continued listening to rap music. I still find myself struggling to try to justify why I am okay with liking rap music when its messages are often openly and unapologetically misogynistic.

Whether it’s blasting in a basement party or playing in the background of a coffee shop, hip-hop music has become more widespread in today’s society and its eminence is burgeoning quickly throughout modern pop culture. From the days of old-school rappers such as Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. to modern-day rappers such as Kanye West and Travis Scott, hip-hop has always been an important means of expressing a rapper’s ideas and beliefs to the public. But what happens when those ideas are harmful to others?

When I asked UW-Madison student and fellow rap/hip-hop fan Natalie Camacho how she justifies listening to and enjoying music that often projects sexist sentiments, she answered that misogynistic tendencies can be found in all genres. “Other genres will be more subtle about it, but rap has always been very uncut and raw,” she said. “You don’t have to agree with all of the messages to enjoy the music.”

Unfortunately, hip-hop’s reputation has become one that lionizes the objectification of women. Many reporters and journalists have come to the forefront to interrogate rappers about their use of derogatory terms such as “bitch” and “hoe.” When faced with this question, rappers such as 50 Cent and T.I. have suggested that sexism is an immaterial problem compared to issues like war, hunger and poverty. So if that’s the case, why spend time and money producing songs about immaterial things such as “bitches” and “hoes,” instead of issues like global warming and poverty? Ranking issues by importance is problematic because it declares that respecting women is less deserving of attention than other issues in the world, when in reality we are capable of fighting more than one “war” at a time.   

The hip-hop industry perpetuates the notion that rappers must portray male dominance to prosper. Even if these rappers don’t personally regard women as inferior, they have capitalized on the idea that misogyny sells and therefore feel forced to conform to hip-hop’s standards to obtain success. Rappers that don’t live up to this standard are criticized for being “too soft.”

Consider Drake at the beginning of his career. Perhaps this pressure to conform is what led him to release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, an album which contains antagonizing lyrics towards women, but also gained him a ton of street cred. Drake is one of my favorite artists, but it wouldn’t be fair to say his lyrics never graze the line of derogation, causing me and other female-identifying fans to be faced with the internal conflict of enjoying the music but not always agreeing with its undertones.

I would never condone misogynistic lyrics, nor would I suggest that we simply turn a blind eye. However, I think boycotting rap and hip-hop music altogether would be doing just that, by putting all blame on one single genre and ignoring the fact that sexism is a real problem that persists in most forms of mainstream entertainment, be it television shows, movies or music of all genres.

So do we just let it go and move on? Absolutely not. We must strive, within our own lives, to call out and discourage misogyny through social activism to bring us closer to a place of gender equality.

Entertainment does not equal agreement. You are not necessarily complicit in a message a song sends just because you are listening to it. Art is supposed to challenge you, make you think and provoke you. In this case, that art is just underlaid by an undeniable head-bopping beat and it is our job to wholeheartedly support the art that uplifts women rather than disparages them.

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